Niko Tinbergen
The Animal in its World

London: George Allen & Unwin, 1972

From a lecture given by Tinbergen at Oxford University, 27 October 1964:

"The uniqueness of Man is not a matter of his structure. His body and its functions are in general very similar to those of other mammals -- that is why medicine can study in animals the functions of, say, kidneys, of the heart, of eye and ear, even the basic functions of the nerve cells, and extrapolate with confidence. The uniqueness of Man is agreed to be a matter of behavior. If it is to be reduced to structural characters, it is the brain that is unique, that functions in a unique way. There are of course links with other structural characteristics, but attempts (made in the past) to reduce Man's behavioral uniqueness to, say, the possession of hands, or to his upright posture, have not been very convincing -- they have been too simplistic, too one-sided. The way the biologist approaches this problem is based on his knowledge of the fact of evolution. No informed person can doubt any more that Man has evolved, slowly and very gradually, from ancestors which were far more similar to other mammals than Man is now. This means that everything Man is and does now must have evolved, through a long series of minute evolutionary steps, from what his animal ancestors were and did. Man has diverged very gradually from monkey or ape-like stock to what he is now, just as modern closely related animal species have diverged from common stock...

It has often been pointed out that Man, himself a product of evolution of a type similar to that which has created all other animal forms, namely adaptive hereditary change, has now embarked on a new type of evolution, which Huxley calls 'psycho-social evolution'. I prefer the term 'cultural evolution'. It is based on accumulated transfer, by tradition, from one generation to the next, of knowledge (or phenotypic) behavior changes, i.e., changes acquired through individual experience. Our culture is very different from that of Cro-Magnon Man, but generally we may not have changed much -- most of our modern attributes are due to the accumulation of transferred knowledge. We differ from animals not merely in the extent of what we can ourselves learn, but in the progressive (and steadily accelerating) accumulation of experience through the generations."

Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1988) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1973. He is considered one of the founders of ethology, the systematic study of animal behavior.





Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles