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[P]
7568

By Sgt York in Science
Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:20:16 AM EST
Tags: fiction, science, not science fiction, based on a true story (all tags)
Science

First, they came for the smallest of us, and I did nothing for I was large. Next, they came for the dark one, and I did nothing because if they wanted him, I was safe. Then they came for my brother and I did nothing, because I was afraid. When they came for me, I screamed like the rest. I was returned like the rest, and fell into a dreamless sleep, to wake to a nightmare, just like the rest.


The day started like any other. The lights came on and we trundled off to the shelter for some sleep. It's always a fight to actually get in there, but I got a decent spot, close to the middle, most of my body covered by the warm flesh of my four roomates. It was going to be a good sleep. Warm, belly full, surrounded by the protecting, safe walls of our shelter, my nostrils filled with the scent of my Brothers.

But that changed a few hours later when the room moved. That's nothing unusual, it happened fairly frequently, just a little rearrangement...no big deal. Might even be getting some fresh food....But this time something seemed different, wrong. The hands were blue, the too-high eyes covered in some translucent disks, and we moved for too long, with less certainty than usual. I caught a few glimpses, but everyone just crowded together and, being at the bottom of the pile, I couldn't see much. After a time, the rocking stopped and we scattered. I tried to get a look, but suddenly, the room was plunged into darkness. Night already? Did I sleep that soundly? No...wait....moving again. We never move at night.

It seemed to last forever, huddled together in a pile in the corner, chests heaving, trying to get a sense of what was going on, but no clues. Just the familiar smells of the room and my Brothers, the soft diffused hint of light of the night...but it was odd. Waves of weight, like for a moment I was heavier, then normal again...Then the waiting.

We ended in a different place, somewhere new. Somewhere brighter, quieter. We waited. It's not like we had much choice in the matter. Some of us dozed, but I was simply too anxious. I couldn't sleep, so I wandered. I roamed around the room, unable to resist the temptation to find a way out. I hoisted my body on top of our shelter and grasped the grating above me, inspecting the removeable ceiling over us...sometimes, when we moved, the ceiling slid up and back. Some had escaped that way, and I had a plan. Wait in the corner, back near the Wind Caves and wait. When it opens, it is always by the Hanging River, never by the Wind Caves, but that just means they are always at the opposite end. Sometimes, sometimes the crack widens near the back by just enough...If it opens far enough, I can slip out, escape. I knew. It was vague, I didn't know the details, but I knew then. My Brothers were complacent, willing to simply sleep in a new place, they had no idea that this was just the beginning. And I did not tell them. I was afraid to be wrong.

We weren't all really Brothers, we in fact came from at least two different sets of parents. But when they put us together, we forged the bonds and became Brothers nonetheless. Only one of us was truly my brother, had shared my creche. The rest were from another, but they accepted us openly. The brotherhood of crisis, I suppose. It was when they took us in that I first met a Small One that was male. The only Small Ones from our mother were our sisters, we had assumed that was just the way it was; some sisters are small. I haven't seen them in...in....I forget. After a while, time loses its meaning. I know the sun exists, but I can't even remember it. Was it real, or was it just a story my mother told? Had she ever even seen it?

The blue hands took them first. Maybe they really were special, or maybe they were just easier to catch. Sometimes, they had a hard time breathing, and they couldn't move very fast for very long. It had been a stressful morning, and they were already wheezing. Looking back, though....looking back it wasn't all that bad. At that point, the day had just begun, and my nightmare hadn't even started.

They weren't gone long, and they didn't cry out. Not at first, anyway. It happened too fast; one moment they were there...then gone...then back, punctuated by a weak and muffled cry of terror. I tell myself I did nothing because I couldn't. It was so fast, and who could fight...that? They didn't scream at first, but they did. I couldn't see what was done to them, and they said nothing when they got back. The pain within me was born in that moment. I should have helped them, done something, anything. But I know....I know now. Even if I could have, even if it hadn't happened too fast for a response, I was afraid. Besides, it was them that were wanted, not me. Or so I thought.

They started to change. First, they just slowed, but it got worse in a very short time. They crawled on their bellies, their eyes darted around madly as their legs twitched mindlessly...I could smell the taint of blood on their bellies...tiny, almost imperceptible and mixed with.....something. Faint, but unmistakably....there.

When they were silent, the hands came back for them. It was a long time before I saw them again, and by then I had problems of my own to deal with. They took the black one, and he was stoic. Nothing but a cold stare. But that hard facade didn't last long, he broke and screamed as well when his time came. My creche Brother watched me as he was taken. He...I think he knew. Somehow, he knew how it would end for him. He never made a sound. He was the only one that went quietly.

I was alone. I was the last one left moving. I cried and screamed as the hands came for me, chased me around the room. I tried to escape, bounding for the crack in the lid, but it was no use. They took me. I could feel my heart in my chest, pounding, about to burst from my chest, my lungs full of fire. I screamed in fear as the needle pierced my belly. It really didn't hurt. It was the fear, the knowledge of what was to come of me.

I have only vague recollections of the next period of time. Crawling around the room, lost time, swinging into the air, something cold and hard and sharp! against my neck, but my movements were attentuated, as in a dream. My legs simply wouldn't move. I felt the blades come together over my throat. I braced for death; the sure, cold death of a slit throat, my life dripping from my body. But as the darkness fell....he's shaving me? If I had the strength, the absurdity surely would have evoked a laugh.

When I awoke, I was back in the room. I was warm, it was dark, and I smelled my Brothers. My throat was shaved clean for the first time in...how long? Time, again. Whatever that is. I could smell my brother...and something else. Disease. Distress. Death. I searched for the source, rummaging around in the darkness, but it was .... elusive. It permeated the room, it was everywhere. The food, the water, the floor, the ceiling, my Brothers....me. It didn't take long to figure it out. It didn't take long to find the still bodies of some of my Brothers. Some were moving around a little, others were already alert, crouched in a corner, trying to make sense of it all. That's when I found him. My brother, lying on some white sheet, his eyes glazed white and dried. I didn't have to check, he didn't make it. He was always the lucky one.

The days became normal again. Eat, sleep, wake, bathe...the normal cycle of daily existence. But the stench remained. The room was cleaned, the food removed and changed, fresh water given....but the smell remained. Disease. Decay. Death. The fire started slow in my chest, deep when I breathed. Just a warmth, almost comforting. But then I started to hear strange sounds on deep breaths, some of my Brothers began to sleep more and more, eat less and less. They were taken one by one as they grew frail. We never saw them again. The odd thing was with the small ones.

They seemed unaffected. They breathed...well, not normally, but as they always had. They kept what little weight they had, even gained some because they no longer had to compete, or put up with mean tempered Brothers. It made me glad that I had been nice to them. (Even though I would never admit it to them, but the only reason I had been was because they reminded me of my sisters, and therefore females in general). They did exact some retribution. I suppose it was just their due, the oppurtunity for vengence brought on by an angry god with hands of blue, tools of cold steel and inner fire.

My story is about to end. They have moved the room once more. Again, I am last, but this time I have an excuse for not fighting. I can hardly move. The warm glow in my chest has turned to a raging fire. The scratch in my breath has turned to a rasping, foaming stream from my nostrils. But it is nothing I don't deserve. I watched, a coward, as my Brothers were taken. I did nothing, I tried nothing. I knew that I should fight, I knew that even death would be preferable to our fate. I was right, and it changes nothing. Still, I did nothing. Out of fear of failure, I did nothing.

When the needle comes, I will welcome it. If it kills me, all the better. It can't possibly be worse than the pain and guilt. The physical pain is a welcome pennance. The fire in my lungs is to purify me of the fire in my mind...that is the true pain. I can see my Brothers. They lie outside the translucent walls of the room. The blue hands...the blue hands....they are doing terrible things. Smoking cauldrons, cold, glistening steel, marred by the blood and gore of my family. They are turned inside out, gutted, their bodies ripped asunder and tossed into a pile still warm, still twitching. It is the end of it all. We are not the only room. There are many...oh, so many. The pile grows, and they all look at me, the coward that still survives.

I will welcome the needle, when it comes.

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7568 | 154 comments (120 topical, 34 editorial, 5 hidden)
Well done, Sgt York. I found this to be a very (none / 0) (#3)
by dakini on Tue May 29, 2007 at 01:49:23 PM EST

interesting, well done read. +FP when this goes to vote.

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
Excellent. It's like watership down, only (2.00 / 4) (#7)
by xC0000005 on Tue May 29, 2007 at 02:26:43 PM EST

I get to root for the researchers. BTW - shouldn't be meta. Even if K5 is a like a bunch of sick rats waiting to be slaughtered, I don't think this is meta. :)

As for the animal activist comment below, write one from the point of view of the cute & cuddly little girl who gets saved by having mouse lungs injected into her and they'll get over it.

Once I was in a lab (in college) - the guy dissecting the rats would occasionally toss rat bits to the other rats waiting in line. He said it always made him feel better about cutting them up if he watched them chow down on their nest mates first.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't

Oops (3.00 / 2) (#8)
by Sgt York on Tue May 29, 2007 at 02:32:21 PM EST

Left it at default. Changing to fiction; better?

And for the rat guy: Youch. That's cold, even for me. I mean, what if a control rat ate a treated part? Your data would be fucked.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

I strongly suspect (none / 0) (#9)
by xC0000005 on Tue May 29, 2007 at 02:36:55 PM EST

(and say this with care) that the guy enjoyed his job.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
man what a loser (none / 0) (#56)
by livus on Wed May 30, 2007 at 10:16:59 PM EST

at least he made it obvious. I've always wished people like that had some mark on their forehead or something so I could know who they are in advance and shun them.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
I think you mean The Plague Dogs (3.00 / 2) (#29)
by livus on Tue May 29, 2007 at 11:22:15 PM EST

Watsership Down is the one about bunnies.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
Haven't read the Plague Dogs. (none / 1) (#32)
by xC0000005 on Tue May 29, 2007 at 11:51:13 PM EST

I was thinking of watership down, only with rats, and where I don't particularly care for the rats.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
Or perhaps the Secret of NIMH? -nt (none / 0) (#137)
by Kasreyn on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 03:08:03 PM EST

nt
"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
interesting (2.77 / 9) (#24)
by anonymous-66714 on Tue May 29, 2007 at 06:47:52 PM EST

the battle is within yourself Sgt York. You still wake up sometimes, don't you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the labrats.


s/labrats/rugrats (He has kids)$ (3.00 / 2) (#25)
by xC0000005 on Tue May 29, 2007 at 07:18:19 PM EST



Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
Every night (3.00 / 5) (#30)
by Sgt York on Tue May 29, 2007 at 11:22:51 PM EST

with a raging erection that just won't quit.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

fantastic (none / 0) (#50)
by rolf roffleson on Wed May 30, 2007 at 05:03:59 PM EST




<ni> Jesus, you're like some mythological personification of the concept of asinine.
[ Parent ]
Stories like this are why I'm not a fan (2.50 / 6) (#26)
by Liar on Tue May 29, 2007 at 07:58:23 PM EST

of first person perspective. Essentially, what you're doing is a trick withholding evidence that would have been included from any other narrative perspective and developing interest by exploiting the cognitive dissonance that results. Read as a story about a hamster from the start, it really doesn't offer as much. The interest (or in my case annoyance) is in puzzling out that dissonance.

I can understand the question of "What must these critters think of us?" but I rather suspect it's more like: "Food. Food. Piss. Sleep. Bite neighbor. Food. Piss. Food. Sniff neighbor's ass..." and they probably think of us rather rarely even as we poke them with needles. In that case, it would be "Restrained. Fight. MOTHERFUCKER THAT HURTS. BITE BITE. Released." They wouldn't have the eloquence of Shakespeare and I doubt that we'd register all that much on them other than as a generic "much-bigger-than-me-thing".

Instead, you give them a vocabulary and conceptual framework they probably don't possess and then using the author's heavy hand fixate their beady eyes on human laboratory experiments as though that's the only thing that interests them.

In the end, I need to ask why I should have bothered reading this? Are you making an argument of why God allows natural disasters? Are you exploring the instinct and limits of empathy? I'm not sure.

This is well enough written but not yet a subject worth writing about.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
Eloquence of Shakespeare..... (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by Sgt York on Tue May 29, 2007 at 11:14:36 PM EST

Thanks!

If you thought I was withholding any information and trying to misdirect you in any significant way, then I'm not surprised you didn't see any point in reading this.

Stick to technical manuals and textbooks. Preferably math.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Feisty girl!!!1 (none / 0) (#33)
by spasticfraggle on Wed May 30, 2007 at 03:24:14 AM EST

Stick to technical manuals and textbooks. Preferably math.

Ooo, takes criticism well!

Dr Rat will get you for this.

--
I'm the straw that broke the camel's back!
[ Parent ]

Please don't stick to tech manuals (none / 0) (#37)
by Liar on Wed May 30, 2007 at 10:14:19 AM EST

Like I said, it's not worthy of a treatment yet. That's not to say that there isn't some good stuff here. I've just been a long term vocal critic of First Person from long ago.

I don't think you were intentionally trying to hide anything, but FPP tends to treat obvious things as given--the fact that these are lab rats, hamsters, gerbils... I'm not even really sure. In fact, I only assume they're a type of rodent when for all I know this story could be about experiments on cats.

The question is: is this ambiguity a good thing. In Henry James "The Turn of the Screw" we get a ghost story from a governess whose charges are killed off by spirits. The perspective's ambiguity of the story comes when we realize that she may be the murderess and the ghost story is just a front. In that case, the ambiguity is useful to building tension and is a part of the story. James uses FPP to advance the narrative. Here, it becomes a hurdle that we have to overcome--and I think unnecessarily. FPP is the most difficult perspective from which to write.

Oh, and incidentally, it was the word "creche" that most broke any semblance of realism. From that point forward, I couldn't decide if you were trying for realism or the Secret of NIMH.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
This really is (none / 1) (#60)
by Sgt York on Wed May 30, 2007 at 11:54:43 PM EST

based on a true story. Granted, all the mouse perspective is a load of crap, about as real as any other fantasy fiction. It's just interesting to think that way sometimes.

This was just a lark. I'm not trying to make a statement, I'm not trying to sway anyone on anything*. I've done experiments like this one for about a decade now; I've condemned hundreds, probably thousands of mice to similar fates. Worse, for the unfortunate few that get selected for "protocol development."

I just thought it would be fun to explore the other side of the fence, so to speak. I know their real response is only slightly more complex than the one you described above (have to include "fuck" in a very prominent place; they are rodents).

In reality, I think they see me as some kind of predator. It's about as close as they are capable of understanding and in a way, not too far from the truth.

NOTE To any kind editors out there : I'd greatly appreciate it if this whole thread was switched to "topical"; it's turning into the only real discussion in the story.

*Actually that's a lie. It is a story about the consequences of complacency, but it wasn't originally planned that way. I just saw the opening and dove in. I was hoping someone would notice.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

whoa there, kemosabe (none / 0) (#61)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 12:14:20 AM EST

it's my damn thread and I'll say whether it's topical or not.

To any kind editors out there : I'd greatly appreciate it if this whole thread was switched to "topical"; it's turning into the only real discussion in the story.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
real comment this time. (none / 1) (#62)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 12:21:20 AM EST

Right now, you suffer from an author's syndrome for me. You're one of the few "genuine" writers on here, not trying to attention whore at any cost. You're an author that I trust, so when you write, I'm going to take a chance and read it more carefully than, say, a GhostOfTiber screed.

In other words, you may also be suffering from my high expectations. So, please take my criticisms with a dash of salt.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
I find these assumptions a little strange (none / 1) (#28)
by livus on Tue May 29, 2007 at 11:19:23 PM EST

it seems to me that fairly often, if someone does figure out a way of teaching an animal how to communicate human language concepts, it then demonstrates some grasp of communication and syntax. Then there are things like this individual - I've seen humans with poorer skills and less intelligence.

Not that I think a hamster would be much like a primate, or like the one in this story; but really - "Food. Food. Piss. Sleep. Bite neighbor."??

What is it that makes so many people cling to the (increasingly unlikely) idea that all other animals lack ...pretty much everything?

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

syntax? I'm sceptical. (3.00 / 3) (#49)
by Liar on Wed May 30, 2007 at 05:01:59 PM EST

I thought it was all still debatable whether they were simply doing imitation/conditioning versus language--and language is different than communicating. For example, a dog may wag his tail when you come home but "he cannot tell you that his parents were honest though poor" (to quote Bertrand Russell). Similarly, the animals that have learned language use it inconsistently, not distinguishing (in English at least) that the object comes after the verb, for example. Even those languages that can sign aren't generally clear in their meaning. For example, Washoe the chimp had a remarkable moment when he saw a swan and did the sign for "Water Bird" without any prior indication that this is what a swan did. The problem, though, is that we don't know if Washoe was naming the swan "Water Bird" or if he was trying to say "There's a bird in the water." It's also one of the few instances in which a chimp initiated anything. Usually, you have to indicate "banana?" and the ape will sign back, "Yes, banana, please." They usually will not walk up to you and give you the sign for "banana." For example, Koko never went up to her handlers and said anything approaching "I'm sad because All Ball (her pet kitten) died." She has to be prompted to communicate which makes me suspect that she's not really articulating these thoughts in her head but instead is partaking in a sort of parlor game when her handlers initiate it. Washoe's spontaneous outburst of "Water Bird" is very rare in the history of these studies.

Irene Pepperberg trained an African Grey parrot named Alex that was able to spell a little bit by breaking down the sounds of words but language is pretty much a game for him, too. So, for example, you can ask him what color is the sky and he'll get it right about 80% of the time but the other 20% he'll just throw out a random word. If this were a human child, we'd think there's something wrong with him.

An interesting story about Alex though. He could say "Want a nut." and actually would eat the nut. If presented with a different food, he would throw it back at the person and say again "Want a nut." One time, when he was giving a demonstration on spelling and he said "Want a nut." Pepperberg tried to get him to spell something else. Well, Alex got frustrated and said "Want a nut. N - U - T!"

Still, I'm not really seeing anything conclusive coming out of these studies of animal research. Alex is probably the best example of an animal understanding syntax, but that's a controversial conclusion even there. I tend to be chomskian on this topic, though.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Have you ever tried to learn a child the colors? (none / 1) (#51)
by tetsuwan on Wed May 30, 2007 at 05:26:27 PM EST

Ask the child the color of an object. If it doesn't know the answer, it usually says 'blue'. But yeah, if it said 'bird' instead of a color, I'd be worried.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

'bird' is the type of answer it gives (none / 0) (#63)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 01:34:44 AM EST

humans can categorize colors. If you think about it, categorizing words is a fairly abstract concept. First you have the words, this word doesn't refer to a thing but a quality about the thing, and then this abstract quality itself can be categorized with similar qualities called "color".

For you and me, we see a nut and think "it's brown" or the sky and "it's blue". While we're separating blueness from browness, we're also drawing a similarity which is "color". That's actually pretty sophisticated and it's a sophistication that, to my knowledge, Alex hasn't been able to repeat.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
what fascinates me (none / 0) (#65)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 03:44:41 AM EST

is those cultures where blue and green are the same or red and pink.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
fascinates me, too (none / 1) (#67)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 05:25:15 AM EST

in japan, they have a drink called "ao ringo sawa" which literally means "blue apple sour". Not green apple, blue. If I hear blue apple, I think of some weird unnatural blueberry colored apple.

For what it's worth, there's a theory called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It has two main forms. The strong form is that language determines cognition. A bad example* of this is that because eskimos have so many different ways to describe snow, they understand snow differently than you or I who have just a handful like sleet and snow. This form of the hypothesis tends to be rejected. The weak form of the hypothesis is that language influences cognition and this is generally accepted.

*It's a bad example because the way that Inuit accepts different forms of words. A single word in the language might be the equivalent of a full sentence in English. Hence, this gave rise to the myth of 50 different ways to say "snow" when really it's more like the difference between accepting a limited number of compound words versus accepting much more. So, for example, they might have a word that would translate to "the snow that doesn't fall straight down that preceeds a harsh blizzard". It won't be a short word, though, and that's because they're pretty forgiving of what is considered the boundaries of a word.

It's a familiar myth, though, so one that we can all tap in to. There's better examples, though, such as Native American languages that have no number above 3, so there's 1, 2, and a bunch. The question is, do they really see the world differently, and it seems to be the case that they do have difficulty with conceptualizing larger numbers and even have some difficulty learning math. What this precisely means though, is debatable. It may be that they didn't begin learning math at a young enough age for it to imprint, or it could very well mean that language limits or constrains what we can think.

It's an interesting hypothesis, but not without its critics.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Interesting (none / 1) (#87)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:27:01 PM EST

as a kid I had immense problems with the term "sea-green" having only seen blue water. Doesn't help that I have issues around blue versus green anyway.

Hmm I'm aware that the Inuktitut example is a bad one (and it's always made me wonder what function these odd claims serve, exactly) but I take your point from it.

An example I live with as a NZian is that there are words and concepts in Maori that we were all brought up with but that don't translate exactly into english, so there's occasionally a certain amount of circumlocution needed when talking to non-NZers. It always feels very inexact.

Sapir-Whorf sounds kind of Lacanian.

I'd subscribe to the weak example, but the strong example must be predicated on 1/ the transparency of language and 2/ the privileging of language over all other taxonomical systems, mustn't it? Neither of which I could agree with.

 

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

Don't worry (none / 0) (#143)
by BJH on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 06:39:30 PM EST

The strong form of Sapir-Whorf has been out of vogue for years.

WRT the use of "ao" in Japanese to refer to both blue and green, please do note that while that particular word can be used to cover shades that in English would definitely fall into one or the other, Japanese does in fact have more specific colour terms. It's not like the language can't express the concept of "blueness" as opposed to "greenness".

--
Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]

think about it though (none / 1) (#54)
by livus on Wed May 30, 2007 at 09:35:09 PM EST

why the hell would Alex be interested in the colour of the sky, aside from to please the trainers? Pretty much everything I've read concludes Alex is using the power of immitation to learn to communicate... though why it would want to, I have no idea, aside from say to get nuts.  

Have you ever tried to communicate with a young child who has no common language with you and doesn't a/ know you or b/ want anything? Their basic attitude is "what the fuck? fucked adult here."

Contrast it with something that wants to communicate a specific thing and it will do a much better job.

I'm no linguist but as far as I can tell quite a range of animals use things we would call language, plus they have culture (in the sense where culture is specific ways of doing things learne from ancestors rather than just instinct). They have demonstrable emotions. (Rabbit anger for example, elephant revenge, dog shame or amusement, parrot mischief)

I'm not saying theyre just like us but the attitude that they're all practically vegetables seems weird to me, and a little suspicious.

 

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

communicate, sure. that's not language though (none / 1) (#57)
by Liar on Wed May 30, 2007 at 10:45:00 PM EST

If I smile at you, I'm communicating but a clear division must be made between communication and language--the collection of discrete building blocks upon which much of our mental activities take place. A bee wags its butt and other bees know where the pollen is--that's communication but not language. They're hard-wired to understand that signal. We need to put a large crowbar between the two because language is a tool that we use from which we can develop more language. The bee-dance--that's the end-all "bee"-all of it.

Your original statement was that animals can grok syntax and have a greater facility for communicating than some humans. That's a bit much, don't you think?

Even the most highly trained animal so far doesn't have the vocabulary of the simplest 3 year old and they certainly can't grasp the idea of past tense, plural, etc. There's a reason for that: they're not equipped with the "language gene" and the physical structures of the mind that make language possible. Now, while this is a controversial claim, too, it's much less controversial than the claim that language is just a matter of learning enough techniques that you can fake it. Otherwise, a 3 year old child wouldn't naturally outpace what years of intense education has taught Koko. That's why I'm skeptical (to spell it in standard form this time) of your claim about animals and syntax. At this time, that's an unsupported claim.

So, I think it's an important point to make when I say that animals don't initiate language. I think of it as evidence that they aren't wired that way. If Koko wants a banana, and a researcher has it, Koko doesn't ask for it. She just sits there and stares--communicating but not speaking. You'd think by now she would know that if she asked for the fruit, she would get it. But she never asks.

She also has a problem with shirts. In order to check the gender of her handler, apparently she needs to feel them up, leading the research center to be sued for sexaul harrassment by an employee who felt she was inappropriately groped by the ape. They can't teach her to ask about that either. Again, it's a pretty big difference between communication and language.

It's interesting to read about, but I think it's easy to get carried away by the romantic idea of animals having this rich inner world if only we could crack their mode of communication. When you look at how limited they really are, though, the poverty of their abilities becomes obvious. Perhaps rats have a more rich inner world than "Eat. Piss. Sleep." However, looking at what actually interests animals and how they tend to categorize data, again, I'm skeptical.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
yeah, sure but I happen to think you're wrong (none / 0) (#64)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 03:42:54 AM EST

your claims here are unfounded.

hmmm... there's an Attenborough documentary which tries to trace music through animals and finds syntax, for example. There are primate sequences that reveal syntax ( that is, the order of notes conveys discrete meanings).

Damn I was reading something the other day about an animal that can communicate a sense of past tense, but I can't for the life of me remember where, and as it's not my field I sure as shit don't trust spurious non-academic internet sources, so can't be bothered googling. Sorry about that, I know it's lame of me. But I kind of agree with Localroger here insofar as I'm getting the sense that you've never spent much time observing animals or read the literature, so this whole conversation's a little futile. Let's agree to disagree.

I don't think animals think as in this diary (that's anthropomorphic) But I also don't think they're the tabula rasa you people need to believe they are.


---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

I don't think I implied tabula rasa. (2.00 / 2) (#66)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 05:08:47 AM EST

I think I did imply minimal and primitive. Incidentally, you can research Washoe and Alex and Koko. There's a lot written about them. Believe me, my assertions aren't unfounded. I may not be pointing to web pages because books and papers tend to treat these subjects more thoroughly than web pages, but there's been plenty written about whether Koko is speaking. I side with the chomskians which by and large say, "no." The Language Instinct is a good primer that somewhat describes where I'm coming from.

If you do happen to cross that piece on an animal conveying past tense, I'd be interested in reading it. Lame to mention it without providing it, well, I guess we're all guilty of that from time to time so I'll just file that way as something to look out for. I'm not outruling it but it's contrary to much of what I've read.

Incidentally, I've been around animals my entire life. I think it's easy to try to make them more human than they are, though. That's why I'm drawing a huge distinction between language and what it means and does, versus communication. Syntax, a feature of language, tends to be something foreign to animals.

Again, if you look at the subjects, an ape might do something which approximates understanding syntax, but the best demonstrations usually can only work in one way. So, for example, if you say "Pencil inside donut". Since you can put a pencil in a donut but you cannot easily put a donut inside a pencil, they tend to do unerringly well. This seems to imply they know the subject and the object of the sentence. But if you say "Ball put water" that can mean "Put the ball in the water" or "take the ball out of the water" or "Put the water on the ball" and the animal is likely to do one as any of the others. The best that any animal has achieved is a sense of a relationship between nouns, but the rules of that relationship are ambiguous at best to them. The subject/object distinction makes no sense.

Syntax is about exactly these arrangements and humans can learn a variety of them. So, English is SVO (Subject Verb Object). Japanese is SOV, with a marker after each word to indicate it's part of speech. Humans can adapt to either syntax. Animals, though, their ability to flexibly translate syntax is virtually non-existant.

I guess I shouldn't outrule any syntax, but so far they are incapable of understanding human language syntax especially at the level that we're talking about in this article.

Seriously, do you really think your cat thinks like these rodents do? If someone says, "No animal thinks with this degree of sophistication," are you genuinely contesting that? Because that's all I've been saying and I am surprised to get opposition from some of the more reasonable people on this site.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Okay (none / 0) (#85)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:03:05 PM EST

I'm not trying to argue that animals are "more human". I'm also not trying to argue that they're especially good at human language.

I think my impatience or laziness in this conversation (lameness, if you will) springs mainly from the fact that syntax is tangential, even immaterial, to my main point, as I don't really see it as a reliable indicator of relatively complex thought (in fact, to me, it's _that that's the anthropomorphic assertion, because of its anthropocentrism).

The reason I brought up their attempts to communicate with us is because in those attempts I see something that indicates more complex mental processes than "shit fuck bite".

I'm not opposing your idea that this story isn't realistic (rodent realism is outside our phenomenology). I was merely remarking - and ok, so it's a tangent - that I find the model you profer instead, to be equally fishy.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

probably a bit from column A, a bit from B (none / 1) (#102)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:02:03 PM EST

I might be swinging the pendulum too far away in describing rodent life so simply... but then again, rats aren't exactly the mental giants of the animal world.

On a continuum where you have York's story at one end, and mine at the other, I think it's probably more in my direction than his. Much more, even.

As for my drawing a relationship between language and conceptualization, I've replied to that in another comment. I just realized I was replying to you, btw. livus, localroger, they both begin with "l" but you two seem to be working from the same premises and it's been a bit frustrating having to defend a fairly sophisticated thesis from people who can't imagine that Fido isn't the next Helen Keller--if only we spoke Dog.

To be honest, that boggles my mind.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
You can't tell 'livus' from 'localroger'? (none / 1) (#109)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:42:19 PM EST

Yeah they both begin with THE SAME FREAKING LETTER YOUR NICK BEGINS WITH and you can't be arsed to notice that they have different numbers of syllables, different lengths, and that in general they don't fucking look anything like one another even if you didn't know the alphabet and couldn't read English?

OK, maybe you think the rats in the story *do* look too smart.

*slowly backs away*

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

nope, (none / 0) (#112)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 11:02:13 PM EST

look "too" smart? well, yes. Because they do.

Meanwhile, I thought this branch was a "you and me" discussion. Wasn't really paying close attention to usernames, just like you didn't notice that I had already made a case for associating language with cognition. But I'm big enough to admit I made a mistake.

You, however, have this fantasy of the Rats from NIMH. I've sort of outgrown that literature.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Oh, okay (none / 0) (#119)
by livus on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:27:21 AM EST

I read that before this, and became quite bewildered.

Hmm, I don't think we are working from the same premises at all. My standpoint is that it's apples and oranges - not a continuum, but a set of three dimensional axes.

To me, we simply have no real way of evaluating it, and my point was that I thought the available data (which is the bit you take issue with) suggested some degree of sentience and complexity. But it's basically unknowable, to me, because of their radical alterity.

To me the best analogy for this discussion between you and I is that

You're like an atheist arguing with an agnostic who you've somehow mistaken for a devout theist.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

interesting (none / 1) (#122)
by Liar on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 01:05:25 AM EST

I can see your argument that we do understand the world differently than animals and so such comparisons are difficult if not impossible to make. In your other comment, you made the comparison between an ant colony being able to learn--that consciousness is better applied at the colony level--and I think that's an intriguing idea. Wasn't that a chapter in Godel, Escher, Bach?

Still, why then would you be more partial to accept Sgt York's view of their consciousness--which is rich with human specific notions--more than mine? Shouldn't you be accusing us both of incorrectly stating the case?


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
I'm not partial to either of you (none / 0) (#131)
by livus on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 08:28:30 PM EST

but note that York presents his "view" explicitly as a fiction.

(The reason I commented at all was a personality thing I suppose - I can more easily understand what it is that tempts people into his construction than what tempts them into yours).

I haven't read Godel, Escher, Bach - thanks, it looks as if it might be interesting. The idea is implied in D.Gordon's work on ants (or at least, I thought it was; YMMV).

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

I think you'll LOVE GEB (none / 1) (#135)
by Liar on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 12:25:33 PM EST

it sounds like it's right up your alley. It didn't win the Pulitzer for nothing. It's a pop-sci book but like one you've never read before. I suggest you run to the store right now. I'm not kidding. Go.

Ultimately, I do not think that humans have the cognition abilities that I'm claiming... it's just a shorthand way of talking about the complexity of minds. When I say that animals do not have a sophisticated concept for dream (I'm sure they have some conception of it, since they experience it--but I wonder whether the notion also includes a basic relationship with sleep, which is not at all clear to me except insofar as I can discuss this experience with someone else and that someone will tell me that this experience happened while I was asleep--but anyway...) so, while they may have a conception of it, their brains are not wired to handle the vast amounts of data that humans do. The brain is just a piece of wet machinery, after all.

Imagine we're talking about a neural network. To do basic work, you need a neural network of sufficient complexity. And once you have one, there's quite a bit you can do with it--it's pretty flexible and can be adapted to a small variety of analysis. However, the minimal neural network can be outdone by a more sophisticated one that can manage more information, develop more complex relationships from its inputs, etc. We can talk about them being differently enabled, but I don't think it will stop us from comparing how capable they are at a given task.

In the same way as you imply we can't compare the way an ant thinks to the way a human thinks, then neither should you compare the computer on Apollo 11 to the computer you're typing on. Almost everything was different on the Apollo 11 computer... the manner of data input, the manner of data processing, the manner of data output. But we don't compare them on the basis of mechanics but of function. I can (and have) emulated the Apollo 11 software on my own. It runs much faster. So, I think it fair to say that my computer is better at doing that task better than the original.

I think animals have some highly developed instincts--humans have to learn to walk and most animals learn this somewhere between the fall from the womb to the ground. It may be a personal bias, but I don't think instinctual learning is nearly as effective as active learning. It may take us longer as individuals to get the basic matters (like walking), but then again we can build a car and smoke that cheetah on the race track, taking a hit in the short term for greater long term gain. If this were an investment plan, I think we'd say it's better, no?

If I say that an ape can't do something, somone points out that a termite can. If a termite can't do something, then a bee can. If a bee can't do something, than an african gray can. It's interesting, don't you think that in order for me to lose, you have to pit man against the entire animal kingdom. When it comes to tool use, shaping their environment, dealing with abstract principles, etc., there is no more marvelous faculty to achieve those ends as the human mind. We can learn some things from the animal kingdom--can they learn from us?

Yes, but again, it's limited or it happens accidentally across generations.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
ah, but in order for you to 'win' (none / 0) (#138)
by livus on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 08:23:05 PM EST

you have to de facto embrace a sort of hive learning, and claim for yourself centuries of human thought and development; not to mention miles of human social network, resource gathering, and infrastructure... not to mention your nation's  military power which enables such gathering.

I myself cannot build such a car. "We" homo sapiens sapiens can. Like most of "us" on this earth, I myself cannot afford or access one, however. Luckily, unlike a cheetah, I don't need to be able to match that speed.  

If you want to break it right down into function, sure, but isn't that ultimately reproduction for an organism, self perpetuation? When you look at the duration of our species to date, it's early days as to whether it is more or less successful as a species.

Of course, there's an inherent problem with this in the context of our discussion, insofar as how is "consciousness" measured by "function" or output?

I'll definately look for that book; thanks for the rec!

aside: if we're analogising cheetah and humans as investment plans I'd not invest in anything so volatile and risky as a carnivorous or omnivorous predator. These are both like, the small cap growth stocks of the earth! May pay off, may die screaming.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

if cheetahs are Small Cap, humans are the T Bills (none / 0) (#140)
by Liar on Sun Jun 03, 2007 at 02:22:38 PM EST

Treasury Bonds. Different vehicles for different strategies and time horizons.

Interestingly enough, there was a story in Israel recently of a cheetah who leaped through a family's window and the man was able to wrestle it down--gives me newfound respect for a human's ability to survive in the savannah. Believe it or not, this is on topic.

I think that we have to compare a human from within his society to an animal from within its society. Part of an individual's very identity is its social network. So, if we take a moderate view of Sapir-Whorf seriously, then different language groups understand the world slightly to radically differently, and those without the advantage of society and language will be themselves much impoverished, like we have with the case of Genie and other feral children we've unfortunately had the opportunity to examine.

Even the case of the above guy, his experience as a nature guide and wrestler (both benefits of being a member of society) allowed him to take down a cheetah--something he might not have been able to do had he been raised by wolves.

I don't think of reproduction as being necessarily a function of each individual. Most bees and ants will never reproduce, so I'm not sure that that's a fair comparison--they'll still be good ants. And, I don't think we can compete with bacteria or rabbits on that vector. Then again, being a single guy, this is a touchy subject. ;)

Still, I think there's a category mistake going on here. Were the dinosaurs successful or instead did they survive for a long time. I'd say the latter. So, when we say "reproduction is important for a species and the measure of its success" I'm not sure that sentiment makes a lot of sense. It is just something that a species does. Otherwise, we risk assigning a purpose to a species and if that's what we're doing, then I think I know some Mormons who might have a thought or two on the subject. Alternatively, perhaps we are a species that's dangerous to the planet--from the biosphere's perspective success as a human may be extinction.

In fact, by talking in this way, I feel dirty... it feels like what we were talking about in the other thread where we are comparing the general superiority of one species to another.

Instead, I'd rather just go back to my original claim that we're smarter than other animals. Not better. Just smarter.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
nah, fixed interest are more like TREES (none / 0) (#141)
by livus on Sun Jun 03, 2007 at 08:35:50 PM EST

not any of your short life, volatile little mammals.

Well, for what it's worth I don't subscribe to any of this success/reproduction stuff either, though I don't think anyone really would try to assign that to individuals.

I definately think the world would be much better off without the Paragon of Animals, though.

Your claim that we're smarter leads back to this for me. If by "smarter" you mean cognitively developed then fine, I don't dispute that.  

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

i was debating replying to that comment (none / 0) (#142)
by Liar on Sun Jun 03, 2007 at 09:19:22 PM EST

For one, I'm getting lost jumping all over this thread. ;)

However, I have a small problem. I'm not entirely sure what consciousness is. Sure, I read the book where Dennett claims to explain it and his argument is ultimately that consciousness is a bag of tricks. Like, for example, how your mind fills in the intersections within this grid. It's not the mind acting neutrally and evaluating the data--it's fiddling with the data itself and some of this fiddling is occuring in the eyes themselves. These mechanics are valuable for some usages but obviously a deficiency here.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure I know what that umbrella term consciousness is which is why I've generally been shy to talk in those terms, talking primarily about cognition. I think it was localroger who said I was trying to say humans are superior (never said it) or that I'm saying animals don't have consciousness (never said that either). He's also called me a behaviorist when I've said I'm chomskian--which means I believe in structures that are necessary for these activities.

However, if I'm pushed, I'll say that we have more mental tools available to us whether it's emotional, logical, deductive, inductive, pattern matching, learning. Maybe consciousness includes those and animals have other features but I'd rather simplify the problem to less ambiguous terms that we can evaluate. So, in my own way, I agree with Dennett.

In fact, to re-start this argument in some ways, I'd rephrase my position as this: for humans to think in as sophisticated way as they do, so many things have to go right within the mind itself--both in its composition as well as its development. These structures are generally absent or impoverished in other species. Animals tend to have different structures and these tend to result in instincts that are less flexible/adaptable. If humans are better (and I hope I've conveyed my disgust with that term used generally) it's because we are more adaptable.

And if you want to restore your faith in man, consider this: animals have destroyed their own environments before, taking out themselves as well as other species. All it takes is one super-virus. Such mass-extinctions have occurred in the past. If humans can be compared to such virii, the difference is that we have a better chance to avoid the same fate.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
yeah, we have come full circle here (none / 0) (#144)
by livus on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 09:00:28 PM EST

because to re-phrase my position in relation to yours, I simply think it's strange the way we privilege the structures that are highly developed in us, to the extent that we dismiss the "different structures" of the others.

Just because we can't comprehend what it is to be them, doesn't mean they are mindless.

When I watch the cat spend 15 minutes trying to deduce information through data sensed through an organ in the roof of her mouth, I don't assign sub-human, humanesque thoughts to her. I simply accept that I have no idea what is going on in that cat.

So to re-work my conclusion about why people like you present the arguments you do, I think you've just stated it yourself: "I'd rather simplify the problem to less ambiguous terms that we can evaluate."

I'm more consoled by the thought that humans may extinctify themselves, actually.  Better all round - we would miss ourselves, but not much else would, and we won't be there to mourn anyway.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

only if you consider such things mysterious (none / 1) (#145)
by Liar on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 10:20:21 PM EST

we can neither see an atom nor a cat's thought. But that doesn't stop us from analyzing or evaluating.

I think it's easy for my position to get away from its nuances to imply other creatures are "mindless"; some are (amoebas) and some aren't (us). In between, there's a variety of things occuring.

You're right, our conversation has gone full circle. I'd also add that it's premature--or at least my own position is. I have a belief that a completed neuroscience will answer many of these questions including what entails consciousness, cognition, emotion, etc. The result of this is a non-mainstream branch of philosophy (in case you care to follow up on this) known as eliminative materialism. The results of a completed neuroscience is the elimination of folk psychological terms such as love, understanding, etc. in favor of what the activity is truly doing.

As a brief example, we talk about heat and sometimes we think of it as a fluid and sometimes we reach folk conclusions (common sense-type) that are exact opposite to the established science, like if I walk barefoot on white concrete versus black asphalt. They're the same temperature but the asphalt being black will feel "hotter" than the white concrete. However, the definition of heat is "mean kinetic energy" the phenomena dealing with my blistered soles is "heat transference" and so on. We have folk terms that we use to spead communication but we use them knowing that they're not really accurate.

And I think the same thing is currently happening to consciousness and studies of the mind. So, I'm placing a bet that I think is a pretty good one based on the science available to me that we'll figure it out. Considering what we have figured out, though, I think we are the top of the food chain for reasons other than our size, sharp claws, and ability to breed. It's because we have this organ that operates in a sufficiently sophisticated way that no other similar organ found in other species can really compete against humans with what that organ does.

As an example, you can follow that last sentence. ;)


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
oh, sure (none / 0) (#146)
by livus on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 10:37:00 PM EST

a completed neuroscience (though technically speaking for me that would entail the whole body and  probably some other matter as well, rather than neuroscience as we know it) would answer this -

- but again I have to impose another caveat which is that I don't think a science ever completes. I have a "through a mirror darkly" view of science, to be honest, and your description of eliminative materialism makes me smile. We will replace one set of symbolic approximations with another, just as we replaced "centrifugal" with "centripetal" and so forth.

I think this might be part of why I've enjoyed this conversation actually, I'm so used to being the one in the room with the most materialist leanings, and it's nice to feel I'm on the other side of the fence for a change! (I've been tracing the neuroscience -> philosophy meld in another, phenomenological direction)

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

absolutely! (none / 1) (#147)
by Liar on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 11:46:11 PM EST

I'm usually the critic of science in most cases because anything we embrace so wholeheartedly should be challenged, and part of the criticisms that I level at it is exactly the same thing you mentioned: that it never completes!

Too bad we're not local to each other. We should go for a beer.

Maybe meet in the middle like Hawaii or the Solomons?


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
I'd like that (none / 1) (#148)
by livus on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 11:56:46 PM EST

slight detour and we could make it the Galapagos.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
Speaking of nuts (none / 1) (#78)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 01:22:43 PM EST

...Alex's brain is about the size of one. It is unreasonable to require him to read for a Ph.D. in mathematics to prove that his consciousness exists. I think the whole idea that language is necessary for thought is humanocentric garbage. Animals that have never been exposed to human language exhibit complex, cooperative behaviors that indicate the ability to learn, communicate, and generally interpret the world in the way that we do.

I obviously don't think the mice in this story are using human words like "accentuate," but I do find it reasonable to consider that a human-understandable translation of mouse thought. To think that mice cannot notice a trend is ridiculous; it's one of the most basic skills a living thing must master to survive in RL.

Now if Sgt York had had the mice figuring out the purpose of their experience, and staging a mass escape based on this figuring I'd call bullshit and tell him to sell it to a children's book publisher.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Did I say any of that? (2.00 / 3) (#84)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 07:44:39 PM EST

No wonder you're a hack writer.

I love how you put words in my mouth as though only a Ph.D has consciousness. I've said many times that I think they can grasp certain words, but the vast majority will escape them. I've said several times that some words seem to have meaning for those animals, but that there is also a pretty significant failure rate. I've likened much of the language that we do experience with these animals as a game, and I think that's a serious thing to consider. If you want to say that language is nothing more than a Searle Chinese Room experiment, then I think you haven't revisited the subject since when that metaphor was first proposed 40 years ago. We've learned a bit since, then. Join the modern age, localroger, it'll be good for you.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: Myrna Gopnick (i think that's the spelling) found a family in England that are of otherwise average intelligence and can talk, but the speech of some members is just weird. It will be sensible but there's thing that they can't grasp, like plurals. They'll say "Four plate is arranged on the table." It just so happens that those membes of this family who experience this have a common genetic condition. In other words, their brain isn't wired for certain conceptual processes to take place.

Alternatively, if any human experiences damage to the Broca's or Wernicke's region, they'll speak but with enormously interesting impairments. Damage the Broca's region, and the person will make sense, but grammar and syntax become impossible to impose. They will be able to express a thought, though. Actual speech sample is like:
    B.L.: Wife is dry dishes. Water down! Oh boy! Okay Awright. Okay ...Cookie is down...fall, and girl, okay, girl...boy...um...
    Examiner: What is the boy doing?
    B.L.:Cookie is...um...catch
    Examiner: Who is getting the cookies?
    B.L.: Girl, girl
    Examiner: Who is about to fall down?
    B.L.: Boy...fall down!
Damage to the Wernicke region has the exact opposite impact, they will have perfect grammar and syntax but no content. Here's an example:
    Uh, well this is the ... the /dodu/ of this. This and this and this and this. These things going in there like that. This is /sen/ things here. This one here, these two things here. And the other one here, back in this one, this one /gesh/ look at this one.
Incidentlly, the patient in the above example was trying to describe a picture of a child taking a cookie. Good luck trying to get that out of the sentence. The use of nonsense words increases whenever they deal with concrete nouns. The use of "whatchamacallit" is very common.

These regions are located in the perisylvian region of the brain. Damage that entirely and language becomes impossible for a human. And more than that, they will be unable to read, add, complete a recipe that they used to know (they tend to not be able to distinguish things like quantities and items). Affect their ability for language, and it really does seem to affect their ability to think at all.

Now, let's think about this and ask which is more likely: that any brain is just this soup in which language and conceptualization can be imposed or that there are specific preconditions necessary in order for the correct conceptual and syntactical frameworks to thrive?


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
More about Myrna (3.00 / 2) (#86)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:16:23 PM EST

I'll admit that Myrna Gopnik's claim to have found the language gene has some controversy but I find the subject interesting, so here's more for you to consider when you're trying to make a case of the rich inner life of a mouse.

In one experiment, Gopnik drew a picture of an object and called it "Wug". The person understood that the thing was a "wug". Then she drew a picture of several wugs and asked what this was. Now, a normal person would say "there's several wugs." The response from this subject was "Oh dear. Hm.. Wugness?"

In another experiment, she said, "This pencil is weff". She'll then provide a context in which "weff" is meant to be used. She'll then ask the person to use that sentence in a conjugated form, like past tense. She'll give them the sentence, "This pencil is even ____". Interestingly, those without the impairment answer "weffed" about 75-99% of the time. For those with the impairment, this dropped to between 12-58%.

The suspicion is that they may use a word like "walked" and that seems to give the impression that they understand past tense, but in light of their impairment, we have to question whether this is really the case or whether they just learned by rote to use "walk" in one circumstance and "walked" in another and then they have to re-learn that same rule every time the encounter a new verb. Another question is if they really understand what past tense or plural means.

We might be inclined to say that maybe the subjects of these impairments are a little slow, and that's a charge that has been leveled by some of her critics. To be fair, some of those with impairments are a little on the slow side as scored by IQ tests. But not all. Some of the subjects have IQs greater than 110 and yet they'll still fail to pronounce plurals while a person with an IQ of 84 was in the control group and did significantly better.

The interesting thing is that this problem occurs in languages other than just English. It is documented in Greek, Japanese, and French. Gopnik's conclusion is that this is an impairment of the ability for language and itself, and not just a problem in how one particular language manifests itself.

Language provides the fundamental building blocks for conceptualization, just as mathematics provides the foundation for understanding the operations of the universe. You can condition an ape to provide the sign for "banana" and in the case of Alex who only knew the words for "grape", "cherry", and "banana", created the portmanteau of "banerry" when he saw an apple, but you cannot ask Alex "What do your parents want?" That's a pretty sophisticated leap in conceptualization and it's a feature of language that you and I can answer that, even if imprecisely.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
In contrapoint (none / 0) (#90)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:34:56 PM EST

It is frequently said by owners of parrots that owning a parrot is like having a 3 year old who never grows up. Often by people who have actually raised children.

I don't deny that we have a language specific area in our brains; what I deny is that it is necessary to have complex thoughts. I think that idea is patently ridiculous. Before we can name the world we must model it. We use this model to create optimizations. Language is an add-on to this. This is the only assumption that adequately describes the behaviors of animals.

To point out that a human whose language area does not develop or is destroyed can't express themselves is moot. Of course they can't -- their language area is destroyed. Does this mean they have no inner existence that could be described by language if they had a functioning Broca's Area? Well if they're breathing and moving around, I'd say most likely they do.

It is probably preaching to a box of hammers to mention that the animals that do manage to demonstrate some language ability -- paltry thought it is -- manage to do so without this special area at all. The brain of a bird is a *lot* different from any mammal's. Yet they manage feats of language association that our best attempts at AI cannot begin to match.

One thing I like about Sgt. York's story is that he has faced this reality forthrightly instead of putting his hands over his ears and yelling LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. Yeah, he kills the rats to further our cause, and that surely sucks if you're one of them. But then I don't think most rats die with their boots off in retirement homes anyway.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

could you explain this premise further? (none / 1) (#91)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:38:14 PM EST

this one: "Language provides the fundamental building blocks for conceptualization"

Why would this be? As someone whose abstract thought is conucted in imaginary spatial dynamic models which then have to be translated into more communicable forms such as english language, I feel very, very sceptical about what I think you just said.

Could you explain the basis of this a bit more. Or is it that when you say "language" you actualy mean "symbolic representation" - which could include analogous or synechdochal forms etc?

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

fair enough question (1.75 / 4) (#99)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:39:01 PM EST

I actually mean something more than symbolic representation, because I think animals do have that--but to repeat my argument again, that it is extremely limited. Part of my point is that you seem to treat things like language as a possible emergent quality of anything with a soupy mass called a brain. That's clearly not possible as demonstrated by those who experience language impairments to specific parts of the brain. Look back at our conversation and you're talking about a bird understanding the "meaning" of the word "nut". A person with damage to Wernicke's region cannot understand the meaning of the word "nut". There's some evidence to show that other parts of the brain do try to compensate when there's damage to Wernicke's, especially in children, but they develop much more slowly and they never achieve the fluency in language that a non-impaired person has. That's the essence of my point. While possible to teach language to animals, we encounter severe limits to what they can learn and how they use it. The human mind is geared specifically for this type of behavior which is why it comes effortlessly to every human and why it comes only with great effort to every animal.

Now, remember, my criticism is that I doubt an animal has a rich inner world. I seem to have to remind you of this for some reason. Not meaning to be rude, but it doesn't seem to be getting across.

Anyway, one of the more sad areas dealing with linguistics and cognition has to deal with children who grow up without being exposed to language. A girl in Russia who literally was raised by dogs, or Genie, a girl who was locked in her bedroom in Los Angeles until the age of 13. Genie was really quite bright but she never mastered language. So, she could draw and build pictures of things for which she could never learn the words. Now, this might seem evidence contrary to my claim that we conceptualize based on language, but the evidence shows that Genie was only able to conceptualize concrete matters. Abstract things were beyond her--she was almost entirely right brain. To quote from the link I provided:
    One of the last tests that was done on Genie measured what parts of her brain were active as she conducted different kinds of tasks. Scientists were shocked at how unbalanced the activity in her brain was. There was almost no left brain activity. Her tests looked similar to tests of children who had to have their left brains removed.
All because she never learned to speak at the same pace as everyone else. It's a heartbreaking story on many levels, really, and I think denying a child language should be considered a form of child abuse.

Now, while it's possible that animals don't have these built-in limitations that humans have, there's little to suggest there's no limit. In fact, after teaching Koko for 26 years, her vocabulary is limited to 500 words. Impressive for an ape, impoverished for a 3 year old. And we've been teaching Koko practically since she was born. Here's an interesting exchange that seems to imply that Koko and one of her companions Michael were able to understand the abstract idea of dream and death. But consider this: how many misses were unreported? How much gibberish did they have to suffer through in order to find these things which seem to make sense? These are the kinds of difficulties that Genie experienced. Without language building up her conceptual framework, many concepts were denied to her.

So, let's be realistic, we have no fear of the crows who can use a stick to pull out a worm from a tree trunk--a marvelous piece of deduction and experience. That's about the limit of their tool usage and creation. Otters can bash rocks against clam shells, but I doubt we'll see anytime soon a jackhammer. Too many concepts will never be available to them. Even a trained Koko will display what MichaelPostsTooMuch would call a flat affect when she talks about her dead kitten All Ball. We're told that she misses All Ball and I don't doubt that Koko was devastated to the degree that apes can be emotionally devastated. The problem is, that devastation doesn't really scale to the same degree as a human. It's present, but there's a qualitative difference between me regretting having not seen Wicked when it was in town and the regret I would feel if I killed a man. Koko's emotional richness is almost always at the level of Wicked.

The high you might get for having written your finest story is a feeling that we really don't see in animals, even our sexual ecstasy can be paralytically intense, grief over a loved one can drive us insane. This level of intensity is VERY rare in the animal kingdon. Present, yes, but impoverished at the same time.

Meanwhile, I've raised parrots. My first job was at a pet store and I was responsible for the birds. I would moonlight working with the local bird breeder. (My favs are sun conures--noisy but very affectionate). Anyway, yeah, birds can be fussy and take a lot of work. But compared to a human child, they're practically on autopilot. You'll spend a mere percent or two of your time to the demands of a bird as you would a human child.

So, while I think quoting your friends is pithy, I think you fail to appreciate that perhaps, just maybe, they might be exaggerating? That maybe they think of it as work because they don't love their parrots nearly as much as their kids?

Anyway, I can go on. The point being that I think of our ability to think and reason is a difference of degree but we also have tools that help to exaggerate that degree... language being one of them. Koko can look at a picture of her dog and roughly paint a picture. She'll never be able to say that the dog is being a selfish asshole.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Well you're failing the language thing yourself (3.00 / 3) (#106)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:29:10 PM EST

Now, remember, my criticism is that I doubt an animal has a rich inner world. I seem to have to remind you of this for some reason. Not meaning to be rude, but it doesn't seem to be getting across.

No, you're getting it across quite well. You don't think an animal can have a rich inner world, and I think it's obvious you're wrong.

Meanwhile, I've raised parrots. My first job was at a pet store and I was responsible for the birds. I would moonlight working with the local bird breeder. (My favs are sun conures--noisy but very affectionate).

If you had worked with the kind of birds I am talking about, such as Yellow Front Amazons and African Greys, you would know that there is no comparison with Sun Conures. You don't get Sun Conures for smart, you get them for pretty. (And loud.)

Our other parrots are Peachfronts, comparable to Suns. Their behavior isn't nearly as complex as Cookie the Amazon, although they have surprised us too at times.

Your entire argument is turning weird. Your original complaint was that the rats in the story are too ... well maybe you should explain it again? I read "anthropocentric." Unrealistic. Wouldn't use such words.

My complaint with your complaint is that the rats would have the feelings and ideas described in the story; Sgt. York did a pretty good job of dumbing them down and did not NIMH them into supernatural understanding of their situation. The story assumption is that the rat's internal state is complex enough to justify describing in human terms, with words like "brothers" and "blue hand" and "accentuate."

And your argument seems to be that they couldn't possibly be having such thoughts describable in such ways because they don't have language, and without language you cannot have such thoughts.

I say you have the thoughts first, and later the language. But of course, for those of us who have the language it can seem hard to tell whether one who doesn't have the language is really feeling as we do.

If you want to deny it it's easy. If you observe without prejudice, though, it's obviously true.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

I've worked with Greys (3.00 / 4) (#110)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:55:09 PM EST

and apparently, you know jack shit about conures.

And apparently, you're not going to address the case of Genie, so, I'm not sure that I accept your cherry-picking of data as anything worth discussing. Still, I'll repeat myself again.

Yes, concepts are available without language. But language greatly accelerates the conceptual framework and is the precursor to even basic abstract qualities. Things like "I did nothing because if they wanted him, I was safe." Last I checked, gazelles don't stop running just because the lions got grandpa, and I seriously doubt that they assign intentional qualities to the lions like, "the lions came for grandpa". The thought at best would be. "Run. They got one of us. (not: they got grandpa. how would a gazelle know a family relationship as opposed to any other member of the herd, especially if he couldn't see the birthing order?) They didn't get me. Run more. I can stop now and not be attacked." Safety? I doubt they draw a similarity of being safe from lions and being safe from malnutrition and the various implications of the word.

Or like: "I was returned like the rest, and fell into a dreamless sleep, to wake to a nightmare, just like the rest."

There's nothing to suggest that animals make sense of dreaming, let alone distinguish it from nightmares, let alone presume that others experience this. I guess another rat told him he had a bad dream, too. Oh, wait, rats can't talk.

We may have to agree to disagree on this point, but, well, you're the one making the positive claim that any of this is possible, so it's really your responsibility to proof or STFU. I've given you plenty of evidence to show the impoverishment of animal thought and even human thought when denied language.

And to be clear: I'm not saying they don't dream--I'm saying that they don't make sense of that dream. My cat, for example, will wake in a panic after a bad dream and it affects his entire day. Does he really know it was a dream and something that is different from reality? That's a fairly strong claim.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
OK, the simple end of the argument (none / 1) (#113)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 11:13:34 PM EST

The core of the argument:

There's nothing to suggest that animals make sense of dreaming, let alone distinguish it from nightmares, let alone presume that others experience this.

The problem is, there's nothing to suggest that they don't. I can, certainly without invoking my vast language skills, figure out by observation that a dog is dreaming. By what hubris do you decide that the dog couldn't figure out that I am?

You are using the hammer of language to create a divide between THEM and US. You seem to be powerfully motivated to create that divide, for reasons I can pretty much understand.

Having thought about this for a long time -- including a lot of thought directed toward creating strong artificial AI -- I am pretty sure you are wrong. That's all there is to it; this seems to be the time to agree to disagree.

It has at least been an interesting discussion.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

kiss and make up? (none / 0) (#114)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 11:41:23 PM EST

Like I said, you're making a positive claim and so you need to supply the proof. So far, it's all been "but my bird!" You have yet to supply even one published paper about this and I'd really appreciate to read such things. Much of what you say is assertion. Little proof.

I'm not trying to antagonize, but how else would you respond to a person in such a discussion? It felt, at times, like madness. (which opens the question of whether an ape can get trolled nearly as hard as maybe we trolled each other?) Even so, I apologize if I seemed disdainful. Heat of the moment. I actually do have a great deal of respect for you, perhaps the root of my frustration.

Incidentally, to answer this:

"I can, certainly without invoking my vast language skills, figure out by observation that a dog is dreaming. By what hubris do you decide that the dog couldn't figure out that I am?"

The simple answer is: because the experience of dreaming is different than the experience of seeing an animal lying on its side kicking his legs and whimpering. I remember learning this from my dad who had to tell me not to wake up Rusty (I'm not kidding, that was my dog's name at the time) from his sleep because he was dreaming. Maybe I could have figured it out, but I think we tend to believe that if someone figures out something that everyone can figure out the same thing. That's a form of hubris, too. I think we take many things as given that for centuries wasn't. Could you have deduced our heliocentricity if you were in Ancient Egypt? It's possible but doubtful. There's too many things that we have to pay attention to in order to assume that we could figure out nearly as much as we do currently know, including such seemingly mundane things like that of a dog who is asleep whimpering is dreaming. I take these sort of deductions to be non-trivial for humans. Why would it be trivial to critters with significantly less problem solving skills than us?

There are, after all, those who would reject that animals dream in the first place. I don't because I think we're similarly wired and therefore assume some similarity in our experiential framework. But a Yugo and a Ferrari are also similarly constructed. I still wouldn't compare the two on a race track. And I think that a Yugo and a Ferrari have more in common than we do with lab rats, so inductively, I tend to assume our cognitive differences to be greater between us and a lab rat than between those two cars. So, that's probably my bias.

Anyway, good brawling with you.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
where do I quote my friends? (none / 1) (#115)
by livus on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:17:28 AM EST

I'm really beginning to lose track of how what you're saying is supposed to intersect with what I'm saying.

This comment does not explain to me why you think language (which you identify as more than symbols or abstract thought) is essential to consciousness.

If anything, you rais another related question for me: why do you think a "rich" inner life is dependent on intense or highly differentiated emotions?

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

rich inner life (1.50 / 2) (#120)
by Liar on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:53:56 AM EST

I don't think a rich inner life is dependent on intense differentiated emotions, but most any way that we understand consciousness, the human mind has a keener facility, whether it's deductive, conceptual, emotional, you name it. With perception, many animals are superior, but that's the passive, external side of consciousness. The active aspects of consciousness, they are much impoverished to humans.

Also, I thought I was replying to localroger, so much of this comment was directed toward him. Mea culpa.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Haven't interacted with animals much, have you? (2.75 / 4) (#53)
by localroger on Wed May 30, 2007 at 08:37:10 PM EST

Even relatively simple animals by our standards have surprisingly complex social orders, are capable of much more cunning and innovation than you'd guess, and can communicate much more eloquently than you'd dare believe.

Drop the behaviorist crap, admit you're an animal and different more in scale than in kind from other animals. Then the story will look a lot more reasonable.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

A monkey uses a tail right? (none / 1) (#59)
by Liar on Wed May 30, 2007 at 11:11:47 PM EST

So, why can't I use my tail?

It's not behaviorialism to indicate that we are built differently and given capacities exceeding those of other animals, specifically in dealing with that organ which most separates us: our brain.

I'm not sure why that's so difficult to accept. It makes news when an animal uses tools because that is by and large the exception in nature. Sure, it reminds us of our "animal-ness", but I doubt we have to worry about a chimp claiming eminent domain in order to build an automobile highway. We are orders of magnitude more advanced in this area.

I have no problem accepting that the difference is one of degree rather than kind. That's why I accept "Eat. Piss. Sleep." but not "Crawling around the room, lost time, swinging into the air, something cold and hard and sharp! against my neck, but my movements were attentuated, as in a dream."

Room. Time. Air. Attenuated. Dream. I'm sorry, we can't even teach these words to a chimp to use in even a gimmicky game-type way, and you want me to accept that a lab rat can?

Earth to local roger. You're not in Louisiana anymore.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
You don't think animals dream? (2.00 / 3) (#69)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:04:30 AM EST

...or that they can tell the difference between dreaming and wakefulness? Or that they have concepts for those things that might be comparable to words? I got a parrot you need to meet then.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
sure. But I'm talking about articulating it /nt (none / 0) (#73)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:55:03 AM EST

and while you can get a parrot to mimic the word, the difficulty comes in associating that word with a item itself.

Good luck with that.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Parrots have no difficulty with that (3.00 / 2) (#76)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 01:08:45 PM EST

I can assure you that parrots know the meanings of many of the words they say. Sometimes it is obvious that it isn't quite the human meaning -- "cracker" means "any treat" for example -- but the usage is clear. In fact it's so clear that you can easily tell what it is when it isn't the more particular human usage.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
True - and dolphins have been recorded (3.00 / 2) (#80)
by xC0000005 on Thu May 31, 2007 at 02:34:54 PM EST

creating new "words" - at least language constructs for things they have not encountered before. Just because we don't speak their language doesn't mean they don't have one.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
just because we don't speak their language... (none / 1) (#83)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 06:55:37 PM EST

I think if you assume that there is a language, you're going find evidence for it. Language is more than just sound, though.

Think of it this way, if I smile at you, I'm communicating. That's not really language, and I can't really build on that smile. It's just an immediate visual piece of data and you can either interpret it as intended or in a different way. Smile to a dog and he might think you're snarling. Is that because he speaks a language "naturally" like a form of Chinese? No, he's just responding to how he was programmed or conditioned.

Similarly, one of the reasons why cats generally don't respond well to dogs is because of how dogs behave and these communications signals get misinterpreted because cat's are hard-wired to interpret that information differently. For example, if a dog lies down and puts his head on the floor, that's a sign of submission. If a cat does it, it means that it's going to pounce. If a dog does that to a cat, a miscommunication occurs. But is this language?

Language is a strange thing; we can use language to develop more sophisticated language and it also shapes how we conceptualize things. Does the bee-dance do that? Does the submissive-dog stance do that? Does a smile do that? You may as well say that the coke machine likes you because you gave it money and it gave you a coke--that's the level in which such communication is taking place after all.

So, when you tell me that dolphins create new words, you're making a big assumption that those sounds have any meaning in the first place and that any talking is taking place. For example, if no other dolphin understands what that new word means, shouldn't we be properly calling it gibberish? That's what we call it when humans do it.

I'd be happy to read any evidence that controvenes that, but most of the evidence indicates that certain mental structures are necessary for language to take place--it's not just an emergent property of anything with a brain.

It's funny how people who would ordinarily rally around the scientific method so quickly drop it when trying to discuss the inferiority of man to all other creatures in all aspects of existence. We see 1 positive result in 20 and say that a dolphin is more eloquent than Shakespeare.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Ah, I'm beginning to understand (none / 1) (#88)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:29:39 PM EST

this is a zero-sum game for you?

Something has to be "inferior" or "superior"?

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

I believe that is the problem (2.50 / 2) (#93)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:42:27 PM EST

It's about having a nice bright line between US (top of the food chain) and THEM (us eating them is good, them eating us is unnatural, unimaginable, and grounds for killing every similar creature for 100 miles around).

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
I think you're right. n (none / 0) (#96)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:23:12 PM EST



---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
might i suggest (none / 0) (#101)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:50:27 PM EST

that we are in fact better at some things and that animals might be better in others.

For example, I think we're more than just a tad bit better at building skyscrapers than even those rather impressive termites.

I'm sure I'm being trolled, but c'mon.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Really, skyscrapers? (none / 0) (#103)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:03:38 PM EST

You know, I must be little better than a lower animal because I've never built a skyscraper. Although I am trying to elevate myself a bit by building a house. Doing it in a totally new way with new experimental materials to get the "tornado proof" part consistent with the "not costing half a million dollars" part is enormously complex, but I'm tackling it.

Maybe if I actually succeed I'll graduate to "proto-human." If I then build one ten stories high will I at least be a Neanderthal?

More seriously, skyscraper building skills depend on language, which I've already said is not a precursor of consciousness -- it's the other way around. To suppose that nonlingual animals have a consciousness that could have thoughts such as Sgt. York's rats express is entirely reasonable. You have advanced nothing that counters this position.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

HEY, MORON (none / 0) (#104)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:09:05 PM EST

Do you only read comments addressed to you?


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Actually, I do start with 'Your Comments' (none / 0) (#105)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:10:35 PM EST

I'm reading your linked comment now, will reply there.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
In that case... (none / 0) (#107)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:29:53 PM EST

when you talk about graduating to neanderthal, did you realize that I already suggested that you're hyperbole was inaccurate and inarticulate? That you've been, I think, intentionally misreading the point of my entire discussion?

That's a reply to you, right? Did you miss that or something?


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
That was one of two replies to one of my comments (none / 0) (#108)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:32:45 PM EST

I replied to the other one.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
but conveniently ignored much of it /nt (none / 0) (#111)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 10:57:04 PM EST




I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Not exactly correct. (none / 1) (#123)
by xC0000005 on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 01:06:36 AM EST

Granting the termite an average height of 1cm (assuming they stand up) the average termite mound is on scale with the empire state building. Not to impressive, eh? Except that the colony extends underground further and deeper - we have no structures to scale that compete. You should read "Soul of a White Ant", which is about termite communication.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
well (none / 1) (#127)
by Liar on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 03:20:39 PM EST

A skyscraper is more than just something tall. It has elevators, plumbing, windows, etc. A pyramid, for example is impressive, but the Empire State Building even more so because it has those features.

Granted, termite colonies do have specialized locations within their areas. The equivalent to larders, for example, but no Starbucks in the lobbby. That's specifically why I used termites, because they do make impressive structures for what they are, but once you start to press the concept you begin to see that it's not nearly as feature rich as the human analog. Similar, but rudimentary by comparison.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
they have ventilation and heating systems (1.50 / 2) (#130)
by livus on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 08:17:45 PM EST

made entirely through renewable resources, with no hazardous toxic waste.

For example, they're often built in a way that uses natural principles to optimise temperature.

In fact, humans will probably copy them.

There are things we can do better, but I'm not so sure this is one of them, when you look at the wider picture.  

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

Furthermore, bees possess heating and cooling (none / 1) (#132)
by xC0000005 on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 01:28:54 AM EST

mechanisms. Bees vibrate their wing muscles to produce heat, fan their wings to evaporate nectar, and forage for water, which they place on the abdomen of ventilators to produce evaporative cooling. They place the coolers at the appropriate places in the hive to produce air flow. I do not think that they truly posess consciousness or true language, but his claim of heating and cooling as human advances is a bit of hubris.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
and this makes their structures as rich? (none / 0) (#133)
by Liar on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 11:46:07 AM EST

I think that's what I've been talking about, not that they don't have features, but that those features are limited.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
yup, you got it (1.50 / 2) (#100)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:48:06 PM EST

I guess in your relativistic world, you can run faster than a cheetah, right?

;)

Sorry, but trying to tap into prejudices like this doesn't really help to advance the conversation or to solve anything. If you think such comparisons are not worth evaluating, I really do see it as your loss.

Hopefully, though, you never have the disillusionment that you can outrun that cheetah.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
I'm not condemning your beliefs, dude (none / 0) (#118)
by livus on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:23:04 AM EST

but if you look at my initial comment, it was me wondering about wondering why so many people are attracted to it - if the answer is that facilitates a values system then good, I feel that I can understand you better.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
I also have to object to the cheetah thing (none / 1) (#129)
by livus on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 08:11:55 PM EST

as an odd representation of what a relativist argument might look like. (Unless you're spending a lot of time with quantum physicists)

While I wouldn't dispute that a cheetah can run faster than me, I would dispute that I'd somehow be a better person if I too had huge, non-retractable claws and could run that fast (United Fools may disagree).

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

I'm not talking about general superiority (1.50 / 2) (#134)
by Liar on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 12:08:53 PM EST

I'm not even sure what that means.
<BR I'm only talking about cognitive superiority. A cheetah is better on the vector of running. We're better along the vector of cognition. That was my point.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
there's the crux of the matter (none / 1) (#139)
by livus on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 08:24:55 PM EST

for me, cognition is only part of the mental processes, it != consciousness, and it != "richness".

I'm quite happy to conceed your point.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

Your bees are a good example (none / 0) (#89)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:32:38 PM EST

they communicate things like approximate location.  

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
Actually, bees aren't a very good example (3.00 / 3) (#94)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:47:39 PM EST

Bees are born knowing their language; it's wired-in, like much of their behavior. Nobody is born wired knowing that the sound "wanna coke" will get water delivered, or "wanna cracker" a peanut or other treat. Nobody is born knowing that suitcases on the floor mean an impending vacation, and that "hello, hello, HELLO" might be a magical incantation that could prevent the imminent "bye" situation.

When we talk about parrots or rats, which are animals of similar complexity, we're about as far above bees as we are above the parrots and rats. I personally think some of the nonsocial insects exhibit some of the qualities of consciousness too (though at MUCH lower resolution and expressive ability, obviously). Bees probably don't, or don't much. I wonder about xC0000005's description of the drones being dragged "kicking and buzzing" out of the hive as Fall sets in. Nature can sometimes be more cruel than anything Sgt. York does in the pursuit of better medical knowledge.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

"above" (none / 0) (#95)
by livus on Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:21:17 PM EST

I know more about ants than bees, so for example - D. Gordon notes that one type of ants in the nevada desert will get up early and block off the entrances to a later-rising type of ants nest, to make them sleep in. Now the whole colony "knows" how to do this stuff. D. Gordon theorises that over time ants (collective) have learnt optimum behaviours. Another example is optimum nest size - most of the time any of her nevada colonies have some huge percentage of layabout inactive ants, but it's the right number for emergencies.

Sure this is not learnt within one generation but what does that make them somehow inferior? If anything humans, who are doomed to repeat historical errors, are inferior to this type of learning, or that hive consciousness is somehow less "conscious?" (Take the Naked Molerat as an example of hive consciousness in mammals, incidentally)

Ah well maybe I need to lay off the Spinoza. Admittedly I do understand what you're saying, even if I'm being contrary.

Anecdote: a particularly intelligent dog I used to know had quite the vocabulary. I'd always been under the impression that with dogs, it's the tone not what is said that counts, so I committed a terrible faux pas with this dog on one occasion.

The dog, which liked me, had come up to be given attention. I was patting the dog and saying this and that with a smile and friendly tone, and in the course of it I said conversationally "I do wish you would go outside and play or something though" and it pulled back abruptly, stared at me, and went off out onto the lawn with its tail between its legs. Whence it sat,giving me looks with a wrinkled forehead through the window.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

SRY did not mean 'above' in that way (none / 1) (#97)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:25:47 PM EST

I was speaking of individual complexity. The ways social insects "learn" what they know -- and it's obviously vastly complex -- have to be *incredibly* different from what we do. By comparison, rats and humans are practically second cousins.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
yeah, I see that now. Sorry! n (none / 0) (#116)
by livus on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:18:55 AM EST

 

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
The drones definitely fight it (none / 0) (#121)
by xC0000005 on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:56:50 AM EST

but they have no stinger and they are weak compared to their sisters, who will happily gang up 3 to 1 on them. Also, I learned from another beekeeper who has an observation hive that stinging the drones to death is not off limits by any means. Most of the times the drones allow themselves to be thrust from the hive because they have no other options. In the late fall they cling to the comb and wave their legs as they are dragged out. There is nowhere to go, and nothing beyond the walls of the hive but the patient cold or the jaws of hungry predators. You are correct though - every generation of bees is in effect a continuation of the last (and as I noted in the diary on apis dorsata, some posess what appears to be an institutional memory of sorts).

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
*sigh* (1.50 / 2) (#82)
by Liar on Thu May 31, 2007 at 06:29:11 PM EST

Are your reading skills really this poor?

I didn't say they can't understand any words.

I was referring specifically to that list of words. In fact, I even quoted in another comment the story about Washoe who knew that a swan was a bird without having any prior experience of a swan, and Alex who would ask for a nut and refuse all other foods offered. Both interesting subjects.

No, I'm talking about concepts which involve a greater level of abstraction, like "dream" and "room". You cannot point to a dream and teach that word to an ape--it requires much more sophistication in language in order to communicate these thoughts and no animal has yet achieved this. Similarly, you can point to a door and an ape will understand that, but you can't explain the concept of a room to them. Humans make sense of these things flawlessly, and seldom mistake a hallway for a room or the outdoors as a room. These are the kinds of conceptual mistakes that animals make.

Just search out for typical conversation with Koko. There's something going on there, but much less than what a basic 3 year old can do--it's also subject to massive amounts of interpretation that is highly subjective. Again, how much of this is actual language occuring and how much of this is Koko treating these hand gestures like a game?

I know you love your dog and think he's just as smart as the average K5'er, and while I'd agree that he's probably more mature, the dog's facility with language (again language--not communication!) just doesn't exist.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Words is words (none / 0) (#92)
by localroger on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:40:15 PM EST

I have seen numerous people specifically compare their parrots -- not super-talented parrots like Alex, but basic parrots like my own Cookie -- to three year olds. Their language skills are at about that level a human reaches when they just begin to figure out how language mirrors the inner landscape. They get just so far, and they run out of whatever part of their vastly different walnut-sized brains they're using to pull it off.

However, this doesn't mean the inner landscape they're trying to describe isn't much richer, and if you really observe animals, not as a behaviorist trying to categorize all of their activities as if they're automatons but as we observe each other, you can easily tell that their inner landscape is much richer than what they can express. This is what Sgt. York wrote, what the magical rat with the nonexistent Broca's Area might say about what the nonmagical normal rat probably does experience.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

He'd understand the word dream? (1.50 / 2) (#128)
by Liar on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 03:50:01 PM EST

focus, LR.

I'm not talking about words like cracker which is concrete enough. I was talking about words with a sufficient complexity like room and dream.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Words fail me. $ (none / 0) (#70)
by daveybaby on Thu May 31, 2007 at 08:57:03 AM EST



[ Parent ]
One thing, Roger-- (none / 1) (#136)
by Kasreyn on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 03:05:35 PM EST

behaviorism is all about admitting that man is an animal. Read Skinner sometime.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
You need to get out of the lab more often (none / 0) (#40)
by LilDebbie on Wed May 30, 2007 at 01:26:13 PM EST

Why does the treatment make them smaller?

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

They be (none / 1) (#42)
by Sgt York on Wed May 30, 2007 at 01:39:02 PM EST

MUTANTS! Called "failure to thrive." It's common among various genetically modified mice.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

+1 FP: Author introduced me to histoclear (3.00 / 1) (#41)
by rolf roffleson on Wed May 30, 2007 at 01:31:24 PM EST




<ni> Jesus, you're like some mythological personification of the concept of asinine.
I don't remember that (3.00 / 1) (#43)
by Sgt York on Wed May 30, 2007 at 01:48:36 PM EST

and I think it is in my best interests to keep it that way.

What in God's name do you want histocl-

no...no, never mind. I don't want to know.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

plz see my diaries (none / 0) (#44)
by rolf roffleson on Wed May 30, 2007 at 01:54:44 PM EST

specifically, t. pachanoi


<ni> Jesus, you're like some mythological personification of the concept of asinine.
[ Parent ]
I SAID (none / 0) (#46)
by Sgt York on Wed May 30, 2007 at 04:38:18 PM EST

I didn't want to know!

Ah, well. As long as it's stuff that makes people go "ahhhhhh..." and not "ARRRGGGHHHHH!" s'all good.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

you're directly responsible for me not (none / 0) (#48)
by rolf roffleson on Wed May 30, 2007 at 05:01:53 PM EST

needing to fuck around with xylene.

this is a GOOD thing.


<ni> Jesus, you're like some mythological personification of the concept of asinine.
[ Parent ]

Masturbatory, trite, unreadable. +1FP (1.50 / 2) (#47)
by Masque on Wed May 30, 2007 at 04:45:17 PM EST

nt
-----
TAKE A HIKE$ - GrubbyBeardedHermit
I always (none / 0) (#55)
by mybostinks on Wed May 30, 2007 at 10:10:13 PM EST

enjoy reading whatever you write. It is a pleasure. It is always something new and different.

Note to all (2.50 / 6) (#124)
by Sgt York on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 01:38:16 AM EST

The best part of this story is hidden in this string of editorial comments. Do yourself a favor and show editorial comments.

At least until some kind hearted admin decides to change that thread to topical.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.

Done (none / 0) (#152)
by rusty on Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:25:04 AM EST



____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Wow (none / 1) (#153)
by Sgt York on Fri May 30, 2008 at 11:42:31 AM EST

that was quick! Thanks!

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

lol (none / 0) (#154)
by rusty on Fri May 30, 2008 at 02:01:06 PM EST

Yeah. Not even a year. I dunno, Tiber drew this to my attention via email. You'd have to ask him why he dug it up just now.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
My guess is (none / 0) (#155)
by Sgt York on Fri May 30, 2008 at 02:34:47 PM EST

because I made a reference to it in a recent comment.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Well Done. Years ago one part of my job was... (none / 1) (#126)
by claes on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 09:21:35 AM EST

to feed the old rats in the storage room in the back of the lab. The lab was an old townhouse, and the storage room a back bedroom with 3 or 4 racks with lab rats from previous experiments, something like 4 wide and 8 high. Every day I checked the food and water. It was winter. It was a sad place.

-- claes

7568 | 154 comments (120 topical, 34 editorial, 5 hidden)
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