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← An audience with Koko the 'talking' gorilla

An audience with Koko the 'talking' gorilla - Comments

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 1 by justinesaracen

The Koko project is just one of many experiments to study the intelligence and communication abilities of animals, and all of them suggest a far greater level of self-awareness then we humans ever guessed. This should give us pause with regard to how we treat them.

This poor gorilla has been kept away from a gorilla community all her life, which seems extremely cruel, but now that it's done, at the least, her communication ability should be the basis for a strong program to address animal rights. At the least, the higher primates should be granted some sort of quasi-person status to prevent their being used in research, except under the most rigorously controlled and urgent conditions.

I've long been a vegetarian, not so much out of abhorrence for the idea of killing them, as for the disgust at the brutality with which they are treated before they are slaughtered, and the method of slaughter. And as for kosher/halal slaughter--- don't get me started.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 16:39:15 UTC | #874465

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 2 by justinesaracen

Sorry, in my rush to get out a statement on Koko, I dwelled only on the subject of animal research, when of course there are other cruelties to animals that need to be dealt with.

One might hope that the awareness of the self-consciousness of apes (and other animals) would move the public to support much more stringent rules about pet ownership. It should, for example, be universally illegal for people to privately own primates or endangered animals except in the case of shelters or rescue centers. Even where this is already the case, the penalties seem to be small.

.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 16:46:19 UTC | #874466

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 3 by Red Dog

Comment 1 by esuther :

I've long been a vegetarian, not so much out of abhorrence for the idea of killing them, as for the disgust at the brutality with which they are treated before they are slaughtered, and the method of slaughter. And as for kosher/halal slaughter--- don't get me started.

In case you haven't already seen this article you might like it: Gaps in The Mind by Richard Dawkins. Its one of my favorite Dawkins' essays both because it makes some very cogent points about animal rights and also because I think he describes a common fallacy that people use in all sorts of arguments ethical and otherwise.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 16:54:35 UTC | #874468

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 4 by crookedshoes

What I find intriguing is the future for Koko and her offspring. Wouldn't it be DEVINE if she spontaneously taught her children to sign? The repercussions would be staggering. I mean, we would have EVOLUTION right in front of us, yet again!!!!!! She was ground breaking 40 years ago. Now will she break more new ground????

Also, does anyone out there know why it always seems to be the females of the species that are the innovators? I am thinking specifically of Macaques and washing sweet potatoes and Koko......
Are the women smarter? (I think they are).

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 17:35:27 UTC | #874479

Chris Roberts's Avatar Comment 5 by Chris Roberts

A lovely report on a most extraordinary ape.

I think the women are smarter, and yet again it just blurs the lines between out behaviour and other apes.

I do wish that we would talk of ape behaviour rather than apes being human like though - it is a much more accurate description of behaviour.

Just makes you wonder what sparked our use of language, and without a teacher how long it would take to develop a useful working language.

My little 7 year old is a big fan of Koko after she saw her in one of her school books - she was cuddling a kitten.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:11:35 UTC | #874499

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 6 by ZenDruid

It's axiomatic to me that females are better equipped than males to adapt and thrive in an ordered environment. In Koko's case, the ordered environment is a lifelong state of captivity.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:33:51 UTC | #874504

SheerReason's Avatar Comment 7 by SheerReason

It's amazing how dismissive people were of Koko's ability to understand sign language in the comments section of the article linked above.

Also, for those interested, I highly recommend a documentary titled "How smart are animals?" from the NOVA scienceNOW series hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 20:47:01 UTC | #874566

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 8 by drumdaddy

Koko's is an inspirational case and I'm very jealous of the author's visit with her. I'm lead to think that there are other primates out there with language capabilities and that comparative studies among species would be formidably important. She understands about 200 words of English? I know not a word of gorilla but I wonder if Koko might have occasionally grunted correlative ape speech while signing in possible attempts to teach her handler, though the signing seems to be a fairly silent occupation. I remain in admiration of Dr Penny Patterson for her fascinating work.

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 00:22:52 UTC | #874637

UGene's Avatar Comment 9 by UGene

We have learned so much from our genetic cousins, the great apes - just imagine how much more would we learn from a live Neanderthal, a live Denisovan - cloned from ancient DNA! It would also be step towards abandoning this kind of appalling binary-logic morality - one set of laws for other humans, another, less stringent one for beings we classify as animals (even if they are great apes and therefore share many things with us)

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 00:49:00 UTC | #874649

tembuki's Avatar Comment 10 by tembuki

Comment 1 by esuther : I've long been a vegetarian, not so much out of abhorrence for the idea of killing them, as for the disgust at the brutality with which they are treated before they are slaughtered, and the method of slaughter. And as for kosher/halal slaughter--- don't get me started.

Sounds like lab-grown meat is the meat for you (once it's edible).

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 02:14:37 UTC | #874662

Sample's Avatar Comment 11 by Sample

This was a great read that engaged a spectrum of emotions. That said, I looked at my three dogs and they looked at me seeming to say, "we may not be great apes, but our ancestors figured out how to get into your psyche and be cared for while your cousins are having a hard time evading possible extinction."

:-j

Mike

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 05:09:31 UTC | #874674

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 12 by DavidMcC

Comment 5 by Chris Roberts

I do wish that we would talk of ape behaviour rather than apes being human like though - it is a much more accurate description of behaviour.

But this is not just about "ape behaviour", Chris, it is about ape minds, because it involves communication with us. Most behaviour tells us little about mind, but this story speaks volumes. Her behaviour shows beyond reasonable doubt that a gorilla has a mind that is quite like a human's in certain ways. If Koko is just an automaton behaving like a human, then so are we!

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 11:57:33 UTC | #874713

Mathias B's Avatar Comment 13 by Mathias B

Have apes who are familiar with human sign language ever used it to communicate with each other?

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 13:55:38 UTC | #874730

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 14 by DavidMcC

Comment 13 by Mathias B :

Have apes who are familiar with human sign language ever used it to communicate with each other?

Yes. Chimps have been observed using a signing board among themselves. It was reported several years ago, so the post on it was lost, along with the old evolution forum, I'm afraid.

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 14:52:05 UTC | #874737

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 15 by phil rimmer

Incredibly, Koko takes the photo, looks at it, and kisses it.

Thats the second time Koko has reduced me to tears.

This is surely the best refutation of human privilege at the bedrock of all monotheistic religions.

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 15:26:46 UTC | #874747

maria melo's Avatar Comment 16 by maria melo

Comment 7 by SheerReason

It's amazing how dismissive people were of Koko's ability to understand sign language in the comments section of the article linked above.

Not surprisingly because we can be also dismissive of people to understand "meaning" and there´s no wonder we may rely "meaning" behind of such complex words such as justice are based on psychological (and psychiatric) ways, so that they form a coeherent system of "meaning" and that of course implies I don´t believe that dogma ever has to do with it´s opposite that is an inquisitive psychological attitude towards nature that leads to scientific knowledge.

(I wondered if it was right for Koko and other primates to learn human language, but that´s ok, I think I can deal better with it if I regard it from an evolutionary perspective that implies interspecies relation. Actually I am dismissive of people´s way of getting "inculturated" too and that is actually due to my recent frustrations at work. It really helped a lot to deal with it (the evolutionary perspective) and to know that the study of language from a scientific perspective is going on after listening to Simone Pika at a conference.

You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours: Chimps Point To Spot They'd Like Groomed

Primate Gesture Center

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 16:10:27 UTC | #874756

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 17 by phil rimmer

Looking at the bored and dismissive comments in the article it leads me to think perhaps Koko anecdotes and similar might be a way to identify psychopaths (not that I'm saying the commentators are!). Psychopaths may often know exactly how to behave for social acceptance though they don't have the feelings to back it up. They know not to kick dogs in public, but, there will be no such learned responses to sophisticated Ape behviours like these.

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 16:17:11 UTC | #874758

maria melo's Avatar Comment 18 by maria melo

REGARDING THE PREVIOUS COMMENT

Perhaps there isn´t such sofisticated behaviours like these.... And...perhaps there are behaviours alike these...

I often heard my own professor in her study about political behaviour of chimps: she had seen political alliances (alike human) and noticed that a certain chimp that was never polite begun to groom the right allies in order to form an alliance (perhaps he was never seen grooming just for grooming)... well I have heard this so often that I begin to think better... what about Richard Dawkins mentioning how an animal may "lie" in order to safe offspring from a predator pretending to be injured... how cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds nest´s ... and from an evolutionary perspective it is in fact more difficult to regard something as completly unique to humans rather to admit that it would be more weird that if we feel empaty, joy etc. other animals are more likely to feel that too in a different degree than to be "unique" among other species ?

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 17:34:05 UTC | #874775

Eosimias's Avatar Comment 19 by Eosimias

The comments under the linked article are very disappointing.

Sun, 25 Sep 2011 16:42:30 UTC | #875032

Chris Roberts's Avatar Comment 20 by Chris Roberts

Comment 12 by DavidMcC

But this is not just about "ape behaviour", Chris, it is about ape minds, because it involves communication with us. Most behaviour tells us little about mind, but this story speaks volumes. Her behaviour shows beyond reasonable doubt that a gorilla has a mind that is quite like a human's in certain ways. If Koko is just an automaton behaving like a human, then so are we!

A valid point, but I just lumped it under the heading of behaviour, maybe I'm looking ahead to see if Koko will have yong ones and teach them to sign, then it really is a behavioural study.

I wonder how deep a conversation with another ape would go, how much you can discuss time, future, past, fears, emotions, plans......

i never subscribed to the idea that mammals are automotons, I've had enough pets to see they have a personality. Now I can't dismiss strong genetic factors, maybe there really is a high level of programming in our brains but I think animals are capable of making decisions like us. Don't know enough about reptiles or birds to comment, and I welcome any evidence on this even if it makes me look stupid.

Sun, 25 Sep 2011 21:40:41 UTC | #875106

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 21 by DavidMcC

Comment 20 by Chris Roberts

... maybe there really is a high level of programming in our brains but I think animals are capable of making decisions like us. Don't know enough about reptiles or birds to comment, and I welcome any evidence on this even if it makes me look stupid.

Chris, I am saying that mammals do NOT have a "high level of programming". On the other hand, it is well established that reptiles know what to do from the day they hatch, because they are "on their own" (apart from, in some cases, like crocodiles, protection by their mothers from predation). Their brains are pre-wired to a much greater extent than in mammals, who have to learn "good" habits fast (from their mothers/group) if they are to survive. My remark about "so are we automatons" was not meant to imply that we are, but that other mammals, like gorillas, aren't. I thought that was clear,bu maybe not.

Mon, 26 Sep 2011 07:39:36 UTC | #875196

Billions and Billions's Avatar Comment 22 by Billions and Billions

Comment 12 by DavidMcC :

But this is not just about "ape behaviour", Chris, it is about ape minds, because it involves communication with us. Most behaviour tells us little about mind, but this story speaks volumes. Her behaviour shows beyond reasonable doubt that a gorilla has a mind that is quite like a human's in certain ways. If Koko is just an automaton behaving like a human, then so are we!

I agree, this certainly provides evidence of self awareness. As to us/Koko being automatons: neuroscience is showing that freewill is an illusion and that our actions are already determined before we are aware of them (in fractions of a second, of course). This being the case, we are all automatons, in a sense.

Mon, 26 Sep 2011 20:04:30 UTC | #875466

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 23 by DavidMcC

Comment 22 by Billions and Billions

... neuroscience is showing that freewill is an illusion ...

Sam Harris, Susan Blackmore et al. may think that, but it isn't, IMO. It's a common misinterpretation of results, B&B. See the threads on free will.

Tue, 27 Sep 2011 07:21:29 UTC | #875571