Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dolphins can generalize

In the middle of a review of a new book on the origins of human language in the San Francisco Chronicle, one finds the following, rather remarkable, paragraph:

Kanzi, the amazing bonobo, can use a keyboard to signal what she wants. And that's not all. Through her computer, Kanzi can "participate in four-way conversations," can "converse about objects, intentions and actions" and has even "acquired a theory of mind." Dolphins can't do all this, but they can "generalize," while elephants can "impart their wisdom" to the young. And then there is Hoover the seal, who can vocalize the following sequence of words: "Hey, hey, you, get outta there!" The scary thing is that Hoover and his like might be producing more meaningful, less admonitory sentences soon, at least according to Harvard biologist Tecumseh Fitch. "Maybe we just need to expose seals to human speech, and the right social context, and they'll be able to learn some speech." (link)

Everyone has little pieces of language. Humans, supposedly, have the whole thing.



Andy said...

Elsewhere in the article :

"Attributing a "theory of mind" to an ape? Surely Kenneally jests. How can an ape have a theory of something when it doesn't even know what that something is?"

This demonstrates writer,Brendan Boyle, has latched on to the word theory in order to try to understand what TOM might mean - and failed without knowing it! TOM, in a nutshell, means the individuals capacity to read other minds. We are born with the capacity and only those like those with autism have less or none of it.

Since mirror neurons seems to form part of this story, other mammals having them might demonstrate they have TOM to some degree.

7:02 AM  

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