It imposes a sovereign function on the stick that goes beyond the physical

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A note for Lesson no. 7, "Our Brains Can Create Reality," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 120 is:

If a troop of chimps agreed that whosoever pulls a particular stick out of the ground becomes king of the jungle, that would be social reality, because it imposes a sovereign function on the stick that goes beyond the physical.

The appendix adds:

Chimpanzees and many other nonhuman animals have dominance hierarchies, but those hierarchies are neither established nor maintained by social reality.

Chimpanzee social life is complex, but chimps within the same troop are thought to maintain a strict dominance hierarchy through physical actions that solidify and maintain social connections. Some of these actions are antagonistic and others are affiliative, such as grooming (e.g. [1][2]). In general, chimpanzee social dynamics are contextual and complex, and are not driven exclusively by access to food and mating. To learn a bit more about the remarkable abilities of chimps, see these references.[3][4][5]

Our scientific knowledge about chimpanzee capacities and behaviors is continually evolving (e.g., [6][7]) as scientists try to resist viewing them as slightly less-evolved humans (i.e., avoiding anthrocentrism). There is some evidence that chimps can learn to use a form of currency, which is a kind of social reality, but they engage in this practice only in their interactions with humans, not with each other, and only for food.

The nature of dominance hierarchies in bonobos (called pygmy chimpanzees or Pan paniscus), a closely related species to common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), is still highly debated.[8]


  1. Jake A. Funkhouser, Jessica A. Mayhew, Lori K. Sheeran, et al. 2018. "Comparative Investigations of Social Context-Dependent Dominance in Captive Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and Wild Tibetan Macaques (Macaca thibetana)." Scientific Reports 8: 13909 .
  2. Funkhouser Jake A., Jessica A. Mayhew, and John B. Mulcahy. 2018. "Social Network and Dominance Hierarchy Analyses At Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest." PLoS ONE 13(2): e0191898.
  3. Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, Masaki Tomonaga, and Masayuki Tanaka. Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees. Tokyo: Springer.
  4. Tomasello, Michael. 2014. A Natural History of Human Thinking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  5. Tomasello, Michael. 2019. Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
  6. Sandel, Aaron A., Rachna B. Reddy, and John C. Mitani. 2017. "Adolescent Male Chimpanzees Do Not Form a Dominance Hierarchy With Their Peers." Primates 58 (1): 39–49.
  7. Sandel, Aaron A., Kevin E. Langergraber, and John C. Mitani. 2020. "Adolescent Male Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes) Form Social Bonds With Their Brothers and Others During the Transition To Adulthood." American Journal of Primatology 82 (1): e23091.
  8. Paoli, T., Elisabetta Palagi, and SM Borgognini Tarli. 2006. "Reevaluation of Dominance Hierarchy in Bonobos (Pan Paniscus)." American Journal of Physical Anthropology: The Official Publication of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists 130 (1): 116–122.