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Re: Social Biology and Dinosaur Behavior

Larry Dunn wrote:
> ---Chris Campbell <Sankarah@ou.edu> wrote:
> > What you have to keep in mind here is that you don't know what animals
> > "get."  We're on the outside of the looking glass, looking in.  We see
> > things happen, but we don't know why.  The best we can do is assume
> > and pray the universe operates according to some intelligible norms 
> > (and its inhabitants as well).  We assume they have good reasons for 
> > doing things, and try to decipher them.  But we don't know what they 
> > do or do not "get."
> Which is the reason I suggest that we become better acquainted with
> social biology before we hope to hypothesize intelligently about
> animal behavior.  Otherwise we're working off the top of our (human)
> heads and supplying healthy doses of anthropomorphization.

No amount of familiarity with social biology will change the fact that
we'll *never* know what animals do or do not "get."  At best we'll have
good hypotheses.  
> An example: Victorian observers believed that certain African
> predators who'd just made a kill felt guilty about what they'd just
> done because they looked hesitant and peered sheepishly around the
> carcass (ignoring the simpler explanation that they were scouting out
> something that might come along and rob them of the kill).  Victorians
> felt (more than a little hypocritically, might I interject) that this
> killing was "wrong" and that the animal might feel guilt at having
> taken a life.

Of course, but this doesn't apply here.  We all know better than to
project our ethics onto animals in so brazen a manner.  Stick to
examples that are actually pertinent to the discussions at hand, if you
> > Not necessarily.  We also have to keep in mind that some forms of
> > cooperation are not only highly efficient but also extremely simple.
> I suspect that this is more anthropomorphization.  We cooperate, so we
> assume cooperation is simple.

Which is itself an assumption.  You suspect it's anthropomorphization
because you're sitting in the extreme corner which doesn't like social
behavior of any kind in therapods.  Step back from things for a bit and
look at how such behaviors might evolve; we see behaviors of this type
in spiders, crocodilians, fish, mammals, and birds.  Dinos ain't much of
a stretch.  It's not anthropomorphizing to say there's a good
possibility it occurred in at least some taxa; anything beyond that is
pure speculation, of course, but denying it altogether is somewhat
unreasonable IMO.
> > I wouldn't mind if you'd actually observed proper netiquette and asked
> > permission first.  It wouldn't take much, and posting mail in this
> > manner is extremely rude.
> You are upset. Well, I'm sorry then.

Don't be sorry, just take the time to do it right.  It's not that tough.
> >Be that as it may, yes, I would want to cooperate if times
> >were tough, but not because I'd figured out why this is a good idea.
> As a human being, you of course would.  

No, I'm thinking (as best I can, anyway) from a tyrannosaur perspective,
here.  Variation alone suggests that such things might happen on
occasion, and Harris hawks show that it does happen among extant
dinosaur species.

>But tigers generally don't, savannah monitors don't, an entire huge 
>range of animals don't.

And yet tigers occasionally do, and monitors occasionally do, and an
entire huge range on animals do both on occasion and on a regular
basis.  Consider this: you mention tigers here, but another species in
the tiger's very genus (lions) is second only to a few species of canids
in sociality among the carnivores.  If such variation exists in an
extant genus (and many others as well) why on Earth can't we entertain
the very good possibility such variation was present in dinosaur genera
as well?  The applies particularly to genera with extremely broad
> > but characterizing a behavior as cooperative is fine so long 
> > as we have our definitions straight.
> Well, that's correct of course, and that's what I'm suggesting -- that
> we get our definitions straight.

I tried to list suggestions for a few a couple of days ago, but no one
seemed interested.  <Shrug>
> > The best book on the topic is Wilson's _Sociobiology_.  The first
> > and last chapters are enormously controversial, but the bulk of the 
> > book in between is quite excellent.  Other works to consider include 
> > anything from R. L. Trivers, Nico Tinbergen, W. D. Hamilton, and R. D. 
> > Alexander.  These will get you started nicely.
> Glad to have the correct title and the other references.  Hope others
> who partake in these discussions read these.

The Trivers and Hamilton stuff in particular is definitive of the
field.  Wilson's work is so good because he draws the work of several
decades together in one volume.  It's extremely big, but everything in
there is relevant.  Wish I could get a copy, but IIRC it's out of print
and pricy to track down.  :(