Re: Babies Are Boring -- What About Apes?

1

I suppose you saw the New Yorker from the last few weeks about how Bonobos have become the latest form of the evergreen quest for an alternative human nature. Since the final point, that nature is a response to circumstances, even among Bonobos let alone us, is one of yours, I'd think you'd have been fairly positive about the article, LB.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:19 PM
horizontal rule
2

Yeah, that was my thinking, too.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:21 PM
horizontal rule
3

That New Yorker article also seems to show that bonobos are actually not all that different from chimpanzees, contrary to popular belief.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:31 PM
horizontal rule
4

This proves that playing video games is innate in our natures. Let us commune with nature together in a Massively Multi-Bonobo Online Parasite-Grooming Game.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:31 PM
horizontal rule
5

Teo, as a linguist, how do you feel about the claims about language? This seems very different from the bad animal-language claims that Language Log is always crying down.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:33 PM
horizontal rule
6

3: not genetically, no. Culturally!

4: you know, I've been thinking recently that you could make a lot of coin with an MMO experience that allowed one to explore a large world as, say, a cat. The graphics would be rendered so as to mimic the visual response of a cat's eyes, you would communicate with cat noises and body language (which would be transliterated into text) and you could have hot, hot cat sex in some abandoned house or whatever. It'd be aimed at the furry market, obviously.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:33 PM
horizontal rule
7

6: Finally, vorarephiles could experience a bunch of shit.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:35 PM
horizontal rule
8

Yup. Mouse eating would be lovingly recreated.

Imagine the thrills as you buried your feces! It'd be tricky and rhythmic, a little like Dance Dance Revolution.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:36 PM
horizontal rule
9

Teo, as a linguist, how do you feel about the claims about language? This seems very different from the bad animal-language claims that Language Log is always crying down.

I don't really know much about the details, but my offhand impression is that no, the claims really aren't all that different from the kinds of things LL points out all the time. If you have a link to some specific research in this area, I'd be happy to look at it and let you know what I think.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:44 PM
horizontal rule
10

Cool, thanks for the link. Do chimps understand language this well? I think the dispute about Washoe the chimp was trainer imitation or understanding, complicated by poor access to the chimp and I believe to the raw data. Granting understanding and not training from the video, can the Bonobos communicate something new to each other or to their teachers using language and not imitation? Still, a really interesting clip, one that makes considering language to be central seem like a mistake.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:23 PM
horizontal rule
11

Ah, I see, there are claims about language in the video (which I haven't watched). In general, the linguist's answer to this sort of thing is that whatever sort of communication is going on in these situations doesn't rise to the level of language as we define it.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:28 PM
horizontal rule
12

With whatever definition of "language" is necessary and sufficient to exclude the example at hand.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:30 PM
horizontal rule
13

"Communication" =/=/= "Language"


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:34 PM
horizontal rule
14

You don't have to googleproof ===. He never googles himself.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:35 PM
horizontal rule
15

Ned gets it. The main issue that comes up here is that people tend to describe any sort of communication system found among animals as "language" when linguists, at least, prefer to reserve that term for human language, one of a number of communication systems of varying complexity.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:38 PM
horizontal rule
16

If the Bonobo really understood "get the lighter out of my pocket" as a hortatory command, instead of hearing "lighter... pocket" and thinking "ooh, I bet I get to make fire now!" and intuiting the rest, it would be hard to argue that it wasn't language, but you get the sense she knew she couldn't go that far.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:41 PM
horizontal rule
17

Pretty much, yeah, although even if the bonobo did understand that that particular utterance was a command there's still a ways to go before you can demonstrate that actual use of language was involved. And again, I haven't watched the video.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:45 PM
horizontal rule
18

Not many people know this, but Pac-Man was originally designed as a floor-by-floor representation of the Library of Babel, based on original research revealing the building's plan to be a highly sophisticated visual dictionary of Edenic language. By playing it, the apes are engaged in a fundamentally Chomskyan quest to understand the true nature of language, so it would certainly be incorrect to say they are "speaking" it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:51 PM
horizontal rule
19

Very cool.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:20 PM
horizontal rule
20

The question that seems pertinent to me is not whether they "have" language, but whether, like lighting fires, they can learn some basic rules of language. Writing out the signs corresponding to things in the forest she wants to visit is pretty impressive.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:52 PM
horizontal rule
21

For "MMO as an animal", there's The Endless Forest, a "social screensaver".


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:53 PM
horizontal rule
22

20: To comment on that I'd have to watch the video, which I'm not inclined to do.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:02 PM
horizontal rule
23

Humans remain the only animal to start fires with their minds.


Posted by: joeo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:05 PM
horizontal rule
24

It's kind of neat, teo. It's really not about the language piece much at all.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:05 PM
horizontal rule
25

21: excellent point, I'd forgotten about that. Still, it's not a first person, uh, frolicker?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:06 PM
horizontal rule
26

It's kind of neat, teo.

Seventeen minutes long, though. No thanks.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:14 PM
horizontal rule
27

Teo is from Generation YouTube.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:20 PM
horizontal rule
28

Yep.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:21 PM
horizontal rule
29

Almost all bonobo research has been done with captive animals, which is not the fault of the researchers, because they're so rare, but it must affect their findings - like basing human behavioural science entirely on observations in boarding schools.

However, according to this, that may soon change! The newly found population is BIG, and apparently lives in an area where the local humans totally respect them and let them do their thing unmolested, which is so good it makes me cry.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 08- 8-07 1:56 AM
horizontal rule
30

Here is Frans de Waal bitching about that New Yorker article:

http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-08-08.html


Posted by: joeo | Link to this comment | 08-10-07 4:33 PM
horizontal rule