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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Vacationing at Home

This is Labor Day weekend, but we are not going anywhere. Our traveling days are over. But it's okay, because with the right attitude, you can enjoy a relaxing vacation at home.

Bow sunning himself in the outer pen yesterday
They say that one of the factors in premature aging is stress. There is even research on the topic that suggests that people who meditate are prolonging their lives by cutting down on the effects of stress. I am a bit skeptical, however, as how would the researchers independently verify that the people who were meditating were doing it right? And, in fact, wouldn't trying to adhere to a specific practice of meditating as taught by particular practitioners cause stress in itself?

Bow and I don't meditate, but we cut down on stress simply by giving in to our interest of the moment.

When Bow feels like doing something, he does. That freedom in and of itself is a stress reducer.

Bow  gives himself over to whatever activity has him engrossed at the moment, so there is very little internal conflict.

It's all about focus. For me, concentrating momentarily on a flower can have a calming effect.

Everything else in that moment fades away, and all I can see is the thing I am concentrating on.

 When we give ourselves over to the study of a tiny, damaged butterfly, the rest of the world recedes into the distance. Just focus. Even when we look away from the butterfly momentarily, it is hard to see anything else.

This does not mean that we should never get angry or never argue, in order to reduce stress. On the contrary, you should give yourself over completely to your anger, and then the anger can pass. You should argue with all your might, as if nothing but the argument matters. I can imagine taking my argument all the way to the Supreme Court, perfectly at peace with myself. Someday, I'd still like to do that!

"Drink deeply, but never too deep." --Kipling
When Bow takes a sip of water, he savors it as if he has never had water before. Then when he's done, he forgets all about it. We should all be like that!

Every sunset and every sunrise is an opportunity to get lost in the moment. We live in a beautiful, quiet spot. We don't need to go away to have a vacation. Sometimes all you have to do is just close your eyes and relax.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ten Generations into the Future

There is a saying attributed to native Americans that any agreement by elders should take into consideration its consequences for ten generations into the future. This means that when I think about what would be best for Bow, I should consider not only Bow, but his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren -- all the way down to the tenth generation.

It makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it would be a good rule of thumb to implement for any being for which you have stewardship, whether it is your own minor child or a member of a different species, especially if that species is threatened or endangered.

When we came to adopt Bow, Connor was there to show us how to interact with an older chimp
Everybody -- well, almost everybody -- enjoys holding a baby, meeting its needs and forming that deep bond of intimacy that happens only when someone is entirely dependent on you for everything. But the real test of parenthood comes when the child starts showing signs of independence, starts thinking for himself and doing things that don't always seem so sweet or cute.

The breeders know this. That's why they don't allow you to adopt a chimpanzee just based on your ability to bond with a helpless little baby. They want to know that you won't bail out when the going gets tougher. Before I adopted Bow, I was introduced through the glass to some adult male chimpanzees, who hurled themselves at me and made a big point of trying to scare me. When I was first allowed to hold Bow, unbeknownst to me, an eight year old male by the name of Connor was allowed to come into the room to check me and my daughter out. My eyes were fixed on Bow, so that I did not even notice when Connor first came on the scene. But clearly he was there to test us.

Connor was very interested in Sword. He liked her shoes and the decorations in her hair. He offered to hold her hand and walked with her all around the room, and he took off her shoes, and played with her hair. He was very gentle, though, and she did not mind. When asked to give back the shoes, Connor reluctantly did so.

Later Connor was given some baby food to eat with a spoon. Sword even got to feed him some.

We thought we were going there to see the baby we were going to adopt. But there was no question that we would like Bow and that he would like us. The real question was, would we be a good family for Bow when he was no longer so small and helpless. Would we be able to cope with a bigger chimpanzee, like Connor. Or an even bigger one, like the adult males behind the glass.

A Closeup of Bow taken yesterday
Today, Bow is much older than Connor was on that day in 2002. We are still getting along just fine. And I think we will continue to get along when he is an adult. But the question for me is how to prepare for the day when Bow no longer has me to rely on. And any solution I choose, I believe needs to be a solution that is not just good for Bow, but for ten generations into the future.

It's true that now Bow's mobility and options are more restricted than they were when he was little and able to play outside the pens and travel with us to distant states, like New Hampshire.

One criticism that is leveled at people who raise chimpanzees is that after a certain age the freedom that the chimps enjoy as youngsters is curtailed. Knowing that this will happen, people ask, would it not be better not to have adopted the chimp in the first place? Would it not be better to keep them with their own kind?

No, it would not be better. If Bow had been kept with his own kind his entire life, he would have been caged his entire life. He wasn't born free. He was born right here in Missouri.  Isn't it better that he had his freedom for as long as he possibly could, under our current social restrictions?  And if Bow has children of his own, which I hope that he will someday, would it not be better that they have freedom to roam for as long as they possibly can?

They say we should think about solutions which are sustainable. The breeder model is sustainable, because the funding for it comes from people who really want chimpanzees. The sanctuary model is not sustainable, because the funding for it comes from people who have no real interest in chimpanzees and who are largely committed to ending the existence of chimpanzees outside the continent of Africa.

I don't see my role in Bow's life ending with his maturation, though I recognize that as a child matures, the relationship has to change. With our human children, as well, we have to learn to let go and give them more space, though we never stop caring. The big reward for allowing your children to grow up, I am told by people who have been through this, is that eventually there are grandchildren!

There is no shame in liking babies of every kind. It is only wrong to try to keep your children babies forever!  We don't love our children less because we have that special place in our heart for the next generation that comes after. One of the reasons it is important not to infantilize your child or your non-human companion is that an eternal infancy is a biological dead end.

There is a place for grandmothers in the scheme of things.  Grandmothers see past the needs of a single generation. They think about ten generations into the future. I consider myself a grandmother in training.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bow's Potential Success in Business

Bow's ring finger is much longer than his index finger

The other day I read an article that purported to be able to predict success in business based on the relative length of the ring versus index finger. Those with ring fingers longer than index finger were supposed to be much better at business than those for whom the opposite condition held true. This was supposed to be the case regardless of gender. The idea behind it was that a longer ring finger tends to be an indicator of greater exposure to testosterone in the womb, and higher testosterone masculinizes the brain, regardless of genetic or anatomical gender. Thus official sex has less bearing on business success than the relative length of one's ring finger as compared to one's index finger.

As might well have been predicted, I immediately started studying my ring and my index finger and came to the conclusion that they are nearly equal. It is actually hard to tell which one is longer, though if you look at the joints, my index finger's joints occur higher, so I think my index finger is a little longer.

But then I looked at Bow's! His ring finger is so obviously longer than his index fnger that there is no room for doubt!

Bow, according to that article, has great potential for success in business! Maybe I should just turn the reins of Inverted-A Press over to him! There's just one problem. Bow has no work ethic. None whatever. When I ask him to proof a book, he just scribbles over everything. It's not that he can't read. It's not that he is unintelligent. He just does not seem to be able to curb his desire of the moment in order to accomplish a distant goal. He has problems with impulse control. 

And this made me question the results in that article even more. As explained in the article, the longer ring finger is a result of greater exposure to testosterone in the womb. If that is the case, then there is certainly no question in my mind that Bow was exposed to a great deal more testosterone in the womb than I was. Number one, he's male and I am female. Number two, he's a chimpanzee and I am a human. I think male chimps are probably exposed to more testosterone in the womb than the average male human. That's why a male chimpanzee is super masculine, compared to a male human. Exposure to testosterone makes male chimps much more aggressive than male humans. They feel the need to constantly display their greater dominance.

However, in order to succeed in business, you also have to exercise a great deal of self-control, planning for the future and making sure that you do not crash and fail, due to too much risk-taking. If today's business climate requires the aggressive nature  of a chimpanzee male without self-control, it can be for only one reason: that going into debt and incurring bankruptcy is not punished with dire consequences, anymore.

At this point, some of my readers wll probably protest that I am forgetting there's a difference between humans and chimpanzees that transcends the issue of the ratio of ring to index finger length. No, I'm not forgetting that. I know that humans and chimpanzees are different in many ways, I just don't happen to think it's a matter of intelligence. It is, in my opinion, much more an issue of self-control.

Do I think that if chimpanzees show they are capable of language they should be granted the rights of humans, including universal suffrage? No, I do not. I think that someone who is not capable of managing money -- no matter how intelligent he is -- should not get to vote. I think that it's not about sex or race or species: it's about personal responsibility. Bow has not demonstrated that he is capable of  personal responsibility, and that's why he should not have the same rights as the rest of us.

On my other blog today, I write about the universal suffrage that was granted in New Jersey  between 1776 and 1807 to all free people of any color or gender over the age of twenty-one who were not in debt and owned property valued at fifty pounds. 

This is what the animal rights activists do not seem to grasp: you cannot be free unless you are responsible for yourself. Those who are supported by others need to be under the control of the people who take care of them and pay for their food and clothing and shelter. It is not right for anyone else to have any say in the matter. It is not right for some people to be taxed so that other people can raise chimpanzees or children or run a business. 

If the people who are most successful in business today have ring fingers that more nearly resemble Bow's rather than mine, this may have been the result of a simple selective process: allowing debtors to vote away the rights of creditors.  It may not seem like a subject for scientific inquiry, but natural selection works in mysterious ways!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Unauthorized Happiness

Sometimes it gets very hot here. The temperature goes up to a hundred degrees or thereabouts, and everything outside seems droopy. But Bow loves the heat and the sunshine, and luckily for us the outer pen is facing east, which means that in the late afternoon it is shaded by the house. Bow can go out there and enjoy the heat and the light of the sun, but it's not too much to bear.

The bidens by the road seem to be the only flowers entirely unaffected by the heat.

Nobody authorized those flowers to grow there. Nobody planted or watered them. And if they die, nobody will weep for them, either. But when I went to check the mail yesterday afternoon, there they were, happy and cheerful, ready to greet me.

There are official flowers, and then there are weeds. But you can't count on official flowers to be there for you in a pinch. It's the weeds that help in an emergency, because they take care of themselves. Likewise, there are official fleets and there are "pirates", but who really comes to the rescue, when the government does not care if you win or lose as long as the taxes are paid?

There are official conservationists and then there are amateurs, but who really gives a damn about the Monarch butterflies?

There are official apes, and there are illegitimate apes. There are apes whose existence is authorized, and then there are "illegitimate pregnancies". One of the most astounding claims in the Slate article that I linked last time was that Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh was accused of allowing an unauthorized pregnancy to take place among the bonobos. Unauthorized by whom?

If the pregnancy took place during Savage-Rumbaugh's tenure as chief researcher, who else could authorize it but her? And what exactly was she supposed to do? Set up a puritanical set of human-based mores to teach to the bonobos to keep them from conceiving? In the name of conservation, no less?

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Teco

They're talking about little Teco. They think he should not exist. By what right?

The fact is that if you are an "official" researcher and have access to "official" apes, then you come under a very strict set of Federal laws, and your establishment is run by a committee, and your employees get to tell you what to do. For instance, the veterinarians and the caretakers do not answer to the person that hired them They answer to the Feds. Once you understand this arrangement, you start to understand why both the bonobo and the gorilla researchers are constantly under fire by their own underlings.

Even though their establishments are ostensibly private institutions, because they have succumbed to temptation of public funding, even if it's just in the form of a non-profit, they have allowed their apes to be nationalized. They have lost the most basic rights of ownership and control. The sanctuaries and zoos, likewise, are not really private institutions, even though they fall within the "private sector." All these apes are under the government thumb.

Bow is not an official chimpanzee. My research with him is not "authorized". I am just a private person, like any other. We are not an institution. It's a home. This means, among other things, that we are not merely banished from the Federal funding system. We are also not allowed to meet with any ape within that system. I don't think the public in whose name this is being done knows that, and I do think it is time that they knew.

We are free, and we are separated, but our seclusion is not something we have chosen. Instead, it is another kind of segregation that the government has put into effect. Illegitimate chimpanzees are not to mingle with official apes.

However, in a pinch, just like the privateers and the weeds at the side of the road, an unofficial ape can come in handy, can save the day, can bring happiness.

So here's to unauthorized happiness and to wildflowers wherever they may grow!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Olives and Rocks

The cat has been seen to be consorting with the neighbor's dogs. She was away for a while, after killing a giant cream-colored rat and leaving the corpse under my tulip tree. After that, she disappeared for a while, only to reappear when I was giving guests a tour of the orchard. She emerged from the neighbor's field, and with her came the neighbors' dog, Cowboy, and the two seem to be on very good terms. I think when she is not over on our front porch, the cat is hanging out with the neighbor's dogs. This gives me hope that maybe she is actually owned by the neighbors, and they are the ones who are feeding her and seeing to her medical needs.

Ownership of animals can be a very fluid concept out here in the country, in that a cat may feel that it owns more than one family. Coming from the city, we expect a kind of pet "monogamy", where every pet is owned by exactly one household, and every household is the sole owner of every pet. But we had a similar situation once with our dog Teyman. Before I had my eight foot fence built for the backyard, Teyman was free to come and go. We thought she was our dog, and we had her vaccinated and put a collar on her and fed her and played with her,  but she often went over to the neighbors' house and begged for food, got admitted inside, and sat on the couch with them watching TV and being petted and fondled. They even had a name for her: they called her Tiny!

At the time, because I had some pretty rigid notions about pet ownership, this upset me a little. Whose dog was she, really? Mine or theirs? But I had both Israeli and Taiwanese people here who chided me for my seeming jealousy. One of them said: "Can't you just be happy that the neighbors are so kind to your dog? They are feeding her treats and showing her affection. Don't you want her to be happy?"

I asked: "Well, if your husband were going over to the neighbor lady's house, and she was feeding him and meeting all his other needs, would you be happy that the neighbor lady was helping to keep your husband satisfied?"

To this I got a really weird response. "Dogs aren't husbands. That is completely different!" But it really isn't. The question is, in both cases, can you own another living being? And if you can, then does your ownership come before the desires of the being you own?

My friend from Taiwan told me that where she comes from, you do not own your cats and dogs. You share them with the entire community. You love them, but you let them come and go as they please.

Now, Teyman continued to visit the neighbors. and to hunt in the fields for rabbits, and to bring home parts of cows that she had gotten from goodness knows where, until the day our eight foot fence in the backyard was complete. And after that, her roaming days were over.

And you know what? I did feel a little guilty about that. But she never came home all scratched up from a fight anymore, and she had more security. So there are two sides to every coin.

That's what I meant when I talked about the cat having its freedom. Someone I know was upset because I implied that owned cats had less freedom. But it's true. More security means less freedom, whether you are a dog or a cat or a human.

Animal rights activists, like human rights activists, have strong opinions about all of this, and they tend to censure individuals for the restriction of the freedom of an animal and for providing less than a perfect environment. Here is what they have been saying recently about some of my colleagues:

If you own an animal, and you take full responsibility for every moment of its day, then your resources and their limitations will dictate the situation under which the animal lives. If you don't own an animal, and it is free to roam, then nobody can be responsible for what ultimately happens to it. The same is true of all animals, even humans. We should spend less time criticizing each other for not having the perfect, infinite environment for those we are responsible for and not giving them the perfect diet, whatever that may be. The irony is that the same criticism and worse could be leveled at sanctuaries and zoos, but for some reason, they are not.

When my guests were over, I shared some Israeli olives with them, that my mother had brought from her trip. And later I shared the olives with my daughter, and then with Bow.

Olives are a high fat food. Bow does not get them often, but he is familiar with them, because he has been having olives all his life, whenever we had them. Each chimpanzee owner has his own nutritional theories of what is good for a chimp to eat. I have noticed that some of the same weight issues that humans have are shared by their chimpanzee companions. If the humans are trim, their chimps seem to be, too. We tend to eat a wide variety of less processed food, and it works for us.

I once had volunteers who were eager for a more professional diet for Bow. "Monkey chow" sounded good to them. "What is in monkey chow?" I asked. They had no idea.

I have two dogs at present confined to my back yard. They have less freedom than the neighbor dogs who come onto my land sometimes. But they seem to find ways to keep themselves entertained. For Brownie, playing with rocks is very entertaining.

For Leo, it is his friendship with Brownie that adds the most meaning to his life.

Even  though Brownie is often fixated more on his rock than on his companion, Leo manages to engage him and bring out the playful. social side of the chocolate lab.

There is more than one way to conceptualize every possible relationship between living beings. Those of us who have been exposed to more than one culture understand that sometimes dogs and cats are owned and are happy being owned; and sometimes they are not owned, and are happy being free. There is more than one way to relate to a dog or a cat or a chimp. The problem with people who want to dictate to others is that their view is so normative, that often they can't see the possibilities.

It's not bad to own a dog or a cat or a chimp exclusively. But it is also not bad that under a different set of circumstances that dog or cat or chimp might actually be free and not owned at all. What is wrong is to institute rigid rules that have to apply to everyone in the same way. The circumstances dictate what relationship is best. I keep Bow to myself, because I recognize that at the moment, in our current society, he would not be safe if I allowed him to roam. But I still remember the story the breeders told me about the chimp they had who  broke into the neighbors' house and sat in their kitchen eating cherry pie filling, until the neighbors called his owners to come and get him. No police, no shooting, no violence.

The degree of freedom that is allowed depends on the norms of the society we live in. Right now, my daughter does not get to roam the streets in the same way I did at her age. It's sad, but it's a commentary on the times.  At least I know Bow is safe when I say good night each evening. He can't visit the neighbors and raid their pantry while I am asleep, but given the times we live in, he has a pretty good life.

Bow close to bedtime

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Turtles and Butterflies, Despite the Cat

I have been feeling a little uneasy about this cat who won't go away. It is not mine, and I will not claim it. But it is an invasive species, and it doesn't exactly belong here, and it looks as if it wants to be a domestic cat, rather than a feral one.

On the advice of a friend, I put out some milk in the barn, to let the cat know that this is an offer to be a barn cat, but we have no opening for a house cat here, and if it has its heart set on being a house cat, it needs to go elsewhere to look for a position like that.

Something stung me when I entered the barn, probably an insect. It hurt for a while, but then the pain passed. I feel bad for the cat. I know what it is like to be rejected, and I am afraid that the cat might be thinking that it is so pretty and cute and adorable that it deserves better and  that I don't appreciate beauty when I see it.

The fact is that there are many unclaimed treasures on this earth. Sometimes it is sad that something is not used to its highest potential. But isn't it a good thing that we don't just have to curl up and die when others turn us away? That cat is free to live.  And whether it recognizes it or not, it has its freedom, which is something the owner of a house cat usually takes away.

The unemployed and the homeless are also free in ways that employed people with mortgages will never know. There are two sides to every coin. So enjoy your freedom, cat!

When Lawrence came back from his vacation, he saw a dead mole on the lawn. That was the cat's doing. I began to fear that I would lose all my wildlife just because of the unwanted feline presence. Would there be no more rabbits or turtles or even butterflies, and all because of that cat?

In fact, I have been seeing all sorts of animals lately, despite the cat. On August the 9th, I saw a toad in the back yard.

That same day, I spotted a bumblebee in the pasture by the twin cedars.

And while all the large, most beautiful butterflies in and around my fields kept passing me by, I did get a close look at one of the smaller species.

But would I ever see a turtle or a rabbit again, now that the cat was on the prowl? I wondered. On August 17th, I saw a bigger, more impressive butterfly close up.

It stopped to take a rest on the maple in the rock garden. I think it is an Astyanax red spotted purple. But still it had been a very long time since I saw my last turtle. Was the cat responsible for that? Would it ever leave? Would that incessant meowing ever cease?

And yet yesterday after lunch, there was no sign of the cat. I did not see it on the porch, nor on the lawn and I did not see it in the barn, when I put out the milk and got stung. So I went on my walk, and I spotted some mushrooms. Except that one of the mushrooms, on closer inspection, turned out to be a turtle.

I was so happy to see that turtle!

Surely the presence of this turtle out in the open meant that the cat had finally gone away! It was a reddish-colored male three-toed box turtle, but much smaller than the other reddish males I had seen earlier in the year. My friend Pam, the turtle expert, thinks it is between twenty-five to thirty-five years old by the marking on the shell.

I felt very lucky to have seen that turtle, and I thought maybe our cat problem was over. Maybe the cat had found a more receptive household to join.

But later in the day, I spotted a very beautiful butterfly, much bigger than I had ever seen close up, fluttering in the grass in the front lawn. It was a male pipevine swallowtail. And just as I was losing myself in the enjoyment of the butterfly, I heard a plaintive meow behind me. The cat was back!

The butterfly needed protection from the cat. It did not seem inclined to fly away. Possibly it was so brand new that its wings were not quite dry.

Would the cat get it, as soon as I turned my back?

The pipevine swallowtail kept fluttering its wings, but it showed no sign that it was prepared to fly away, and the cat was meowing behind me.

 I decided to give the butterfly a lift to a safer location.

It happily climbed on my hand and from there to the fence of the pasture.

From atop  the fence it flew into the pasture. But when it landed there, it was still fluttering rather aimlessly, the cat meowing in the distance.

Of course, if the cat had really wanted that butterfly, it could have gone into the pasture and gotten it. But the cat seemed to be more interested in me than in the butterfly.

And what about rabbits? you may be asking. Did the cat chase away all the rabbits? No, not really. I spotted quite a few rabbits last night. They just seemed to be keeping a greater distance, that is all.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Different and Yet Similar: The Human Struggle to Classify

Bow is a chimpanzee who has been raised by a human. He is still a chimpanzee, and nothing about his upbringing is ever going to change that biological fact. People sometimes ask me: "You do realize he's not human, right?" Well, duh! Do you think I would have gone to all this trouble if I thought he was human? I appreciate the differences between us. When I adopted a chimpanzee, I already had a human child. I am not trying to change Bow into something he is not. But at the same time, none of us really know for sure what it means to be a chimpanzee or what it means to be human, unless we allow ourselves to live in situations that permit those differences to stand out.

Bow often walks on two feet, even when about to start displaying
Some behaviors that Bow engages in are decidedly hardwired. Others are obviously enculturated. And then there are those things that fall somewhere in between, where it is hard to say, because both humans and chimpanzees do that.

There are many voices raised today with the admonition to keep humans separate from chimpanzees. The reasons that are given are sometimes humanitarian. Isn't it awful to keep someone from his own kind?Wouldn't it be terrible if by isolating Bow from other chimpanzees too long, he might not learn how to socialize with others and will lose out on the opportunity to belong to a group?

Paradoxically, while there is some validity to this concern, it is based on the fact that chimpanzees don't come pre-wired to "behave like chimpanzees". There is such a thing as chimpanzee culture. There are even different kinds of chimpanzee cultures, just as humans from one cultural group find it very hard, after the critical period, or even before it, to learn how to fit into another human group which is very different from their own.

I have personally had that experience. I have written about it, in a fictional account.

Ping and the Snirkelly People

Language is learned.  Culture is learned. Removed from a human group before acquiring these things, humans do not behave the way we think humans "naturally" would. Put a human in a place where they speak a language he does not know, and that human might seem "stupid" to everyone there. Perfectly intelligent and linguistically normal children have been diagnosed with learning disabilities and sent to special education classes, just because they did not speak the local language. If there were a scientific way for educators to be able to tell "stupid" from foreign, this would not ever happen. But there is no way, without knowing the circumstances of the child and  the child's history.  You can't tell by looking, because most of the things we take for granted as part of our legacy as human beings are really only cultural artifacts. 

 In fact, there are cultures in which many of the things we have been told are hard-wired in humans are not present. There is no language acquisition device. There is no grammar built into our brains. We can't take infinite recursivity for granted. Some people can do more of that than others. Just as some people are better at math, some are better at grammar. And then there are those who have no math and very little grammar. 

Take the Pirahã people. When Daniel Everett first came among them, they had no numbers in the language and could not count. They didn't make things. The used canoes made by other people, but when a canoe wore out, they never tried to make one of their own. They just waited till they got a new one made by someone else. The Pirahã are not cognitively impaired. They have perfectly normal human brains. They didn't count, not because they couldn't learn how to count. They did not count because that concept did not happen to historically exist in their language and culture. 

Now, I find that to be fascinating, and it just goes to show that we don't know what about us is that way because we are human, and what is there because of a historical accident that has nothing to do with our species affiliation or genetics. 

How can we find out what is "natural" chimpanzee behavior? Well, we can observe them in their habitats. We can observe them in social groups of their own kind in zoos and other institutions. But we will never know what is truly chimpanzee behavior -- the thing that is hard-wired and cannot help but happen -- until we have also observed them when they are part of our own social group. 

There are a lot of people in universities, in institutions of higher learning, in state legislatures and in other governmental units in both the Federal and State government who have staked their reputations on what those differences are. There are linguists who have made a career of telling everyone that language is hard-wired in humans, and that certain features of language occur in every known human language and culture.

What do these people do when a piece of evidence shows up that contradicts their published theory? Do they change the theory? Or do they destroy the evidence? When Daniel Everett published his findings on the Pirahã people, the government of Brazil immediately took over and forced all the Pirahã children to go to school, so that no evidence of a language where there are no numbers will remain.

Can chimpanzees use human language? There are people who have staked their reputation on the idea that they can't. As a result, funding for this kind of research has been cut off, and there is a political movement to keep chimpanzees and humans from living together. 

I normally don't write about this here on my blog, but a question on my previous post made me realize that this a fight that is largely invisible to the public. Often the same primatologist or anthropologist who makes a career in public out of telling cute stories about apes will be protecting his or her turf when it comes to anybody who actually lives with an ape doing the same. They will distinguish their work as being somewhat more scientific because they distance themselves from their subjects. And that is how an expert on animal grief might feel free to censure a colleague who reports on the actual grief of an ape.

In my own case, I am interested not only in the language use that Bow has with me and others in our family, but also in seeing how he might use language to communicate with other chimpanzees. So I welcome a situation for Bow to socialize with others of his own kind, and I would love for both Bow and me to eventually be accepted into an academic program that allowed this kind of human and chimpanzee interaction. 

There is so much that we still don't know about chimpanzees -- and also about humans -- that we could learn from allowing Bow to communicate with other chimpanzees freely, while continuing to live among humans. We don't know what the limits are to the communicative function of chimpanzees. We don't know what tools they have inborn and what they learn by enculturation. I want to find out, and Bow deserves the chance to communicate with others in his own way. 

Unfortunately, in the current political climate, I might be forced to start a university of my own before there actually exists such an academic program. But, the next time you read a tweet that disparages someone who lives with a gorilla for sharing what the gorilla said, then you will at least know what kind of thinking is behind that very human behavior of protecting one's turf. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Life Goes On

Bow spent three days last week with Lawrence, because I was helping my daughter get ready for school. She is a sophomore in high school now, and since Bow is only two and a half years younger, you can imagine that he, too, is getting more mature.

Bow surveying the outside world this morning

In the news, Robin Williams died at his own hand, and Koko the gorilla, who had personally met him, expressed sadness. Then animal rights activists scoffed and said it was shameful that Koko's "handlers" were using her in this way. Some experts on great apes seem to be of the opinion that it could not possibly be true that an ape could express sadness over the death of someone she knew. Is it any wonder that I feel a little wary to report anything that Bow says about anything?

I wonder sometimes whether people think I am Bow's "handler".  Isn't that what they call members of the entourage of an actor or other celebrity? Why would they call someone who lives with an ape a handler? Is it because Koko is famous that they used that term to refer to Francine Patterson? Or is every family member considered a handler?

Of course, Bow never met Robin Williams, and we did not talk about his death. But the cat is still out there and meows in the night and upsets the dogs, and the dogs bark and wake Bow up, and sometimes he overturns things in the inner pen in the dark when he's upset. And then in the morning, when I ask why he did that, he says: "Because of the cat."

The cat has been making itself at home on our front porch

And then another member of the family says: "It's not the cat's fault. You should take responsibility for your own actions." And Bow has no answer for that.

What Bow says is one thing, and whether it is true is another. Even when a gorilla expresses sadness over the passing of a celebrity she knew, I suppose we can question her sincerity. But they say that gorillas are far more honest than chimps, so chances are, she really was sad.

Brownie and Leo are confined to the back yard in the day and come in at night. But they know that the cat is out there, and it bothers them.

Bow has grown philosophical about it of late. He knows that whatever happens with that cat, his life will proceed as usual. So he has stopped blaming that outside cat for everything that goes wrong in the pens. This, of course, does not mean that he is ready to take full responsibility for his own behavior. However, I know a lot of humans who have the same problem. And life goes on...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

One Out of Many

A violet by a mossy stone,
    Half hidden from the eye,
Fair as a star, when only one 
   Is shining in the sky. 

The lines are from one of Wordsworth's Lucy poems, the only poems that he wrote which were any good, in my opinion. He wrote a lot of other poems with many, many big words in them -- hence the appropriateness of his name -- but the simple heartfelt poems with few words are the ones that I can remember.

Is less sometimes worth more? Do we value what we have better when its very scarcity is what makes it precious? Does a single star in the sky seem to shine brighter? Are people valued more highly when there are fewer of them? Does a large body of work necessarily make for a greater legacy than a single well-crafted poem? If you've only ever taken care of one chimpanzee, does that make your knowledge of chimpanzees less than that of someone who has met fifty of them?

We contacted the person who said they lost a cat to see if the one on our property was theirs, but they said they had had so many cats, they could not say for sure if this was one of them. We then concluded that this was not their cat.

Can you imagine having so many cats that you don't know which are yours and which aren't? To me, that is unfathomable.

focusing on a single flower  from the many in the field

But... it got me to thinking about  other situations when having a lot of something is not necessarily better than having just a little. For instance, some people consider themselves childcare specialists, and they have had hundreds and maybe thousands of children go through their hands, but does this make them any more competent to care for a specific child than its own mother, who may not even have any other children and who may never have more? Some chimpanzee experts are the same way, having gotten to know maybe thirty to fifty chimpanzees during the course of a career. But how well could they know them? How much alone time could they have spent with each?

The moon above the pasture last night

Some people have read thousands of books, and others keep reading the same book over and over again. Which people do you figure have whole passages memorized? Which are more likely to have understood what they read?

The Sword of Solomon, one of my father's favorite childhood books, from which he quoted from memory  as an adult

Variety may be the spice of life, but you cannot go deep if you have too much ground to cover. In a single lifetime, a chimpanzee is not likely to meet more than fifty other chimpanzees, and that's if he's in a large group. The smaller the group, the more intimate the relationships.

Can you really know anyone if you know too many people? Isn't the percentage of time you spend with anyone the true measure of their importance in your life?

Don't get me wrong. I want chimpanzees to multiply and prosper. It's just that they don't all need to be in the same place at the same time. And it's not the number of chimpanzees you have known. It's how much time you have spent with each. I've only known Bow for about twelve and a half years, but I know him really well.