Author Topic: If I could speak to the animals...  (Read 2564 times)

Offline Battle

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If I could speak to the animals...
« on: July 28, 2008, 10:24:24 am »
In 1977 Irene Pepperberg,  a recent graduate of Harvard University, did something very bold.  At a time when animals were still considered automatons, she set out to find out what was on another creature's mind by talking to it.  She brought a one year old African gray parrot she named Alex into her lab to teach him to reproduce the sounds of the English language.

"I thought if he learned to communicate, I could ask him questions about how he sees the world."

When Pepperberg began her dialogue with Alex, who died last September at the age of 31, many scientists believed animals were incapable of any thought.  They were simply machines, robots programmed to react to stimuli but lacking the ability to think or feel. Any pet owner would disagree.

How, then, does a scientist prove that an animal is capable of thinking---that it is able to acquire information about the world and act on it? 

"That's why I started my studies with Alex,"  Pepperberg said. They were seated --- she at her desk, he on top of his cage --- in her lab, a windowless room about the size of a boxcar, at Brandeis University.






"Don't be a smart aleck," Pepperberg said, shaking her head at him.  "He knows all this, and he gets bored, so he interrupts the others or he gives the wrong answer just to be obstinate.  At this stage, he's like a teenage son; he's moody, and I'm never sure what he'll do."

"Wanna go tree,"  Alex said in a tiny voice.

Alex had lived his entire life in captivity, but he knew that beyond the lab's door, there was a hallway and a tall window framing a leafy elm tree.  He liked to see the tree, so Pepperberg put her hand out for him to climb aboard. She walked him down the hall into the tree's green light.

"Good boy!  Good birdie,"  Alex said, bobbing on her hand.
"Yes, you're a good boy.  You're a good birdie."  And she kissed his feathered head.

He was a good birdie until the end, and Pepperberg was happy to report that when he died he had finally mastered "seven."


Please note: A very condensed version of the article.
Morell, Virginia. "Mind Of Thier Own" National Geographic (2008): 36-61.

---------------------------------------------------------

In the letters page of the July 2008 issue of National Geographic, Maggie Raczek from Portland, Oregon writes:

How incredibly sad. Irene Pepperberg spends 30 years trying to communicate with Alex, an African gray parrot, so she can ask "how he sees the world."  When she succeeds and hears,
"Wanna go tree,"
she denies what appears to be a plea for freedom. We need to find a way to study these amazing animals and allow them to live the lives that nature intended.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2008, 12:01:32 pm by Battle »

Offline Vic Vega

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Re: If I could speak to the animals...
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2008, 01:07:40 pm »
It's interesting that Ms. Pepperburg interpreted Alex's plea in the way that was most convienent for her (only taking Alex to LOOK at the tree as opposed to letting it out of its cage).

What the point in trying to communicate when you aren't going to listen?

Of course, Inter-personal communications aren't any better.

Why should inter-species communication be any different?
 ;D

Offline Battle

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Re: If I could speak to the animals...
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2008, 08:04:59 am »
It's interesting that Ms. Pepperburg interpreted Alex's plea in the way that was most convienent for her (only taking Alex to LOOK at the tree as opposed to letting it out of its cage).

What the point in trying to communicate when you aren't going to listen?

Of course, Inter-personal communications aren't any better.

Why should inter-species communication be any different?
 ;D


Heh heh heh! I'm glad you caught that! ;)

It was also noted in the March 2008 issue , the month I forgot to cite:

"His[Alex] voice had the digitized sound of a cartoon character. Since parrots lack lips (another reason it was difficult for Alex to pronounce some sounds, such as ba), the words seem to come from the air around him, as if a ventriloquist were speaking. But the words --- and what can only be called thoughts --- were entirely his."

It would be reasonable to assume that parrots cannot pronounce sounds like, fra or tra.
Peppergerg comprehended Alex sayin', tree when he could have actually been sayin', free. ;D

It took, what? ...like, 30+ years to figure out the obvious? ???

Offline Vic Vega

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Re: If I could speak to the animals...
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2008, 09:45:09 am »
It's interesting that Ms. Pepperburg interpreted Alex's plea in the way that was most convienent for her (only taking Alex to LOOK at the tree as opposed to letting it out of its cage).

What the point in trying to communicate when you aren't going to listen?

Of course, Inter-personal communications aren't any better.

Why should inter-species communication be any different?
 ;D


Heh heh heh! I'm glad you caught that! ;)

It was also noted in the March 2008 issue , the month I forgot to cite:

"His[Alex] voice had the digitized sound of a cartoon character. Since parrots lack lips (another reason it was difficult for Alex to pronounce some sounds, such as ba), the words seem to come from the air around him, as if a ventriloquist were speaking. But the words --- and what can only be called thoughts --- were entirely his."

It would be reasonable to assume that parrots cannot pronounce sounds like, fra or tra.
Peppergerg comprehended Alex sayin', tree when he could have actually been sayin', free. ;D

It took, what? ...like, 30+ years to figure out the obvious? ???

Well to be fair no pet owner wants to consider that all little boopsie REALLY wants to do is escape.

Offline Battle

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Re: If I could speak to the animals...
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2008, 09:48:02 am »
Quote
Well to be fair no pet owner wants to consider that all little boopsie REALLY wants to do is escape.---Vic Vega

That's true.