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Andrew Quinn

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If you could talk to a chimpanzee, what would you ask? What would they say? and what would it change?

Washoe the chimp, now deceased, knew hundreds of ASL signs and understood even more spoken english. The technology behind the Wii, X-Box, and the Segway transporter have proven that computers can follow and interpret movement. Steven Hawking has communicated with a synthesizer for years, using only his mouth and eyes. James Kramer invented the Talking Glove in 1990. When the day comes, and it will, when a chimpanzee can plainly speak using ASL and a synthisizer, it will change what it means to be human. But how?

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  • Mar 25 2011: • I think Id ask the chimp if he can remember what life was like before he knew how to talk and if so, what filled his thoughts in the absence of words. I'd want to know how language has impacted and maybe shaped the emotional landscape in his head, and has it changed his sense of what it means to be a chimp; before language did he even have a sense of what it meant to be a chimp. And is having acquired the sense a gain or a loss. Or somewhere in between. I'd frame open ended questions with ample room for ambiguity. I'd want to know how the acquiring of language had affected his relationships with other chimps and furthermore how this had impacted on his relations with humans. I'd want to see if I could say something to make him laugh, share a joke, a small intimacy. Somehow I would find that very reassuring. Surely chimps have senses of humour. Many answers would come indirectly through responses to less direct more prosaic conversation. Had the gaining of a language that he could only share with a species other than his own been an empowering, enriching, mind expanding experience, or maybe alienating, confusing, disquieting . Like any conversation, I'd be striving to engage on a deeper more intimate level, hoping that the chimp would come to regard me as a friend and someone he enjoys being around. I suspect the chimp might not be as articulate as a native speaker like myself, and so would be careful not to overwhelm, but remain sensitive. Aware of his capabilities and needs, try to make for a conducive and supportive rapport. I suspect that some of the key questions I'd want to ask, relating to his life before language, would probably be about as fruitful as asking the same question of a five year old child. A line of questioning I would probably put on hold for sometime down the track over a beer maybe would be monkey sexuality. Is he or has he been in love with another monkey? What does he find attractive in a female monkey? (Of would that be a little presumptuous of me?) Assuming he's not gay, what is it about the female monkey turns him on. Have to be careful not to betray my own incredulity. What about cross species sexuality? Does he find female homosapiens attractive?
    • How could he possibly not. What about a night stuck naked in a lift with Kate Winslett? I'd have to tread carefully here. No doubt at some point it would flitter across my mind that he might find me attractive but I think I'd let that one go.
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      Mar 29 2011: And you, my friend, would have a very interesting conversation, by the end of which I can imagine that you and that chimp would become good friends.

      I liked your thoughts on what acquiring language would change, though you forget that chimps do have their own language, just not human language, so it might be like you learning chimp, which would simply open the channels between you and another species. Back and forth communication between species is rare. As far as I know, it's been done only with great apes, and perhaps with horses by the horse whisperer, Monty Roberts. (the real horse whisperer-not the movie).
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    Mar 24 2011: Salim...
    i read once one of the defenders of this theory faked an evidence you know how?
    he combined a human skull with a chimp and glued them with a special material that is clueless also you want to know how they discovered this they measured the half-life on both pieces and the found a big difference between the tow numbers.
    what am trying to say is that if a scientist fake an evidence of his theory that means that he isn't convinced with his own theory and knew it is wrong but couldn't admit it and this is not a scientist ethicals
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      Mar 24 2011: Abdul Rahman , unethical practice is not acceptable from any corner. Interesting thing is that science always has got the guts to prove fake science or pseudo science wrong .Not only that science even proves wrong some scientifically accepted facts of one time in some other time , because it's a continnum...
      However you have picked one bad example (which is actually not science and was proven wrong again by science) to call whole scientfic community wrong or unethical......
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      Mar 25 2011: So, what will you ask the chimp when that day arrives? Will it change your sense of what it means to be human?
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        Mar 25 2011: I will say sorry for destroying your habitat and ask the question that already mentioned by Debra Smith. By the way what is your assumption about my sense of being human being?
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          Mar 29 2011: Without knowing you, my assumption of your current sense of being human is based only on what I see humans generally express. Of course it's a wild generalization and you may be unique, but, on balance, humans tend to see other animals as being lesser. We tend to measure other beings by how closely they resemble us, the closer the resemblance, the more credibility we give them. And though chimpanzees share 98% of our DNA, we have used communication to draw a line between them and ourselves. I wrote Waterfall Dance to at least theorize what would change if that barrier broke down.
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    Mar 24 2011: maybe asking him if we were the same kind one day
    if he says:''no!''
    people who is defending the evolution theory would give up
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      Mar 24 2011: So Abdul Rahman you have more confidence on Chimp knowledge than human knowledge ?
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        Mar 24 2011: no its not this way but have you ever thought the evolution theory is reasonable or has enough evidences for me NEVER
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          Mar 24 2011: So you assume human knowledge doesn't have enough to convince you or even if they have enough you will not accept but depend on CHIMP knowledge ?
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    Mar 23 2011: I think I might ask it if it can forgive us.
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      Mar 25 2011: That would be on my list for the discussion. One of the most painful aspects of being human is the dichotomy, that one day we do something great and the next something disgusting. Do you suppose they would forgive us?
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        Mar 25 2011: You know Andrew, I'm not sure. I still do not understand their emotional development. If they are the equivalent of a human child they might- I have have known children to be extremely forgiving but if they were like human adults and aware of the extent of our actions they probably would not.