Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monkey Business.

exceprted from a blog post at Boing Boing about Nim Chimpsky

Natasha Mitchell: He even got to a point where he drank beer and smoked.

Elizabeth Hess: Yes, it was the 70s so you know it wasn't uncommon for Columbia students to be hanging around at night smoking pot, and Nim loved pot and eventually developed his own sign for give me a joint. You know chimps have the same vices that we have. Nim started the day for his entire life with a cup of coffee and as he grew older was often grumpy if he didn't get it.

That is one good monkey. Shame about him. He coulda ruled the knife fighting circuit. Could've been a contender.


_J_ said...

One of the problems I have with "animal language" nuts is the degree to which they are wrong.

Look at the quotations. That is not language in the Wittgenstein or "correct" understanding of "language". What the monkey does is conditioned response.

If you look at the "vocabulary" there is no conceptual or game aspect to the language. There is no variation or interpretation or extending beyond those signs. It's all conditioned response.

There's no depth of understanding to "give" or an understanding of sentence structure. It's conditioned response to "shove thumb up ass" resulting in receiving an object. Those objects, then, have symbols attached to them. So if "jack off" is "apple" and "put toe in nose" is "orange" then monkey puts its toe in its nose and then jacks off to get an orange.

Which is why I get pissed the fuck off at people who speak english at Dogs. Dogs don't understand language. Dogs understand conditioned response. Monkeys, birds, dogs, whatever react to consistent conditions. So if hand sign A results in situation X every time then, sure, animals can figure that out.

But they aren't going to write a thesis on linguistics. They're just going to hump things and eat apples.

_J_ said...

And occasionally piss on themselves.

_J_ said...

Look at the "longest quote ever":
"Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you."

That's not a sentence. That's not language. That's a monkey who really fucking wants an orange and is doing his damndest to get a fucking orange.

Roscoe said...

........ one of the problems I love about what you see as problems is that if you haven't encountered it, it's wrong. Nevermind that it's allready been challenged by.. you know.. linguists... It doesn't fit your knowledge of Wittgenstein, so it must be wrong!.. As if there was no motion in linguistics since then.

I read an op-ed in the New York times a couple weeks ago, asking people to retire Darwinism as a term. Not becuase they had a problem with it, but becuase it, used indiscriminately, suggested
that evolution begins and ends with Darwin's Evolution of a Species
I mean.. the monkey I posted about? He's got a name. I'm sure you picked up on it, but it's a pun. Why was he named that? Because of Noam Chompsky's linguistic theories. Which ... funnily enough.. Nim didn't satisfy.

The thing you point out? Is precisely the claim that they recogize keeps their studies from being accepted as language: that there's no syntax.

Or at least recognizable one. I'm willing to make the supposition that there might be elements of the language we're not reading, akin to a spotty and static filled radio transmission. The "language" the various animals ostensibly use is physical motions. So why couldn't we be missing some?

I'm not convinced there is a language being utilized, but neither am I willing to state there isn't one. But, as a man who likes his substance addicitions, I know full well Nim could express a need for his cigarrettes and black coffee. And that? That's language in my book. That and a knife.

Roscoe said...

Which brings me back to my point.

Chimpsky coulda been a contender.

kylebrown said...

Kanzi could've taken Chimpsky, if Kanzi wasn't such a Mama's boy.

kylebrown said...

Also, while it is true that dogs don't understand words, they do understand tone and inflection. A dog can detect anger and excitement in our voices. Because of this, talking to one's dog still has merit.

Roscoe said...

Please. As soon as Nim realized that winning would lead to more smoke and brew, maybe even stud opportunities?

Nim woulda be like Jimmy the Blade, I tells ya.

_J_ said...

"I'm not convinced there is a language being utilized, but neither am I willing to state there isn't one."

I was really hoping you'd embrace a devil's advocate position of "maybe there is a language we don't know" so we could talk about god and object permanence. Maybe monkeys have language. Maybe when I leave a room it isn't there.

Nice job couching it in sensible arguments, though.

"Also, while it is true that dogs don't understand words, they do understand tone and inflection. A dog can detect anger and excitement in our voices."

This is a question I thought of while driving to lunch from work. Is that understanding of tone and inflection also based upon conditioning?

For example, what if when we talk in a really angry yelly voice we pet the dog and give it treats. What if when we talk in a calm, soothing, comforting voice we beat the dog with a baseball bat?

Does a dog have an innate, inborn notion of what tone is "protective and comforting" and what tone is "punishing"? Or is that tone part of the conditioning?

"Because of this, talking to one's dog still has merit."

No. Recognition of tone only means that one need make tonal noises at the animal. I'll agree that auditory stimuli is useful and perhaps necessary in dog training. But we don't need to speak English at it or say "Don't pee on the porch". Dogs don't understand "Do not pee on the porch." Dogs understand (angry yelly noise).

I'm pretty sure Libby did not understand "Libby" as a name. Libby recognized that auditory tone made when one said "Libby".

So one could say "wibby" or "dibby" or "livey" or "ivvy" or even "eh-EE" and Libby would respond. Because it's not the specific word so much as the noise one makes.

Roscoe said...

And what if it is based on conditioning? Why is that a problem?

You and I are conditioned in the language we speak. Especially non-native languages.

Consider the point Kyle made back when he was at the Former-Job-Place, where he was working for someone who would shake his head left and right when he understood something, when he wanted to indicate "yes". I'm sure he can go into more detail there.

My point is, it's not the conditioning that makes it invalid. The lack of syntax or sponteneity are better criteria to disbar it from being langauge.

I've still got my linguistics book at home.. and you'd like it, I think.. .. if I remember it correctly.

_J_ said...

The problem is not the conditioning. The problem is that other stuff which is incredibly difficult to talk about.

kylebrown said...

ok making sounds with tone and inflection has merit. Now, I ask you, which is simpler making wordless tones or actually putting words to tones. I sit in the camp where putting words to tones is much simpler to do, so by that standard talking to one's dog has merit.

_J_ said...


It would be interesting to look at whether animals that live in areas with tonal languages would react to verbal commands differently than animals which live in areas which do not use tonal languages. Do chinese cats have a more adept ability at recognizing tone than American cats?

That sort of thing.

_J_ said...

"Now, I ask you, which is simpler making wordless tones or actually putting words to tones."

My problem is not with using words as a means of conveying tone. My problem is when one uses words as a means of conveying tone and thinks the words are understood.

For example, if one wants to shout "STOP!" instead of shouting some "RAGH!" noise? Fine. But if one thinks the dog understands the word "stop"? That's a trap.

Because that will result in an eventual attempt at reasoning with the animal or giving explicit verbal commands which the dog has no hope of understanding.

Like when mom would say "Go for a ride in the car?!" In the excited way people say that which makes dogs react in the way they do. And mom would say "Libby understands!" At which point I would say, "Libby! Wanna be euthanized? Do you? Do you wanna be euthanized? Oh, who wants to be a dead dog? Who wants to be a dead, dead dog? Libby does! Libby does!"

Either Libby was hella excited about being euthanized or she was just reacting to the tone.

_J_ said...

I have this thing about people talking to animals.

Roscoe said...

.............. Am I allowed to make a Yellow Peril joke here?

Roscoe said...

Man, you're preaching to the freakin' choir.

We're the ones with the truly addled grandmother who only had our dog for company.

The dog who quickly realized she could get the grandmother wrapped around her paw, so to speak.

... damn. I miss Molly. She knew where to whine, when she wanted a meal. And oh, how many meals she wanted.

_J_ said...

Any opportunity for a Yellow Peril joke is an opportunity which MUST be utilized.

Also, my mom talks to fish. Fish in tanks. With, you know, glass and water and A LACK OF EARS all serving to make the endeavor useless.

And I know that dogs aren't fish. But whenever I see someone level with a dog and say "do not chew my shoe" i just see my mom talking to a fishtank.

kylebrown said...

It is entirely possible that Libby had associated the word "car" or "ride" with going for a ride in the car. I know for a fact that Bowser has associated "leash", "walk", and "go for" with going for a walk and runs directly to where his leash is hanging while getting very excited when I mention any of the three within earshot of him, regardless of tone or direction.

_J_ said...

" I know for a fact that Bowser has associated "leash", "walk", and "go for" with going for a walk and runs directly to where his leash is hanging while getting very excited when I mention any of the three within earshot of him, regardless of tone or direction."

Pretty sure that is the sound of the words. Unless "bo door talk meash" does not cause Bowser to react whereas "go for walk leash" does cause Bowser to react.

Dogs can understand sounds. Libby perked up when we said "walk". But if we said "talk" or "malk" or "dalk" or "alk" or made a noise which sounded like "walk" while using the same body language we would use to initiate the "walk" response Libby would react.

It's the noise not the word.

_J_ said...

Which I think we already agreed on when we talked about tone.

_J_ said...

Clever Hans is a fun thing to talk about when discussing an animal's ability to language.

Roscoe said...

Also raised in the Linguistics text, in the chapter on animal language controversies.

_J_ said...

And i thought we talked about this before when Alex the Parrot died. But I can't find the post.

Must have been in a [chat] thread.

_J_ said...

Philosophy of Language is one of the things that makes my head hurt. We're talking about the thing we're using to talk about the thing.

It gets all crazy.

Roscoe said...

Welcome to the wide world of Grant Morrison Comics.

They is all about the Meta-discussion.

_J_ said...

Also, I really wanted to do something with the idea that owning a pet is subjecting one's self to stockholm syndrome. But stockholm syndrome has a very specific meaning of captors to victims. Whereas pet ownership is not a captor - victim relationship so much as an anthropomorphization of something which is fundamentally not human to be this little furry kinda human.

It's a weird sort of empathy which takes base similarities and builds upon them.