Headline January 01, 2018/ '' 'BABOON'S THINKING SOCIETIES' ''


SCIENTIST Dorothy L Cheney devoted her entire life to determine how primates think. At the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana-

Dr. Cheney went about researching insights into the hierarchical nature of baboon societies.

''Cheney was a spectacular scientist,'' Robert M Spalosky, a professor of biology at and neurology at  Stanford University said by email.

''Along with Robert Seyfarth, she did wonderfully clever, elegant field experiments and revealed how other primates think about the world - showing that they think in far more sophisticated and interesting ways than people anticipated.''

She had planned to go to Law school. But her husband, whom she had married in 1971, had applied to work with the noted zoologist Robert Hinde at Cambridge University, and when he had an opportunity to go to South Africa to study baboons, he suggested she come along.

''I thought, What the hell, this could be fun for a year or two,' so I decided to put off law school and join him,'' she said.in an interview for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

''It was a transformative experience''.

After 18 months she applied to study with Professor Hinde as well. She received a Ph.D in zoology at Cambridge in 1977.

She and her husband were assistant professors at Rockefeller University in New York, then in 1981 joined the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1985 they moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where at her death Dr. Cheney was a professor of biology.

In a 2007 interview with The New York Times, Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth talked about the rules they had for staying safe in the places where they worked - for instance, never working alone or wading in water more than knee deep.

Even so, they said, they sometimes found themselves in trees with Baboons, waiting for the lions below to go away.

Dr. Seyfarth, in an email interview, said theirs was not one of those partnerships in which each person has a defined role.

''Our scientific contributions are hard to separate because the genesis of our ideas and experiments quickly became lost in the mists of conversation,'' he said.

''One of us had an idea, the other critiqued it, and back and forth it went until it finally took shape and neither of us remembered or cared who took credit for what.''

''Ours was a kind of scientific work that was less controlled than a laboratory experiment,'' he added,  ''but it suited us both perfectly.

In addition to her husband, Dr. Cheney is survived by her daughters, Caroline Cheney Roberts and Lucia Hall Seyfarth; a sister, Margaret Cheney, two brothers, Drew and Thomas; two stepsisters, Robin Bell and Roseanne Currier, a stepbrother David Bell; and a granddaughter. Her mother died last year.

The discoveries Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth made about baboons were certainly thought provoking, indicating a society formed around mother-daughter lines of descent and a brain specialized for social interaction and hierarchical dynamics

''Money society is governed by the same two general rules that governed that governed the behavior of women in so many 19th century novels,'' they write in ''Baboon Metaphysics''

''Stay loyal to your relatives {though perhaps at a distance, if they are an impediment}, but also try to ingratiate yourself with the members of high-ranking families.''

Dr. Cheney talked about the animals in a 2007 interview with NPR.

''They seem to know a huge amount about each other's special relationships and each other's dominance ranks,'' she said, ''so the social complexity, on the surface anyway, appears to be very similar to that of a very complex human society, and yet they're not humans.

''So the question is, what differentiates us from them and what sort of selective pressures might have gotten us from an organism that looks like a baboon to an organism that looks like us?''

With respectful dedication to the Scientists, Students, Professors and Teachers of the world.

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