Search This Blog


This content is not yet available over encrypted connections.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Negotiating Over the Future

Yesterday my daughter and I went shopping in the afternoon, and Lawrence stayed with Bow, fed him dinner and put him to bed.

This morning, when Bow woke up, he had a single dark navy blue sock on. Hmm, where did that sock come from? Was it a belated Christmas gift from Lawrence?

Anyway, Bow seemed very happy with his new article of footwear, and he kept the sock on all through breakfast, and when I cleared away breakfast, and he still had it on when he took my hand and spelled:  אני רוצה לצאת  "I want to go outside."

"Okay," I answered. "Give me the sock, and you can go outside."

He took my hand and with a bit of savage anger spelled:     ! לא    "No!"

(He didn't actually spell the exclamation mark. We don't have punctuation on the glass, but his manner when he spelled "no" was such that it proclaimed: And I really mean this!)

No means no. If I had tried to take that sock away from him by force, I had every expectation of being scratched or bitten. Bow has an absolute right to everything on his person, and nobody, but nobody messes with him. So I waited.

A few minutes later, he took my hand and again spelled out that he wanted to go outside. Again, I told him he could go, but not with the sock on.  This time he did not reply verbally. He just extended the foot with the sock out to me, and he allowed me to gently remove the sock. I placed it in my pocket and started to unlock the door. As I was doing this, Bow reached into my pocket.


He withdrew his hand. With chimpanzees, possession is nine tenths of the law. Since I had the sock, he realized he would be violating my space if he took it by force. If he did that, I would be perfectly within my rights to lash out at him with my claws and my powerful jaw! (This would not, however, prevent him from taking it by stealth, if I did not notice, because Bow is not the most honest or upright person I know.)

After he was done playing outside, Bow asked to have the sock back, and I gave it to him. It is. after all. his sock! I just didn't want him to get it wet and dirty outside.

Bow and I are civilized enough to negotiate over the things we want. We are capable of  verbalizing our conflicting positions and coming to a compromise. In some ways, that is just as remarkable as the fact that Bow can spell out words. We don't have to physically fight over an object. We can talk about it.

But here's the thing: I desperately want to have proof of his literacy, because to me it would mean:

  • professional vindication
  • the possibility of getting funding
  • a way to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge accumulated by my species and culture
Now those might seem like greedy, selfish  motives on my part, but there you are. I'm being honest about it. That's what I want. The reason this would be a good thing for Bow, too, and why he ought to support my efforts is this:

  • He is dependent on my money for his food and shelter.
  • If we had funding, he could have a mate and friends of his own species.
  • His social status would be greatly improved if people knew how smart he is. It might even be a triumph of sorts for his entire species.
However, I am having trouble convincing Bow that he has something to gain from helping me prove it. It would not actually take Bow free-form spelling to make a dent in the resistance to my claims. Even a multiple choice computerized test where Bow was asked to match spoken words with their written equivalent would do it. But Bow is resistant to this idea, and I kind of understand how he feels.

I have always hated multiple choice tests, because they are not about expressing what I really think. It is more like validating the preconceived opinions of the test writer. It is a little like this conversation that I have actually  had with someone recently:

"Do you think my outfit is pretty?"

"I think it's charming."

"No, I didn't ask you that. Is it pretty? The only possible answers are: it's pretty or it's not pretty."

"Oh. Well, in that case, I think it's pretty."


The multiple choice test is not about self expression. It's not about providing the test giver with new information.  It's about showing that you know the right answer according to the person formulating the test. And Bow, so far, has been completely unwilling to play that game. 

Now, if only I could figure out a way to negotiate with him so that he will be willing to play the game for the sake of both our futures!


  1. I don't think you're being greedy or selfish for wanting these things. I think you're being practical. We all need money to support our basic needs - housing, food, your daughter's schooling and your research requires money as well.
    It's too bad that Bow cannot grasp that yet. I suppose that the testing is conducted in a very structured environment, so there would be no way to do it in such a way that it would be a relaxed, everyday atmosphere. Do you know why Bow doesn't want to cooperate? Does he tell you?
    Maybe it's just adolescent stubbornness and he will come around after he gets through what we all experienced with our teenagers during those wonderful years. Hoping the best for you Aya - you have certainly earned it with all your dedication, discipline and time you have invested in your research!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. Yes, everybody needs money, but Bow does not really understand that yet. I have given him money before and told him he could order things in a catalog or online, but he never actually wanted to. He does not get it.

      The testing would have to be extremely impersonal, because any human interaction would be suspect as cuing. It's the whole Clever Hans issue.

      Bow is not only stubborn, but also a bit paranoid. Someone a long time ago said something in front of him about people harming him if it got out how smart he is. He took it very much to heart. He is also very paranoid about strangers on our property. Yesterday, he sent Lawrence out to check there was nobody trespassing!

  2. Oh yes, I remember the Clever Hans story you posted and the story of someone talking about what could happen if people knew he was smart.
    Funny, you would never expect a chimpanzee to have some of our very human shortcomings. ;-)