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Cetaceans Have Complex Brains for Complex Cognition

  • Lori Marino mail,

    To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: lmarino@emory.edu

    X
  • Richard C Connor,
  • R. Ewan Fordyce,
  • Louis M Herman,
  • Patrick R Hof,
  • Louis Lefebvre,
  • David Lusseau,
  • Brenda McCowan,
  • Esther A Nimchinsky,
  • Adam A Pack,
  • Luke Rendell,
  • Joy S Reidenberg,
  • Diana Reiss,
  • Mark D Uhen,
  • Estel Van der Gucht,
  • Hal Whitehead
  • Published: May 15, 2007
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139

Reader Comments (4)

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Look between the brains at the interactions

Posted by plosbiology on 07 May 2009 at 22:17 GMT

Author: Howard Garrett
Position: Director
Institution: Orca Network, Greenbank WA USA
E-mail: howard@orcanetwork.org
Submitted Date: May 19, 2007
Published Date: May 21, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

This paper seems to be a response to Manger, and it should establish that complex cetacean brains are for complex cognition. This provides a foundation, or potential, for complex social relationships that lead to cultural behavior, but it doesn't provide a theory of those relationships.
My problem with the authors' perspective is that there's not a single social scientist among them. They're all biologists, neuroscientists and psychologists, and a geologist, so they have an individualistic perspective, i.e., cognition, as if it's a totally individual capability, when in fact what an individual knows is largely what its society knows, transmitted by communication, usually symbolic, sometimes by imitation, from individual to individual. The references to behavior and culture are intended to support the theory of complex cognition, but don't offer a description or theory of complex social relationships.
More interesting than the complexity of the processes inside the brains of the animals are the interactions that communicate the meanings of objects and events between individuals. When a fish-eating resident orca notes a fish to another resident, the meaning of the notation is completely different than when a mammal-eating transient orca notes a fish. Behavior derives from the social dynamics that result from how the knowledge (cognition) is defined, passed around, modified, interpreted and enacted. It's the shared meanings that set the behavior, which is what determines evolutionary success or failure, and not so much in the formative processes within the brain. Somebody needs to look between the individuals at the interactions, but so far I haven't seen any sign of it.
A brief treatment of symbolic interaction in orcas can be found here: http://www.orcanetwork.or...

No competing interests declared.