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Monday, May 31, 2010

Tomorrow's the Day

The Project Bow Summer Internship starts tomorrow. We have all been getting ready. Orchard House is prepared. The keys are on a new key chain and all is in readiness. This afternoon Lawrence said to Bow: "Somebody new is coming tomorrow. What do you think about that?"

Bow spelled: "I think it is good." It's not what he said before, but it's a nice change!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cherries Revisited: Not a Liar

We still have cherries. Last night I picked some more. Our first tree was almost out, all except in very high, hard to reach places, and there were ants mounting an expedition to the very tree top. Nothing in nature goes to waste, because there is always someone willing to make use of it. The first tree had big, fleshy dark red cherries with a sweet aftertaste. But the second tree that is now ripening has smaller, lighter red cherries that are tart going in, but leave a slight bitter aftertaste. I know nothing about the origin of these trees, and I have done nothing to cultivate them. They came with the ten acres I bought, and I count them as a bonus, unearned and completely gratuitous. Some years there is no fruit because a late frost gets the blooms. Other years are bountiful. As long as we don't count on having it, the fruit feels like a gift from nature.

This morning Bow had his grapes, and then he asked for cherries. We proceeded with our counting game: one cherry, one pit. But Bow doesn't like the second kind of cherries nearly as much as the first, and in the middle of our game, he got up, took my hand and spelled in Hebrew: "Not a liar."

"You're not a liar?" I asked.

"Yes," he spelled. It was true, the counts tallied. For every cherry he ate, he had given me a pit. But the bowl was still half full of bright, light red cherries.

"Don't you want any more?"

"No."

"Well, what do you want?"

"Milk."

I gave him the milk.

Bow understands everything. He knew that unless the number of pits to cherries tallied, he wouldn't get any milk. He also knew why I care about this: because I want him honest, not because I need those pits. So that's why, when he didn't want to finish his cherries, he observed that he was not a liar.

Now, this doesn't establish that he's not a liar. It does, however, show a remarkable grasp of the situation!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Skype Meeting for Bow

Yesterday, I started to take action with regard to my long term plan to help Bow become acquainted with other chimpanzees. I contacted some other chimpanzee owners, and I spoke to them about introducing our chimps to each other via Skype. There are no immediate results from this, but at least they didn't say "No." Which is a lot better than what I get when I suggest this idea to primatologists with institutional employers or zoo people.

Perhaps I myself have been guilty of the same sort of prejudice against other chimp owners that some institutional primatologists have against me. After all, I am doing research with Bow into his linguistic abilities. I am not "playing Tarzan." In a way, up until now, even though I knew there were other chimpanzee owners, I tried to distance myself from them. I was more "legitimate" in my own eyes. But that is a bunch of nonsense, isn't it? There is no such thing as legitimacy. It's all a matter of attitude. I and the other chimpanzee owners are leading a lonely existence with strong forces fighting us and trying to drive us into giving up. If we don't help each other, who will help us?  

Of course, it would be dangerous to try to introduce adult and adolescent chimpanzees to each other in person.  They could unwittingly transmit diseases to each other, and any new chimpanzee in an institution has to be quarantined and tested and very slowly and carefully introduced to each of the others alone, before being introduced to the group. All this has to be done in order to avoid real physical danger. But I'm not suggesting that we do that. I'm suggesting that we let them talk to each other via Skype. Skype is free. It costs nothing to talk on Skype. And yet certain  zoos have told me they could not do this,  because they don't have a budget for it! I wonder, do they have a budget for email?

Anyway, a chimp is a chimp. I don't need the cooperation of zoo people or institutional primatologists to get access to another chimp online. Privately owned chimps may actually be more fluent in English than their zoo-jailed counterparts. So letting Bow try to talk vocally to private chimps seems like a better experiment.  I don't know why I've waited this long.

"Give me a wife," Bow said this morning at breakfast. "A pretty one."

"What if there isn't a pretty one?" I asked. "Would you settle for an ugly one?"

"Get the prettiest there is," he replied.

I smiled. They say that among chimpanzees, there are no old maids. No chimpanzee female goes to  her death a virgin. The old maids of our Western culture are a symptom of monogamy. No female is too ugly if you don't have to settle for her as your only mate! I read that in a primatology book, so it must be true!

The important thing to remember is: if one door is closed, another may open. I'm keeping an open mind about communicating with other chimpanzees on-line.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer Routines at Project Bow

Summer routines for anyone who has school-aged children are different from winter habits. Children are let out of school, and for those who have no stay-at-home parents, this requires alternative child-care arrangements.

Sword's school offers a summer school program that basically consists of babysitting. For those parents who could not spend this time with their children, anyway, it is a state-sponsored day care. We all pay for it, but only some people use it. Sword and I are grateful, however, that the program is not mandatory. I want Sword at home in the summer, and she enjoys the extra freedom, too.

Summer routines at Project Bow are different, as well. We have a new intern arriving this Tuesday, and we are all anxious to meet her.  I am sure that we will learn new things from her, and the she will  learn from us. Every new person has their own way of relating to Bow, and our lives are enriched by the added perspective. What new talents will she share with us? What new stories will she tell? What new games will she teach us to play?

Changes in routine can be disruptive, but they also bring with them new opportunities. Bow and I are looking forward to Tuesday!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Eating Cherries

Sword and I went out in the front yard after Bow went to sleep last night, and we picked cherries. There are still plenty of cherries left on the tree. We have two cherry trees. The first one has ripened fruit, and the second is still ripening. "These cherries look almost as good as the ones at Wal-Mart," my daughter remarked.

The truth is that they taste better than commercial grade cherries, but they look worse. Each has its own individual look. No two are the same. Cherries in the store look like clones of each other.

This morning at breakfast, Bow had grapes, cherries and a little milk. In that order.

When Bow was very young, I used to cut the pits out of his cherries. When he was older, I made a deal with him: "I'll hand you a cherry, you give me back the pit, then I'll give you another cherry." Bow wanted to test how solid the deal was, so the first cherry I gave him, he swallowed the pit. "No more cherries,"  I said. The next time I served him cherries, he had learned his lesson, so every time he finished one cherry, he would hand me the pit, and I would give him the next cherry. But when it came to the very last cherry, he gave back no pit. He had a big grin plastered on his face, as if he had double-crossed me and gotten the better end of the deal!

This is typical of Bow's ethics. He doesn't keep a promise because he feels it is the right thing to do. He keeps it, only so long as he thinks he has something to gain. This morning, he had something to gain. First he asked for the grapes. When he had finished the grapes, he returned the stems to me, and he asked for the cherries. We went through the whole rigmarole of one cherry, one pit.  He gave me the very last pit. Then he asked for milk. If he hadn't wanted the milk, he'd have swallowed the last pit!

What does it matter if he swallows the pits? Well, it really doesn't matter, in terms of his digestion, but as long as I have to dispose of everything that comes out the other end, I get to monitor what goes in. When he is self-sufficient, he can eat the pits, and I won't care.

There is another reason I persist with this exercise. I am monitoring his moral and emotional growth, too. Maybe, someday, he will want to keep his word just because, and not because he has something to gain. If that day ever comes, it will be just as big a milestone as the day he began to spell out words!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Backsliding and the Computer: How Bow manipulates his World

You may be asking yourself: what about the touchscreen computer? Has Bow made any progress on that? Isn't that the whole point of the experiment? To show that he can write by himself? Why do I keep harping on honesty and moral values? Aren't we just trying to show how smart Bow is and how well he can use language?

Well, no, we're not just trying to show that. But as far as his being smart, I think there's no question about that.Take, for instance, the way he's manipulated the situation with the computer.

At first, Bow did seem excited about using the touchscreen computer. He poked at it with his chopstick. He picked out random letters. He refused to say anything meaningful while Lawrence was in with him, but when Lawrence was emptying out the potty in a different part of the pen system, Bow would write things like "out", "in" and "tire". It was a big deal for him that nobody watch while he was typing.

Because the "text-to-speech" program is in English, I can't be the one introducing the computer. I have to maintain Bow's Hebrew. So Bow continues to spell with me on  the glass. Meanwhile,we decided that Bow would need to spell on the computer to get to go out in the big pen outside, or to  ask for an extra snack from Lawrence late in the afternoon.

At first we waited and waited for Bow to ask for these things using the computer. I would put out the snack.  Lawrence would show Bow how much fun the bigger outer pen could be. We thought it was only a matter of time till Bow asked for these things, and then he would start to converse with Lawrence using the computer. But instead, he never asked for the snack, and the snack ended up getting discontinued.  Eventually Lawrence started letting Bow ask to  go out in the outer pen with only his pinky on Bow. So, really, no language work was being done on the computer.

Because Bow didn't ask for the snack, Lawrence started feeling bad that he wasn't giving Bow anything in the afternoon. So, unbeknownst to me, Lawrence started stealthily giving Bow tic tacs. Bow was happy. He thought Lawrence was a really nice guy. And no work got done!

Trust is so important in every relationship. Consistency is very  important, too.  But Bow is definitely  a smart fellow to be able to turn every conflict into a neat little opportunity for himself.

There is not going to be any progress with Bow -- or with other chimpanzees  -- until the psychological and moral aspect of each relationship is as much an object of study as are the formal proofs of intelligence and linguistic ability. You can't have one without the other.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chimp on Chimp Violence: How to Avoid Bloodshed

When they carted Sally Boysen's chimps away to the sanctuary without consulting her, two reasons were given. One: she had failed to secure funding to pay the overhead of keeping the chimpanzees. Two: having too many male chimps creates a danger of "chimp on chimp" violence. They made it sound as if they were taking the chimps away to protect them from themselves and each other. They made it sound as if their concern was "humanitarian." Never mind that it resulted in the death of the males. But is there any speck of truth in this pretext?

Well, as with all stereotypes, there is some truth behind the generalization. For instance, see what happens sometimes in zoos, here.

If chimpanzees were always better off with their own kind, this kind of thing would never happen. But the explanation that this sort of thing happens because they are, after all, "wild animals" also does not hold much water. Every time some third world dictator is killed by a usurper, is that because human beings are, after all, wild animals? Or is this the universal will to power?

I'm going to get Bow a bride, not a male rival, but even in this, we will have to exercise extreme caution, and I hope to adopt his bride when she is still  a very young infant, so that I can enculturate her, too. I also plan  for them to know each other well in advance of being able to mate. If I introduced Bow to an adult female who  is a complete stranger, it might very well result in violence.

At the outset, there will be no males to rival Bow within his family  group. But  Bow once told me he wants to have seven sons. If he has even one son, what are the odds that the younger male will one day make a power play that will leave the Oedipus story as a pale imitation of life in comparison?  To the extent that we instill different values in Bow and his bride, that is the extent to which it is possible to nullify the Oedipal prophecy. Just remember, the Oedipus story is the story of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aren't all prophecies like that?

Monday, May 24, 2010

He doesn't like me so much

Bow's been misbehaving, off and on, all day today. Maybe it's the weather. It's suddenly so hot outside. Sword got out of school at 12:30. This is her last day. Waiting for her school bus to bring her home, I picked some ripe cherries off our tree. Seeing that the bus was late, I brought the cherries back and showed them to Bow. "Be good," I said, "and you can have them as soon as she comes home." I understood by now that the bus driver must have taken the kids to the store to buy them sodas and snacks. When Sword got home, she handed me the giant snickers bar she had gotten. "Because I love you," she said. And though I did not want it, there was nothing I could do to make her take it back. She knows I'm not happy about the local custom of having the bus driver treat the kids to unhealthy snacks without a parental consent form.

I went back to Bow and was going to give him the cherries, but he had intentionally thrown up on the floor in the meanwhile. (He can regurgitate at will. When he's being nice, he keeps it in his mouth. We call that chewing his cud.)

"But why? Why did you do that?"

"I don't like you so much," he spelled.

Well, that's okay. Some days I'm not so crazy about him, either. But I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying right here in the pen with him, till he changes his mind.

So the Snickers bar and the cherries are on my computer table, uneaten. Eventually, Sword will let me give the Snickers bar back to her. Eventually, Bow will have the cherries. None of it is going to waste. And nobody is going hungry.

Some days are better than others. But we manage to muddle through all of them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Indoors and Out

Yesterday, I discovered that my laptop can maintain its connection with the internet, even when I take it outside, into the outer pen. Bow wanted to go out and he even took the trouble to tell me so. Of course, he used his oblique way of talking first. He took my hand and spelled: "Everybody likes to go outside." I gave him my annoyed look. I didn't particularly want to go outside. "Never mind everybody. What do you want, Bow?" He spelled: "To go outside." I gave in. "Oh, okay. Just let me get my shoes and a towel."

I go barefoot in the house, but the outer pen floor is not so clean, it being, after all, the out of doors part of the pens. So I got my flip flops. And I took a towel to put on the metal glider we have out there, because Bow has been working on taking apart the glider for some time, and there is a spot where part of the metal grill juts out. I've torn several pairs of pants sitting there. But if I cover it with a towel, my pants remain intact. At the last moment, impulsively, I decided to take my laptop, too.

I thought that if I got disconnected from the internet I could still work on some document files. But I kept my connection and I was able to access Hubpages and Facebook and my blog and anything else I wanted. So Bow and I sat side by side on the glider on that towel, and the rooster crowed and the dogs did their thing, and birds flitted overhead, and I checked my email. It's the miracle of modern life.

Of course, when Bow had to use the potty, we went in. Bow doesn't like to  use the outer potty, because it isn't as clean as the one indoors. Bow appreciates cleanliness. He's just not that anxious to help maintain it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Why Segregate?

Is segregation ever good? Most people will agree that segregation by race is a bad idea. But how about by species?  What if somebody said to you: "Dogs belong with other dogs, not humans. It's inhumane to deprive a dog of the society of his own kind." Would you agree, disagree,  or partially agree and partially disagree?

We have two dogs in our household at the moment. I do think that Teyman, even though she was initially very hostile to Brownie, is much happier now that she has another dog to associate with in the back yard, when we humans and chimps are busy doing other things. But every time both dogs come into the house, they both want to cuddle with me and Sword. Sometimes they try to push one another aside, to get a better position with the humans.

What about segregation by age? Do the elderly prefer the companionship of other elderly people?Are they better off in an old folks' home rather than as part of a family with people of many different ages? The same issue presents itself with small children and adolescents. Are they better off when they are segregated by age and sent off to school with their same age peers? Is it better for them to model themselves after the behavior of other children or of adults?

Today I came across an essay by Paul Graham entitled "Why Nerds are Unpopular". There he argues that we segregate children by age in school because it makes it easier for a few adults to watch them, while all the other adults are busy doing something productive. Because of the specialization in our industrialized society, Graham argues, an adolescent who might have served as an apprentice in pre-industrial society is completely useless, and has to be watched in order to keep him from getting out of hand. Schools are merely prisons where children are kept, and because they are segregated by age, and the adults are mere wardens, they set up their own savage societies after the model of Lord of the Flies. This is why bullying is so prevalent among adolescents, and also why so many adolescents are seriously depressed and have thoughts about suicide. It's enforced idleness and segregation by age and not being allowed to make a meaningful contribution that accounts for teenaged behavior, not a surge of hormones.

So, what about chimpanzees? I once had a discussion  with an Israeli volunteer with the Jane Goodall  Foundation's Shoots and Roots who argued that Bow would better off in a society of chimpanzees. Yes, I should be allowed to visit him, but the other chimps should be the ones to make the rules under which he should live. I argued that as Bow's mother, I should be his primary caretaker, though he should  be allowed to play with other chimpanzees. Just as my daughter was socializing with other children her age, but still lived at home with  her family, I wanted the same thing for Bow.

"No," the Israeli Shoots & Roots volunteer insisted, "everyone is better off with their own kind. Even autistics should live with autistics in an institution, though they can visit with their family occasionally."

Do you think that autistics should live a segregated life? I don't. Do you think dogs should always be parts of wild dog packs? I don't. Do you think that adolescents are better off in a society of their own, without adult models for appropriate behavior? I don't.

Segregation is usually not a good thing. It is better to be part of a society where we interact with all kinds of people than to form a ghetto of people who superficially resemble us along one point of comparison. Even in the jungle, there are many animals living in an ecosystem. It's usually being too similar that makes us incompatible, not being too different. Two different groups of chimpanzees may fight over the same territory. But think of all the other animals that can occupy that territory, as long as they are not fighting over the same ecological niche. There may be only one alpha male to a group, but think of all the different ages, sexes and dispositions that are tolerated within the same group. Segregation by age, sex, or species is unnatural. It happens only in industrialized human societies. Everywhere else, coexistence of those not fighting over the same niche is the norm.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How much does it cost for a chimp to live?

Yesterday, I published an article on how much it costs to live. It turns out that how much it costs you depends on where you live. The further away from human habitation you live, the less it costs -- in terms of money. This is true for chimpanzees as well as humans. It doesn't cost anything to maintain a chimpanzee in its natural habitat. The chimps take care of themselves. They are self-sufficient. The problem is that they need a large territory, one on which they can feed. And as good at patrolling their borders as they are, chimpanzees armed with nothing better than sticks cannot be expected to keep the burgeoning human population out, when humans have better weapons. Without the territory, the traditional lifestyle of the chimpanzee cannot be maintained. 

This is where different chimpanzee advocates take different stands. Some say that chimps should either live naturally or not live at all. I prefer to think that adopting a different lifestyle is sometimes the only way to survive and that thriving under changing circumstances requires flexibility.

I have a plan to turn five acres of my property into an island where Bow and his bride and their children can live, when he becomes an adult. But let's face it, five acres are nothing compared to the territory that chimpanzees in the wild need in order to keep themselves fed. I was thinking of planting fruit trees and blackberry bushes on  the island, but the truth is that if Bow continues to resist the idea of self-control and deferred gratification, the fruit trees will not stand a chance of surviving. In order to live off the land, when your territory is very small, you have to resist the natural urge to destroy everything that lies in your path. Otherwise, the fruit trees will have to be planted on the other side of the water, and humans will have to pick the fruit for Bow and his family. That will render Bow and his family dependent parasites, and it will require someone to pay the humans for their time. Humans only pick fruit for others when they are paid for doing so.

I don't want that for Bow and his future family. If the humans are keeping the chimps, you can bet that it's the humans who will also be calling the shots. If Bow is ever to achieve independence, he has to learn to be self-sufficient. In order to be self-sufficient in a limited space, you have to adopt the morals of a farmer, rather than a hunter-gatherer. It has nothing to do with being a chimp. It has nothing to do with absolute morality, prudishness or religious belief.  Different moralities evolve to fit different living conditions. A morality is just a functional set of rules to help us stay alive. That's all it is! Humans living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle have a closer affinity to wild chimpanzees in their outlook. Chimpanzees in restricted living space have to adopt the rules that function within the limitations of such a space.

How much money does it cost to  keep a chimpanzee alive? None, if he's taking care of himself!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bow's Singing

Bow claims that he can sing.  He says he can sing better than me and Sword. Is he merely boasting? There are times when it seems as if he is trying to match pitch, like at his birthday party, when he wanted to sing along with the birthday song. I once thought I heard him sing a few notes of  "The Pomegranate Tree", an Israeli song that I sing him every night before he goes to bed. However, there is no recording to back me up on this, it just happened once, and maybe it was wishful thinking. If he does sing, he must do it when no one is listening. Or it could be another of his lies.

Sword was thinking about maybe taking voice lessons, but she decided not to. Bow told Lawrence this morning that he thought Sword should sing. Lawrence asked him why. Bow spelled: "To make people listen to her."

When Bow told me at lunch that Sword should sing, I said: "She doesn't want to. Maybe you should sing, instead."

"Yes," he spelled.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Sounds that We Make

Yesterday, when the two little boys were visiting, one of them asked about our rooster who was crowing. "Why does it make those sounds?" It's sometimes hard to answer that kind of question, because we're not sure from what perspective to tackle it. I went for the easy answer: "That is its nature. Roosters just do that." The answer was not altogether satisfying, so the question got asked a few more times.

That single question might have been referring to several different issues. It could have been asking: "Why does the rooster make those sounds, rather than some other sounds?" The answer would have been: "It's something to do with the way his articulatory system is constructed." Or the question could have meant: "Why does the rooster feel the need to make any sounds at all? Why doesn't he stay silent?" The answer might have been something like: "He wants to express his feelings." Or "He is announcing his dominion over this roost." Or it could have been: "Even though his cries sound identical to us, he is saying different things at different times, and we just don't know how to listen properly." I don't know which is the right answer, but these are the sorts of answers that the question might have called for.

The same type of confusion exists where human language is concerned. In fact, there is wide disagreement on the question: "What is language?" Some people think that language has everything to do with the types of sounds that we make, and little to do with the way they convey meaning.

In a recent correspondence with a fellow linguist concerning Bow's language use, this issue came up. This particular colleague is sympathetic to my research, and he doesn't doubt that it is Bow who is pointing at the letters. But he does have a different outlook on what it all means. Here's what he wrote: "Bow certainly can communicate a lot that (I agree) comes from him, and he's a well-educated fellow. So he has a communication system, but is it equivalent to a human linguistic system? "

I answered him like this: "I see language as a system of contrasts. It doesn't matter if you use morse code, ASCII or your articulatory system, if something is in English, it's in English. If it's in Hebrew,  it's in Hebrew. Bow uses both English and Hebrew. Because we can recognize the contrasts, and we use them to refer to the same things in reality, then Bow is using language same as we do."

The other linguist replied: "Not necessarily, it may only be the same semiotic system, which is not necessarily a language.  Furthermore, what Bow uses is mainly written language, though with some very clever sound-symbol manipulation."

That very clever sound-symbolism manipulation is pretty much what I think of as language. It is not the sensual modality that makes it language. It isn't the way it physically sounds or looks or feels that makes it language. Those things are only incidental, like the rooster's crow sounding like a rooster's crow, because his throat is built that way.  But the real question is: what if anything is the rooster using his crowing to say? What information is being conveyed and which differences in sound are related to differences in meaning?

Human beings make a lot of sounds, too. We cough. We sneeze. We clear our throats. But that isn't language. When we write somebody an email, that's language. When that somebody reads the email out loud to himself, that's language. If he doesn't read it out loud, but he reads it silently instead, it's still language.

Why do any of us make the sounds we make? Well, there are physical reasons that set the parameters for the sounds each person can or cannot make. But that isn't language. That's acoustics. Language is what gives us the ability to convey information to one another using a limited system of contrasts. Bow has that. Does our rooster have it, too? To be perfectly honest, I don't know. I don't know why he makes those sounds!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Every Lady is Pretty

This morning we had guests, including two little boys. I brought out the guest toys. Guest toys are the kind that don't belong to either of my children, but that guests are allowed to play with. I don't force my kids to share their toys. If something belongs to them, they get to decide if they want another child to play with it or not. But the guest toys belong to me alone. I can let guests play with them without violating anyone's property rights.

My chief guest toy consists of a little plastic jeep and two dolls sitting in it. For whoever likes cars, the jeep itself with its rolling wheels should be enough. For whoever likes make believe, the dolls are an additional enticement. One of the boys suggested I let Bow play with the toys, too. These are not the kinds of toys Bow usually plays with, but I asked Bow if he wanted to play with  them, and he spelled: "Yes." It was the only thing he had said all morning, ever since the guests arrived. So I let him play with the jeep and the two dolls, and he played pretty rough, banging the jeep up and down harshly, undressing the dolls, and banging them against the floor. However, everything was still intact by the time I took the toys away for lunch. By then, the guests had gone.

After lunch, Bow spelled: "Give me a wife."

"I don't have a wife to give you, Bow." This is the recurring refrain between us.

He spelled again: "Give me a toy wife."

"You want a doll?  Which one?"

"A pretty  one."

"Which one is pretty?" I asked. One of the dolls was a Barbie with flowing hair and a hot pink evening gown. The other was a modeling dummy with grey skin, no hair and dressed in a sock.

Bow spelled: "Every lady is pretty."

Flattery goes a long way. I let him play with the modeling dummy, while I cleared away the dishes. Then, before I was done, he tore her head off. Bow can be so sweet,  but it's good to remember that there are clear limits to how far we can trust him.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Summer Plans

It's almost summer. Sword has one more week of school. The summer internship starts June first, and we will welcome new people into our lives. In some ways, everything changes during the summer. There are more opportunities, more things to accomplish, but also we find that our comfortable routine is interrupted, and in some ways much less is achieved. Definitely less writing gets done.

Most people's lives are so full of social activity that they hardly get anything accomplished. Yes, they may work at a job that pays their bills, but that job is often not where their heart is. They may meet with friends and socialize after work, but that also is not where their lasting contribution to humanity is made. They may write out a check to their favorite charity, and this may make them feel good, but their personal stamp does not leave its mark there, either. After they die, maybe a headstone is erected or somebody dedicates a park bench in their name. But that, too, is mostly an empty gesture, because what does the name mean, without the person that goes with it?

Internships with Project Bow are a chance for young people to make a real contribution and a lasting connection with someone who is very different from them and also very similar. Interns enrich Bow's life, and that makes me happy, too.

However, it's a lot of work. And a little disruptive. Interns, in theory, free me for more hours during the summer months, but it takes a good three weeks before I can really relax and stop supervising. The first few weeks of an internship are full of tension, as Bow tries every trick in the book to test his new friend. Only after they pass the tests does he let up, and that's when some real benefit can be derived from the volunteers' presence.

The long winter months when Bow and I are alone are a time of reflection, introspection and quiet fellowship. Summer is a time of  more excitement, more breakthroughs, more conflict, and leaving ourselves open to new experiences. Bow is ambivalent about new arrivals, but he always asks eagerly: "When will they get here?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Floortime Methodology for Relating to Children who Process Differently

Did you know that all human beings are developmentally delayed compared to the average chimpanzee? Take the average newborn, the average one year old, the average toddler: the human is behind on all  developmental milestones, as compared to the chimpanzee. The difference is just as noticeable as the difference between a neurotypical human being and one who has been diagnosed as autistic.

When Bow did not seem to be making the progress I had expected in language acquisition by the age of three, I turned to Floortime, a therapy developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, to help Bow with his language progress. The truth is that many of my volunteers were better at Floortime than I was. In my interactions with my children, I tended to follow the model set for me by my father, rather than the equally functional method of my mother.

Because I had two loving parents when I was growing up, I got the benefit of my interactions with each, which were very different. My mother was warm and loving, and she bent over backwards to read my body language and to create a bridge from my world to hers, when I was not even speaking yet. Her method was to understand what I wanted before I could say and then to give me the words to express it. You might say, she facilitated our communication by meeting me more than halfway. I attribute the fact that I was speaking words at six months and sentences when I was a year old to my mother's encouragement and her openness to my communication. She also had me potty trained at one year of age, by anticipating my needs and creating the habit before there was any time to give the matter conscious thought.

My mother was a stay-at-home mother, and she was able to do this because she was a mother full time and with me twenty-four hours a day. My early years were a time of symbiosis with my mother and learning by osmosis.

My father, on the other hand, encouraged my logical abilities by not reading body language and not talking down to me, but rather interpreting what I said like a strict constructionist. He always responded to what I said, not what I meant to say. He treated me like an equal right from the start, and his respect for my mind was evident in everything he did.

I am a single parent. I wanted to give my children the best of both worlds, but you can't have a symbiotic relationship with your child and be logical and intellectually demanding at the same time. You can't respond to what someone meant and what they actually said at the same time. You can't show empathy and demand the very highest standard of excellence all at once. Or at the very least, it is hard to do!

My early interns were warm,  normal young women with a well developed sense of empathy and a less developed sense of logic.  It was easy for them to make the high-pitched noises and the exaggerated affect that were called for in Floortime sessions. They never felt that they were talking down to Bow, because that's how they would have spoken to any very small child.  There were times when I even got vibes from them suggesting that they secretly thought I was a refrigerator mom, because of the logical, respectful way I addressed him. My relative lack of affect, compared to them, seemed like a deficit.

However, Bow and I were together all day long, and he was riding on my back, and even if I didn't quite understand him, he had developed an understanding of me. There were times when in order to reach me, he would slow himself down to my speed, and he'd wait until I noticed what he was trying to point out to me. In order to do this, he had to lower his activity level to what must have seemed like slow motion, from his own perspective.

What we eventually learned, by watching the tapes of our communication with Bow, is that he wasn't the slow one -- we were! In order to communicate with him, we needed to speed up, and he needed to slow down. But since it's easier to slow down than speed up, it was Bow who ended up doing most of the accommodating.

A primatologist friend of mine, when I asked her, had this to say about Floortime: "Yes, it does seem to help some parents to communicate with their children, but not in the way they think. It teaches them to notice what the child is saying. It doesn't really change the child."

Here's the secret to communication: if there's a mismatch in speed or communication style, each party should try to meet the other somewhere close to half-way. It doesn't matter who is the "normal" one, it's just two people, and they have to  find a place where they can reach each other. Too much attention to the norm and too little attention to the needs of the individuals involved creates an unviable channel for communication.   

It doesn't matter who is the slow one and who is too fast. The place to meet is somewhere in the middle.

I just read what I have written above to Bow. He spelled: "Why Mommy? Every mommy is good."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lessons That I Learned from Reading About Nim

I highly recommend Elizabeth Hess' biography Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human. It is an objective, even-handed coverage of Nim's life from the moment of his birth to the day he died. Many people have tried to use the story of Nim Chimpsky as a cautionary tale over the years, but some of the conclusions that they have drawn are completely unwarranted.

Isn't it true that Nim was only signing to please his trainers and that he didn't even know what he was saying? Generations of college students have been taught that this is the lesson to take away from his story. But did you know that long after he had been abandoned by all the humans who were involved in that experiment, and he was confined to a cage in a sanctuary where he was meant to be "humanely" retired, Nim was still trying to communicate with people by signing?

Isn't it true that the tragedy of Nim's life was due to the fact that he was enculturated as a human, but he was really a chimp, and genetic breeding always trumps enculturation? No. The real tragedy of Nim's life is that the people who adopted him did not take their commitment seriously, and they discarded him the moment having him in their lives turned out to be inconvenient. First his adoptive mother, and then his adoptive father, gave up on him, when he was just a little boy. He was shuttled from one caretaker to the next, and every time he developed an attachment, the person was yanked from his life. We know how harmful it is for human children to be brought up this way. It is no less harmful for a chimpanzee.

Isn't it true that Herbert Terrace's involvement with the scientific community is what kept him "honest" about his project, and allowed him to admit that he had no viable results? No. Terrace was constantly engaged in trying to raise funds. Part of the reason he couldn't spend much time with Nim was that he kept having to spend his time trying to get grants and writing up reports. He was so intent on documenting everything that he had a bigger budget for "proof" than he had for spending quality time just being with Nim.

Language doesn't happen in a vacuum. Real language is learned in context, when we try to communicate with one another. Terrace had results, but they weren't nearly as good as he thought they were, because all his time was going into chasing after the funding that he needed to keep going. When he realized there was never going to be enough money to keep Nim and his caretakers going in the manner to which they were accustomed, he shipped Nim off back to the Lemmon farm, and only then did he decide that the experiment was a failure. Not getting the funding influenced Terrace's assessment of the outcome. Nim was not yet an adolescent when that happened. He had years of development ahead of him.  Imagine what would happen to a human child, if parents gave up that easily!

Learning language requires love, a commitment, and the ability to live independently. If every parent expected to make a living off their child, how many children would learn to speak?

Of course, we all have to try to raise funds for our living expenses. But one difference between me and Herbert Terrace is that while I sit here writing this, Bow is sitting right next to me, and listening to me read it out loud! 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chimps Are Misrepresenting their Linguistic Abilities: and How!

Chimpanzees are perhaps well known for their tricky, tricky ways. A totally honest chimpanzee is hard to find. However, I was really surprised to read this sentence in the wikipedia article about Nim Chimpsky:

The validity of the study is disputed, as Terrace argued that all ape-language studies, including Project Nim, were based on misinformation from the chimps.
Funny, how chimpanzees can disseminate so much "misinformation" about their ability to use language without actually using language!

I turned to Bow and asked him: "Are all chimps lying when they say they can talk?" Bow took my hand and confidently spelled: "Yes." Okay... If you want to take his word for it!

One of our problems at Project Bow is that Bow likes to have physical contact with us and use our hands to spell. Now, he doesn't spell what we want him to spell. We who deal with him know that we couldn't possibly control his language use, even if we wanted to. He's not that cooperative! But to outsiders, it really does look bad.

Lawrence has been trying to wean Bow from using his hand, by giving him less and less of his hand to use, gradually. At this point, he's just giving him a pinky. He hopes later to phase this out and only lightly touch Bow on the small of his back, as a sort of moral support.

I told Lawrence, the last time he was here, that any physical contact between the two of them will be interpreted as cuing by critics. "They'll figure that you and Bow have worked out some kind of code between the two of you so that you can tell him what to write."

Lawrence laughed. "If he's smart enough to understand a code, why do they think he wouldn't be smart enough to spell?"

I laughed, too. But there are some people who will believe almost anything -- except the truth!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When Bow is good....

When Bow is good, he is very, very good (and when he is bad, he is horrid.) Just like the little girl who had a little curl, in my Untermeyer anthology. Today, Bow is good. He is very, very good.

The school bus this morning went whizzing past our house about seven minutes earlier than usual, and it didn't even pause to see if Sword was there. I had to take her to school. I asked for Bow's cooperation. He graciously agreed that I should be allowed to take Sword to school in the car. When I returned, about ten minutes later, Bow was still good. He caused no mischief. He was calm and patiently waiting for me to come back.

What makes people cooperate with other people? What makes apes cooperate with other apes? Or dogs with dogs? Is it selfless devotion or enlightened self-interest?

Teyman, our tiny little terrier-like mixed breed mutt, is currently in heat. We know this, not because of the way Teyman is behaving, but because of Brownie's sudden, extreme, focused interest in her. He is a giant of a dog compared to her-- a chocolate lab. His exertions and attempts at mating are not going to result in puppies, but they certainly burn a lot of calories and keep the two of them occupied for hours. They also raise quite a thirst, and the water bowl gets emptied of its contents much faster than usual.

When I refill the water bowl, Brownie stands back, his tongue lolling in his mouth, while Teyman drinks first. Only after Teyman has had her fill, does Brownie allow himself to drink. He usually empties the bowl, he's that thirsty!

What accounts for Brownie's gentlemanly concern for Teyman's well-being? Is it love? Or is it the realization that he needs her? And, actually, is there any difference between the one motivation and the other?

Primatologists provisioning wild bonobos with sugar cane have noticed that the females and the young are allowed to take their pick of the sugar cane allotment, while all the males stand back, waiting for their turn. When the women and children of the bonobo people have taken what they want, that's when the men and adolescent boys move in for their share.

Watching this, different primatologists come to different conclusions. Some claim that among the bonobos, the females are dominant, because only dominance could account for the females getting to eat first. But others have observed that this rule isn't enforced by the females. It's enforced by the males. When a young, immature male tries to break the rules, it is older males who see that he stays in line. What the males among the bonobos have agreed to abide by is a rule of chivalry. The weak and the helpless get to feed first.

What motivates bonobos to adopt this chivalrous attitude? Is it selflessness, or is it the understanding that they need their females? I think it's enlightened self-interest. I think all forms of chivalry and every kind of love stems from an understanding that deep down we really do need one another.

Bow does cooperate with me. He knows that our fates are linked. He is especially solicitous whenever I am sick. He understands that he needs me, and he doesn't want me to die. Who else will take care of him? He worries about what will happen when I am gone.

On the days when he's being bad, it's because Bow thinks I can take it. All forms of exploitation are based on a misunderstanding of interdependence. Governments that overtax citizens forget that if the citizens fail, they do as well. Masters who overwork servants forget that they need their servants strong and healthy. Children who overburden their mothers forget that it's on their mothers' strong backs that their very survival depends.

But today Bow is good. He is watching Teyman and Brownie outside. He understands that for me to be able get him a mate, I will need to prosper. If we work together, there's nothing that we can't accomplish!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Excuses, Excuses

This morning, while Sword was having breakfast in the pen, and I was getting the grapes for Bow from the kitchen, Bow peed in the potty, but got off too soon and dripped a lot on the floor. Sword told me about it when I came back.

When I asked Bow why, he spelled: "She shouldn't have told."

"Do you think I wouldn't have seen the drip if she hadn't?"

"Yes." Completely unrepentant.

To Lawrence, who came later, he explained in English: "Sword lied."

This is the typical behavior he engages in to distance himself from what he has done. On other occasions the excuse I get is: "They didn't give you a chimp who doesn't pee on the floor." "Because people are eating chimps in Africa." And my all time favorite, one from a few months ago: "Some other guy did it."

"What other guy?" And when he didn't answer, I asked: "Bow, do you expect me to believe that some other guy broke in here while I had my back turned, peed on the floor and left?"

"Yes."

Today, much later when I was still going over his excuses in an attempt to find out what he was really thinking, Bow took my hand to spell: "Everybody lies."

"That may be. But your lies are so obvious, Bow."

"Yes."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No Place Like Home

Yesterday, Lawrence came over to play with Bow. It was a rainy, dreary day, and everything looked greener than usual as if in a subtropical clime. Bow gets sleepy and lazy when it rains and there isn't much sunlight. He was very quiet most of the morning, until he saw Lawrence's car drive up, and then he vocalized loudly to let me know someone was coming.

Normally, Bow and Lawrence play rough together, but yesterday Bow mostly wanted to groom. He also used his voice more than he usually does. Usually, Bow reserves his vocalizations for when he is excited or upset, but this time, he made a lot of lower, softer sounds, and I really think he was trying to talk. He claims he can in fact talk, only we don't understand. I want to encourage him to keep trying, because with practice, he might improve his efforts, and we might be able to improve our listening ability.

All day long until lunch, Lawrence and Bow socialized, while I ran errands, buying dog food, parrot food, chicken feed, chick feed, and groceries for Sword, Bow and me at the store. We need food, and I haven't yet found a way to get it all delivered here. After shopping and putting away the groceries, I relieved Lawrence, and Bow and I had lunch together in the pens. Around 1:30 Lawrence came back, and he and Bow even went out for a bit in the outer pen, but it was too cold to stay long. So they went back in and resumed grooming each other. Meanwhile I did housework, paid bills, fed the critters, and met Sword at the mailbox when she got off the school bus. Sword came by the pens to say "Hi" to Lawrence and Bow, and she told them about her day and how she disliked social studies. Then she went off to have a snack, and Lawrence and Bow happily resumed what they had been doing. At 5:00 pm, I replaced Lawrence in the pens, and he went home to his family. Sword, Bow and I had dinner together, and then Sword watched Bow, while I cleared the dishes. I then came back, and Sword went out to do her chores. Between 7:00 and 7:30pm, I started putting everything away, and then I brought in Bow's teddy bear and his blanket, and I sang him a lullaby and put him to bed. He let me know when he was ready for me to leave, with a sweeping gesture of his hand. "You may go now," it seemed to say.

That's what happens on a day when I have help. But most days, I have no help at all, and I stay in the pens for twelve hours straight.

I can't leave the pens unless someone relieves me. I am stuck in here just as Bow is. We are both confined to a cage, but the confinement doesn't mean what people might think it means. We are confined, but we are at home, and contact with the external world has not been cut off, so it's not nearly as bad as it sounds.

Think about going to prison. What is the worst, the scariest part? To me, when I think of prison, the thing that scares me the most is the other inmates. They are violent. They are criminals. I am not. They would hurt me. They would bully me. That's why prison is bad.

What's the second scariest part? Being cut off from family and friends. Not being able to talk to or touch the people we love.

What's the third scariest thing? Being forgotten. Being lost in time and space. Not being able to tell my story.

Bow and I are confined, but we are confined at home. There's no place like home. We can't go out, but we have our friends and family right here. Those who are not here can reach us by phone or Skype. We get to tell our story. We get to hear feedback. And best of all, we get to keep the bullies out of our private sanctum. We are not alone, and we control our space. What more could anyone want?

Other chimpanzees. A mate. Yes. But we're working on that. In time, that will happen, too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Questions Bow thinks I should Ask

Because Sword had friends over Sunday morning, it wasn't until the afternoon, when her friends had left, that she busied herself with last minute Mother's Day preparations. In the late afternoon, she popped her head into the pen area to ask where the wrapping paper was.

Eventually she presented me with a beautiful gift, fully wrapped, and a card of her own making, which included the following observation: "You're way cooler than a dad!"

I got the gift and the card in the evening, after Bow had gone to bed, but he was not unaware of Sword's preparations during the day.

At one point, he took my hand, led me to the glass and spelled: "Mommy is not trying to ask why..."

I expected him to finish that thought, but he let go of my hand and moved away from the glass. He often does this, and it's hard to get him to finish what he starts. He likes to play coy. He wants people to read his mind.

"Ask why what?" I asked. "Is there something I'm supposed to ask? Do you want to tell me what it is, so I can ask it?"

Bow reluctantly took my hand again and spelled: "Why Bow is not trying to remember the holiday."

I looked at him. By "holiday", he obviously meant Mother's Day. "Okay, Bow, I'll ask. Why are you not trying to remember the holiday?"

He spelled: "Lady is just trying to get present."

I laughed. "You mean Mommy is just trying to get people to give her presents on Mother's Day?"

"Yes," he spelled.

Obviously, Bow objects to the commercialism of the entire Mother's Day scenario.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Reflections

It's Mother's Day. Sword has two friends over, and they are playing happily and noisily in the backyard. Bow watches them. I wish he could have friends over, too.

When the girls' mother dropped them off for the sleepover last night, I was a little nervous. I didn't know what she would think of my house, our living arrangement, Bow. But she mentioned that she had taken her girls briefly to a Mother's Day function at her church on Friday, (one to which she had invited me, but I couldn't go), and it turns out that they hadn't stayed there long, because somebody there said she "wasn't doing it right." "Doing what right?" I asked, confused. "Raising them." I immediately relaxed, and there was a bond between us. "Well, some people don't think I'm doing it right with him," I said, motioning with my head at Bow.

Women can be so hard on one another. It's so easy to point a finger and judge. Primatologists are no different. Couldn't we just admit that there might be more than one way to "do it right"?

Some primatologists are fighting to keep chimpanzees in the wild. It takes a lot of range land to support a group of chimpanzees, but with the spread of human population, there is less and less land available in their natural habitats. I recently discovered the blog of a fellow primatologist in which she recounts struggles with local herdsmen. The herdsmen are losing their ranges to agriculture. The farmers are losing their land to industry. Chimpanzees and herdsmen are now in competition for the same lands, and who do you think is going to win?

Rather than say that it's a lost struggle, I will say this: I wish my fellow primatologists every success in their endeavors. And, meanwhile, I am following another, alternative strategy: I am trying to find a place for chimpanzees in a less natural setting. In order to be successful with my stategy, I need Bow's cooperation.

But why should he cooperate? some people have asked me. After all, he's just a chimpanzee, and what I am asking of him is not "natural". Well, do you think the way we currently live is natural for me, or for my daughter or for her friends or their mother? Did you know that the way of raising children among humans has only very recently diverged from the way chimpanzees raise their young?

We are all related. We are all struggling to provide for our young under a situation of limited resources. Instead of chewing each other out over every small difference, couldn't we just wish each other every success on our parallel paths through life?

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Internalizing the Rules

Yesterday was a good day for me in terms of Google earnings, largely due to an upswing in traffic to my hub on Lelouch of the Rebellion. Here's how it happened: some guy from an anime BBS board got upset at my references to WWII on that hub. Specifically, he was upset because I compared the Japanese to the Italians and concluded that while the Italians were fake fascists, really valuing personal comfort and well being over conquest and valor, the Japanese were, by and large, true fascists. This upset him, because he saw my statement as praise of the Japanese. Now, of course, in most circles, calling someone a fascist isn't taken as praise. It really all depends on your system of values, but many people aren't aware that there could be more than one set of values. This guy told me that I should not be taken in by the mystique of anime; the Japanese were butchers who committed atrocities of the grossest kind against civilian populations and helpless prisoners. When I told him that I already knew that, and that it in no way contradicted what I said, he started quoting Bushido at me.

What does this have to do with Bow? you are probably wondering. He is neither Japanese nor Italian, was born long after WWII, and doesn't even enjoy watching Lelouch of the Rebellion. Well, oddly enough, the problem I was having communicating my position to the anime critic relates directly with the problem I am having getting Bow to adopt my system of values. Bow keeps promising to "be good" and he is "good" as long as I am right there, but the moment I turn my back on him, he breaks all the rules. This happens time and time again, and when he is caught, he is sorry, but not contrite. He is sorry about the consequences, but he is unabashedly proud of himself for not internalizing my rules. He is proud of his own indomitable spirit. You can see it in his eyes, his posture, his swagger. It is also reflected in the things he says. "Don't be angry. Try to forgive." It's all about how I should behave. He's not planning to change anything about himself. He's just perfect!

Contrast this with Brownie, our Chocolate Lab. Like Bow, Brownie knows the rules. Like Bow, he occasionally breaks one of them when he is left alone, and the temptation is too great. But Brownie has a conscience, and Bow doesn't. When Brownie is caught violating one of the rules, he is sorry. His posture, his gaze, his every motion says: "I'm so disappointed in myself. I'm so ashamed." Brownie has internalized my rules. Bow hasn't.

"Why is it bad to pee on the floor?" Bow occasionally asks me. "It's bad, because I have to clean it up. Look at my hands. See what you've done to my hands? Aren't you sorry you hurt Mommy?" I have delicate skin, and it reacts harshly to cleaning products, even just soap and water or diluted vinegar. After a series of such cleaning episodes, my hands get raw and red, and there are cracks, and I bleed.

Bow looks at my hands. He tries to groom them, to peel away the dead skin. He licks the raw parts. He gestures for me to suck on the broken skin, as he does whenever he hurts himself. He is sorry that I hurt. But he is not sorry about what he did. He promises to be good, but he doesn't really mean it. He thinks the rules are stupid, and he isn't being untrue to himself when he breaks them.

This is the case with so many people I know. People of many different cultures, who give lip service to one set of rules, while they live by another.

The man from the anime BBS thinks the Japanese in WWII were guilty of moral cowardice when they abused civilian populations and prisoners. But the charge of moral cowardice only applies if you subscribe to a morality that says you shouldn't do such things. That might be true of some of the individual Japanese soldiers in WWII, but not all of them, and maybe not even a majority.

Didn't the Japanese swear to abide by the Geneva Convention? Didn't they promise to honor international law? What if they did? The morality that a person espouses isn't the one he formally agreed to abide by. It's the set of rules he believes in, in his heart of hearts.

Torture takes place, more often than not, because people who promised not to do it hold some other value to be higher. A little old lady friend I know from the great State of Texas supported torture for terrorist suspects under the Bush administration, because she believed it was the right thing to do. She even hinted to me that the way we won WWII was by torturing captives for secret information about the Axis powers. "You should be grateful there are people who are willing to break the rules to keep us safe," she said. I was shocked.

No morality has any power unless it's internalized. My challenge with Bow is to somehow reach him in his heart of hearts. Getting him to give lip service to my rules is not going to change anything. It's the same challenge that all of us face on many different fronts.

Friday, May 7, 2010

If You Can't Bring Bow to the Kitchen....

If I can't take Bow to the kitchen, I can still bring the kitchen to Bow.

Yesterday was the annual Spring BBQ and Concert at Sword's school. The BBQ started at 5:30, the concert at 7:00. Sword's job was to play "Little Spring Song" on the piano at the concert. Bow and I had a more humble contribution to make: we had to make a side dish for the BBQ. The school district provides hamburgers and hot dogs, and the families of those attending each bring a side dish. I always make garlic potatoes.

Bow and I couldn't go to the BBQ, but we could prepare the dish for Sword to bring. Our friend and neighbor, Mrs. Boren, was taking Sword to the BBQ, and I would be along later for the concert, once Bow had gone to bed.

The recipe for garlic potatoes is as follows: chop the potatoes up, skin and all. Add a few cloves of garlic. Chop them as well. Fry in oil in a frying pan, adding a little water (no more than a spoonful) for steam, so they don't get too crispy.

I'm not much of a cook, but every time they ask me to bring a side dish, that's what I make, and not much is left when I get my serving container back.

However, how do I prepare this dish if I can't leave the pen for more than a couple of minutes at a time? I decided that this year, I would enlist Bow's help.

video

As you can see, Bow's skill with a knife still leaves much to be desired. But consider this: if I wanted to take those knives aboard a commercial airline flight, they would be confiscated. I can trust Bow with a knife more than airline security can trust me with a knife. That's got to be saying something!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bow and Money


This morning, at breakfast, Bow spelled: "I heard that it's hard for you to pay." He was talking about a conversation he overheard between me and Lawrence. Lawrence had suggested some improvements that could be made at Orchard House, and I had to tell him that I had no budget for anything like that. I am hoping to generate more income, and everything I am doing these days is geared in that direction. "If I had that kind of money," I told Lawrence, "I would spend it on care for Bow, not home improvements."

Does Bow understand about money? Yes, and no. He knows what it is. He's handled money. He's smelled it. My father used to say pecunia non olet, "money doesn't smell." But clearly money does smell, and Bow likes to sniff it and learn about all the people who have handled it. What he's not interested in is earning any for himself.

At one point I tried to set up a system of rewards that would include money. If Bow completed a task, he would get paid, and the money would accumulate in his piggy bank till there was enough for him to order what he wanted from a catalog. It didn't work though, because Bow refused to say what he would like to order, and he was not at all motivated by Mammon.

The one time Bow asked me to give him money was when he felt jealous that Sword was buying me a present and he had nothing to give. "Give me money," he said. "How much money do you want?" I asked. "22," he spelled out. "Twenty-two dollars?" "Yes."

I have no idea how he came up with that number, or whether it meant anything to him. But when it came time for him to tell the current intern what he wanted her to purchase with the money, he wouldn't say. Eventually, the intern gave that money back to me.

Bow currently has a balance of nine dollars and thirty-one cents in his piggy bank, but he has never spent any of it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What Bow Wants

How can any of us know what Bow wants? Well, we can't, any more than we can know what any other person really wants. We can ask, of course, but will they tell us the truth? For that matter, do they themselves know?

Bow has said many a contradictory thing on this topic. When I first placed him in the pens, and he began to spell, he asked to be allowed out. Where did he want to go? To the kitchen. In fact, he made up all sorts of stories, in order to induce me to let him out, so he could go to the kitchen. He told me there was a fire in the kitchen. He told me there was a mouse in the kitchen. He said he wanted me to let him out so he could go catch the mouse. But the truth is, he just missed eating in the kitchen. We'd had a lot of good times in the kitchen over the years, and he missed that.

He also told me in an unguarded, poignant moment, that all he needed was me. That I should never leave him.

Just because he said it, do I believe that? Of course not. Everybody needs more than one person in their life. Little boys grow up, and the older they are, the less they need their mother. That's normal and healthy. I am not trying to emasculate him or to deny him an independent life, when the time comes. Of course, he will need a mate. Of course, he can't be expected to cling to his mother's back forever.

He once told me: "Mommy, get me somebody nice." He doesn't want a female who is bigger than him who is going to beat him up! He has a crush on Panbanisha, Kanzi's sister, a bonobo he saw in a video. But that was a really old video, and I don't think he realizes how old she is now. Every once in a while, he also develops a crush on one of our volunteers.

There are times when Bow is angry, and then he says things like: "I don't love you anymore." It doesn't happen often, and it doesn't last long. But it happens.

One day, he told me: "I am going to Africa." (That was about a year ago.)

"You're leaving me?" I asked.

"Yes."

"And you're going to Africa?"

"Yes."

"Why? Why are you going to Africa?"

"Because," he spelled out,"you didn't give me chocolate."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Competition versus Achievement

Some look at life as a competition. Others see it as a journey. One of the things that both Bow and I are missing in our lives is the competition. We're not missing the journey.

At this point in our existence, much of the stress that is normal to the average social being-- the stress of competing with peers -- is completely absent. We are not in the race, and nobody is breathing down our neck.

Is it normal to lead a life with suspended competition? Is competition the thing that Bow is really missing? Would he like it better if for every morsel of food he ate, he would have to compete with others, who could bully him out of it? Is he actually trying to goad us into violent encounters, because he misses the chance to try out his strength in a fight for life and death with a conspecific? It really does seem sometimes that there just isn't enough drama here for him. Lawrence and Tracey won't fight each other for dominance. He can't manipulate Sword and me into a fight. And nobody wants to fight him over anything. Is this too boring? Is the thing that is lacking the excitement of hand to hand combat?

About five years ago, when Bow was three, and I was at my wits' end trying unsuccessfully to potty train him, I wrote a letter to a famous ethologist asking for advice about dealing with Bow's lying. He claimed he didn't need to go when he did. He claimed he did need to go, when he didn't. It was clear he understood the rules, and he was using his lexigrams in an attempt to outwit us at the "game". To him, we were in competition. What I was trying to solicit was cooperation.

The famous ethologist did not deign to answer. But I got a letter from an assistant of his, a young whipper snapper many years my junior and who had less experience with chimpanzees than I did. He wrote that what Bow would really enjoy was the chance to compete for the position of Alpha male. He suggested that I should send him off right away to a sanctuary, so he could start competing.

I thought that was pretty stupid. Bow was still a little boy. Without a mother to protect him, he had a very good chance of being killed, if sent to live with a strange group of chimpanzees. Even the best male specimens, with mothers high on the dominance hierarchy, have years of bullying at the hands of older males before they have the chance to become competitive. Some don't make it.

But what the older ethologist had done to me, by sending a young, less educated, less experienced underling to answer my letter was also a form of bullying -- human style. He wanted to let me know that I did not count, and that I didn't deserve a considerate, thoughtful answer. He also wanted me to know that I had no chance with my human peers at landing even a foothold in the dominance hierarchy among primatologists.

There is an upside to all of this. Not being in constant competition frees a person -- whether that person is a chimp or a human -- to explore the reality of life outside the social sphere. It promotes introspection and even a more cooperative style of living.

Bow still gets to wrestle. Lawrence and he spend hours wrestling, sometimes. But the moment it stops being fun for Bow and he starts to feel a little afraid, Lawrence lets up. In this way, Bow has a lot more control over his life than the average chimpanzee. And I have a lot more control over my life, than the average primatologist!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Social Isolation

Everybody needs warmth. Everybody needs companionship. Everybody needs love. To lock somebody away and never let them experience those things would be very bad. But must that affection, that warmth and that touching come from our own kind, necessarily? And, for that matter, what exactly defines "our own kind"?

Some people are fixated on skin color or facial features or some other biological marker of same/different. Some people are against interracial or interspecies adoptions, because they prevent the child from being socialized exactly like his same race/species peers. But did you know that socialization is a cultural, not a genetic thing? Did you know that different groups of chimpanzees that are not in contact with one another behave differently? Did you know that they have different customs and different social rules? Did you know that chimpanzees treat strangers -- even of their own species -- with suspicion and animosity, while they treat family members, even of a different species, with love and affection?

Bow is living with family. Yes, we have our disagreements, our small misunderstandings and our moments of disharmony, but doesn't every family have those? Bow is quicker to anger, but also quicker to forgive, warmer than I am. He's just not very honest, as warm people tend to be. My human acquaintances who have a warmer disposition than I do also lie more often. It seems to come with the territory. Warm-hearted people are naturally dishonest. Honest people are more dispassionate. But as different as our dispositions are, we do love each other and we are a family.

Do I want Bow to have other companions besides family members? Of course, I do. That's why I invite interns every summer. That's why I have tried to make contact with other primatologists and other chimpanzee people to find friends for Bow who might come over to visit. That is why I am planning in the long run to find him a mate.

"Don't get him a wife until I am twenty," Sword counsels me.

"We'll see..."

"Mommy, get me a wife fast!" Bow insists.

He's eight years old. Does he need a wife right now? He thinks so. But in reality, if he were with his own kind, it is quite doubtful that the Alpha male would let him mate.

I am working toward raising money to make Bow's dream come true. In the meanwhile, wouldn't it be nice if he were allowed to talk to other chimpanzees over the phone or on Skype? True friendship isn't just about physical touching. Bow has a mind, and he is perfectly capable of sharing his feelings and his thoughts with others in more abstract, non-physical ways. What possible harm would come of letting him try?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Underground Railroad and Support for Chimpanzees

I had a lot of web traffic yesterday, so I suppose that it should not be surprising that I received one lone piece of hate mail. The higher the traffic, the more likely it is that there will be some unhinged person among them. It goes with the territory.

What made it hate mail, rather than a legitimate inquiry, was that it was full of character assassination, and it asked questions only in terms similar to the old lawyer's trick: "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" To which there could not possibly be an answer that did not damn the witness.

But I'm happy to share with you the gist of the complaint, because it is probably something that concerns many readers who might want to know. Isn't it wrong that Bow is isolated from other chimpanzees? And to the extent that this is not my personal choice, but results from lack of cooperation by other primatologists, does not this show that Project Bow is illegitimate? And to allow some voice to the lone hater, I will add: doesn't this show definitively that I am not a "real" primatologist and that my research is "bogus"?

Okay, so first of all, let's separate the issues. One is about whether Bow is receiving humane treatment. The other is whether I am doing real science. These are very different questions. It is entirely possible that I am being a good mother to Bow, but a bad scientist. It is equally possible that I am a good scientist, but a bad mother. Or I could be bad at both.

Even so, there is another hidden assumption in the inquiry. The ultimate proof that everything I am doing is bad, from the email's perspective, was that I had no legitimation from other primatologists. I'm not part of the "scientific community." That I'm not a "real" primatologist.

What does that mean? It means I don't have a job, a salary and a title. I do have a Ph.D. in linguistics. And I am working with a chimpanzee and publishing my findings. There's many a "legitimate" primatologist that has that job, and that title, and that salary, but the one thing they don't have is any primates to work with. See my piece on what happened to Sally Boysen and to the chimpanzees she used to work with.

Over the years I've been accused of not being "real" on many levels. When I practiced law, I heard people referring to me as "not a real lawyer". I had gone to Baylor Law School and passed the bar in Texas (with a high score and on the first try), and I was practicing law in the courts, and I had clients who were happy with my services. But I didn't have a job. My office was in my home. I charged low fees, and my income was below minimum wage.

I am a writer, but I've never been published by the regular press or by a mainstream publisher, so for many, I am not a "real" writer.

Some people have said every real woman wants a man to commit to her, so when I express my very different views on this topic, I have been accused of not being a "real" woman. Some people have even told me that because I don't have the same feelings they do about any number of issues, I am not "really" human.

What all of these views have in common is that the only reality is "social reality". Everything else is unreal. I disagree. And I have a mission in life to change the prevailing view of what is legitimate.

I have always wanted both Bow and me to have other companions. I had every expectation that he and Sword and I might move into a community where we would have other chimp or bonobo friends and other human or primatologist friends. I recognize Bow's social needs, as well as my own. What's more, some primatologists feel the same way and would have been happy to welcome me and Bow into their domain. But these people are not independent. They are institutional employees, and they do not call the shots.

There is a schism among primatologists. In fact, there is more than one schism. There are the ethologists, who believe chimpanzees and orangutans and bonobos and gorillas should only be studied in the wild, and they should be uncontaminated by our culture. There are the zoo people, who like to display primates, but who are afraid to go in with them, because of the danger involved. There are among the primatologists those who know just how smart the other great apes are, but who seek to hide this from the general public, because of ideological reasons. And there are those who simply believe in apartheid. Separate but equal is their motto, but we know what that motto really means.

Chimpanzees in the United States are regularly shipped off to "sanctuaries" where they are expected to live out their remaining lives in cages, not reproducing. Not having families. Simply dying out. The sanctuaries openly speak of the "excess" or "surplus" chimpanzee population in this country. Chimpanzees are an endangered species, but these humanists and animal rights activists want them to quietly die out. Have you ever asked yourself why? Read the account of what happened to Sally Boysen's chimps when they were shipped off to one sanctuary after another. How many died en route? How many died on arrival? How many males are left? Do you think I want that to happen to Bow?

Please understand. There are good primatologists working within the system to change this. Just as it would have been wrong to suppose that every person in Nazi Germany was a Nazi, so it would be wrong to assume that every institutional primatologist is supportive of these measures. Some primatologists are friends of Project Bow. But they cannot speak up, or they will lose their jobs.

This is the social reality!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why road blocks to check ID are bad for chimps


It's a slow news day at Project Bow. Just a lazy, lazy weekend. Sword and Bow exchanging not so pleasant opinions about each other over breakfast, Bow chewing his cud after lunch. Me with a hubber score of 100 and about two dollars in earnings on Hubpages today. One of our hens took an exceptionally long time to lay an egg. Nothing much happening. But everybody on the web seems to be all concerned about the right of Arizona police to check for proof of citizenship or legal residency. And all I can think of is: how would this law impact chimpanzees?

Bow is a native American. He was born in Missouri. He is not a foreigner. But the one time we were stopped by a police officer at a roadblock where they were looking for illegal aliens, I got very scared. Luckily, everyone in the car behaved well, and the officer didn't ask me to step out, so we passed that test unscathed. But it could have resulted in pandemonium, if anything had gone even slightly wrong.

We were on our way back from New Hampshire, and we had just crossed over into another state. I think it might have been Vermont. In that part of the US, you can't go very far without crossing a state border. But this wasn't a border stop. It was something more random than that. They were stopping all the cars and talking to all the people.

I had no idea what the laws with regard to chimpanzees were in that state. The officer was bound to notice that Bow, strapped into his child safety seat in the back of the car just like Sword, was not an ordinary child. Between them, trying to keep the peace and provide entertainment on the long and tiring trip, was Samina, our summer intern. Samina was from India, but her name sounded Arabic. Were they looking for terrorists? Would they stereotype her?

We had not flown, because the airlines would have treated Bow like cargo. We had to drive. It was the only way. The police officer examined my driver's license. Then he asked Samina where she was from. He tried to ask something about her immigration status, and she didn't understand what he was asking her. I hastened to explain that she was on a six month tourist visa. He examined her documents and accepted this. "Is this your child?" he asked me, pointing at Sword. "Yes."

"And is that your chimpanzee?"

"Yes."

"Okay, then. Have a nice day."

We were lucky, I think, that everybody in the car behaved so well. Because if any one of my kids had chosen that moment to throw a tantrum or get out of line, that might have been dangerous. If I had been asked to step out of the car, or Bow had thought I was being hurt in any way, he wouldn't have just sat back and let it happen. We always kept far away from confusing encounters with strangers, but the one stranger you can't avoid is a police officer intent on questioning you.

When you have special circumstances, then you understand how scary being stopped needlessly by the police really can be.