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Tuesday, January 01, 20081199232669

Animal Rights

AFP: Uganda chimps at forefront of pharmaceutical research

Ugandan and French scientists have for months been observing the behaviour of a group of chimpanzees whose uncanny aptitude for self-medication could help their human cousins discover new drugs.

E-Wire: Congress guarantees sanctury for retired medical research chimps

The Jane Goodall Institute hailed Wednesday's signing into law of the Chimp Haven is Home Act, a bill that will ensure chimpanzees living in sanctuary after years of medical research in government-funded facilities will not be returned to the labs. The bill was passed in the final days of the session before Congress adjourned for the holiday recess.

Reuters: Chimps calculate as well as some uni students

Both chimps and humans typically answered within one second and with a similar level of accuracy.

The research follows the finding by Japanese researchers earlier this month that young chimpanzees performed better than human adults at a memory game.

Would it be fair to saw that chimps are not so much beasts as really, really stupid and really, really immature (and perhaps soulless)?


About a year ago a group of primatologists went to court, in Austria, to give a chimpanzee the same rights as a human.

Posted by: J. Kauffman | Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It was a network news report on a chimp custody case that inspired me to write this article.

Is there a way to tell if chimps are self-aware... and if one signs that it is, that it's not just a zombie? [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_zombie

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I wouldn't say stupid so much as more specialized. The soul question depends on one's religious beliefs (Dharmics would likely disagree with the notion of soulless animals).

If this subject interests you, you might check out the book THE MATH INSTINCT by Keith Devlin. It's actually two books in one: the first part about animal math usage and activities that would require math usage if done by humans, the second by looking more closely at how humans learn math and the implications for math education.

Posted by: Michael | Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Could you say more about the book?

Human infants have innate mathematical ability, which appears to come from orientation (in an OODA sense) as opposed to decision.

Perhaps chimpanzees, like infants, have awareness without decision -- life without knowledge?

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I'll bite, Dan. Reminds me of the 'Chinese Room' discussion over beers with you some months back... "No second-order thought!" (refrain)
I'll start by saying I generally agree with Dennett that, "Philosophers ought to have dropped the zombie like a hot potato, but since they persist in their embrace, this gives me a golden opportunity to focus attention on the most seductive error in current thinking." - and this for a simple reason.
While functional for the purposes of thought experiments, in that they can illuminate much in discussions of philosphy of the mind, language and consciousness genrerally, p-zombies (even Dennett's zimboes) fail to offer much ultimate utility simply because of the way we, individually, conceive of them. I think the Wiki blurb is spot-on regarding this.
Isaac-zombies and Dan-zombies would probably differ, in the end, to such a degree that they couldn't even play in the same horror movies. I would argue, as a student of Searle, that a fully-described p-zombie (a'la Chalmers) is, in fact, just a human. But, that is another story, one requiring a nice patio somewhere. Back to chimps...
Soulless? Michael's right - a religious position, unless you mean as defined in the p-zombie article's hierarchy - and then certainly not: obviously distinguishable. This even without discussing the difference between self-awareness and self-referentiality (refrain, lol).
But, maybe this lack of the latter in chimps (and maybe babies, too) is what is responsible for the lack of the feedback loops necessary for an actual OODA loop, particularly those pointing back to the second 'O'.
Theirs is more of an arrow, with, perhaps the addition of a few simple/immediate process-memory psuedo-feedback loops. (?) Maybe being self-referential through time is what is key. Seems to help with babies...
Oddly, in hyperlinking around your link, I discovered that Tarzan's chimp, Cheetah, is 75 years old and living in Palm Springs. That's amazing. Apparently, he likes to watch old movies of himself. Perhaps he's the first of the chimps to exhibit 'first-and-a-bit-more-order thought'...LOL I'll make no such admission!

Posted by: Isaac | Thursday, January 03, 2008


Excellent comment!

Good catch on Chinese room. I've been thinking about this since an awful episode of Numb3rs, which inspired me to read wikipedia, and find this [1]:

"Searle predicts that, while going through the brain prosthesis, "you find, to your total amazement, that you are indeed losing control of you external behavior. You find, for example, that when doctors test your vision, you hear them say 'We are holding up a red object in front of you; pleas tell us what you see.' You want to cry out 'I can't see anything. I'm going totally blind.' But you hear your voice saying in a way that is completely out your control, 'I see a read object in front of me.' ... [Y]our conscious experience slowly shrinks to nothing, while your externally observable behavior remains the same." Searle 1992 quoted in Russell & Norvig 2003, p. 957."

To me that's plausible, and solves the problem that otherwise "awareness" seems to be the same thing as presense of working memory. A human surely can represent himself, but a computer can do so even more effectively: indeed, that's pretty close to the definition of a real computer, or a "turing machine"

Whatever the mechanism, it seems clear that humans are self-aware while computers do not. Chimps appear to be really, really stupid and really, really immature -- but to have basically the same cognitive mechanisms that we do. They engage in deception, recognize themselves in the mirror, engage in pretense, etc. So where do they fall?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room#_note-43
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Thursday, January 03, 2008

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