mercredi, septembre 12, 2007


Alex the African gray parrot died last week. Aged 31, he apparently died of natural cause, said Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who had worked with him since 1977, when, a doctoral student in chemistry, she bought him from a pet store. Now a comparative psychologist at Brandeis, she worked with Alex as he learned colors and shapes, more than 100 words, and shapes and colors. Although he was not able to generalize and show the sort of logic used by children, he was able to do things like tell an experimenter what color a paper triangle was and, after touching it, of what material it was made.

According to Pepperberg, who was working with Alex on hard to pronounce words up until right before he died, his last words to her were "You be good, see you tommorow, I love you."

There is so much we don't know about the potential for communication between members of a species, or between that species and us. It's not just parrots that we have relegated to the status of dumb animals. Primates, dolphins, whales and other animals have probably been more often the subject of often painful, sometimes fatal studies aimed at aiding us than of constructive studies aimed at understanding them.

What is it that we don't want to see? Would we treat them the way we do if we felt more compassion, empathy, awe? What decisions, what consequence, would emerge from a deeper look into the minds of the animals we have subjugated? In seeing the parrot, the gorilla, the whale as creatures in themselves, we might discover more about ourselves. But in considering why we choose to turn a blank eye to the intelligences around us, we need to understand, not solely what we could gain, but what it is we might lose by seeing-truly seeing.

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