Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee

If we could talk to the animals, just imagine it/ Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee/ Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting to a cheetah/ What a neat achievement that would be. Doctor Dolittle
David Seaton's News Links
Sometimes you hear people say, "how can anyone spend so much time worrying about animals when human beings all over the world are suffering?"

Actually the people who don't worry about animals probably don't worry about people very much either. The act of "caring" is a muscle that has to be constantly exercised. The more it is used the stronger it gets.

The path to peace is about empathy: its about seeing our self in others, it's about extending compassion farther and farther beyond our own narrow circle of lovers, friends and family, community, religion and country. The idea here is that if you believe that talking to monkeys is useful, then you might also come to believe that trying to understand and care about any other human being is a valuable use of your time too. DS

Groundbreaking Research Has Scientists Talking With Apes - ABC News
Abstract: The Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, is home to seven bonobos -- a close relative of the chimpanzee -- and three orangutans. But if you think Iowa might be a strange place for them to live, don't say it out loud & these apes understand English. Really. No kidding. You can talk to the apes, and they know what you are saying. The residents of the Great Ape Trust are part of groundbreaking language research where the apes are being taught to communicate with humans by pressing 350 lexigrams -- symbols that appear on a screen and represent thoughts and objects. The superstar is 26-year-old Kanzi, whom Bill Fields has been working with for years. To communicate, Fields speaks to Kanzi, who then points to the lexigrams to respond and demonstrate a level of understanding. "Qualitatively, there is no difference between Kanzi's language and my language," Fields said. "It's a matter of degree." The key to ensuring they grasp the language, the researchers said, is to start teaching them when they are young, just like you would with human babies.(...) When they begin to work with the apes, some pick up the vocabulary quickly while others never acquire the language. Rob Shumaker has known Azy, a majestic, huge male orangutan, for more than 20 years. He talks to Azy, just like he would speak to one of his children, or a longtime friend. "When I'm around them we just kind of talk normally," he explained. "I use my normal vocabulary, my normal voice my normal gestures." Sound beyond belief? During a visit to the Great Ape Trust, I sat down with Kanzi the Bonobo -- the first Ape I have ever interviewed. I read Kanzi a series of words, and then without fail, he hit the corresponding lexigram symbol on a touch screen. I said "Egg." He pressed "Egg." I said, "M and M." He pressed "M and M." Then Kanzi took control of the conversation and pressed the symbol for "Surprise!" Needless to say, I was quite surprised, having never actually spoken to an ape before. But Kanzi was pointing to a box of candy that I was sitting near. That is the surprise that he wanted.(...) The insight into ape learning might also give some insight into human development. "It tells us about how we learn everything," said Fields, "what the antecedents are to the kind of powerful learning that could occur in humans." Sometimes the similarities to humans are downright eerie. When I asked Kanzi if he wanted coffee, he enthusiastically shook his head up and down. Bonobos share 98 percent of their DNA with humans -- they also apparently share a love of decaf caramel machiatos. READ IT ALL

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