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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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Raymond Weitzman

A review of this documentary might be better informed by reading what Terrace's take was on the Nim Project. In the 80s he wrote the book Nim, a Chimpanzee Who Learned Sign Language. I believe he thought that Nim didn't understand language but was just mimicking. I don't agree with Terrace's conclusion, because he would sign without any prompts from others. Nevertheless, I agree that the project was misconceived and poorly implemented.

I also think your point that perhaps chimpanzees are not cooperative enough to sustain the use and perhaps expansion of their language skills is well taken. But perhaps the results may have turned out somewhat differently if the subject had been a bonobo rather than a chimpanzee. Bonobo's are known to be much more cooperative in their behavior.

Also my impression is that Nim's language skills were limited to requesting things and "linguistic pointing" when prompted. Whether that was due to some inherent qualitative lack or the result of the kind of training they received is still unclear.
BLOGGER: i agree that work with a bonobo probably would have gone better if only because the animal might not have become so impossible to live with. Kanzi, a young bonobo learned to use lexigrams to communicate by watching his mother struggle in her lexigram lessons. The one possible instance of pointing in the wild concerned a bonobo who may have pointed at an ethologist who was watching a bonobo group..

Raymond Weitzman

As far as I know, there have been no crucial experiments demonstrating that gestural pointing is a prerequisite to linguistic pointing (naming, labeling, tacting, etc.). So I'm not sure what is the significance of gestural pointing by a bonobo.
BLOGGER: Pointing is a way of sharing information putting it in a category more like language than the normal request and control gestures. Just trying to give bonobos their full due.


Historically, deaf people have been considered less than human, more like dumb beasts, like oh, apes. In 1779 Pierre Desloges wrote the first book showing that our signed language was functionally equivalent to speech in every way. In the sixties, William Stokoe proved to the satisfaction of the world's linguists that ASL was structurally the same as spoken languages. Further research got it accepted as a multiply inflected, topic prominent, nonconfigurational polysynthetic language making great use of classifiers, quotatives, a complex pronominal system of 100+ forms grammatically marked for formality, aspect, the inclusive /exclusive distinction, and many other features. Finally, after thousands of years, vindication-- deaf people were accepted as being more than dumb animals.

Then we read a sentence like “Washoe learnd ASL”.


I hope you can see why some might find this upsetting?
BLOGGER: Yes that was sloppy of me. He learned a few signs.

Raymond Weitzman

I agree that the statement "Washoe learned ASL." is beyond the pale. All Washoe or Nim or any of the chimpanzees used in these studies learned were just fragmented parts of the gestures associated with ASL. The media often hypes these kinds of studies.

Raymond Weitzman

In reference to the blogger's response to my earlier comment, to say that pointing is a way of sharing information does not seem to be a particularly useful way of describing the act of pointing. All pointing does is to direct the attention of the pointer's "listener". There is no way to know whether the "listener" gets from the pointing the "same information" as the pointer. We need other behavioral responses to know whether there is a sharing of information, however information may be defined. When my first granddaughter was a toddler and came to visit, she would walk into the kitchen and point up at a cabinet door. I knew from our past interactions with her in the kitchen that what she was doing by that was requesting a cookie from the cookie jar we kept in that particular cabinet. She was sharing information with me as a consequence of those past interactions.I never taught her to point, but I assume that she had learned that gesture through imitation, modeling, and being reinforced in some way for that behavior by others, most likely her parents.

Jerry Moore

Something about Learning.

Human are using huge amount of extra-genetic information for their survival. To pass this information from generation to generation and from individual to individual required Learning. Language is used for this purpose. Human have the ability to heuristic learning as well.

None of the above applied to non-human animals. They can be only trained.
Learning is coming in package with Language, as a battery and a torch. It was designed by nature this way.

‘Learning’ and ‘monkeys’ stand as apart as ‘training’ and ‘bricks’, when we try to make them stay in right positions in a brick fence.

Raymond Weitzman

It would be helpful if Jerry Moore would explain to us the difference between "training" and "learning", especially when it comes to language. To me they just seem to depend on one's point of view.

Jerry Moore

In brief:
Training is the development of fixed forms of behavior with alternating positive and negative reinforcements. (applyed to reflecses)
Teaching is mainly anwering on questions “why”, “how”, “where”, “who” and etc. (applyed to mind)
In the human educational practice training and teaching are often combined and viewed as a single educational process.

You asked me “~what do you mean?” From my answer you learn my position. You were not trained to it.

Jerry Moore

Read "reflexes"

Raymond Weitzman

But reflexes need no training. They are genetically endowed and automatically elicited by certain stimuli. Behavior trained and shaped by positive and/or negative reinforcement is behavior that is either emitted without any known stimulus eliciting it or behavior that is produced through imitation and then positively reinforced or punished. I think you are confusing what you call "training" with Pavlovian conditioning learning, where some other stimulus "substitutes" for the eliciting stimulus of the reflex. In Pavlovian conditioning, it is not the behavior that is changed, but the stimulus that evokes it.

How can you ask questions or answer them without first learning how to do so? You learn to do this through other people. Thus, aren't other people doing the training and you are doing the learning? I would argue that we are trained how to ask and answer questions and how to "understand" both and through this training we generalize the process so that we can ask and answer questions under circumstances different from how we originally learned them.

By the way, the kind of learning involving positive or negative reinforcement is called operant or instrumental learning (or conditioning) and it is quite different from Pavlovian conditioning, since it results in adding to one's behavioral repertoire. If you would like, I would be happy to provide you with references.

Jerry Moore

You better read youself:
J.Call and M. Tomasello "Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later."
Then "Frontal lobe contributions to Theory of Mond", "Core mechanisms of 'Theory of mind'" and MUST read paper from

Thank for your interest to this issue.

Raymond Weitzman

You haven't really replied to my previous comment or answered any of the issues I raised in it. Of what relevance are the articles you "suggest" I read?

Jerry Moore

I remember your childish remarks on my previous comments and can’t see the way or need to improve your wiki-skills and manners.
BLOGGER: Okay, you two, take it outside. I like a good argument, but not at this level.

Raymond Weitzman

If using ad hominems is the way you want to weasel out of discussing these issues that's fine with me. But I think you need to learn not only manners but how to cogently and rationally argue with someone.

Jerry Moore

Scientific research supposes to include erudition. Erudition itself is able to exist apart from scientific reasoning.
For last 10-12 years scholars of different fields produced abandon number of papers in relation to Coevolution of language and mind, language and ToM. I remember fascination of many blogger with Pinker’s book as an example. From other hand all hard tries by ethologists to find traces of some Language use by animals fail to produce any results. Remember of coevolution of language and mind, it is pointless to wait for discovery of some traces of Mind in non-human animals as well. This field of science is developing rapidly so “wikipedia” can’t catch up.

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