Recent studies show that animals are not as stupid as people thought – they are able to understand not only simple requests and commands, but also communicate quite fully, expressing their own feelings and desires …
Sitting on the floor, surrounded by various objects and tools, the pygmy chimpanzee Kanzi thinks for a moment, then a spark of understanding runs through his warm brown eyes, he takes a knife in his left hand and begins to dice the onion in the cup in front of him. He does everything that the researchers ask him to do in English, in much the same manner as a small child would do. Then the monkey is told: “sprinkle the ball with salt.” It may not be the most useful skill, but Kanzi understands the suggestion and starts to sprinkle salt on the colorful beach ball that lies behind him.
In the same manner, the monkey fulfills several more requests – from “put soap in the water” to “please take the TV out of here.” Kanzi has a fairly extensive vocabulary – last counted 384 words – and not all of these words are just simple nouns and verbs like “toy” and “run”. He also understands words that researchers call “conceptual” – for example, the preposition “from” and the adverb “later”, and he also distinguishes between grammatical forms – for example, the past and present tense.
Kanzi can’t literally speak – although he has a loud voice, he has trouble getting words out. But when he wants to say something to scientists, he simply points to some of the hundreds of colorful symbols on the laminated sheets that stand for words he has already learned.
Kanzi, 29, is being taught English at the Great Ape Trust Research Center in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. In addition to him, 6 more great apes study at the center, and their progress makes us reconsider everything that we knew about animals and their intelligence.
Kanzi is far from the only reason for this. More recently, Canadian researchers from Glendon College (Toronto) stated that orangutans actively use gestures to communicate with relatives, as well as with people to communicate their desires.
A team of scientists led by Dr. Anna Rasson studied the records of the life of orangutans in Indonesian Borneo over the past 20 years, they found countless descriptions of how these monkeys use gestures. So, for example, one female named City took a stick and showed her human companion how to split a coconut – so she said that she wanted to get a coconut split with a machete.
Animals often resort to gesticulation when the first attempt to establish contact fails. The researchers say this explains why gestures are most often used during interactions with people.
“I get the impression that these animals think we are stupid because we can’t clearly understand what they want from us right away, and they even feel some disgust when they have to “chew” everything with gestures, says Dr. Rasson .
But whatever the reason, it is clear that these orangutans have cognitive abilities that until then were considered exclusively human prerogative.
Dr. Rasson says: “Gesticulation is based on imitation, and imitation itself implies the ability to learn, to learn by observation, and not by simple repetition of actions. Moreover, it shows that orangutans have the intelligence to not only imitate, but to use this imitation for wider purposes.”
Of course, we keep in touch with animals and wonder about the level of their intelligence since the first domesticated animals appeared. Time Magazine recently published an article that examines the question of animal intelligence in the light of new data on the successes of Kanzi and other great apes. In particular, the authors of the article point out that at the Great Ape Trust monkeys are raised from birth so that communication and language are an integral part of their lives.
Just as parents take their young children for a walk and chat with them about everything that is going on around them, although the kids still do not understand anything, scientists also chat with baby chimpanzees.
Kanzi is the first chimpanzee to learn a language, just like human children, just by being in a language environment. And it’s clear that this method of learning is helping chimpanzees communicate better with humans—faster, with more complex structures than ever before.
Some of the “sayings” of chimps are startling. When primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbauch asks Kanzi “Are you ready to play?” after preventing him from finding a ball he likes to play with, the chimpanzee points to the symbols for “a long time” and “ready” in a near-human sense of humor.
When Kanzi was first given kale (leaf) to taste, he found that it took longer to chew than lettuce, with which he was already familiar, and labeled kale with his “dictionary” as “slow lettuce.”
Another chimpanzee, Nyoto, was very fond of receiving kisses and sweets, he found a way to ask for it – he pointed to the words “feel” and “kiss”, “eat” and “sweetness” and thus we get everything we wanted.
Together, the group of chimpanzees figured out how to describe the flood they saw in Iowa – they pointed to “big” and “water”. When it comes to asking for their favorite food, pizza, chimpanzees point to the symbols for bread, cheese, and tomato.
Until now, it was believed that only man has the true ability of rational thinking, culture, morality and language. But Kanzi and other chimpanzees like him are forcing us to reconsider.
Another common misconception is that animals don’t suffer the way humans do. They are not ways of being aware or thinking, and therefore they do not experience anxiety. They have no sense of the future and awareness of their own mortality.
The source of this opinion can be found in the Bible, where it is written that man is guaranteed dominance over all creatures, and Rene Descartes in the XNUMXth century added that “they have no thinking.” One way or another, in recent years, one after another, myths about the abilities (more precisely, non-ability) of animals have been debunked.
We thought that only humans were able to use tools, but now we know that birds, monkeys and other mammals are also capable of it. Otters, for example, can break mollusk shells on rocks to get meat, but this is the most primitive example. But crows, a family of birds that includes crows, magpies, and jays, are amazingly adept at using different tools.
During the experiments, the crows made hooks out of wire to pick up a basket of food from the bottom of a plastic pipe. Last year, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge discovered that a rook figured out how to raise the level of water in a jar so that he could reach it and drink – he threw in pebbles. Even more amazing is that the bird seems to be familiar with the law of Archimedes – in the first place, she collected large stones to make the water level rise faster.
We have always believed that the level of intelligence is directly related to the size of the brain. Killer whales just have huge brains – about 12 pounds, and dolphins are just very big – about 4 pounds, which is comparable to the human brain (about 3 pounds). We have always recognized that killer whales and dolphins have intelligence, but if we compare the ratio of brain mass to body mass, then in humans this ratio is greater than in these animals.
But research continues to raise new questions about the validity of our ideas. The brain of the Etruscan shrew weighs only 0,1 grams, but relative to the animal’s body weight, it is larger than that of a human. But how then to explain that crows are the most skillful with tools of all birds, although their brains are just tiny?
More and more scientific discoveries show that we greatly underestimate the intellectual abilities of animals.
We thought that only humans were capable of empathy and generosity, but recent research shows that elephants mourn their dead and monkeys practice charity. Elephants lie down near the body of their dead relative with an expression that looks like deep sadness. They may remain near the body for several days. they also show great interest – even respect – when they find the bones of elephants, examining them carefully, paying special attention to the skull and tusks.
Mac Mauser, professor of psychology and anthropological biology at Harvard, says that even rats can feel empathy for each other: “When a rat is in pain and it starts squirming, other rats squirm along with it.”
In a 2008 study, primatologist Frans de Waal of the Atlanta Research Center showed that capuchin monkeys are generous.
When the monkey was asked to choose between two apple slices for herself, or one apple slice each for her and her companion (human!), she chose the second option. And it was clear that such a choice for the monkeys is familiar. The researchers suggested that perhaps the monkeys do this because they experience the simple pleasure of giving. And this correlates with a study that showed that the “reward” centers in a person’s brain are activated when that person gives away something for free.
And now – when we know that monkeys are able to communicate using speech – it seems that the last barrier between humans and the animal world is disappearing.
Scientists come to the conclusion that animals cannot do some simple things, not because they are not capable, but because they did not have the opportunity to develop this skill. A simple example. Dogs know what it means when you point at something, such as a serving of food or a puddle that has appeared on the floor. They intuitively understand the meaning of this gesture: someone has information that they want to share, and now they draw your attention to it so that you know it too.
Meanwhile, the “great apes”, despite their high intelligence and five-fingered palm, do not seem to be able to use this gesture – pointing. Some researchers attribute this to the fact that baby monkeys are rarely allowed to leave their mother. They spend their time clinging to their mother’s belly as she moves from place to place.
But Kanzi, who grew up in captivity, was often carried in the hands of people, and therefore his own hands remained free for communication. “By the time Kanzi is 9 months old, he is already actively using gestures to point to different objects,” says Sue Savage-Rumbauch.
Similarly, monkeys who know the word for a certain feeling are easier to understand it (feeling). Imagine that a person would have to explain what “satisfaction” is, if there were no special word for this concept.
Psychologist David Premack of the University of Pennsylvania found that if chimpanzees were taught the symbols for the words “same” and “different,” then they were more successful on tests in which they had to point to similar or different items.
What does all this tell us humans? The truth is that research into the intelligence and cognition of animals is just beginning. But it is already clear that we have been in complete ignorance for a very long time about how intelligent many species are. Strictly speaking, examples of animals that have grown up in captivity in close association with humans help us understand what their brains are capable of. And as we learn more and more about their thoughts, there is more and more hope that a more harmonious relationship will be established between humanity and the animal world.
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