Re: Sensory and sensibility

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Sun Jan 20 2002 - 22:03:42 GMT

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    Date: Sun, 20 Jan 2002 17:03:42 -0500
    From: Ray Recchia <>
    Subject: Re: Sensory and sensibility
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    Hey Grant,

    I'll connect all of your responses in one post for brevity

    At 08:01 AM 1/19/2002 -0800, you wrote:

    >>At 11:06 PM 1/18/2002 -0800, you wrote:
    >>> >Salice wrote
    >>> >Is the 'self' required for memetic processes?
    >>And you replied
    >>> >
    >>>It is necessary for communication by means of a commonly understood,
    >>>created and arbitrary language (as opposed to instinctual calls).
    >>> >
    >>Doesn't the fact that animals can dream mean that they have a self? I have
    >>less objections to your term 'self-awareness' even though I'm not fond of
    >>it either. In any case Irene Maxine Pepperberg's work with parrots
    >>demonstrates that these animals are capable of using words if properly
    >>Ray Recchia
    >Making sounds that sound like words and using words are not the same thing.
    >When I beat my chest I am not communicating with gorillas. Birds can be
    >taught to repeat certain sounds to please their trainers, but I seriously
    >doubt they are consciously communicating meaning with their sounds. They
    >have just learned that making some sounds will cause people to reward them
    >with food or attention. I don't believe they are really "saying" anything.

    I would have thought that HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS as a publisher might
    cause someone to take a second look but let me summarize a bit.

    The experiments were fairly simple. First they taught the parrot a number
    of words for different objects using what is called a rival/model method
    where a human was seen receiving a reward for giving the correct name for
    an object. Over time the parrot learned the names for the objects. Then
    the rival was given rewards for a correct response to a question about the
    property of an object like "Color key" for a green key would get a reward
    if the rival correctly identified the key as green. Other properties like
    the number of objects, and whether the object was smooth or rough were
    taught. To test the truth whether the parrot had learned these abstract
    qualities the parrot was not originally taught to distinguish the qualities
    of certain objects that it knew the names for. So for example the parrot
    may have learned to distinguish colors for keys and blocks but not
    paper. Then the parrot was asked to identify the color of those objects
    and gave the correct response. Naturally all sorts of controls were
    introduced to make sure that the parrot was not receiving cues from its

    This requires more than simple repetition of phrases but an ability to
    recognize the abstract properties of an item. The parrot has to be able to
    understand what 'color' or 'how much' refers to.

    Pepperberg has been doing experiments since the mid 70's and from what I
    can tell is THE leading researcher in the field of avian cognitive
    studies. She has published dozens of papers in well respected
    journals. Her parrot Alex is not as famous as animals like Koko, but I
    believe there have been documentaries done of Pepperberg's work and she has
    appeared on news shows like the U.S.'s leading morning news program 'Today'.

    Ray Recchia

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