Communication w/ Animals: Reply to Mike Coward

Twink (
Wed, 19 Nov 1997 22:12:19 -0500 (EST)

At 11:14 AM 11/17/97 -0500, Mike Coward <> wrote:
>Teach more chimps sign language.

The jury is still out on whether chimps can actually use sign in more
than a Pavlovian-Skinnerian associative way. However, I've no
problem with people doing this. How many chimps have already
been experimented with? I doubt the sample is very large due to
the labor and time involved.

>Limiting communication to audio frequncies is absurd.

I agree, but no one has argued for confining communication to audio.
And we are definitely not communicating that way now!:)

>Some cats, dogs, and cacatoos(sp? "Polly want a cracker" and "Pretty bird"s)
>can say a couple simple english words like food and out.
>but in general they understand us more than we understand them.

I think, at best, they are tuned into our emotional states.

>Any animal can communicate.
>The only reason very few do is because we do not try
>We need to teach them when they are young.

This brings us to the sticky issue of what language is. I don't
want to start a thread on that, but I believe Karl Popper
postulated three levels of language, the lower ones being
subsumed under the higher ones. The lowest is mere
expression of internal emotional states, like growling when
angry (or, for humans, cursing:). The next is descriptive, i.e.,
relaying information, such as saying "I am seated in front of
my computer." The highest is argumentative, which
involves the ability to reason, doubt, and the like, e.g.,
debating the merits of Popper's view of language. (Can
there be other levels? Are the levels themselves more
internally differentiable?)

As a working theory, it seems to show how nonhuman animals
are so different from humans. They generally are all on level one.
It might be that chimps and dolphins have made it to level two.
So far, only humans are on level three. (Where do bees fit in?)

Speaking for myself,

Daniel Ust