Monday, March 1

Troop Mind Journal 02/09

Aaron was consorting again. When the alpha male is in a consortship with a female, things tend to get (more) boring because the male will just follow her bobbing bum around all day, rather than using his masculine influence to drive the troops behavior towards goals... or rather, other goals.

This thought crossed my mind, and next I began to think, well, if the male is such a powerful force in the troop mind, then what happens if he appears to not be exerting his influence on the greater mentality?

This is essentially the situation you're given when a male is indisposed due to the influence of feminine wiles. The troop acts independently of the male since he's just bowing to the whims of his girlfriend. Right?

As I observed, greater complexities began to emerge before me. It is true that Aaron was just following the estrous female, Siri, as far as I could make out. He remained with her at the rear-center of the group, and left the juvenile and sub-adult males to seek out the feeding ground via the usual routes.

What was Siri following? Normally she'd tag along with the core of females, which generally followed Aaron's lead by several meters. Without his lead, what influenced her motions? Ultimately it seemed like she followed the lead of the males up front.

Yet the most telling scene of this day came in the early morning, just after the baboons woke up from their night's sleep. As usual, they groomed and played around their bedspots for an hour or so before beginning to move. Longer, today, because Aaron was leading the departure.

Aaron and Siri spent the morning quite actively. They were copulating, of course, and Siri was leading Aaron, and the two of them moved back and forth between the eastern to western boundaries of the sleeping site. This pattern continued without fail until the group finally left. The pair were able to complete three cycles of west-to-east-back-to-west in a little more than an hour.

Here's where the situation becomes intriguing: the rest of the troops' movements mirrored those of the copulating pair, but lagged behind by about ten minutes or so. It was like waves of water washing up along the sides of a half-pipe: Aaron and Siri represented by the tip of each wave, followed by the body of the wave, the bulk of the troop.

In particular, the other females followed the pair, presumably still following Aaron's movements. He wasn't going very far, the span between the two edges was a hundred meters at most, but the vast majority of the females, and many of the juveniles followed in his wake. In spite of Aaron's clearly altered behavior, the troop was still heavily influenced by his relatively small movements. Aaron and Siri sit at the far western side, and twenty minutes later, they would be headed back from whence they came, but Lottie, Matilda, Punzle, Wendy, and company would be sitting and grooming where Aaron had been a few minutes earlier.

When the male posse did manage to get out the door, it was unclear if Siri or Aaron was the member of the pair to follow. Aaron was behind her, but that actually says almost nothing, since a male baboon moving behind a female, no matter how calm, could be a follow or herd. Still, where the pair went, the core followed after.

One must ask again, what was leading Siri that morning? Coyness with Aaron? Legitimate desire to get away from him? Youthful energy (she has yet to have a baby of her own)? Was it the simple by product of the standard copulatory dart, whereby the female runs a short distance away each time the male mates with her? Under the blade of Occam's Razor, we might find that was all there was to it.


  1. Mocha-face and I were just talking a couple nights ago about how stupid Occam's Razor is. Not to say your conclusion is wrong, but to assume that the simple answer is correct, especially in such a complex field as animal behavior, would I think be unwise.

  2. I'd be curious to see an attempt at modeling the herd's behavior the same way one does ant colonies in terms of swarm intelligence. It seems like there's a certain level of precedent here for behavior of Follow The Common Lead despite any localized perception (That is, noticing that Aaron/Siri are staying in the same general area).

  3. I think Nepharis has completely misunderstood the point of Occam's razor. Occam's admonition was, "Do not multiply entities unnecessarily." His example was the razor he shaved with every morning. The simplest explanation was that it was the same razor every day, although many other theories (involving razor elves, for example) could equally well explain the presence of a razor resting in the same spot every day.

    The import is that, when facing multiple explanations of phenomenon, the one with the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct. That's hardly the same as it probably being correct; rather, it is more likely than any other single explanation when they are compared head to head. All this can be justified mathematically, using maximum entropy methods.

  4. Nepharis: I agree, hence the "might." You're also right about the complexity of the behavioral fields (animals more, but humans as well), particularly because of immense observer bias.

    Legion: Groupthink is experiencing its heyday as a hot topic among ethologists, so you'll find some papers out about this already, and there ought to be many more to follow.

    Buzz: I'm pretty confident that Nepharis knows exactly what the definition of Occam's Razor is.

  5. His comment suggests otherwise.