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Monkeys are capable of abstract reasoning
October 16, 2001 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Monkeys are capable of abstract reasoning according to recent research, which may have "profound implications for the evolution of human intelligence and the stuff that separates homo sapiens from other animals."

Just so long as there are enough bananas to go round, it's OK by me ...
posted by walrus (30 comments total)

 
'[these] ideas may seem radical, but to an increasing number of scientists, philosophers and laypersons, the logic of the moral arguments ...[seem] inescapable.'

GAP: 'Our long-term goal is a United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Great Apes'

i'd rather that than seeing them disappear via the human digestive tract.
posted by asok at 6:11 AM on October 16, 2001


well duh. monkeys have been to space on their own too.
posted by tolkhan at 6:22 AM on October 16, 2001


"The research was conducted by Joel Fagot"

Ohh man, I would want to have been in school with his name.
posted by tiaka at 6:26 AM on October 16, 2001


asok that's a subscription link to New Scientist ... what does it say?

I like the idea of GAP FWIW ... however, what if other animals that "we" eat turn out to also be capable of associative reasoning?

Are we getting to the level of having to define what a "person" is yet? Would it be bigoted to include a human biological inheritence in the definition, as in the Declaration of Human Rights? Who knows.

Disclosure: I'm veggie, so this poses no particular moral problems for me.
posted by walrus at 7:04 AM on October 16, 2001


great, apes in cyberspace. this is the beginning of the end, the planet of the apes!

or uplift? :)
posted by kliuless at 7:12 AM on October 16, 2001


This is a pre-emtive plee for no Bush jokes. Please.

That said, why are we humans so presumptuous to assume that we're the only living things that "think"?

On a tangent: For the longest time (until the early 70s) scientists & doctors didn't believe babies felt pain - so they didn't admister anasthetic during surgery. Once they began doing so infant mortality rates under surgery dropped by over 70%.

When we will learn that, just because they can't communicate in ways human understand, doesn't make that creature an unthinkin, unfeeling soul?
posted by Neale at 7:50 AM on October 16, 2001


You know, 98% of human and chimpanzee DNA is compatible and a hybrid between the two species is not out of question. Now, in the days of exploration, it was the Portuguese sailors who fathered children upon every tribe and race encountered...Hey, that give me an idea!

Oh, Miguel,,,
posted by y2karl at 8:06 AM on October 16, 2001


kliuless......I don't even want to get into the implications of that URL. But I also thought immediately of Brin's Uplift books.

I can see it now when they're uplifted to sentience:

"And that"

*punch!*

"is for the"

*bam!*

"cosmetic experiments!!"

"Oh, and by the way, thanks a whole hell of a lot for that 'separate the monkey from its mommy' experiment. Laugh riot, mr smart guy!"
posted by Kafkaesque at 8:44 AM on October 16, 2001


The ability to reason is not such a big deal...it's our ability to imitate that makes humans unique. Read Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine for more...
posted by bradlauster at 9:07 AM on October 16, 2001


personally, i like mirror neurons better than memes.

kafkaesque, i've seen xanth and dune timelines, too... i'm holding out hope for the dolphins :)
posted by kliuless at 9:17 AM on October 16, 2001


It took thousands of trials for them to learn the "relation between relations" required by the task, but they did it.

Thousands of trials... to match 16 icons? That doesn't sound like abstract thought to me. That sounds like trial and error.
posted by aaronshaf at 9:18 AM on October 16, 2001


neale-

Wow, I have never heard of that. Can you point me to some documentation? (note, this is not an underhanded, snide attempt to discredit your post, but an honest desire to cut some research time. This note may be an underhanded ,snide remark regarding the techniques of argument used by many MeFi posters, however)
posted by das_2099 at 9:18 AM on October 16, 2001


bradlauster: are you saying monkeys can't imitate?
posted by walrus at 9:21 AM on October 16, 2001


They can probably imitate just as well as Rich Little.
posted by tj at 9:37 AM on October 16, 2001


Two baboons, trained to use computers, were set the task of matching images displayed on the screen by using a joystick.

Question for the monkeys: After Zelda gets the Argent Sword, how do you get past the Knights of Zeus? Those fuckers keep fireballing me.
posted by Skot at 9:38 AM on October 16, 2001


Skot, it's easy to get past the Knights of Zeus. Just press all the buttons at once, thereby utilizing the special "Throw Feces" attack.

Hope that's helpful to you

Love and kisses

The Monkeys
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:42 AM on October 16, 2001



I can't believe this hasn't been posted yet.
posted by mac at 9:45 AM on October 16, 2001


oops! Try this site: http://www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/shows/saturday/sa1121.php
posted by mac at 9:45 AM on October 16, 2001


Monkeys throw feces at objects which upset them.

Resignedly resubmitted as a MeFi tagline.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:47 AM on October 16, 2001


Yep - I'm saying monkeys can't imitate.

In The Meme Machine, Blackmore makes a distinction between what monkeys do (social learning) and what humans do (imitation). Her argument was good enough to convince me of the difference between the two and that humans are the only animals that can truly imitate.

She makes a good case that, while we take it for granted, imitation is actually a VERY complex thing. It involves speech, gestures, knowledge of body position and the most difficult thing of all: being able to imagine what the imitation will look like to those watching it.

I'm by no means an expert on socio-biology. I just read the book and it made sense to me.
posted by bradlauster at 10:07 AM on October 16, 2001


So monkeys learning sign language are ... not ... imitating their teachers?

Probably depends on your definition of imitate.

Hmm, maybe I should just read the damn book.
posted by walrus at 10:15 AM on October 16, 2001


Do remember that, by any common definition, nobody could deny that monkeys can imitate. What Ms. Blackmore has done (I assume--I haven't read the book) is to define a technical concept that can usefully be called imitation in the context of memetics, and argue that that sort of imitation is unique to humans. This is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, and happens all the time in scientific literature, but if you use the technical sense in a non-technical context, you will be misunderstood.

Further, I doubt that there is a single "thing that makes humans unique". Certainly we are unlike other animals, but not because of some single capacity we have that other animals lack. Rather, there are a number of traits we have that other animals do not, along with many more traits which combine in humans differently than they do in other animals.

When Plato and Aristotle needed a rigorous definition of man, they often used "the featherless biped". This ignores virtually everything that is interesting or important about human beings, but it also uniquely specifies humans better than many more meaningful definitions.

Finally, I'd like to point out two common synonyms for "imitate": "ape" and "parrot".
posted by moss at 11:36 AM on October 16, 2001


"Once I hired a monkey to take notes for me at school. I just sat there with my mind a complete blank while the monkey just scribbled on little pieces of paper. At the end of the week the teacher said, 'Class, I want you to write a paper using your notes.' This is what I wrote: 'My name is Bingo, I like to climb on things. Can I have a banana? Eek, eek.' I got an F. When I told my mom she said, 'I told you, never trust a monkey!' The end."
posted by shinji_ikari at 11:37 AM on October 16, 2001


But can they make pancakes?
posted by adampsyche at 12:33 PM on October 16, 2001


probably not, but they can perform delicate ear, nose and throat examinations on wild forest creatures.
posted by kliuless at 12:44 PM on October 16, 2001


neale-

Wow, I have never heard of that. Can you point me to some documentation? (note, this is not an underhanded, snide attempt to discredit your post, but an honest desire to cut some research time. This note may be an underhanded ,snide remark regarding the techniques of argument used by many MeFi posters, however)


I will try to find some today.
posted by Neale at 2:26 PM on October 16, 2001


Experiments In Infant Pain (Excerpts from "Babies Don't Feel Pain: A Century of Denial in Medicine")

This article point to the fact the practice was still going on in 1985, as does this one ("her son Jeffrey's death after unanesthetized heart surgery at 25 weeks gestation in 1985." - note, I don't believe that circumcision is child abuse).

This article mentions how, when they finally did start using anaesthetic "the hormonal and metabolic responses in infants undergoing surgery were attenuated by general anesthesia". And they stopped dying.

There's a bunch of articles referenced in each of these articles if you want to know more, or do a search on Google for unanesthetized open heart surgery on infants.
posted by Neale at 2:39 PM on October 16, 2001


y2karl: chimps and humans have different numbers of chromosomes, so any hybrid would be sterile like a mule, even if it lived. So Miguel's DNA is guaranteed 100% chimp free.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:10 PM on October 16, 2001


i_am_joe's_spleen: D'oh!x2

Still, there is that whole issue of android DNA...

So, he can try anyway, right?
posted by y2karl at 4:29 PM on October 16, 2001


And I was operating under the assumption it as yet had not been attempted and was not impugning anyone's ancestry.

And accordion, a bongo, and a puppet. Exactly.


Metafile: We're All Inscrutable Together
posted by y2karl at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2001


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