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2 SO The social function of intellect* NICHOLAS K. HUMPHREY eee ees SS Judging by citations, this is the paper which has fired the imaginations of ‘most of those who have in subsequent years pursued empirical research on Machiavellian Intelligence. To quote Humphrey's own summary: ‘I argue that the higher intellectual faculties of primates have evolved as an adap- tation to the complexities of social living. For beuer or worse, styles of thinking which are primarily suited to social problem-solving colour the behaviour of man and other primates even towards the inanimate world’. Henry Ford, it is said, commissioned a survey of the car scrap yards of ‘America to find out if there were parts of the Model T Ford which never failed. His inspectors came back with reports of almost every kind of breakdown: axles, brakes, pistons—all were liable to go wrong. However, they drew attention to one notable exception, the kingpins of the scrapped cars invariably had years of life left in them. With ruthless logic Ford ‘concluded that the kingpins on the Model T were too good for their job and ordered that in future they should be made to an inferior specification. Nature is surely at least as careful an economist as Henry Ford. It her habit to tolerate ncedless extravagance in the animals on her production lines: superfluous capacity is trimmed back, new capacity added only as and when it is needed. We do not expect, therefore, to find that animals possess abilities which far exceed the calls that natural living makes on them. If someone were to argue—as I shall suggest they might argue—that some primate species (and mankind in particular) are much cleverer than they need be, we know that they are most likely to be wrong. However clear why they would be wrong. This paper explores a possible answer. an answer which has meant, forme, a re-thinking of the fu tellect. ‘re-thinking, or merely afirst-thinking? I had not previously given much thought to the biological function of intellect, and my impression is that few + Roprinted from Growing Points in Ethology (1976), ed. P. P. G. Bateson and R. A. Hinde, pp. 303-17, Cambridge University Press. 14 Humphrey others have done either. In the literature on animal nce there has been surprisingly sussion of how intelligence contributes 0 bio- logical fitness, Comparative psychologists have established that animals of ‘one species perform better, for instance, on the Hebb-Williams maze than those of another, or that they are quicker to pick up learning sets or more successful on an 1” problem; there have been attempts to relate performance on particular kinds of tests to particular underlying cognitive ‘kills; there has (recently) been debate on how the same skill is to be assessed with ‘fairness’ in animals of differe ut there has seldom ‘been consideration given to why the a should need such skill. What is the use of ‘conditional oddity discrimination’ to a monkey in the field (French 1965)? What advantage is there to an anthropoid ape in being able to recognize its own reflection in a mirror (Gallup 1970)? While it might indeed be ‘odd for a biologist to make it hi task to explain why horses can’t learn mathematics’ (Humphrey 1973a), it ‘would not be odd for him to ask why people can. ‘absence of discussion on these issues may reflect the view that there of to adopt a broad defi intelligence which makes it Heim’s (1970) definition of int essentials of a situation and respond appropriat for ‘appropriately’ and the problem of the biological function of intellect is (tautologically) solved. However, even those definitions which are not so ‘manifestly circular tend nonetheless to embody value-laden words. When is defined as the ‘ability’ do this or that, who dares question ical advantage of being able? When reference is made to ‘understanding’ or ‘skill at problem-solving’ the terms themselves seem to guiver with adaptiveness. Every animal's world is, afterall, full of things to be understood and problems to be solved, For sure, the world is full of problems—but what exactly are these problems, how do they differ from ‘animal fo’ animal and what particular advantage accrues othe individual who.can-solve them? These-are-nat. trivial questions. ‘Despite what has been said, we had better have-wdefinition of intelli- gence, or the discussion is at risk of going adrift. The provides at least some kind of anchor: ‘An animal displays im hhe modifies his behaviour on the basis of valid inference from evidence’. ‘word ‘valid’ is meant to imply only that the inference is logically soun eaves open the question of how the animal benefit definition is admittedly instance, relatively low-level happen merely because similar things have happened in comparable The social function of intellect 15 circumstances in the past; but it requis something is likely to happen becaus of events, The former is, I suspe widespread through the ani special, a mark of the ‘creative’ intellect which is characteristic especially of the higher primates. In what follows I shall be enquiring into the function chiefly of ‘creative’ intellect ‘Now I am about to set up a straw man, However, he is a man whose intelligence to infer that respect. The opinion he hol ‘man in question sees the need for invention as arising only in relation to the external physical environment; he has not noticed—or has not thought it important—that many animals are social beings. ‘You will see, no doubt, that I have deliberately built my straw man with feet of clay, but let us, nonetheless, see where he stands. His idea of the intellectually challenging environment has been perfectly described by Dan- fel Defoe. Itis the desert island of Re Man Friday. The island is a lonely, hostile environment, full of technological inventive way, for he has no time to spare for from experience. However, was that the kind lieve, for reasons I shall ing. Man Friday on the scene which really made Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday had turned up as well then Crusoe would have had every need to keep his wits about him. However, the case for the importance of practical invention must be taken. seriously. There can be no doubt that for some species in some contexts inventiveness does seem to have survival value. The ‘subsistence tech- nology’ of chimpanzees (Goodall 1964; Teleki 1974) and eveir more that of ~“Tpaural man (Sablins 1974) javolves many tricks of technique which appear prima facie to be products of creative , and what is true for these anthropoids must surely be true at least in part for other species. Animals 16 Humphrey who are quick to realize new techniques (in hunting, searching, navigat- ing, or whatever) would seem bound to gain in terms of fitness. Why, then, should one dispute that there have been selective pressures operating to bring about the evolution of intelligence jon to practical affairs? I do not of course dispute the general pris question is how much this principle alone explains. How man or monkey need to be before the returns on superior intellect become vanishingly small? If, despite appearances, the important prac tical problems of living actually demand only relatively low-level intelli- gence for their solution, then there would be grounds for supposing that high-level creative intelligence is wasted. Even Einstein could not get better than 100 per cent at O-level. Can we really explain the evolution, the higher intellectual faculties of primates on the basis failure in their ‘practica exams’? : “My answer is no, for the following reason: even in those species which have the most advanced technologies the exams are largely tests of knowledge rather than imaginative reasoning. The evidence from field studies of chimpanzees all point to the fact that subsistence techniques are hardly, if ever, the product of premeditated invention; they are arrived at 1 by trial-and-error learning or by imitation of others. Indeed, imagine how many of the techniques could in principle be arrived at otherwise. Teloki (1974) concluded on the basis of his own attempts at “termiting’ that there was no way of predicting a priori what would be the most effective kind of probe to (0a termite hill, oF how best to twiddle itor, for that matter, where to stick it. He had to learn inductively by trial-and-error or, better, by mimicking the behaviour of Leakey, an old and experienced chimpanzee. Thus, the chimpanzees’ art would seem to be no more an invention than is the uncapping of milk-bottles by tits, and even where a technique could in principle be invented by deductive reasoning there are generally no grounds for supposing that it has been. Termiting by human beings isa case in point. In northern Zaire, people beat icks on the top of termite mounds to encourage the termites to. come to the surface. The technique works because the stick-beating makes a noise like falling rain. It is just possible that someone once upon a time noticed the effect of falling rain, noticed the resemblance between the sound of rain and the beating of sticks, and put two and two together, but I doubt if that is how it happened; serendipity seems @ much more likely explanation. Moreover, whatever the origin of the technique, there is certainly no. reason to invoke inventiveness on the part of present-day practitioners, for these days it is culturally transmitted. My guess is that most of the practical problems that {face higher primates can, a in the case of termiting, be dealt Wit learned strategie iree to creative intelligence" ~ sarbesiei rast The social function of intellect 17 I would suggest that subsistence technology, rather than igence, may actually become a substitute for it. Provided f snzees at Gombe, with superior technological culture, may, in fact, have less need than the neighbouring baboons to be individually inventive. Indeed, there might seem on the face of it to be a negative correlation between the intellectual capacity of a species and the need for intellectual output. The great apes, demonstrably the most intellectually gifted of all animals, seem on the whole to lead comparatively undemanding lives, less demanding not only than those of lower primates, but f many non-primate species. During 2 months I spent watching gorillas in the Virunga mountains I could not help being struck by the fact that of all the animals in the forest the gorillas seemed to lead much the simplest existence—food abundant and easy to harvest (provided they knew where to find it), few if any predators (provided they knew how to avoid them) —ittle to do, in fact (and little done), but eat, sleep, and play. The same is arguably true for natural man, Studies of contemporary Bushmen suggest that the life of hunting and gathering, typical of early man, was probably a remarkably easy one. The ‘affluent savage’ (Sahlins 1974) seems to have established a modus vivendi in which, for a period of perhaps 10 million years, he could afford to be not only physically, bu inellectualy Ln. /eazethus faced with a conundrum. It has been repeatedly demonstrated in the aflifitial sifiafions_of the piychotogicat Taboratory shat anthrapaid apes possess impressive powers Of creative reasoning, yet these feats_of intelligence seem simply to not Parallels behaviour. of the same animals in their nafural environment. T have eo any example from the fic sus! man) using his full capacity for inferential reasoning in the sol of a biologically relevant practical problem. Someone pe retort that if b had kept watch on Einstein through a pair of field glasses he might well have come to the conclusion that i hum-drum mind. However, that is -Shimpanzess, displayed _his_genius__at_rate—timés—in- Situations—he_did_not_use_it, for he did not-need.to_use it, common_world.of practical af - ‘Why then do the higher pi pafifcular, that mui natural equivalent of the laboratory test of intelligence? The answer has, believe, been ripening on the tree of the preceding discussion. I have ‘Suggested that the life of the great apes and man may not require much in the way of practical invention, but it does depend critically on the possession of