Which is to Ape Which?

Monday, July 29 2013 @ 07:40 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto


I don't know if it was just out of curiosity when psychologist Gordon G. Gallup, Jr. carried out the mirror self-recognition tests (MSR) in the early-1970s. On the other hand, if you look at this intriguing paper written by Takaaki Kaneko and Masaki Tomonaga of Primate Research Institute attached to Kyoto University, you can tell that they are seeking a clue to the mechanism of intellectual evolution.

In a recent post, I referred to the President of the United States as a Black Kenyan Monkey. At that time I feared I might be criticized by a monkey-rights group for my discriminatory use of the word "monkey." But on the contrary, an American visitor to my website lodged a protest, saying it wasn't the right thing to insult the leader of a nation this way. Although I still suspect it was an undeserved compliment, here in this post, I'll address these creatures that look more or less like humans as "WE," while referring to chimpanzees as "THEY."

I'm very sure that most of US will fail in MSR because it's now evident that WE have lost the life-size view of OURSELVES. WE tend to talk big while actually acting very small. I'm often inclined to ask US these questions: "Who the hell are you? Exactly where are you within this picture you are talking about. Or are you talking about someone else's problem? Then what makes it your business?"

In the video embedded here, the brainless BBC reporter underplays the significance of the findings by the Japanese researchers at PRI. But actually, the learning ability demonstrated by this particular chimp here was already counter-intuitive to most of US. There's absolutely no reason to prejudge THEY won't outdo US in other types of intelligence tests. Toyota's Partner Robots are a different story. These cyborgs are stupid simply because they all mirror their developers. But to US, chimps are not a mirror.

As these researchers admit, their studies on primates have only just begun. There are quite a number of things to look into before they could possibly unravel the mysteries about evolution. The following are some of them.

First and foremost, the researchers should try to find out THEIR ability to conceptualize. Unlike generalization all of US is so good at, conceptualization takes a sharp analytical mind. If chimps fail to pass this part of the exam, what the researchers call THEIR sense of self-agency doesn't mean anything more than it does with some of US who know no principle to which to commit themselves with professionalism. At the same time, the absence of the ability to abstract things hinders THEM from having a sense of purpose, which in turn disable THEM in many ways. Most importantly THEY can't identify the real issue from among many red herrings because now THEY can't internalize anything that is relevant to THEIR own lives.

According to Wikiquote.com, Voltaire once said, "Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers." If he had been a researcher at PRI, he would have said, "Let's call him just an ape rather than something closer to a human being if he is only good at answering the question we gave him."

Neither will THEY be able to prioritize tasks so as to optimize the tradeoff between selecting one and deselecting it.

Most importantly, THEY, WE, or any other "higher" animals in a certain condition are motivated by the "need of self-actualization" as American psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized, though a little too schematically. When you are motivated by something other than the instinct for survival, you don't need the snacks as "additional incentives" as the BBC reporter puts it.

Another aspect to be looked at is THEIR sociality. There's no communication where there is no dialectical exchange of feedback. As Jean-Paul Sartre observed, communication starts with the understanding that every one of US has his own self-awareness. So the question here is whether chimps are aware that THEY are all Being-for-others.

We already know THEIR learning curve is beyond OUR imagination. But this leaves US wondering how good THEY are at teaching. As a general rule, a teacher can't effectively share his idea with his student if he doesn't have this sense of being-for-others.

When it comes to languages as the tools for communication, I suspect THEY would outperform most of US, especially the Japanese and Americans, in learning a "foreign" language. Judging from THEIR super high-context screech which is very similar to contemporary Japanese and English, it would be a piece of cake for THEM to pick up either language. Especially I'm very sure chimps would by far outperform the Japanese if THEY were taught English in the right way.

Needless to say, communication is the only enabler of the synergy effect to be pursued through a coordinated action.

I am not an animal lover myself. Not that I hate animals. How can I hate them when I know they don't have the worst vice inherent to the human race which Sartre called mauvaise foi (self-deception)? THEY never lie. Sometimes chimps may have a dream like humans. But unlike most of US, when THEY wake up, THEY don't mix up the dream with reality.

Aside from THEIR perfect honesty, I know very little about THEM. Yet I am reasonably sure that some, if not all, of THEM will pass these tests. And that is enough to convince US that the average chimp is as smart as his human counterpart. You may say his brain weighs only 14 oz, 59-77% lighter than the human brain and the neurons in his brain are outnumbered by 20-56% by the brain cells of a human being. But so what? Just compare the simplest form of personal computer of the early-1980s against the old mainframe machine. And think about what the Internet has enabled US. WE have just developed the addictive habit to gather tons of information which is totally irrelevant to OUR lives. It can be that THEY know how to economize the use of the limited resource.

The last and most important test should address this question: Do THEY have the abilities to define THEIR own rules for the game to play, redefine them, and sometimes defy them? Let's pose this question differently: Can WE expect THEM to think and act creatively? WE already know that creativity is something WE can't expect from most of US who can't tell art from crap, for instance. This question brings us back to Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution once again.

Guess what, it will be a real challenge not for the chimps, but for the researchers at PRI to prepare themselves for the final exam in which to gauge THEIR creativity. They've got to be creative and inventive enough themselves in order to come up with the methodologies for their cross-sectional as well as longitudinal studies. In that sense, now it will be their turn to be subjected to the tests. At the same time some of US have to have their brains measured objectively and quantitatively because at this stage the researchers should select human samples as the yardsticks for comparison.

WE already know THEY outperformed US in the MSR tests. But that doesn't necessarily mean THEY will defeat US again in the final exam. As an impartial referee, I can't visualize chimps doing music in the way Hot Club of Cowtown does. Neither is it likely that THEY hold an exhilarating sporting event in a charming setting like Muirfield Golf Course in Scotland.

Eventually, in a tricky mirror room where you can't tell who mirrors whom, the PRI researchers will get one answer or another to the question over how close WE and THEY are. Even so it's hard to imagine one last sticking point for them will dissolve at the same time. Distance, or proximity, is a relative and un-vectorized measure. They will never know which is catching up with which.

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