Monday, June 5, 2017

Biologists Study the Principles Underlying the Collective Movement of Baboons #Science

While this may appear a simple exercise in observation of humans is the same as observing baboons but it's not true since human behavior is considerably worse.

These are the movement patterns of baboons in the wild

Credit: Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin

How do baboons succeed in coordinating the movements of their group? Biologists at the University of Konstanz study these organisms in the wild to find out which behavioural rules baboons use when interacting with others. Konstanz researchers have found out that the animals only need a few simple rules to coordinate their group movements, enabling them to organise themselves, and to make decisions, without splitting. In four recent research publications -- published in the journals Science, Scientific Reports, eLife and the Proceedings of the Royal Society B -- the Konstanz scientists paint a new picture of group dynamics among baboons with unprecedented detail by tracking how individuals make decisions within a group. Research partners were the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama as well as Princeton University, the University of California, Davis, and the University of Illinois at Chicago (all USA).

Science Daily:  The rules of baboons: Biologists study the principles underlying the collective movement of baboons

Hat tip to UC Davis in one of my ex-hometowns.

Baboons have long been studied because they have a highly complex social structure, forming groups from 20 to over 100 individuals. Such social structure suggested to early biologists that baboons must employ high levels of cognition to be able to coordinate their behaviour with so many group mates. For example, classical theories on group coordination among baboons suggested that the larger, grown-up individuals should stay at the periphery of the group to protect younger and weaker animals in the centre. However, to constantly keep up this positioning, each baboon would need to know, at all times, where the other members of the group are. Konstanz biologists have now demonstrated that this is not necessarily the case -- neither is there a need for it. "Actually, coordinating their movement with only a few neighbouring individuals can generally be enough for animals to keep their group together, and what we see in the baboons is consistent with this idea," explains biologist Dr. Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin. Mathematics can further explain how individuals maintain specific positions within the group (either close to the center, at the front, back, or at the periphery) as her colleague Dr. Damien Farine explains: "If a baboon tries to stay together with only a slightly larger number of neighbouring individuals, this baboon will automatically move closer to the centre of the group. By contrast, individuals that coordinate their positions with a smaller number of fellow group members will end up at the group's periphery."

- SD

That one easily translates to human behavior since we can see it clearly in social networks where people keep track of a great many people and tend to cluster with them while they trust the wisdom of the elders which comes from elsewhere.  Those who keep track of a few tend to avoid such cloistering but, unlike baboons, there's a strong tendency in some of those elders to keep the others cloistered rather than protect them in any particular way.

There is much more detail to the article and the interested student is invited to review but we're skipping to the conclusion.

"Together, these studies capture new insights into how baboons make decisions. No longer do we believe that a single dominant male leads the troop, deciding on behalf of everyone," says Damien Farine. Instead, University of Konstanz researchers have revealed that baboon life is much more democratic, and that many of the complex behaviours they exhibit might actually be the outcome of simple behavioural rules, potentially allowing individuals to spend more time thinking about other things -- such as looking out for predators.

- SD

The elders protect the tribe rather than the females and the juniors and all of that is buggered with humans but that's a simple observation and it's not the full point of the article.

It's through this type of ethology or the study of animal behavior from which the concept of altruistic suicide arose and that was from the study of baboons.  The elders can't help but know they will die when they attack a predator such as a cheetah or a leopard since the predator is much faster, sneakier, and more deadly; either that or the baboon is just dumb as a rock.

Therefore, the baboon knows it's going to die but its highly-developed sense of social order makes it easy to believe it also knows the troop will escape as a result.  In that context, the scientists devised the idea of altruistic suicide in terms of basic philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number or go Star Trek, if you like, with the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Baboons can be observed to live and some die by it but the troop survives.

For the Rockhouse, this is one of the most fascinating studies within ethology since this goes all the way up to certain deities in the human sphere.  All of that comes back to the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and you can segue that out to the position of the Socialist Left and that works but it's still not so much the point since animals are observed doing it so the actual point runs much deeper and the interested student is invited to pursue that, perhaps most of all.

Logically, those guardian baboons should say fuck the troop and run since they will have the best chance to escape and they can find more females elsewhere to start over ... but they don't.  If you can find why they don't, that might even be Nobel material, young grasshopper.

In fact, that also extends to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, none of which are implemented in any of the currently-extant AI systems.  One notable aspect the Laws is a robot must not through action or inaction cost the life of a human and that inevitably must mean the robot must destroy itself if its a threat to that human.

Maybe you noticed that logic wasn't present in HAL 9000 in "2001: A Space Odyssey" either.  In that circumstance, the robot believed it was logical to sacrifice the humans so it could continue the mission which was the converse of Asimov's Laws.

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