This parrot n'kisi is also the one rupert sheldrake claimed has telepathic abilities.
I posted some links about N'kisi and other African greys here:
Ah i c. I also see the story is almost 2yrs old...
I thought it sounded familiar.
I used to have a link to a video of the parrot Alex selecting colors and counting. I will try to find it - it's really amazing.
Hey Pit - check out Alex on Scientific American Frontiers:
(scroll down to the "entertaining parrots" video).
Wow that's amazing
Just to emphasize the need for caution, I'd like to add some general comments. Everyone should be aware that even "widely trusted" sources like PBS science programs or major newspapers from time to time put out stories/episodes which are stunningly credulous. In addition, many local news stories on "science" are simply recycling duff months or years on, because a given day happens to be a "slow news day". I often find, after looking into the original source, that the original reporter, perhaps working for a regional newspaper, made no visible attempt to check the credentials/reputation of someone making some intriguing "scientific" claim. Even worse, it not infrequently turns out that they were hoodwinked by some "institution" which would not be generally recognized by scientists as practicing science, or least not "reputable" science. In the most extreme cases, the ultimate source turns out to be a press release put out by some for-profit company (often consisting of a lone "inventor") touting some scientifically loony scheme. Bob Park's website often discusses some of these: http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn011306.html [Broken]
And a specific comment: while all biologists now accept that many kinds of animals (and bacteria and even plants) "communicate" in various and mostly rather limited senses of the word, claims that some specific bird, dolphin, or orangutan shows specific abilities to process and utilize abstract language are notoriously difficult to substantiate and are generally regarded with great suspicion by cognitive scientists. Unfortunately, most popular reporting doesn't even attempt to adequately convey the "obvious limitations" of and possible objections to research alleging to establish such claims.
Just to be clear, I find work on animal cognition which attempts to explore questions like "are these guys in some sense self-concious? what reasoning abilities do they possess which we can readily appreciate? can they utilize some kind of abstract language, at least in some limited sense? if so, do they do so in nature, or only in our lab?" as fascinating as anyone. I am not saying that such studies are neccessarily inappropriate. I am saying that I would like to see a great deal more care in how they are designed, executed, and most all, how they are reported.
Just for the record - don't think for a minute that I am a fan of Rupert Sheldrake. He throws a crackpottish light on animal cognition studies -- which many people are convinced is a waste of time even without Sheldrake's help.
But I love programs/articles that get people interested in animal cognition. I believe this leads to greater respect and ultimately more humane treatment of animals.
Over the years I have become more and more convinced that animals are more like us [or we like them] than most would admit. One example that totally blew me away was when Bun II [my office cat] died. Our oldest cat Einstein obviously knew that I was depressed, so he came down and hung out with me in the office all evening. In sixteen years, this is the only time he has ever hung out in my office for more than a minute or two. .
...or was he depressed and wanted company?
Another one that I hear is that animals are not aware of their own mortality. I reject that notion. Having had pets my entire life, I have made many of those terrible trips to the vet with an old and sick animal for "the shot", and I would swear that to some extent they know what's going on. They know that this trip is different and they act afraid in spite of our best efforts to reassure them. [Edit]In some cases I think they know that they are going to die.
Perhaps the real problem is our inability to accept that we too are just animals.
I've met N'kisi... His owner is a friend of my mom and stepdad's. He's very shy around strangers but once he gets used to you he opens up and you get to see how smart he is. The way she trains him is that she will take a subservient role to him (if he asks for water she'll get it for him right away, if he wants her to put incense on, she'll do that, etc) . The leader of the flock will grow to be the smartest. They sit on the top of the tree and watch out for predators and tell all the other birds what to do. So she also always makes sure that he is higher than her. Its pretty amazing to see that he has the brain capacity of a small child. It really shows that we don't give enough credit to animals.
P.S. that PBS special is no hoax. This bird does exist and he is increduously smart.
meanwhile, I've yet to find a convincing argument for this whole "human intelligence" theory... ever get the feeling your dog or cat is just patronizing you? ... just me?
it seems odd that parrots can be so good varied speech when their brains are so tiny compared to other animals. An elephant would not beable to learn the meanings of 950 different words even though its brain is much, much, bigger. Does anyone know why that is?
I suggest you read up on elephants, they are very intelligent.
it should be mentioned that there is a difference between learning words and learning a language. I'm not aware of a single case of and animal learning a human language.
a parrot or ape may learn different words, and and some aspect of their meaning: "water" (they bring me water), "outside" (they take me outside), "hug" (they put their arms around me), "red square", etc. etc.
but "say, John, could you please take me outside so I can have me a drink of water," is miles away from "outside! water! outside! john! water!"— which is the best an animal can achieve, and after endless hours of training.
human languages are a way of communication that has evolved with humans and is deeply rooted in our brain (or not... is the jury in on this yet or are they still fighting? some of my books are a few years old and I can't keep track of everything... stupid progress ).
a parrot's brain is perfectly designed to communicate with other parrots, not with humans (useless info: dogs are one of the only species that instinctively understand human communication— facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. having evolved alongside humans, they are also better at expressing themselves— they make human-like facial expressions, and howl in a way that resembles a human's).
I haven't read about n'kisi, but if this bird can truly understand any aspect of the subtleties of human communication (jokes, subtext, syntax), then it is truly an exception and a freakishly smart for a bird.
I'm not saying these animals aren't smart, when I see apes and parrots and elephants at the zoo (or even my cat), it always shocks me how you can stare into their eyes and tell there really is someone in there; it's not just some furry machine that eats. it just happens that they haven't evolved or have a need for language.
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