- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc (May 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393301605
- ISBN-13: 978-0393301601
- Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,855,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mind of an Ape
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The authors state in the Introduction to this 1983 book, "Our own attempt to teach language to an ape was not based on the belief that a chimpanzee could be turned into a child. We were interested in the human mind. In order to understand the mind of the human, it was essential, we thought, to compare it with other minds. But were there other minds that were comparable?... We began, then, to teach a simple, written language, one we invented, to a creature that in the ordinary course of its natural life does not acquire a language..."
"Chimpanzees, we now know, are not initiators of language; they will, however, engage in dialogue once drawn into an exchange. It was this ability, through the system of language that Sarah learned, that gave us an invaluable tool for investigating a far more important issue, the mind of an ape." (pg. 34)
They admit, "contrary to popular belief, though we may give the chimpanzee a human hand in place of its own, it will not draw representational pictures--not any more than the chimpanzee will, if given a human larynx, produce even the most childish conversation." (pg. 108) Also, "Children have these concepts, but they do not apply them in all cases. With the chimpanzees it is not yet clear whether they even have the abstract concepts, let alone can use them consistently." (pg. 113)
Their conclusions are surprisingly pessimistic: "After all, even the most avid proponents for language in the ape never supposed that the ape would be capable of adult grammar. But, the evidence we have makes it clear that even the brightest ape can acquire not even so much as the weak grammatical system exhibited by very young children." (Pg. 115) They conclude the chapter "Who Has Language?" with the statement, "While we have shown certain capacities for language that apes share with us, we have also emphasized the limitations found in the representational system of apes. The sentence is the most abstract representation of which humans are capable and, as such, is far beyond the capacity of the chimpanzee." (pg. 123)
The book ends on the note, "Adding a human larynx to the ape would not make of it a human, nor would subtracting language from the human make of it an ape. Over vast periods of time, genetic changes transformed a creature with a mere potential for abstract representation into the present human. It is not language alone that separates the human mind from that of the chimpanzee." (pg. 151)