View Single Post
Old 11th January 2007, 02:52 AM   #135
Skeptic Ginger
Nasty Woman
 
Skeptic Ginger's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 75,009
I've been discussing this on another thread and you'll have to forgive me for not reading the 4 pages here yet. However, if the arguments here are the same as in the other thread the following synopsis covers the issues nicely.

I was looking for PET scans done on great apes and found this wonderful synopsis. If you are the least bit interested in this topic, read the whole thing. It discusses why the conclusions Piggy makes in the OP are based on early research and fail to consider what has been learned since. And I have much respect for Piggy's opinions. But in this case, it's also a good lesson that being skeptical means waiting for research to be completed before concluding future research will not yield anything else.
Quote:
Animal consciousness has long been assumed to be a nonviable arena of investigation. At best, it was thought that any indications of such consciousness, should it exist, would not be interpretable by our species. Recent work in the field of language competencies with bonobos has laid this conception open to serious challenge. This paper reviews this work and the case it makes for our impending capacity to tap the consciousness of a uniquely enculturated group of bonobos who are capable of comprehending human speech and employing a lexical communication system.

...Ape language—Insights into human bias and cultural expectation
Ape language work at Georgia State University's Language Research Center has repeatedly produced important advances in the understanding of apes and their potential for linguistic processes since the first keyboard was presented to the chimpanzee Lana in 1972. At that time, little was known about the perceptual and cognitive capacities of great apes and it was considered unlikely that they would be capable of discriminating the small 2 dimensional printed patterns ("lexigrams") intended to serve as words. (Rumbaugh, 1977a, bGo) It seemed less probable that apes would respond to lexigram-words in a meaningful semantic manner or put them together in any fashion that incorporated even one or two of the rule bound parameters inherent within a transformational grammar.

When the "Lana Project" began, the chimpanzee Washoe had learned some signs, and serious questions were beginning to surface regarding the amount of imitation that underlay her actions (Terrace et al., 1979Go). Moreover, her signs were often inarticulate and difficult to decipher for all but those who lived and interacted with her on a daily basis. Another chimpanzee, Sara, had also begun to respond to complex conceptual questions posed through the use of plastic tokens (Premack, 1986Go). However the token system was not designed for communication of needs or ideas, but rather as a test or probe of the apes' capacities in conceptual arenas thought to be unique to language. The lexical keyboard system proposed by Duane Rumbaugh, provided a potential means of propelling apes beyond the limitations posed by these other methodologies. In addition, it offered a more accurate means of data collection as it was linked to a computer, which recorded all utterances of experimenter and ape. The computer system could be programmed to require that Lana produce complete syntactically ordered strings of lexigrams arranged according to certain simple combinatorial rules. The first studies left no doubt that Lana could discriminate lexigrams visually, and that she could learn the simple ordering rules sufficiently well to apply them to novel sequences. Lana could also associate different symbols with various real world people, places, and things (Rumbaugh, 1977bGo) and the computer-collected data demonstrated that imitation was not the basis of her performance.

...What was clear was that she expected certain things to happen in response to her utterances. When told she was wrong, Lana would begin to cycle through a variety of incorrect but appropriate, as well non-syntactical and semantically inappropriate alternatives. These "alternate responses" were often unlike the errors produced by human children just gaining linguistic competency.

... Repeated pressure to expand utterances however, is often the key to the emergence of a breakthrough capacity to generate more typical interactive language exchanges (Greenspan and Benderly, 1997Go).

The second generation of language studies with the lexical-keyboard system attempted to compensate for some of the perceived inadequacies in Lana's semantic performance. Her errors had revealed that while she grasped the combinatorial rules of her syntax, she often did not consistently apply semantic content.

...Inevitably, this work also raised the question of whether or not Lana, as well as other "language trained" apes, birds, and dolphins were engaging in complex experimenter-subject interaction chains, rather than functional semantically based communication with a pragmatic component. Regardless of how semantically or syntactically complex the question, i.e., "How many green hide?" or "Take the hoop to the window"—no repetitive response based drill has the essential ingredients to produce the sort of pragmatic functional communication that we associate with every human linguistic exchange.

...What one party's utterances "mean" to another can only be determined within a socio-culture framework that permits utterances to assume certain inter-individual expectancies and obligations. This leap into the social dynamics of language took the work beyond the "can they talk" phase into something far more complex, and began to open up the issue of what talking is all about as well as how it is that social contracts are constructed.

...Before the truly communicative interchanges achieved by Sherman and Austin, the emphasis within the field of animal language was upon syntax as extant apart from communication. This focus derived from the assumption of some theoreticians regarding the universality of syntactical structure and the implications of understanding the fundamental nature of that universality for opening the key to thought processes assumed to be uniquely human (Pinker, 1994Go; Chomsky, 1965Go). Without negating that stance, the work with Sherman and Austin came to show that such a position, regardless of its "correctness" could never, in the end, serve as an explanatory mechanism for the endeavor of human language. Language was not reducible to its internal structure alone. It required two participants able to mean and to intend, locked into a social context of communicative exchange.

...The next phase of work pressed the boundaries of scientific method in a different way. The findings with Sherman and Austin brought forth a sensitivity to the process of comprehension as an invisible phenomenon, in the process of language acquisition. Consequently, when research efforts with Kanzi, a young bonobo, began, the emphasis was not on production but comprehension....This made it essential to move away from any type of training. The results of this change in approach to the inculcation of language in a nonhuman being are taking considerable time to be incorporated into the philosophical body of thought regarding language skills in human and non-human creatures.

Since the appearance of modern scientific paradigms, and probably before, it has been assumed that any animal that learned even a small portion of human language would have to receive this knowledge through explicit instruction. The arguments against the "realness" of language in apes, dolphins and parrots have centered on the methods by which the language is acquired. Human language has often been felt to be more real than animal language as it appears seemingly without effort (Pinker, 1994Go; Pinker and Bloom, 1990Go). Moreover, many have assumed that there exists some innate degree of language capacity in the human species that permits us to understand the intentions of others (Searle, 1998Go). Animals, by contrast, are said to learn many correct responses, but these responses are assumed to differ in kind from what occurs in our own species (Bickerton, 1984Go; Calvin and Bickerton, 2001Go).

The bonobo's capacity to acquire high level linguistic skills in essentially the same manner as a child, albeit more slowly, revealed that the burden of linguistic development was carried by comprehension not production (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1986Go). It is especially important that comprehension emerged in contextually meaningful situations, with many variables, not in repetitive training sessions with only a few variables characteristic.

...Because Kanzi's mode of acquisition was very different from that of other linguistically tutored animals, his linguistic output was dramatically changed as well. Analysis of his utterance corpus revealed a basic comprehension of syntactical ordering rules as well as a comprehension of grammatical classes Greenfield and Savage-Rumbaugh (1991)Go. But more than this, his understanding encompassed all manner of novel events and even of metaphor. His understanding of language informed his interpretation of real world events and his broadened capacity to interpret and appropriately classify real world events informed his linguistic comprehension in a boot strapping effect. An example of this was the ease with which Kanzi learned to flake stone tools given a modicum of both visual and verbal instruction. Similar attempts by other apes required long and arduous conditioning and shaping regimens (Toth et al., 1993Go).

...It was not only the linguistic aspects of the Pan Paniscus/Homo sapiens culture that were passed on to Panbanisha and Panzee. They acquired many tool-use skills as well. For example, Panbanisha acquired the capacity to flake stone by observing Kanzi. But unlike Kanzi she began, with precision, to employ the technique of bi-manual percussion. Even though Kanzi had observed his human models demonstrate this technique, and even though he had attempted to emulate the bimanual technique, he did not become proficient in that skill without passing through a number of phases which entailed 1) non-precision stone slamming, 2) aimed throwing on a second stone, 3) precision bi-manual percussion with lack of sensitivity to edge geometry and 4) finally bi-manual percussion with sensitivity to edge geometry, as evidenced by rotation of the hammer and core prior to the delivery of glancing blows directed to the proper edges of the core. Whereas Kanzi developed this skill over a 2-yr period, Panbanisha's bimanual technique was oriented toward the edges of the stone almost from the beginning.

...PET scans done to compare Lana's linguistic capacity with that of Panzee revealed that Panzee's information processing skills were more highly elaborated and much more human-like than those of Lana. These findings regarding cortical function correspond tightly to the rearing and behavioral differences encountered between Lana and Panzee. They also reveal that the question of "do apes have language" is far too simple. Both Lana and Panzee "have" language to a certain degree, but their functional competencies vary greatly, as does the neurological processing of verbal material.

In sum, the work with Panzee and Panbanisha demonstrated that the powerful variable was that of rearing, not species. In an environment that did not require training, Panzee learned language faster than Sherman, Austin or Lana. She also comprehended spoken English while they did not. She produced more novel combinations and far more spontaneous utterances. Unlike them, she learned lexigrams independently of keyboard position.[I don't know about this statement since Lana learned lexigrams independent of keyboard position according to reports I cited in the other thread.]

The issue is no longer one of data, the adequacy of data, of potential cueing or experimenter effects, or of conditioning. In addition the issue is no longer that of "apes" in the general sense, but rather that one that must take into account, in detail, the socio-cultural experience of each ape, in determining how its performance on the continuum of linguistic competency is to be evaluated. The paradigms of the past, in which animal cognition is viewed as riding upon a different substrate than human cognition, are breaking down and the research at LRC has been a component of this change (Tomasello and Call, 1997Go). It has done so by investigating the issues of intentionality, inter-subjectivity, semantic meaning, observational learning, and tool use from a new perspective—one that incorporates the historical and social-affective development of the subject into the assessment process. In essence the "experimenter" becomes a part of the world of the "subject" in order to ascertain the competencies of the other. The importance of the research to date is not only that it offers the basic outline of new paradigm for understanding the mind of the other, but also in addition it provides techniques and data to support the approach.
I do believe I did indeed have this right all along. The naysayers seem to have reached their conclusions based on early returns. Early conclusions were premature. You really have to test your hypothesis thoroughly before tossing it out.
__________________
That new avatar is cuteness overload.
Restore checks and balances no matter your party affiliation.

Last edited by Skeptic Ginger; 11th January 2007 at 02:56 AM.
Skeptic Ginger is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top