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4 Humans, Animals, Art, and Learning in Nature

4 Humans, Animals, Art, and Learning in Nature

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Hunter-Gatherers and Learning in Nature


Fig. 22.4 Learning cycle in


walking about






The marvelous development of symbolic art with animal

motifs in human culture after the RNMH suggests that the

relationship between humans and animals had changed from

previous times (cf. Figs. 22.4, 22.5a and 22.5b in the last

section). Humans seem to have become quite sensitive to

and enamored with animals, and animal-human relations

became the primary issue beyond hunting affairs in the life

of hunter-gatherers. To understand their minds, we have to

explore the following questions about the lives of ancient

hunters: How did they think about animals? What was the

relationship between subsistence hunting and artistic representation? What consequences did that novel relationship

bring about? As the information from archaeological evidence is very limited, I will first look into the life of contemporary hunter-gatherers and look at their relationships with

wild animals, then consider about the life and mind of

ancient hunters.


attack or escape

pragmatic relationship

Fig. 22.5a Human-animal relationship before the RNMH

22.4.2 Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers’

Relationship with Animals

Various studies about the relationship of modern huntergatherers to the natural environment have been conducted

for decades. Roughly speaking, there are two streams of

investigation: the ethnoscientific approach and the ethnographic approach. In the former, the relationship between

humans and natural world is described and analyzed from an

objective standpoint. This approach has yielded detailed

objective knowledge of indigenous people and their natural

environment. For example, in an ethnozoological study,

Blurton-Jones and Konner (1976) investigated knowledge

of animal behavior among the !Kung Bushmen of southern

Africa. They found the !Kung learn about animals chiefly

through direct observation or scientific reconstruction of

specific animal behavior based on objective evidence such

as animal footprints on the sand. The authors reported that

“the !Kung appear to [knew] a good deal more about many

subjects than [did] the scientists.” Levi-Strauss (1962) also

noted numerous examples of ethnoscientific knowledge,

challenging commonly held ethnocentric biases regarding

the validity and importance of indigenous knowledge about

local environments.

On the other hand, hunter-gatherers use quite a different

approach to animals and have a different relationship

with the animals. Ethnographic investigations into the relationship between indigenous people and their natural


H. Terashima

Fig. 22.5b Human-animal

relationship after the RNMH

sympathetic & symbolic relationship






pragmatic relationship

environment have been carried out with the aim of understanding cultural values and meanings of indigenous

peoples’ environment. Ethnographic descriptions are abundant in this area as well. Bleek and Lloyd (2007[1901])

gathered various folktales from the Bushmen, one of

which, entitled “Bushman Presentiments,” tells of the sympathetic interaction between the game animal and the hunter.

Bushmen claim that the animal taps the hunter’s body as it

comes closer. They call that tapping a “letter” from the

animal. The Kaska indigenous people of northwest Canada

are reported to believe they can speak with animals

(Yamaguchi 2012). During moose hunting season, Kaska

hunters carefully wait for messages from the moose, which

sometimes arrive in a dream at night or in the bush during the

day. Then the hunter adjusts his hunting tactics after

reflecting on the message and other information on the

natural environment. Disrespect for the messages or signs

from the animal may cause bad results.

The reciprocal relationship between humans and animals

is one more important feature in northern hunter-gatherers

and could also be considered a sympathetic relationship.

Many northern hunting peoples believe that wild animals

have a soul and life as “other-than-human persons”

(Nadasdy 2007; Omura 2013). The animal’s soul is supposed to be immortal, but the body is not so; thus it must

be regenerated by being killed and eaten by the faithful

hunters. The hunters help the animal with its regeneration,

and the animal gives the hunters its meat, which is shared in

the local community and generates happiness and solidarity

among the residents. The hunters must pay respect to the

animal and treat it with great hospitality; otherwise they will

never have a chance to kill it. The same theme is expressed

beautifully by Yukaghir hunters of eastern Siberia, who note

that “the hunter will not be able to kill the reindeer if she

does not like him, and the bear is only the victim of his

liking, since it presents itself at a good place to receive the

fatal shoot from the hunter” (Rite de Chasse chez les Peuples

Sibe´riens by Eveline Lot-Falck, quoted in Bataille 1986


Those two streams of investigation and understanding of

the relationships between humans and nature derive not

simply from the framework of academic disciplines, but

they reflect indigenous people’s understanding of nature.

Mathias Guenther (1988) mentions that Bushmen, as well

as other hunter-gatherers, have a deep concern for animals

not just as food but also as symbolic creatures. He also

claims that animals are ambivalent beings for Bushmen

ontologically as well as epistemologically. Animals are

recognized both the “same as” and “other than” humans.

Hunters try to kill animals to eat them for sustenance, but

the same animals appear as creatures living sympathetically

with humans in the same environment. They are represented

in myths, folktales, and paintings as equal or superior to

humans. The ontological duality of animals, being “other

than” and “same as,” corresponds with epistemological

modes of “knowledge” and “understanding.” In terms of a

mode of knowledge, animals are treated as objects to be

observed and investigated in an objective manner. In terms

of a mode of understanding, animals are regarded sympathetically, as others taking part as equals within an intersubjective relationship. The knowledge mode is cognitively

appropriate to hunting; on the other hand, the understanding

mode is proper to artists and narrative performers who recreate the animals by means of icons and myths. Both of the

two approaches to animals are indispensable to human life

since “the hunt feeds primarily the stomach, the expressive

performance primarily the soul” (Guenther 1988, p. 200).

Those two perspectives of animals are, however, not isolated

or independent from one another, but interchangeable,

overlapping, and mutually constitutive.

The idea of communication and interaction between

humans and animals has been often treated as just a “cultural

construct” or “metaphor” alien to the real world. However, it

might be imprudent or even harmful to think of the


Hunter-Gatherers and Learning in Nature

relationship between humans and animals as in purely

metaphorical terms. To do so is to ignore the beliefs of

indigenous people concerning animals, making it impossible

to understand that for many of them, hunting is a form of

“cultural interaction” with animals (Nadasdy 2007). The

“letters” and “messages” mentioned above are not

constructed just from fiction, but they are based on the

hunter-gatherers’ most primary daily activity of walking

around in nature, during which they eagerly observe the

natural environment, seek novel information, and take note

of everything that arouses their interest. Kazuyoshi

Sugawara (2001) claims that Bushman hunters extend a

“cognitive screen” into their environment by walking about

in the environment. The screen consists of an infinite number

of cultural as well as natural “scanning lines” to gather every

piece of relevant information. Cultural scanning lines, as

well as objective lines, range from jinxes to myths and

bring “noticing” or “good sense” for hunters about their

natural environment.

22.4.3 Learning and Innovation Cycle in Nature

The understanding of animals not only in objective but also

in sympathetic modes is important for both the subsistence

and mentality of contemporary hunter-gatherers and seems

to enhance learning in broad terms. The objective and sympathetic approaches might appear to be unrelated ways of

arriving at totally different goals, but indeed they are complementary to one another, forming an integrated body of

knowledge. With either approach, hunters put themselves

deep in natural environments, each a web of infinite and

interrelated elements: organic and nonorganic, active and

inactive, visible and invisible, and terrestrial, aquatic, and

aerial. There, they hear the sounds of nature, feel how nature

moves, and think about nature. Nature, marked with its

miraculous complexity and movements, provides humans

with a number of opportunities for exploration, observation,

discovery, and meditation. It may not be an exaggeration to

say that almost all human ideas are ultimately derived from

nature. Taking this into account, it might not be so reckless

to relate human learning capacity to nature.

Here I propose to map out the learning cycle for huntergatherers in the natural environment (Fig. 22.4): (1) it starts

with curiosity and interest in nature (2) that in turn

motivates people to explore their natural environment,

and then (3) careful attention to, observation of, and dialogue with nature bring about discovery, while (4) discovery sparks both imitation and imagination, which may lead

to the creation of new technology and ideas and (5) that

results in more interest and desire to know about nature. A

repository of common knowledge is situated at the center

of this cycle. Individual learners can consult with that


repository at any time and, in turn, add new information

to share with others.

The point of this learning cycle is that it is embedded in

the daily routine of searching for food and other resources in

nature. It starts with a desire to learn and ends with the joy of

learning. Although people might not be able to make a

remarkable discovery every day, they have feelings about,

think about, and enjoy free dialogue with nature. The exposure to such fresh cognitive and physical stimuli may help to

establish fertile ground in peoples’ bodies and minds for

future discoveries and creative work.

22.4.4 Art, Nature, and Learning

Before the RNMH, humans might have had a rather simple

pragmatic relationship with the animals they encountered

(Fig. 22.5a). The MSA saw the rise of self-consciousness

in humans, evident archaeologically in deposits of red ocher,

likely used for body painting. Such evidence does not, however, seem to point clearly to the emergence of a cognitive or

conceptual distinction between humanity and animality. Our

human ancestors around the time of the RNMH, however,

might have discovered the symbolic value of animals in

addition to their pragmatic value as food and become

aware of the difference between humanity and animality.

Animals became “good to think about,” not simply “good to

eat” (Le´vi-Strauss 1962; Willis 1974; Terashima 2001,

2007; Ichikawa 1987; Lewis, Chap. 12, this volume). In

particular, their salient morphological characteristics, their

beautiful, breathtaking movements and power, may have

been perceived as far superior to those of humans and thus

might have induced humans to express them in artistic form.

The animals were not mere objects of painting, but active

creatures that communicate with humans. Bataille (1986

[1955], p. 129) wrote about the Lascaux paintings: “things

which we sense and are touched by in Lascaux are those

which move. Sentiment of dance of spirit arises with an

innovative beauty emitted from feverish movements: what

deeply imposes itself upon us is the unrestrained communication between man and the world surrounding him. Man

puts himself to the communication in accordance with the

world and discovers the richness of the world.”

The act of making symbolic art might have opened a door

to other dimensions of meaning and of life itself. Hiroshi

Senju (2011), a contemporary Japanese painter, has said that

artistic imagination is a synonym for human imagination and

that art is a way to transmit the beauty that one has discovered to others. It is motivated by the desire to communicate

with others, and as such it facilitates relationships between

people. Thus, Senju argues, the appreciation of or tendency

to create art must be innate in humans and is thus indispensable to their social lives. This statement corresponds with


Bataille’s (1986, 2004) identification of the emergence of

artistic performance with the naissance of humanity and selfconsciousness.

The human-animal relationship after the RNMH is

illustrated in Fig. 22.5b. It began with the separation of

humans from animals. After the separation, communication

and reciprocal relationships developed between them. In this

way, humans may have established an understanding of

animals rooted in sympathy, intersubjectivity, and symbolism, rather than viewing them solely from a pragmatic

standpoint, i.e., purely as a food source. As Senju (2011)

has expressed, once the capacity to create it evolved in

humans, art became indispensable to what it meant to be

human. Later, the further development of a sympathetic and

symbolic world view may have led humans toward the

invention of myths, each of which is a bricolage of the

human experience as it is expressed in language (Le´viStrauss 1962), often filled with animal images. Finally, at

the end of the long glacial epoch, humans began to domesticate wild animals and made their initial forays into agriculture – certainly an important subject of study with regard to

human-animal relationships, but one that is beyond the

scope of this paper.

The creation of artistic work can be understood as a type

of creative behavior within the natural learning cycle

described in Sect. 22.4.3. The careful and considerate exploration and observation of nature is likely to have played an

important role in the emergence of an understanding of

animals on a symbolic level, leading in turn to their depiction in works of art, which would have in turn enhanced and

cultivated subsequent generations of observers’ interest in

their natural environment. Today’s hunter-gatherers do not

depict animals in painting on the scale. However, the same

sense of beauty and splendor, the same profound admiration

for the natural environment as that expressed by ancient

hunters in the caves at Lascaux, Chauvet, and elsewhere,

continues to be refreshed and invigorated by modern huntergatherers through every performance of their myths,

folktales, dance, and song.


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Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes

Toward Learning: Considering Differences

in Learning Ability Between Neanderthals

and Modern Humans from Examining Inuit

Children’s Learning Process


Keiichi Omura


To consider the evolutionary basis of modern humans’ learning ability and thereupon build

a hypothesis of the key differentiating factors in learning abilities of Neanderthals and

modern humans, this study examines the sociocultural backgrounds of Inuit adults’ behavior of teasing children and examines the purpose behind the behavior.

First, I introduce a hypothesis to account for the difference in learning ability between

Neanderthals and modern humans, which I have proposed on the basis of Tomasello’s

model of cumulative cultural evolution and Bateson’s model of learning evolution. I then

examine examples of Inuit adults’ teasing of children to understand the characteristics of

teasing. Next, I situate their teasing in a sociocultural background, demonstrating that

teasing functions as a device for pre-learning, which is the basis for observational learning

and creative invention. Finally, using the findings of these analyses, I propose that the most

important differentiating factor in learning ability between Neanderthals and modern

humans is not in biological ability but in sociality, i.e., the way to collectively generate

and actively be involved in sociocultural institutions.


Cultural learning  Creativity  Cumulative cultural evolution  Objectification  Tomasello 

Bateson  Canadian Inuit  Teasing  Child training



Consider the following example of Inuit teasing of a young


Example 1: Catechism (Briggs 1979a, pp. 7–8)


(to 4-year-old niece, who has just returned to camp

after a visit to her mother, who is ill in a distant

community): “What a beautiful new shirt you

have!!” (voice of intense, excited delight)

K. Omura (*)

Studies in Language and Culture, Graduate School of Language and

Culture, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan

e-mail: BXQ06636@nifty.com












(smiles, happily)

(in persuasive voice) “Why don’t you die so I can

have it?”

(looks at aunt with blank face)

“Don’t you want to die?”

(raises eyebrows in affirmative gesture (meaning

that she does not want to die))

“Don’t you want to die? Do die” (persuasive

voice). “Then I can have the shirt” (reaches out

toward the shirt with exaggerated clutching gesture, fingers clawed and tensed)

(looks at aunt with blank face)

(changing the subject) “Did you see your new baby


(beams happily and raises eyebrows affirmatively)

“Do you love him?”

(raises brows, smiling)

# Springer Japan 2016

H. Terashima, B.S. Hewlett (eds.), Social Learning and Innovation in Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers,

Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series, DOI 10.1007/978-4-431-55997-9_23









K. Omura

“Did you carry (amaaq) him on your back?”

(raises brows and smiles, happily)

“Do you love him?”

(raises brows, smiling)

(in an exaggeratedly disgusted voice) “You love

him?!? I don’t love him. You love him? Why don’t

you tip him out of your parka and kill him?” (confidential, persuasive voice; jerks her own shoulders

forward to demonstrate the appropriate technique)

(looks at aunt with blank face)

. . .And so on as both themes are repeated several times.

As Briggs (1975, 1978, 1979a, b, 1982, 1994, 1998)

observed, such interaction between adults and children is

common in the societies of the Canadian Inuit, the indigenous

people living in the Arctic. While staying at the homes of Inuit

hunters almost every summer or winter since 1989, I often

observed adults teasing children—although their teasing was

not as contemptuous as that portrayed in the example above.1

Of course, Inuit adults do not intend to abuse their children

but to play with them. Indeed, audiences as well as teasers

were always moved to laughter, even though the teased child

might be moved to anger and cry loudly. However, after a

while, even the child would stop crying and smile shyly. Such

play is a highly common and pleasant event, the sign of a

typical, happy Inuit family life, always filled with laughter.

However, this type of teasing would certainly seem

extraordinarily abusive to those unfamiliar with the Inuit

way of life. Why do Inuit adults tease their children so

often? Is it only for fun? Or is there another purpose behind

the teasing? Anyone reading the example above would likely

ask these questions. I was surprised, and even shocked,

25 years ago when I witnessed such an incident for the first

time. Could children who were teased in this extraordinary

manner drift astray and possibly fall into evil practices?

Eventually, I discovered that these children grew into fine

adults, in part, thanks to the ordeal of such teasing. Gradually, I realized that the teasing might function to educate

children within the Inuit sociocultural context. If so, how

does teasing function as an educational device?

This study examines the sociocultural background of Inuit

tradition of teasing and its role in the education of children.

The findings help further our understanding about the evolutionary foundations of modern humans’ learning ability and to


Inuit adults’ teasing of children seems to be different from “lani-mani

(to make frightened, to scare, to frighten) children” presented in Yasmine

Musharbash’s Chap. 14 in this volume in that, as I show in this article, the

former is institutionalized in the life cycle and functions as the device for

pre-learning but the latter does not. However, it remains to be scrutinized

whether lani-mani is also institutionalized and functions as the device for

pre-learning or not and whether the institutionalized device for pre-learning

like Inuit adults’ teasing of children is a universal panhuman device or not.

develop a hypothesis of the key differentiating factors in

learning abilities of Neanderthals and modern humans.

First, I introduce a hypothesis of the differences in

learning ability between Neanderthals and modern humans

(Omura 2014a, b, 2015), based on Tomasello’s (1999) model

of cumulative cultural evolution and Bateson’s (1972) model

of learning evolution. Then, I provide some examples of Inuit

adults’ teasing of children in order to identify its salient

characteristics. Next, I situate teasing in the Inuit sociocultural background and demonstrate that teasing functions

as a device for pre-learning, which is the basis for observational learning and creative invention. Finally, on the

basis of these analyses’ results, I propose that the most

important differentiating factor in learning ability between

Neanderthals and modern humans is not in biological ability

but in sociality, i.e., the way in which sociocultural

institutions are collectively generated and maintained.


The Ability to Objectify: A Difference

in Learning Ability Between Modern

Humans and Neanderthals

A mystery of human evolution that has long puzzled

anthropologists is how cognitive skills unique to modern

humans evolved over only 250,000 years, a very short period

on an evolutionary scale (Tomasello 1999). This period does

not allow sufficient time for normal processes of biological

evolution, involving natural selection working on genetic variation, to have developed the cognitive skills necessary to invent

and maintain complex tool-use industries and technologies,

complex forms of symbolic communication and representation, and complex social organizations and institutions.

23.2.1 Tomasello’s Hypothesis of Cumulative

Cultural Evolution

To explain this phenomenon, Tomasello (1999) proposed

the model of cumulative cultural evolution. According to

Tomasello, only modern humans have acquired speciesunique modes of cultural transmission, i.e., features of cumulative cultural evolution. This process “requires not only

creative invention but also, and just as importantly, faithful

social transmission that can work as a ratchet to prevent

slippage backward—so that the newly invented artifact or

practice preserves its new and improved form at least somewhat faithfully until a further modification or improvement

comes along” (Tomasello 1999, p. 5). This mechanism of

cultural evolution, which works on time scales several orders

of magnitude faster than those of biological evolution, has

enabled modern humans to develop, in only 250,000 years,

cognitive skills and products that other animal species have

never achieved. This cumulative cultural evolution involves

the following two stages (see Fig. 23.1):


Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes Toward Learning: Considering. . .


Fig. 23.1 Ratchet effect of

cultural learning (Tomasello

1999, p. 38)

1. Childhood cultural learning: The ratchet of cultural


Childhood cultural learning denotes the process in which

children or novices learn cognitive skills through cultural

learning. Through this process, the pool of cognitive

skills and knowledge about previously invented products

are faithfully transmitted over generations and preserved

as resources for future innovation. This process functions

as the “ratchet” of cultural evolution.

2. Individual or collaborative creation: The driving force of

cultural evolution

In this process, individuals or groups of individuals modify existing cognitive skills and products or invent new

ones on the basis of an accumulated pool of cognitive

resources such as tools, technical processes, symbolic

communication devices, and social institutions. This process advances the rate of cultural evolution and thus can

be understood as its driving force.

23.2.2 Two Mental Abilities of Modern Humans

As I have demonstrated elsewhere (Omura 2014a, b, 2015),

a close examination of Tomasello’s hypothesis according

to Bateson’s (1972) model of the evolution of learning

reveals that modern humans possess two species-unique

mental abilities corresponding to two stages of cumulative

cultural evolution. These abilities are the theory of mind

(Tomasello 1999) and the mental objectification (Bateson

1972). The Ability to Engage in Theory of Mind:

Essential to Cultural Learning

According to Tomasello, cultural learning comprises three

types of learning, imitative, instructed, and collaborative

learning, and is based on “the ability of individual organisms

to understand conspecifics as beings like themselves who

have intentional and mental lives like their own” (Tomasello

1999, p. 5).

In imitative learning, “youngsters actually reproduce the

behavior or behavioral strategy of the demonstrator, for the

same goal as the demonstrator” (Tomasello 1999, p. 26).

Instructive learning denotes the learning process that “comes

from the ‘top down,’ as knowledgeable or skilled individuals

seek to impart knowledge or skills to others” (Tomasello

1999, p. 33). In collaborative learning, novices learn through

collaboration with knowledgeable and skilled individuals.

These types of cultural learning would not be possible without learners’ ability to understand the intentions behind

others’ behaviors.

Tomasello then points out that it is the power of cultural

learning to function as the ratchet of cultural evolution that

enables modern humans to accumulate modifications to their

past skills and abilities over time. He also notes that this

ability is restricted to modern humans. Thus, he concludes

that differences in learning between modern humans and

other animal species lie in the ability to engage in cultural

learning. This capacity is, in turn, based on the learners’

ability “to understand conspecifics as beings that follow

intentional and mental lives similar to their own,” in

Tomasello’s words. This may also be understood as the

ability to exercise a theory of mind.

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