Thursday, May 31, 2007

The dirty minds of chimps

All day yesterday ABC News was hyping a report on groundbreaking research that has scientists talking to apes.

It turned out not to be quite as groundbreaking as advertised --scientists had basically trained a Bonobo chimpanzee to recognize 350 different words and hit a corresponding touch screen when he heard them. The only time during the "interview" that the chimp deviated from simply imitating was when he took it upon himself to hit the symbol for the word "surprise."

The interviewer took that to mean the chimp was asking him if he was surprised that an ape could understand English. It was later revealed "surprise" was a word associated with a treat, and it was more of a Pavlovian response than a conversation opener.

Nevertheless, you could tell the chimp was fairly engaged and seemed to have a desire to communicate. Meaning if researchers keep at it, there may soon be a day when humans and apes will be able to have a more traditional dialogue.

But do we really want to hear what a chimp has to say? Granted there may be benefits to those who study apes, but I imagine the first genuine talking ape (with the aid of speech computer) will become a celebrity, and everyone will want to attach a certain wisdom to the words of our first verbally expressive liaison into the rest of the animal kingdom.

The only problem is that apes -- while surprisingly intelligent -- are still probably only as smart as a five year old. And you know what five year olds, when left to their own devices, like to talk about . . ?


And, as anyone who has been to the primate house at the zoo can attest, our furry cousins already have an overly exuberant relationship with excrement.

So if we unleash the thoughts of the chimps, expect to hear detailed ruminations on the effectiveness of feces as both weapon and skin moisturizer.

But these apes aren't actual children, and when they aren't talking poo they will probably want to discuss the other thing they have been consistently excelling at for millions of years: The act of procreation.

In other words, unless you want to hear a chimp talk dirty, literally and figuratively, we should probably stick to the policy that apes should be seen and not heard.


Anonymous said...

Do you fear this is the first step in a chain of events that includes humans using chimps as servants -- and ends with chimps as the planets dominate species? I know gun enthusiast Charlton Heston won’t be lead around on a leash by an ape.

JT said...

Heston was quick to realize how (damn) dirty apes are. Especially their stinking paws.

Anonymous said...

What is this...primate week on the JSB?

The chimp in that picture has some ripped biceps. I suspect BALCO is involved.

JT said...

It could also be photoshop.