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Animal Cognition: Language is not only for humans?

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I see no reason why a sentence such as 'banana you me banana' automatically implies a lack of intelligence.

It does not. The point is that it does not imply intelligence, which is the positive claim that needs to be proven. Any set of random data contains "unexplainable coincidences". A set of non-random data, such as the output of apes that are obviously capable of a lot of associations even more so.

The leap from "apes have an incredible capacity for memorization, association, aquired behavior" to "apes can talk" is a leap of faith, there is no evidence to support it. This is mainly due to bad epistemology (like your phrase above), wishful thinking and emotionalism (these researchers love their apes).

There are computer programs that utter a lot more convincing dialogue than any ape, and that just by using keywords and tables of nouns and verbs. If the standard for artificial intelligence is that dialogue with the computer must be indistinguishable from a human (double blind test), "banana you me banana" is a bit shy of the mark.

Do 5 year old children always get word order right?

No, but they don't spew random unrelated words during dialogue. Your 5 year old wont say "Mommy me lamp want a candy slipper".

Mrocktor, you apparently either didn't read the paper, or have dismissed it out-of-hand as non-credible without knowing if it is actually credible or not and consequently ignored everything stated within it.

I took interest in ape language after a discussion on artificial intelligence that went off that tangent. I studied the history of the research, the critics of it. My conclusions fit the data: chimps are remarkable animals, their trainers are deluded.

mrocktor

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a. is the animal able to port a "concept" to a new situation, a context it was not taught, and that cannot be linked to any sort of immediate behavioral learning methods or biochemical explanations for its development?

b. Can the animal teach the concept?

c. Does the concept sustain itself in the animals natural social setting (i.e. not require man's continual intervention to teach and maintain it)?

d. Does the animal use metaphor (complex example of a.)

a. If 'inside' is a concept (it seems similar to 'between' to me) then Kanzi apparently did that. He put pine needles inside the refrigerator in one of the videos shown, something he'd never been told to do before. No doubt he's been told to put apples or something in the refrigerator, but there were a few other actions in that video that I thought also demonstrated this.

b. They can certainly teach sign language. I don't know about teaching a particular concept, though.

c. No clue :(

d. If referring to a man who misbehaves as a 'monster' is a metaphor, yes... I'm not sure that counts, though.

No, but they don't spew random unrelated words during dialogue. Your 5 year old wont say "Mommy me lamp want a candy slipper".

Do the apes do this?

I took interest in ape language after a discussion on artificial intelligence that went off that tangent. I studied the history of the research, the critics of it. My conclusions fit the data: chimps are remarkable animals, their trainers are deluded.

Then I apologize. Would you explain to me why the paper I linked to earlier isn't right? Since I haven't studied the subject in-depth, I don't see where any problems would be, and there's a lot in there that seems like good evidence towards rationality in apes.

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Do the apes do this?

Extensively. The "genius" phrases are always part of long sequences of meaningless getures or a phrase taken out of a larger group of phrases most of which are meaningless. This is one of the main charges against the methods used to assess these ape's capacity for language. The other one is "cueing", where the animal reacts to unintended stimuli provided by the people.

Then I apologize. Would you explain to me why the paper I linked to earlier isn't right? Since I haven't studied the subject in-depth, I don't see where any problems would be, and there's a lot in there that seems like good evidence towards rationality in apes.

I didn't read your link and I don't know if it is something I have seen before. I'll look at it now.

mrocktor

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Extensively. The "genius" phrases are always part of long sequences of meaningless getures or a phrase taken out of a larger group of phrases most of which are meaningless. This is one of the main charges against the methods used to assess these ape's capacity for language. The other one is "cueing", where the animal reacts to unintended stimuli provided by the people.

I didn't read your link and I don't know if it is something I have seen before. I'll look at it now.

mrocktor

I'm glad you've studied these experiments enough to know that it's always the case that the intelligible phrases we hear about were pulled from the middle of unintelligible ones. I certainly haven't. In addition to reading the paper, you may want to look at some of the videos, too- there is one where the researcher wears a welder's mask preceisely to try to avoid cueing.

One difference between the study being done by the great ape trust and previous studies is the cultural element, where the bonobos are being raised almost as a child would be. As far as I know, this couldn't fall under the normal idea of 'experiment', but is probably crucial to the issue, and likely has a great impact on the abilities of these apes. Also, there appears to be a great deal of variation between the individuals, with the younger ones showing a higher capacity for intelligence. Perhaps that trend will continue.

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Ok, looking at this article (I hope this is the one you were refering to).

1. From the first paragraph (pp.1) a severe error is apparent: failure to identify what differentiates man from animal - namely conceptual thought and volition. The proper thing to study would be: Are apes capable of conceptual thought? Do apes posess volition? These things could be objectively studied, a "study of how human culture changes cognition in great apes" is not a scientific theory to be proven.

2. The article goes on to propose (pp. 3) that the functioning of the mind necessitates immersion in a group of other people: "It is a well known fact that ‘normal’ psychological functioning in human individuals results from a lengthy rearing and enculturation process which involves parents, relatives, peers, and formal educational experiences". What is "normal" psychological functioning? Since the essentials (conceptual thought, volition) were not identified, they don't even know what they are out to prove. Conceptual thought does not require "rearing", it could never have developed if it did.

3. The description of communication between apes and people brings us the first wild claim: "Vocal communication between bonobos is extensive and ranges from specific information about the environment (for example, someone is on a telephone pole outside, visitors are here, chow is being brought to the building)..." We are expected to believe an ape observed a person on a telephone pole outside, walked in, grunted/gestured/whatever something that was successfully interpreted as "someone is on a telephone pole outside"!!! Such an outrageous claim would have to be verified by strictly controlled testing. I didnt find the refered article (Savage-Rumbaugh, Fields, and Spircu, 2004) online to check.

4. In "Imitation" (pp. 7): "Our hypothesis is that in order to recognize what a human experimenter is doing and to desire to imitate his or her actions, it is necessary that the bonobo share essential aspects of culture with the individual to be emulated." Why would it be necessary to understand anything to imitate? Apes imitate each other (in fact most mammals do, I'll wager). It just happens that our anatomies are similar to apes' and thus imitating us is not a big stretch for them.

5. From one of the anecdotal cases (pp. 8): "Nyota ran out to the tool making area, picked up two pieces of flint, knocked them together, and then simulated a small piece of flint flying in the air to represent a liberated chip". Excuse me, how exactly do we know what the ape meant by whatever gesture it made? "to represent a liberated chip"? Did the ape tell the scientist this is what he was doing? Come on! This is an example of the anthropomorphizing I mentioned.

6. The first paragraph of "Theory of mind" (pp 8.) is basically unintelligible to me (what the hell is "theory of mind"? Probably a technical term). One thing stands out: Povinelli claims humans are biologically determined to anthropomorphize. This obviously is hogwash. Not being determined to do so does not mean that it doesn't happen though.

7. In the following paragraph "we found that our human-enculturated bonobos pass linguistically mediated theory-of-mind tests with alacrity, utilizing linguistically encoded information", tests that human children pass from the age of four. The effects of cueing and bringing the ape's trained behavior to bear in the "linguistic mediation" and "linguistical encoding"? Who cares.

8. Just look at the ratio of actual data to interpretation in the anecdote on page 9!

“BLUEBERRIES YESTERDAY”

“BLUEBERRIES GRAPES TODAY?” (grapes? where did that come from?)

“NO ICE”

“CHILDSIDE CHILDSIDE, CHILDSIDE CHIDLSIDE”

“SUE”

“TALK TALK TALK SUE NOW”

That is the data, compare it to the fable woven around it.

9. This example is even more gross, I'll transcribe it in full:

In another instance, Bill was fixing lunch and Panbanisha was using an old non-talking keyboard to tell him something. Bill feeling rushed and busy responded, “Panbanisha, I can’t see what your saying. Please use the talking keyboard." Panbanisha knocked on the glass and signaled for him to come over to her. As Bill approached, she held the keyboard out so Bill could see it clearly and uttered “GRAB” and then pointed to his

glasses on the washing machine. The clear implication is, of course, you cannot see because you don’t have you glasses on (this would be a clear implication IF you knew you were dealing with an intelligent being! Anthropomorphism). Then Panbanisha uttered “KEYBOARD.” Bill could immediately see he had not turned the keyboard on so that it would talk.

The data is: GRAB, KEYBOARD and a gesture that may or may not have been one among many (because these studies omit the data that does not favor their thesis) and may or may not have been clearly pointing to the glasses (because if you want to believe, arm waving in the general direction your glasses are might very well constitute "pointing").

10. The following case is also excellent: "MARI BLANKETS JUICE" becomes a tale of how an ape reminded a person to take blankets out to another ape that was outside.

11. In "Language" there is an interesting example of anthropomorphising (pp. 11). Matata is an ape that cannot communicate with humans. The article claims that another ape translates for her! How do we know that whatever the other ape "said" is indeed something Matata meant to convey?

I'm going to stop the "play by play" here, I think the gross lack of objectivity of such an article is sufficiently evidenced. The fact is that anecdotes with data suppressed, and the remaining data interpreted by people with an obvious bias will never be convincing.

Apes are obviously incredible animals, with extensive capacity for observation, memory, association. This is not surprising - our "hardware" is derived from theirs. They are not capable of conceptual thought, there is no evidence that they are.

mrocktor

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I am by no means educated enough on the topic to make a real argument here, but there are a couple of things I'd like to point out here. Some people seem to be dismissing the idea that apes can reason and use language in a way that is anything other than mimickry. I suspect that everyone in here believes in Evolution. Why, then, do you find it so easy to dismiss the idea that another animal, especially one so closely related to humans, may be showing rudimentary reasoning skills?

Secondly, there is one species of primate that has it's own crude form of language. The article was on Drudge a few weeks ago, and I'll try to find it if I can, but here's the gist of the article. There was one sound these monkeys made that meant a predator was nearby. Another sound meant that there was an airborne predator, like an eagle. The two sounds used in conjunction meant something completely different. If I recall correctly, it was used while they were foraging for food and was taken to mean "that's enough food, let's go home."

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Why, then, do you find it so easy to dismiss the idea that another animal, especially one so closely related to humans, may be showing rudimentary reasoning skills?
It is based on research: not an a prioristic conclusion that since there is an evolutionary link between man and other animals, other animals have reason. The scientific literature is the basis of my conclusions.
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Ok, looking at this article (I hope this is the one you were refering to).

It is. Thank you for reading one of the articles under discussion. I appreciate that.

1. From the first paragraph (pp.1) a severe error is apparent: failure to identify what differentiates man from animal - namely conceptual thought and volition. The proper thing to study would be: Are apes capable of conceptual thought? Do apes posess volition? These things could be objectively studied, a "study of how human culture changes cognition in great apes" is not a scientific theory to be proven.
The article was obviously intended as the study in the title, and not as evidence for or against conceptual thought it apes. The fact that I am using the data presented to try to show that one way or another says nothing about what the article intended to do. I do not see this as an error. I also think it was not meant to be a scientific theory, and is instead more along the lines of a thought experiment.

2... Since the essentials (conceptual thought, volition) were not identified, they don't even know what they are out to prove. Conceptual thought does not require "rearing", it could never have developed if it did.

Again, they were not trying to prove anything about conceptual thought. Therefore I am sure they would not have seen a reason to define the terms you mentioned. As an aside, I thought it was clear they meant the psychological functioning of the average adult in society, which does require 'rearing', as it is specific to the society the person was raised in.

3. The description of communication between apes and people brings us the first wild claim: "Vocal communication between bonobos is extensive and ranges from specific information about the environment (for example, someone is on a telephone pole outside, visitors are here, chow is being brought to the building)..." We are expected to believe an ape observed a person on a telephone pole outside, walked in, grunted/gestured/whatever something that was successfully interpreted as "someone is on a telephone pole outside"!!! Such an outrageous claim would have to be verified by strictly controlled testing. I didnt find the refered article (Savage-Rumbaugh, Fields, and Spircu, 2004) online to check.
The telephone pole thing was an anecdote later in the article. The data they give us does not support that particular claim. The example on chow is somewhat supported, although it does appear that they assumed Matata was actually talking about chow when Kanzi said she was. The coincidence factor there is high, though (he had no idea that a person was walking into the other building with a bag of chow, and Matata certainly saw this.)

4. In "Imitation" (pp. 7): "Our hypothesis is that in order to recognize what a human experimenter is doing and to desire to imitate his or her actions, it is necessary that the bonobo share essential aspects of culture with the individual to be emulated." Why would it be necessary to understand anything to imitate? Apes imitate each other (in fact most mammals do, I'll wager). It just happens that our anatomies are similar to apes' and thus imitating us is not a big stretch for them.

Really, I think you missed the point of the article here. They are trying to show that apes can imitate some actions, with the help of cultural immersion and a trusted person, that otherwise would not be possible. In other words, an ape will imitate it's mother more than it will imitate a rabbit. Likewise, they believe that an ape will imitate a person who helped raise it more than a person who just appeared one day.

5. From one of the anecdotal cases (pp. 8): "Nyota ran out to the tool making area, picked up two pieces of flint, knocked them together, and then simulated a small piece of flint flying in the air to represent a liberated chip". Excuse me, how exactly do we know what the ape meant by whatever gesture it made? "to represent a liberated chip"? Did the ape tell the scientist this is what he was doing? Come on! This is an example of the anthropomorphizing I mentioned.
Come on! The data is that the ape has been watching, runs out, picks up two rocks, hits them together, and then makes an arm motion that some people interpretated as a simulation of a liberated chip. it would have to be a fairly major coincidence for him to do that while meaning something else or meaning nothing at all.

As for 6, I agree with you.

Not sure what you were saying for part 7.

8. Just look at the ratio of actual data to interpretation in the anecdote on page 9!

“BLUEBERRIES YESTERDAY”

“BLUEBERRIES GRAPES TODAY?” (grapes? where did that come from?)

“NO ICE”

“CHILDSIDE CHILDSIDE, CHILDSIDE CHIDLSIDE”

“SUE”

“TALK TALK TALK SUE NOW”

That is the data, compare it to the fable woven around it.

That is not all the data. Some of those were in responses to questions or actions. Direct responses, I might add, not ones with 'banana me you' thrown in. You also did not add the ape's actions. All the data would be as follows:

Bill gave Kanzi fresh blueberries yesterday but did not give Nyota any.

Bill is now talking to Nyota.

“BLUEBERRIES YESTERDAY” Nyota, while looking at Kanzi

“BLUEBERRIES GRAPES TODAY?” Nyota, while looking at Bill

Bill offers frozen blueberries

“NO ICE” Nyota

"I'm sorry but I don't have any fresh blueberries. They are all gone." Bill to Nyota

“CHILDSIDE CHILDSIDE, CHILDSIDE CHILDSIDE” Nyota

Implied: Bill tells Nyota that he doesn't think there are any blueberries on Childside.

“SUE” Nyota

"Sue's on Childside?" Bill to Nyota

“TALK TALK TALK SUE NOW” Nyota

'You want me to call Sue on the telephone.' Bill to Nyota

'Peep-yes' Nyota. This was referenced elsewhere in the article -> the apes make vocal sounds for yes and no rather than using the keyboard.

Sue is called, it is found that she ordered blueberries after a previous conversation with Nyota, and the blueberries were arriving as Bill and Nyota talked.

Compare that to the 'fable', if you will. By the way, your use of deragatory words such as 'fable' when referencing data is not appreciated. It is an 'interpretation', perhaps a wrong one, but not a 'fable'.

10. The following case is also excellent: "MARI BLANKETS JUICE" becomes a tale of how an ape reminded a person to take blankets out to another ape that was outside.
Please, enlighten the rest of us as to another reason one of the apes would have said this, especially when referencing a visitor not in the room rather than a permanent resident. The expectation of a reward for this sentence would only be there if the ape knew that Mari was outside and needed blankets and juice, and I doubt it is simply an imitated sentence that the researchers said often.

11. In "Language" there is an interesting example of anthropomorphising (pp. 11). Matata is an ape that cannot communicate with humans. The article claims that another ape translates for her! How do we know that whatever the other ape "said" is indeed something Matata meant to convey?

We don't. P-Suke, on the other hand, displays if his wants are not met. Kanzi translates for him. Apparently he stops displaying when somebody gives P-Suke what Kanzi said he wants.

I'm going to stop the "play by play" here, I think the gross lack of objectivity of such an article is sufficiently evidenced. The fact is that anecdotes with data suppressed, and the remaining data interpreted by people with an obvious bias will never be convincing.
This article was not intended to prove the idea we're discussing. I also do not think it is an article intended for professional publication. I would like to see you prove that they've suppressed data. No offense meant here, but your own interpretation is also obviously biased, and your arguments that all the interpretations of data are pure anthropormorphism are less than convincing.

I am by no means educated enough on the topic to make a real argument here, but there are a couple of things I'd like to point out here. Some people seem to be dismissing the idea that apes can reason and use language in a way that is anything other than mimickry. I suspect that everyone in here believes in Evolution. Why, then, do you find it so easy to dismiss the idea that another animal, especially one so closely related to humans, may be showing rudimentary reasoning skills?

Secondly, there is one species of primate that has it's own crude form of language. The article was on Drudge a few weeks ago, and I'll try to find it if I can, but here's the gist of the article. There was one sound these monkeys made that meant a predator was nearby. Another sound meant that there was an airborne predator, like an eagle. The two sounds used in conjunction meant something completely different. If I recall correctly, it was used while they were foraging for food and was taken to mean "that's enough food, let's go home."

I would love to read that article. Please post it as soon as you find it. And you first point is the same thing I'm having a problem with, as well :)

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It is based on research: not an a prioristic conclusion that since there is an evolutionary link between man and other animals, other animals have reason. The scientific literature is the basis of my conclusions.

That is not what has been implied. What specific scientific literature are you referring to? Would you mind quoting from it? Did the research take into account possible cultural differences?

I've also been wondering how a human would act who hasn't been taught in any way. What concepts would he know, if any? An experiment about this probably hasn't been done, but it's an interesting line of thought. Is conceptual thinking actually innate in humans, or do we need to be taught specific ones?

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One interesting point I see here, is that as far as I can tell these apes, if they even have conceptual thought at all, are not able to learn how to use it on their own. I mean, it requires some seriously dedicated work to get these apes this far ahead... If they are unable to get that far on their own, then what would be the point in doing it for them?

The main difference here is that human children can learn it from their own species, and here that doesn't really seem to be the case; at least it looks like we would first have to raise generations of primates before they even have a small chance of continuing it on their own.

Shouldn't a certain species be able to actually to use its own conceptual faculty without outside assistance for them to qualify, or does that not matter? It's interesting to see if they can do this, but I don't really see the advantage of giving primates rights if we need to keep educating them. I mean, that effort would be far better spent on our own species, because no matter how intelligent a primate might be, they are nowhere near the level of a human child.

(I realize this isn't all completely on topic, but you all sparked my thinking here :))

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What specific scientific literature are you referring to? Would you mind quoting from it? Did the research take into account possible cultural differences?
I'm not sure what you're asking: but as I've mentioned before, one of the most important papers to read is Seidenberg & Petitto 1979 "Signing behavior in apes: A critical review" (Cognition 7:177-215). Other literature includes:
  • Terrace, H.S., Petitto, L.A., Sanders, R.J., & Bever, T.G. 1979. "Can an ape create a sentence?" Science 206: 891-902.
  • Seidenberg, M.S. & Petitto, L.A. (1987). Communication, symbolic communication, and language in child and chimpanzee: Comment on Savage-Rumbaugh, McDonald, Sevcik, Hopkins, and Rupert (1986). Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, 116: 279-287, 1483-1496.
  • Terrace, H.S. 1983. Apes who "talk": language or projection of language by their teachers? Judith de Luce and Hugh T. Wilder (eds.): Language in Primates: Perspectives and Implications. New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc. pp. 22-39.

Cultural differences is a red herring: the simple point is that apes have no capacity for language whatsoever. They have a capacity for mimicry, as do some birds. I assert that there is not a shred of credible scientific evidence otherwise.

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It is based on research: not an a prioristic conclusion that since there is an evolutionary link between man and other animals, other animals have reason. The scientific literature is the basis of my conclusions.

I made no such "prioristic conclusion." I simply said that the Evolutionary link provides a sufficient reason to not dismiss the idea of animals being capable of rationality. Surely, animals will some day evolve the capacity to reason. As for the literature, the first article you listed is nearly 30 years old, but I'll still take a look at it. Do you know of any more recent studies? Even so, I would imagine there is a good deal of literature that makes the opposite argument.

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The main difference here is that human children can learn it from their own species, and here that doesn't really seem to be the case; at least it looks like we would first have to raise generations of primates before they even have a small chance of continuing it on their own.

Well, studies have shown that apes can at least teach their children sign language without our help once they learn it. I think it was Koko who did that?

Cultural differences is a red herring: the simple point is that apes have no capacity for language whatsoever. They have a capacity for mimicry, as do some birds. I assert that there is not a shred of credible scientific evidence otherwise.

What does language have to do with conceptual or rational thinking? (That's an honest question, not meant sarcastically or anything, though it may sound that way.) Also, what is meant by 'language' here? It sounds as if it's more than relaying information.

I will try to take a look at the papers you mentioned. Thank you for pointing them out.

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What does language have to do with conceptual or rational thinking? (That's an honest question, not meant sarcastically or anything, though it may sound that way.) Also, what is meant by 'language' here? It sounds as if it's more than relaying information.
Language is essential to conceptualization. I assume you're familiar with Rand's epistemology; concepts are not just floating abstractions, they are the integration of two or more units sharing characteristics, represented economically in the mind as a single symbol. Without language, there can be no propositions or concepts; I can't even imagine what it would mean to think rationally, logically, or conceptually without language.

It actually is a standard tactic of the monkey-people to try to redefine language as something like "any means of accomplishing something", though never with such crystal-clarity or obviousness. The "relaying of information" view reduces the notion of language to an absurdity, since even electrons have a language (check your local user's manual for physical law to see how information such as charge, spin and angular momentum are conserved and "transmitted" under particle decay). A virus blatantly has a "language" under this redefinition of language. Language isn't just any old method of conveying information; it has certain fundamental properties. It is open-ended -- there isn't a fixed repertoire of messages (as is the case with natural ape communication); it it topically open-ended (honey-bee communication conveys just one message, iconically saying "do this, to get food" with a variable shape to the dance to say where the food is); it is representational, i.e. a symbol stands for something; it has a system for systematically combining elements to express specific propositions (hence there is a way to convey difference such as "I see you" versus "You see me").

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I would like to see you prove that they've suppressed data. No offense meant here, but your own interpretation is also obviously biased

Sure. Here is the proof: The article does not contain full descriptions of signs, speech and body motions of all people and animals present before and during the alleged conversations and fails to present factual descriptions of the events.

My interpretation is certainly biased: I will not accept extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence.

I simply said that the Evolutionary link provides a sufficient reason to not dismiss the idea of animals being capable of rationality.

It provides sufficient reason to inquire into the possibility. This has been done and no evidence of rationality was found.

Well, studies have shown that apes can at least teach their children sign language without our help once they learn it. I think it was Koko who did that?

They imitate us, others imitate them. You are using "teach" in a very lax sense (i.e. one that does not require the teacher or the student to actually know anything).

What does language have to do with conceptual or rational thinking? (That's an honest question, not meant sarcastically or anything, though it may sound that way.) Also, what is meant by 'language' here? It sounds as if it's more than relaying information.

Language is the association of a word (a graphical representation, a sound, a hand sign) to a concept. It is using these representations to convey meaning. Language does not require immediate perceptual presence of what is being discussed. Language is not random.

Do read David's references - those are some of the actual scientists that looked into what was being done with these apes and correctly identified it as not science. Their criticism remains unaddressed.

mrocktor

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