Eugene Linden
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A Nobel Prize in Economics a Climate Change Denier Might Love

It has been a scary month in climate science. Hurricane Michael and a frightening report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlined the potential costs of human-caused global warming. Then to add insult to injury, William Nordhaus won the economics Nobel Prize. Nordhaus wa...

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The Ragged Edge of the World
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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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The Alms Race
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Apes, Men, & Language
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parrotslament

Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. The Parrot's Lament : And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity From reviews: The New York Times Book Review, Sara Ivry His incisive, informal prose turns even these nonhuman scoundrels into endearing subjects. From Kirkus Reviews Empathetic stories of animals displaying intelligence and fellow-feeling, with some references to controlled experiments to help put the acts in context, from journalist Linden, the author of several books on animal cognition as well as other subjects. This ``decidedly unscientific' collection of animal tales, wherein the beasts ``tried or succeeded in outsmarting, beguiling, or otherwise astonishing the humans in their lives,' is written simply to knock on our intuitive doors and get us to appreciate the lives of animals and whatever consciousness they possess. Linden keeps the anecdotes short and sweet, and, thankfully, taps into those untold rather than recycling the same stories about apes saving human toddlers and elephants enjoying sunsets. There are chimps and parrots that specialize in devilry and pranksterism, and a marvelous sampling of deceit, from the disingenuous use of body language by dolphins to a white-winged shrike tanager abusing its sentinel duties ``by occasionally making the alarm call when no hawk is around. As its feathered colleagues head for cover, it wolfs down all the food in sight.' There are great escapes from zoos and parks, which for orangutans is ``a singular obsession'they shape tools, conceal their intentions, and choose the best opportunity to make their move. The acts of heroism, trust, and loyalty may sound familiar, though the odd friendships are a delight: the tale of wolf and the goat feels too biblical, but the one about the horse and the turkey couldn't be better. Linden closes with an enviable ramble through back-of-beyond central Africa, where the animals reacted to humans with inquisitiveness rather than fear, for a single, very good reason: they had never encountered us before. Most of all, these stories suggest a range of possibilities in animal awareness and feeling that signal the caring respect to be awarded any creature. Animals are an indicator species, Linden suggests, so take a look: how we treat them reflects how we treat everything else. -- Copyright 1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. Amazon.com ...as a passionate and accomplished student of animal intelligence since the '70s, Linden--of course--couldn't resist comparing Sofia's reasoning to that of an ape, puzzling over the cognitive cusp upon which she teetered. And it's this affectionate but knowledgeable analysis, the gentle transition from rutabagas to metacognition and emergent symbolic ability, that makes The Parrot's Lament so satisfying, sentimental but still scientifically solid. The science of consciousness and animal intelligence is contentious, but many in the field--Linden included--deeply suspect that animals know more than we can verify. Linden lays down the science with clarity and good humor, but he leaves it to his animal coauthors, the amorous dolphins, escape-artist orangs, enigmatic cats, and lying hyenas that populate the book's scores of anecdotes, to make his argument. --Paul Hughes Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

In Memorium: Koko the Gorilla

Koko the gorilla died on June 19. She and a female chimpanzee named Washoe (who died in 2007) played an outsized role in changing how we view animal intelligence. Their accomplishments inaugurated deep soul-searching among us humans about the moral basis of our relationship with nature. Koko and Washoe have made it much more difficult for us to treat animals as commodities, in any way we wish.

I knew the two great apes when I was young and they were young, and I”ve closely followed the scientific, philosophical and moral upheavals they precipitated over the last five decades. In the 1960s and ’70s, they learned to use American sign language, and they came to understand that words could be combined to convey new meanings. It threw the scientific world into a tizzy, implying that sentience and languagewere not ours alone, that there was a continuum in higher mental abilities that linked animals and humans.

The problem for science remains unresolved: 3,000 years into the investigation of signal human attributes and we still don’t have rigorous ways to define language and intelligence that are agreed on and can be empirically tested. There remain a number of scientists who don’t think Koko and Washoe accomplished anything at all. Even if a scientist accepts one of the definitions of language that do exist, it’s nearly impossible to test it in animals because what is being examined is inherently subjective, and science demands objective, verifiable results.

Consider how hard it is to prove a lie beyond a reasonable doubt in court. Then consider trying to prove lying in an animal in accord with the much stricter standards of science.

As difficult as proving it may be, examples of apes lying abound. When Koko was 5, I was playing a chase game with her. When I caught her, she gave me a small bite. Penny Patterson, Koko’s lifelong foster parent and teacher, was there, and, in sign language, demanded, “What did you do?”

Koko signed, “Not teeth.”

Penny wasn’t buying it: “Koko, you lied.”

“Bad again Koko bad again,” Koko admitted.

“Koko, you lied.” But what was Koko’s intent — a central issue when it comes to proving a lie. What was actually going on in her head when she made the gestures for “not teeth?” As if that weren’t inscrutable enough, one of the guiding principles of scientific investigations of animal intelligence is what’s known as Morgan’s Canon: Scientists must not impute a higher mental ability if a behavior can be explained by something more primitive, for example, simple error.

Analogously, about 50 years ago, on a pond in Oklahoma, Washoe saw a swan and made the signs for “water” and “bird.” Was she simply noting a bird and water, or was she combining two of the signs she knew to describe an animal for which she had no specific word? The debate continued for decades and was unresolved when she died.

Since Washoe made those signs, there have been many more instances of apes combining words to describe something, but these examples still don’t prove they can combine words to arrive at a novel term, even if it seems obvious that they can. Faced with these ambiguities, many scientists have moved to studying whether animals can accomplish specific cognitive tasks, and a welter of credible findings show sophisticated abilities in animals ranging from crows to elephants.

Although science struggles with questions of general intelligence, language and intent, the public is in the “it’s obvious” camp, readily accepting evidence of animal sentience. The latest objects of fascination are the octopus — a relative of the clam! — and fish. Stories of cephalopod escape and problem-solving regularly go viral, and to the consternation of sushi lovers , John Balcomb’s book, “What a Fish Knows,” provides copious evidence that fish know a lot.

We tend to see animals as either personalities or commodities, or sometimes, both. When I wrote about octopus intelligence, I was amused by one octopus-oriented website that divided its space between stories of smart octopuses and recipes for cooking them. Perhaps the most extraordinary example of our schizophrenic view of animals occurred some years back when a chimp colony that included sign-language-using apes was disbanded and many of these onetime celebrities were shipped to a medical research lab to be used in Hepatitis B and AIDS drug testing.

I knew these chimps too, and visited them in their new environment. They were desperate to communicate with their human captors, but the staff didn’t know sign language. So insistent were Booee and Bruno with their signing that one handler put up a poster outside the cages showing some basic signs to help the humans respond. When I was there, three days after Booee had arrived, he was signing agitatedly for food and drink. But what I think he really wanted was reassurance: If the humans would respond to “gimme drink,” things were going to be OK.

Teaching Koko, Washoe and other animals some level of human and invented languages promised experimenters insight into the animal mind. But the animals seemed to seize on these languages as a way to make their wishes — and thoughts — known to their strange, bipedal wardens, who had no ability or interest in learning the animals’ communication system. For Koko, I believe, sign language was a way to make the best of a truly unnatural situation, and so she signed.

Science doesn’t know if great apes can invent terms or if they tell lies. And the tension between whether we view and treat animals as personalities or as commodities lives on. The truth is, Koko, Washoe and many other animals who have had two-way conversations with the people around them shatter the moral justification for the latter.



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