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Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Things We Know and Take for Granted

I have seen a lot of deer on my property over the years. I have also seen deer making wild dashes into the road while I was driving through the countryside, as if no one had taught them how to cross the street when they were little. But city deer are different from country deer. They don't make a mad dash in the blind faith that they will be able to get across. City deer cross deliberately without haste, giving the cars a chance to slow down and avoid hitting them. City deer are sophisticated.

The video embedded above is of a deer I saw in Bloomington while visiting my mother. At no time did it run away. Its movements were slow and deliberate, and it eventually crossed the road safely, continuing on its path. This deer knows what to do, because it lives among humans. It has been assimilated into our society, at least a little bit -- enough to know how to cross the street.

We are all so steeped in the culture we live in, we sometimes take for granted most of what we know about how things work. For instance, when you open a book, which side do you look at first? It might depend on the language.

The bilingual version of In Case There's a Fox opens on both sides. It depends on which language you are reading it in,

Bow knows which way to go, depending on the language. In the video below, at about 38 seconds in, he is pointing at the Hebrew word for fox at the exact point when I read that word from that page. But notice which direction he arrives from when he gets to the word. He moves from the right to the left.

There are a lot of little things that show us what Bow knows. But we have to stop taking for granted that everybody should know these things, in order to observe the evidence. Bow is an enculturated chimpanzee. He behaves quite differently from a wild chimpanzee. But he is also bilingual, and he is literate, and he knows the conventions of each language he reads. He knows how to approach a Hebrew book, and he knows how to approach an English book, and his way of reading changes, depending on which language the story is written in.

Someday there will be a formal way to quantify this. But for right now, think about how differently a city deer behaves from a country deer. If all deer were exactly the same with hard wired routines common to their species, why would the difference in their behavior around roads be so obvious?


  1. You are right on about the difference between cultures - city deer and country deer. I love the two comparisons! It's very cool too that Bow knows how to approach each language. I really wish you could get some traction with all this research you're doing, Aya!

  2. I have seen deers and bears that do the same things in more populated mountain areas. Some bears lost the skills to hunt for food because they know trash cans are teeming with left overs.

    1. I think we all assimilate to our environment one way or another. If the environment happens to be more social, then we become more socially aware. Works for humans and deer -- why not bears?