The Ethics Blog

A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Tag: ape language research

We cannot control everything: the philosophical dimensions of life

Life always surpasses us. We thought we were in control, but then something unexpected happens that seems to upset the order. A storm, a forest fire, a pandemic. Life appears as a drawing in sand, the contours of which suddenly dissolve. Of course, it is not that definitive. Even a storm, a forest fire, a […]

Herb Terrace about the chimpanzee Nim – do you see the contradiction?

Have you seen small children make repeated attempts to squeeze a square object through a round hole (plastic toy for the little ones)? You get puzzled: Do they not see that it is impossible? The object and the hole have different shapes! Sometimes adults are just as puzzling. Our intellect does not always fit reality. […]

Teaching the child the concept of what it learns

It is natural to think that a child, who learns to speak, learns precisely that: simply to speak. And a child who learns addition learns precisely that: simply to add. But is speaking “simply speaking” and is adding “simply adding”? Imagine a very young child who is beginning to say what its parents recognize as […]

Being humans when we are animals

Most people know that humans are animals, a primate species. Still, it is difficult to apply that knowledge directly to oneself: “I’m an animal”; “My parents are apes.” – Can you say it without feeling embarrassed and slightly dizzy? In a recent paper I explore this difficulty of “bringing home” an easily cited scientific fact: […]

An ape genius, or just an ordinary talking ape?

In 2001 I travelled to Atlanta, where Sue Savage-Rumbaugh then worked with the language-competent bonobos Kanzi and Panbanisha. A question I travelled with concerned the linguistic tests that I had seen in a TV-documentary, Kanzi, an ape of genius. In these tests, the ape responds to requests in spoken English, uttered by an experimenter who […]

Panbanisha, 1986-2012

It saddens me to have to report that Panbanisha, the bonobo who understood more about humans than any other nonhuman – and more than most humans – died November 6, 2012, from respiratory illness. Meeting her made it obvious to me that the world is more-than-human and that we have to rethink the inherited cosmology. Pär […]

Project Nim: a tragedy that was interpreted as science?

Last week I wrote about the significance of negative results in science. This week I saw one of the saddest documentaries I’ve ever seen, featuring the tragic context of an often cited negative result in science. The documentary, Project Nim (2011), was about the psychologist Herb Terrace’s attempt in the 1970:s to teach American sign […]

Neither innate nor learned

A child begins to speak; to say that it is hungry, or does not want to sleep. Where was the child’s language hiding before it began to speak? Did the child invent it? Certainly not, experts on language development would insist. A child cannot create language. Language exists before the child starts to speak. All […]

Apes become pregnant with language in culture

During the past century, a series of optimistic researchers set out to teach language to apes. This could have been no more than a queer expression of human naiveté… if it wasn’t for the fact that one of them succeeded. Who succeeded? The one who avoided teaching the apes! Why did the one who avoided […]

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