But you have only to look into his eyes to see how intelligent he is. He loves to be photographed and after I snap the picture, he wants to take a look, too.
He has a sardonic smile, and a fine grained sense of humor. And when I ask him why he won't just spell out the word using his own hand without mine, he answers: סתם. Which is a special Hebrew word that won't translate into English, but it means something like "for no special reason" or "just because." Now that's a teenager for you.
|Use my own hand? Why?|
|Leo wants to play|
Bow goes outside, surveys his domain from a lofty vantage point, and if he feels like it, he will deign to interact with the outdoor dwellers.
Then he comes in, and he is so very calm and civilized, but he won't always do what I want.
He does what he wants. And at this point, I would not mind it at all if someone else came in and tried to help me convince Bow to show what he can do. Clearly, he is past the critical age for language acquisition, so it's not a matter of teaching him language. He has that already, and if he did not, it would be too late to start now. Even Genie, the feral child, could not be taught, and she was a human.
Bow has language and literacy, because he was cross-fostered from infancy. But what I need for Bow right now is someone who will teach him how to take a multiple choice test. Or even a free-hand essay test, for that matter! Testing for a grade is something that humans have to learn, too. It is not inborn.
I follow the blog of a home-schooling mother, and if you are interested, you can read about some of her struggles with her boys:
Even home-schooled children sometimes need to take an extra year to learn how to acclimate themselves to the expectations of a new school system. There is the world of learning. And then there is that other world: the world of proving what you learned.
But how do I know what Bow knows? How do I know I am not deluded? Well, here is the story of "Bow and the Mice." I published it long ago on Hubpages, but it has since been de-indexed.
Bow and the Mice
Field or Wood Mouse
The Field Mouse
In the fall of 2007, as the weather started to get cold, squatters moved into my attic and into the warm crawlspace under my house. I didn't notice them, because they were invisible, didn't make a sound and were very discreet. At least, that's how it seemed to me, after I found out they were there. But from Bow's perspective, none of this was true. According to Bow, they were loud and annoying, and he couldn't stand their wild orgies.
The squatters in my attic were field mice.
The New Quarters and the Scary Drains
In the summer of 2007, our living arrangements changed drastically. The sun room was converted into a series of pens, with long corridors leading from the indoors to the outdoors, and a single corridor feeding into the "potty room", equipped with a shiny metal prison style toilet that Bow was to use.
Each of the two indoor pens had a metal drain in the middle, and the floor had a slight incline to help water drain easily. Gone were our beautiful wooden floors and gone was Bow's freedom to roam from room to room throughout the house.
New interns learned to dread the potty corridor, because in the bathroom there was toilet paper! It was in the potty corridor that Bow did his best to haze new recruits. Give Bow a long corridor and a roll of toilet paper, plus a new intern to terrorize, and we at once experienced complete pandemonium.
On the other hand, if I escorted him there, he held onto my hand or rode on my back and was a complete angel, doing his duty and indicating by an elegant twist of the wrist that he was done, and it was time for me to get some toilet paper to wipe him with.
I had originally thought that it would be fine if we didn't always use the metal potty. If Bow wanted to pee directly into the drains, I had no objection. It would also save wear and tear on the new interns and by-pass the inherent drama of the potty corridor. But no! There was no way Bow would go anywhere near those scary drains.
At first, Bow was completely inarticulate about his unreasonable fears. He would just gingerly swat at the drain with one hand, keeping the rest of his body at a great distance, lest the drain, or something in the drain, retaliate against him.
After Bow became literate, I asked him why he was afraid of the drains. His answer: "There are animals there."
"Animals?" I repeated. "What kind of animals?"
"How do you know they are bad?"
"They want to eat me."
"Bow, come on! Why do they want to eat you?"
"Because they're bad."
Needless to say, I didn't believe him. After all, he couldn't produce a single shred of evidence to back up his story.
Humoring Others and Being Humored in Return
As summer changed to fall, Bow's complaints about the animals under the floor became more frequent and frantic. There were times when he would race around in circles and scream and when I asked him what the problem was, he insisted that it was "animals." There were animals under the floor. There were animals over the ceiling. I didn't see, hear or experience anything that would corroborate Bow's allegations, and what's more, he was a notorious liar.
Very soon after he began spelling words, Bow told me there was a fire in the kitchen. It was a full sentence, in Hebrew, very grammatical, and like any person interested in the truth, I went to investigate. There was no fire.
This happened a few more times before Bow admitted that he only said that because he was hoping I would take him to the kitchen.
On another occasion, Bow told me he saw a mouse in the kitchen. I went to look. I didn't see a mouse, but Bow kept insisting there was one. "So what do you want to do about it?" I asked him, a little weary of all these lies.
"I want to go catch the mouse."
Aha. So it was another excuse to go to the kitchen.
One day Bow said: "Stop feeding me in the pens."
"Why? Where do you want me to feed you?"
"In the kitchen."
It seemed like a very clear pattern. Bow wanted to go to the kitchen. He would say anything if he thought it would get him there.
So, when Bow kept mentioning those animals, I didn't believe him. But since there was no reasoning with him about it, I started to humor him. Instead of arguing that there weren't any animals, I would say things like: "Never mind those animals, what would you like to have for lunch?"
During the same period, as I was having trouble producing any solid proof that it was really Bow who was pointing at the letters, I noticed that a number of people with whom I had regular phone conversations were now avoiding the topic of Bow. If I told them Bow had said something, they just didn't react. They didn't get excited. They would change the subject. They never tried to argue me out of it, but they were amazingly unresponsive to what I had to say.
At first, I didn't know why those conversations were so odd. Nobody had said anything bad to me, but after I hung up I began to feel very depressed. The normal give and take of the conversation just wasn't there. Why weren't they more excited to hear what Bow had had to say. Then it dawned on me: I was being humored.
They didn't believe Bow was spelling at all. I had no proof, and, of course, I knew I had no proof, but I thought what was happening was interesting even without the proof.
After all, knowing that something is true and being able to prove it to someone else are two separate issues. Not being able to prove something is not the same as proving that it's not true.
How could they just assume that I was wrong? But I was doing the same thing to Bow. He kept insisting there were animals, and just because I couldn't hear them, I assumed they weren't there.
It's hard to keep an open mind
It's hard for anyone to keep a completely open mind. We think we know so much about the world already, that any fact that threatens to overturn some of that knowledge is often rejected out of hand. For any proposition X about a real world state, most of us, (myself included), have one of four states of belief:
- We believe X is true.
- We believe X is false.
- We believe X is not a meaningful proposition, so its truth or falsity is logically unascertainable.
- We feel X is so insignificant, that any implications to be drawn from it are also unimportant. In such an event, we are willing to concede that we don't know, because we don't care.
People very rarely feel that they don't know whether something is true when it is both meaningful and significant. Why? Because every significant, meaningful proposition about the real world has implications for the truth or falsity of many other significant propositions. There are no facts in a vacuum. We have states of belief about those other propositions, and we would have to change them, if we changed our mind about X.
Whether we can prove Proposition X to be true (or false) is a separate question from whether we believe it to be true or false.
You may have witnessed an event. You may be the sole witness. You believe the evidence of your senses. Somebody else may or may not believe you. You may realize that besides your own testimony, you can produce no other proof. In such a situation, you believe you know the truth or falsity of the proposition, but you have no proof.
In the case of the mice, Bow's sensory acuity was better than mine. It took some time before evidence that I could take cognizance of could be found. But Bow was right about the mice, even when he could not prove it to my satisfaction. What he claimed was no less true before I noticed the evidence that supported his claim.
It is hard to keep an open mind, because living in the real word requires us to formulate a working hypothesis about many different things. We can't wait until we have absolute, irrefutable proof of the truth or falsity of a proposition until we formulate a belief about it. The facts of reality are a matter of life and death. Being indecisive can cost us.
One day, Bow became especially frantic and was screaming like crazy. When I asked him what was the matter, he spelled out "Animals Pee". It was in Hebrew, as usual, but this time it wasn't a well-formed sentence, It was just the word "animals" followed by the word for "pee."
"Do you need to pee?" I asked him.
"No. Animals pee." He kept screaming while he spelled.
I ignored the animal part of it, but I thought maybe he needed to pee, even though he denied it. I had learned to my peril that it was not a good idea to ignore the word "pee." So I dragged Bow down the corridor to the metal toilet and made him sit there, but he wouldn't pee.
As we were making our way back to the pen, I noticed some drops of moisture on the cement floor of the adjoining pen, the one we hadn't occupied. Bringing Bow back to his pen, I peered through the glass at the drops on the other side. Nobody had been there. Bow couldn't have made those drops. Where had they come from?
I turned to Bow: "Is that what you meant?"
He answered: "Yes. Pee of animals."
"Where did it come from?" I asked Bow.
"Animals on the ceiling," he spelled..
I went over to other side. There were definitely drops on the cement. They did indeed seem to have fallen from above, rather than seeping from below. Bow's version of the truth was suddenly looking a lot more believable.
"There's a man whose job it is to catch mice," I told Bow. "Do you want me to call him?"
"Yes. Right away!"
"Bow, in order to call the man right away, I would have to leave the pen. Are you giving me permission to leave?"
This was a very big deal. Bow hates to be left alone.
Why Didn't they Just Let them Go?
I did not go into the details of what an exterminator really does, because I didn't think Bow needed to know that. He had enough other things to worry about. What I didn't realize at the time was that Bow would have to know. There was no way to keep it from him.
Calling the exterminator and getting him to actually come are two different things. We live out in the country. Repair people and service providers come at their convenience, not ours. I called right away, but it was a few days later when the exterminator finally arrived.
Meanwhile, we were expecting a visit from another primatologist, and Bow continued to worry about the "animals" in our midst. When our guest did not arrive as planned, Bow was very concerned. I told him that the delay was due to car trouble; Bow wanted to know if there were animals in the car who had caused it to stop running. During that period, Bow was inclined to attribute any mechanical failure to animal infestation.
The other primatologist told me that Bow's drain phobia was quite common among chimpanzees and bonobos. It was also pointed out to me that chimpanzee sensory acuity was much better than human, and that Bow could hear things well outside my hearing range, and was probably aware of things that were happening within a radius of miles from our house.
This explained why all this time Bow had insisted on telling me what was going on in the house across the road. He had definite opinions about the characters of all the residents. He tended to identify with the points of view of the children and the dogs. I had taken all of this with a grain of salt, because after all, he did lie.
The exterminator arrived when we still had our guest with us, and Bow was happy about the whole thing. It wasn't until the next day that he began to complain that the mice were screaming.
"Why are they screaming?" he asked me frantically.
"I can't hear them," I said.
"Why can't you hear them! They're dying! It's too bad that they're dying," he told me. "Why did they have to kill them? Why couldn't they just let them go?"
The next few days were very hard. Bow became more and more agitated. If I thought he had been frantic before, he was much worse now. He was distraught. He ran around in circles and screamed and tried to tear his hair out. It was impossible to get him to concentrate on anything. According to Bow, every day, just as one batch on mice had finished dying, new mice would come in, eat the bait, and scream in agony. "This is unbearable," Bow spelled out in Hebrew.
At first, I was shocked that he knew, but I hoped it would all end soon, and we could get back to normal. However, there seemed to be new waves of mice every day or so, and more screaming, according to Bow, and it became a never ending saga of horror. Finally, I asked Bow if he wanted me to call the exterminator back and ask him to put a stop to the dying. He said he did.
I never fully explained it to the exterminator why, but I asked him to remove all remaining poison packets from the attic and the crawlspace.
Mice, Cows and Elephants -- A hearing test!
Things went back to normal, more or less, after the poison was removed. Bow was not frantic, most of the time, but every once in a while he complained about all the noise that the mice were making.
"I can't hear it," I told him.
"Why can't you hear?" he asked.
"My ears aren't so good."
"Why are your ears not so good?"
I had to think how to answer that. "I'm not young anymore, so I don't hear as well as I did when I was a child."
"But Sword also doesn't hear the mice."
"Yes, well, I guess human ears aren't as good as chimp ears."
Bow needed some time to process this information. On a different occasion, he said: "I hear a cow. Does Mommy hear the cow?"
I answered: "Yes. I hear the cow. It goes moo." I tried to imitate the cow's lowing.
"Yes," he agreed.
We had established that we could both hear a cow out in the neighbor's field, but only Bow could hear the mice in our attic and crawlspace. This was some information about our respective hearing ranges, but it was not enough. Now, if we only had an elephant in the area, we could establish the lower bound!
Not wanting to limit myself to this method of empirical testing, I looked up some statistics on chimpanzee and human hearing.
Comparative Hearing of chimpanzees and humans
A mismatch in speed and a mismatch in frequency
Until the spring of 2007, I had not been aware that chimpanzees process information at a much higher rate than humans. Until the fall of 2007, I had no inkling of the difference in our hearing ranges.
It's so easy to think of a chimpanzee as being a hairier, slower, less advanced version of ourselves. Even those of us who have the most "progressive" attitude can easily fall into this trap. Many animal rights activisits see themselves as the guardians of chimpanzees, who they imagine to be somewhat underprivileged, lesser abled versions of ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Chimpanzees and humans are different, but the differences are not what you would expect. Chimpanzees are stronger, healthier, and faster than we are. Flash information on the screen for a split second and they will process it before you've had a chance to see that there was anything there.
The higher speed of processing is not completely unrelated to their ability to hear at higher frequencies than we can. Human hearing ranges between twenty to 17,800 HZ, with our best hearing occurring somewhere in the vicinity of 4,000 Hz. We don't know what the lower bound of chimpanzee hearing is. Not enough research has been done. However, it has been established that chimpanzees can hear as high as 28,500 Hz, and that their best hearing is around 8,000 Hz. Best hearing means that one is able to pick out a sound in a particular frequency even if the sound is very faint.
On the face of it, the differences between the human upper bound and the chimpanzee upper bound for hearing may not seem like much. Other primates hear even higher pitched noises than chimpanzees do. (A lemur can hear sounds at 58,000 Hz.) But if you take into account how much softer a high pitched noise can be and still be audible to a chimpanzee, then you see that there is a significant difference.
Maybe I could have heard some of the sounds the mice were making, if they were right there in front of me. Bow could hear them through the insulation in the attic.And it really bothered him!
What the mice were doing and why it bothered Bow
After the poison was taken away, Bow relaxed and was able to concentrate better. However, he let me know that there still were mice and that they were still making a lot of noise. Every once in a while he would become very frustrated, and he complained: "I want them to stop making noise."
One day, I asked him why it bothered him so much. He wrote out: "Because I need to also."
"What? You need what?"
"A girl friend."
This confused me. In Hebrew, the world for girl friend is just the word "friend" in the feminine. It's ambiguous. Bow already had lots of female friends. Most of the interns were women.
"What kind of girl friend?"
"An ape girl friend."
That's when I realized that the mice were bothering Bow because they were having loud, raucous sex.
Realizing How Little We Know
The more time I spend with Bow, the more I realize I don't know about the world around me, and about humans and chimpanzees in particular. If Bow were just a slower version of a human, proving what he can do would be easy. It's because he is faster and better able than I am to observe the world we live in that proof is so much harder to come by.
Some people ask, if chimpanzees are so smart that they can understand human language, why don't chimps in the wild have language, too? My answer is: what makes you think that they don't?
If human observers cannot process it, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's not there. I don't hear the mice, but that doesn't mean they're not here.
This fall, when the weather started to turn cold, Bow turned to me and spelled: "Let's not do anything about the mice this time."