29 February 2008
27 February 2008
Scientists study the songs of beluga white whales, such as
this one at the Hakkeijima Sea Paradise Aquarium in
Yokohama, Japan, to see if they can decipher whale language.
(KOICHI KAMOSHIDA / GETTY IMAGE/ July 19, 2005)
By William Weir , Hartford Courant
25 February 2008
From the days of Melampus, the soothsayer of Greek mythology who conspired with termites and vultures, right up to Mr. Ed, the idea of talking animals is one that won't go away.
A quick look around shows that time has hardly changed things. For years, researchers have studied the songs of birds and whales, hoping to suss out a secret language. The cover story of the March issue of National Geographic, 'Inside Animal Minds,' tells of a border collie with a 340-word vocabulary and a bonobo who understands more than 1,000 words. Last month, researchers reported that they had developed a computer program that successfully deciphers dog barks.
And today marks the release of what might be the first biography of a laboratory research animal, 'The Chimp Who Would Be Human' (Bantam, $23).
Written by Elizabeth Hess, it tells the story of the chimpanzee who became the center of a bitter debate in the 1970s over whether animals possess what could be called language. Publisher's Weekly states that the book 'captures Nim's legendary charm, mischievous sense of humor, and keen understanding of human beings.'
Named for linguist Noam Chomsky (dismissive of the possibility of animal language), Nim could form up to 125 signs in American Sign Language. By the end of 'Project Nim,' the chimp had his champions, but the overall conclusion was that he didn't truly comprehend the signs he was making. Nim retired to a ranch in Texas and died in 2000.
'Project Nim was declared a failure because Nim was declared a mimic,' Hess says, adding that many interpreted the ruling as implying that all chimps are mere mimics. 'It put a big damper on the whole field for about five years.'
Hess, who also wrote 'Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats, and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter,' says she was surprised by how contentious the feud over animal language was.
'I didn't know about the ape-language political scene in academia,' she says. It's an issue that's 'still hotly debated, much to my amazement.'
Nim belongs to a long tradition of 'talking' animal celebrities. Washoe, a chimp whose training began in the late 1960s, was possibly the first non-human to learn sign language - or any human language. And Koko the gorilla is said to have learned more than 1,000 signs.
In the early 20th century, there was Clever Hans, a horse that caused a sensation for his supposed ability to do math. An investigation found that the trainer was unwittingly giving the horse cues with his body language. More recently, we had Alex, an African gray parrot trained at Brandeis University by scientist and professor Irene Pepperberg. His death last year made headlines around the world.
Alex shot to talking-animal stardom in the 1990s, when he demonstrated not just an ability to sound out certain words, like other parrots, but an understanding of those words. Pepperberg said he was close to understanding the concept of zero, one of the trickier abstract concepts. As amazing a display as it was, many still refused to acknowledge Alex's feat as achieving language.
Understanding Barks When it comes to the issue of animal communication, researchers tend to fall on one of two sides. Some believe the animals are either using an actual language (and in some cases speech), albeit one much less sophisticated than humans. Others maintain that even the most complex animal communication systems fall short of the criteria for language. For one thing, they say, there's no syntax, a basic requirement of language. Without combining words and then being able to switch combinations to change meaning, goes the argument, what animals use is more like a code than a language.
'There's a lot of skeptics,' Hess says. 'It's a very fundamental and threatening issue, and there are those who don't want to believe that animals around them are intelligent.'
Besides upending long-held beliefs about humans' and animals' place in the world, she says, acknowledging intelligence and language capacity in animals would call into question the practice of using them for research.
In a new Bud Light commercial, which claims that the beer bestows the power to talk to animals, a dog owner asks his pet how he's doing. The response: 'Sausages! Sausages! Sausages! Sausages ... .'
But research suggests the canine brain might be a little more complex.
The bark-decoding computer program was developed by Csaba Molnar, an ethologist at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary. More than 6,000 barks of 14 Hungarian sheepdogs were placed in six categories: 'stranger,' 'fight,' 'alone,' 'play,' 'walk' and 'ball.' The computer program proved to be correct about half the time in identifying the barks - a good bit better than human results.
Other recent studies on animal communication include one published in Current Biology on whether dolphins address each other 'by name' with signature whistles. 'Although it may be tempting to jump to the most cognitively remarkable nd anthropomorphic interpretations," researchers state in their paper that the jury is still out. Psychologists at Harvard have been studying apes and monkeys to unlock the secrets of how human language has evolved. Researchers at the University of Alabama published a study in December that gerbils can discern between "you" and "me" (though they don't believe they know what they mean).
"I think the fascination is endless because we know animals are communicating with each other, and it's like breaking the code," Hess says. "What amazes me is that, after all this time, how little we know."
For the most part, Hess says research today is concentrating less on how to communicate with animals than how animals communicate with each other.
"Now, it seems a little bit preposterous to teach an animal English," she says. "Humanizing animals doesn't really make any sense. It doesn't make sense for us, and it doesn't make sense for the animals."
Copyright © 2008 Hartford Courant, All Rights Reserved.
22 February 2008
21 February 2008
Sometimes the people you think are your friends, sometimes it turns out that they don't respect you and they didn't respect what you've been trying to do all along, even though they were telling you something different at the time – encouraging you to do it, even. And it really hurts when that happens. A lot. Or maybe it's just the full moon, eclipsed, that big red boo-boo in the sky this night of total lunar eclipse, that makes me feel this way.
20 February 2008
19 February 2008
[an alternative history aztec warrior traverses the morphic field
Please click image to see a larger version.
18 February 2008
Public release date: 17-Feb-2008
Scientist postulates 4 aspects of 'humaniqueness' differentiating human and animal cognition
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Shedding new light on the great cognitive rift between humans and animals, a Harvard University scientist has synthesized four key differences in human and animal cognition into a hypothesis on what exactly differentiates human and animal thought.
In new work presented for the first time at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Marc Hauser, professor of psychology, biological anthropology, and organismic and evolutionary biology in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, presents his theory of “humaniqueness,” the factors that make human cognition special. He presents four evolved mechanisms of human thought that give us access to a wide range of information and the ability to find creative solutions to new problems based on access to this information.
“Animals share many of the building blocks that comprise human thought, but paradoxically, there is a great cognitive gap between humans and animals,” Hauser says. “By looking at key differences in cognitive abilities, we find the elements of human cognition that are uniquely human. The challenge is to identify which systems animals and human share, which are unique, and how these systems interact and interface with one another.”
Recently, scientists have found that some animals think in ways that were once considered unique to humans: For example, some animals have episodic memory, or non-linguistic mathematical ability, or the capacity to navigate using landmarks. However, despite these apparent similarities, a cognitive gulf remains between humans and animals.
Hauser presents four distinguishing ingredients of human cognition, and shows how these capacities make human thought unique. These four novel components of human thought are
the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding;
to apply the same “rule” or solution to one problem to a different and new situation;
to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input;
and to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.
Earlier scientists viewed the ability to use tools as a unique capacity of humans, but it has since been shown that many animals, such as chimpanzees, also use simple tools. Differences do arise, however, in how humans use tools as compared to other animals. While animal tools have one function, no other animals combine materials to create a tool with multiple functions. In fact, Hauser says, this ability to combine materials and thought processes is one of the key computations that distinguish human thought.
According to Hauser, animals have “laser beam” intelligence, in which a specific solution is used to solve a specific problem. But these solutions cannot be applied to new situations or to solve different kinds of problem. In contrast, humans have “floodlight” cognition, allowing us to use thought processes in new ways and to apply the solution of one problem to another situation. While animals can transfer across systems, this is only done in a limited way.
“For human beings, these key cognitive abilities may have opened up other avenues of evolution that other animals have not exploited, and this evolution of the brain is the foundation upon which cultural evolution has been built,” says Hauser.
13 February 2008
The trapdoor opens,
up jumps the spook
grabs me, sticks its
dirty fingers in,
prods, pokes, divides,
soundly scourges my hide
from the inside out,
a nasty surprise, suddenly
I'm sobbing, choking with pain,
in the car @35 mph,
grey sky closing in.
Just as suddenly,
out drops the bottom,
empty, black as a
shadow sailing away,
but the pain goes
and that's the big thing,
the only thing.
12 February 2008
…read all about it in the New York Times:
Grizzlies tend to avoid humans. In the part of Yellowstone that I’ve been studying this past decade, the Grand Teton National Park, grizzlies don’t go near the roads because they know that’s where the humans and cars are.
I collar and track moose as part of my wider research on prey-predator relationships. For the past 10 years, we’ve noticed that Grand Teton moose are, each year, moving about 375 feet closer to the roads when they are about to calve. We think they are doing it because they’ve figured out that the paved road is a bear-free zone where their newborns stand a better chance of survival. Up in Alaska, grizzly bears have been observed killing between 50 and 90 percent of the newborn moose population. We think that the Grand Teton moose have figured out a way to use humans as shields for their babies.
Q. Is this a new behavior for them?
A. It’s recent. Until the mid-1990s, the moose of the Yellowstone basin lived in a kind of moose paradise, without predators. The wolves had all been shot out about 70 years earlier. Grizzly bears were heavily hunted, and there were few of them. Without their traditional predators, Grand Teton moose were docile, naïve.
That all changed in the mid-1990s when the grizzlies rebounded because of a ban on their hunt and when wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone region. The first Grand Teton moose to encounter a wolf probably thought it was nothing more than a big coyote, which she didn’t fear. We reconstructed the interaction from tracks we found in the snow. From what we could see, the wolves just walked up to the moose and grabbed her 300 pound calf and ate it.
Grand Teton moose have learned a lot since then. Most of us think of moose as these dim lumbering Bullwinkles, but they figure things out. Today, if I were to play wolf calls over a loudspeaker to a herd in the park, they’d become vigilant — and they’d move away.
Q. Isn’t this just moose instinct at work?
A. No. They didn’t do it 15 years ago.
11 February 2008
Monk’s dissonant da-da-da-DAH
V.-signs punctuate the intricate
he and Coltrane are creating
on stage at Carnegie Hall,
audience amazement as palpable
as a third musician emerging
where piano-sax interplay intercepts
unmet expectations’ exact opposite,
Colrane’s sax spun honey pure,
spectrum slider, megahertz masseur,
Monk tickling the noodle,
here come drums, bass,
we’re swinging now.
Fuck you America, Ginsberg will say it,
it’s 1957, I’m 5 and feeling it but don’t know it yet, Monk’s tone clusters clash,
dark triplets, sixteenths, demisemiquavers,
machinegun riffs, the few veterans in the audience
start at each snaredrum rimshot.
We all live in the shadow now.
Already, evil old Ike, who knew,
cooking up another nightmare for the kids – us –
way down yonder in Vietnam.
But we don’t know that tonight,
in Carnegie Hall, November 29, 1957,
where the music is jazzy, bittersweet,
and life is good.
[Freedom by DAM; please click image to see a larger version]
09 February 2008
[Magic Deer by DAM; oil pastels on paper]
angry stir-fry sizzle sputtered
hers and mine.
I tasted my own sad dissatisfaction
spiced with her regret and longing for happiness.
At dawn I heard
then saw the early bird,
then the magic deer.
08 February 2008
[Hummingbird by DAM, sketched from a painting hanging on the wall in a hospital waiting room, he says;
please click on image to see a larger version]
The Anna's hummingbird uses its tail to communicate, according to UC Berkeley researchers.
Read the whole story in the San Francisco Chronicle today.
06 February 2008
05 February 2008
Bull sticking was so tightly linked with Christian religious celebrations that two hundred bulls were killed at the canonization of Saint Teresa in 1622…Christian catharsis: the bull is the beast in man – the beast with the seven horns of sin – overcome by the angel in him….El Cid….a famous bullfighter.…from The Others: How Animals Made Us Human by Paul Shepard
04 February 2008
[Whale by DAM; click image to see a larger version]]
…from Bioinspiration & Biomimetics:
How is that whale listening?
Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of California have been using computer models to mimic the effects of underwater noise on an unusual whale species and have discovered a new pathway for sound entering the head and ears.
Advances in Finite Element Modeling (FEM), Computed tomography (CT) scanning, and computer processing have made it possible to simulate the environment and anatomy of a Cuvier’s beaked whale when a sonar signal is sent out or received by the whale.
The research paper, published today, Monday, February 4, 2008, in the Institute of Physics’ Journal, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, is a catalyst for future research that could end years of speculation about the effects of underwater sound on marine mammals.
FEM is a technique borrowed from engineering used, for example, to simulate the effect of an earthquake on a building. By inputting the exact geometry and physical properties of a building the effect of forces such as an earthquake, or in this case noise vibrations, can be accurately predicted.
Dr Cranford of San Diego State University triggered the research into Cuvier’s beaked whales almost ten years ago when he undertook the first ever CT scan of a large whale, which provided researchers with the very complex anatomic geometry of a sperm whale’s head.
Dr Cranford said, “I think that the methods developed for this research have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the impact of noise on marine organisms."
Since 1968, it has been believed that noise vibrations travel through the thin bony walls of toothed whales’ lower jaw and onto the fat body attached to the ear complex. This research shows however that the thin bony walls do not transmit the vibrations. In fact they enter through the throat and then pass to the bony ear complex via a unique fatty channel.
Despite the Cuvier’s beaked whale being a rare and little-known specie, Dr Cranford and his team started the work on it because over recent years there have been instances when this type of whale has stranded after exposure to intense sound, making them an ideal starting point for research into underwater communication.
12-year-old champ: Remember the story in The Chronicle in October about 12-year-old Greg Hubbell, Jr., the Bay Area's amazing wildlife caller? At the Sportsmen's Expo, he won the California Adult Elk Calling contest for the fourth straight year. As a TV or radio show guest, he's become one of the most entertaining acts going right now. http://icallelk.com/
03 February 2008
[click photo to see larger version]
Boy has a "special bond" with huge pet python
by Ker Munthit, Associated Press
…."There is a special bond between them," Khuorn Sam Ol said. "My son played with the snake when he was still learning to crawl. They used to sleep together in a cradle." ….
"People sometimes call the boy and the snake husband and wife," said Cheng Raem, a 48-year-old neighbor. "Maybe they were a couple from a previous life."
Boy and snake grew up together, ever since the python slithered into
the family home when Uorn Sambath was 3 months old. His 39-year-old
mother, Kim Kannara, discovered the reptile, then about the size of a
thumb, coiled beneath a woven mat on their bed.
Khuorn Sam Ol took the snake away, releasing it into some bushes by a
river, but one morning two weeks later, he found it back inside the
house. He decided to keep it and named it Chamroeun meaning
"progress," in English.
He came to believe the snake possesses a magical spirit that
understands what he says and protects the family from illness. The
snake has its own 7-by-10-foot room with a spirit house at which Khuorn
Sam Ol prays for the python to keep his family happy and healthy. The
snake is so familiar with his son one of four children that it
would never hurt him, he said.…
Chamroeun whom it takes three adults to carry eats about 22 pounds
of chicken meat every week, posing a heavy financial burden on the
family, said Khuorn Sam Ol.
His meals used to be a spiritual burden as well, when they fed him live
rats and chickens. Uneasy that they were breaking the Buddhist
injunction against killing living things, Khuorn Sam Ol said the snake
eventually answered his prayers for it to stop eating live animals.…
"I will not let anyone take her away from me, either. I love her very
much," declared his son, Uorn Sambath, kissing his pet on the head.
[Gordo image grabbed from Toonpedia]
Gordo cartoonist Gus Arriola dies in Carmel
by Wyatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 February 2008
"My main goal was to maintain a positive awareness of Mexico through all the years, every day, without being political," he said in 1989. "When I started, words like 'burrito' were unknown in the United States."
Arriola began the strip in 1941, turning an earlier cartoon's Mexican bandit - who was fat and rather dull - into a bean farmer. He sold the idea to United Features.
Some early strips were criticized by Mexican American readers as a crude stereotype, so Arriola changed Gordo's occupation and his appearance, making him more svelte. He also lost his thick Mexican accent and became more worldly-wise.
….Although he didn't visit Mexico himself until 1961, Arriola learned about Mexican culture from his father, born on a hacienda in the Mexican state of Sonora, and from growing up as the youngest of nine in Florence, Ariz., about 120 miles northwest of the border. He would later recall that he learned to speak English by reading the Sunday funny pages.
….Arriola told The Chronicle that he identified with Gordo "not because he chases girls but because of the freedom he enjoys." ….
02 February 2008
I was reading an article the other day, about some researchers who are working to crack the code that cells use to communicate with each other. Since cells are cells – when you get right down to it, aren't they a kind of building block? – I see here the glimmerings of a solution, we'll figure out how the cells talk to each other, then use that as a vehicle for inter-species communications.
01 February 2008
Last night, spaced out and feeling blank,
the notion seized me: I am a character in a book,
on a page, forever waiting for the Author
to put words in my mouth,
ideas in my head,
set me in motion and put me on a path
to action, overcoming obstacles, then
stumbling into pitfalls and down blind alleys,
who knows what might happen next?
I have lots of close calls, but, somehow,
I always manage to pull through,
until the next calamity, when I find myself
in danger, facing death, upping the ante
because it's no fun unless I've got everything to lose...
on the page, that is, because out here
I'm the pathetic anti-hero of my own life story in a real world of
tears & sighs & nightmares,
where I lost it all, and more, 9 years ago,
as the whole damn menagerie zodiac
sweeps through this maniac-depresso circle,
time enough to dive deep
blue dream sea – poison bubbles – black abyss
but a blessing: I can feel, again, something.
I call on Bear to defend me from my own thoughts
by Morris Armstrong Jr. proudly a.k.a. "Little Mo"
[please click image to see a larger image]
Green Porno is a series of very short films conceived, written, co-directed by and featuring Isabella Rossellini about the sex life of bugs, insects and various creatures. The films are a comical but insightful study of the curious ways certain bugs “make love”. “Green” echoes the ecological movement of today and our interest in nature, and “Porno” alludes to the racy ways bugs, insects and other creatures have sex, if human, these acts would not be allowed to be screened or air on television, considered instead as most filthy and obscene.
Each film is executed in a very simple childlike manner. They are a playful mixture of real world and cartoon. Each episode begins with Isabella speaking to the camera “ If I were a…(firefly, spider, dragonfly etc.). She then transforms into the male of the species explaining in a simple yet direct dialogue the actual act of species-specific fornication. The costumes, colorful sets and backdrops as well as the female insects contribute to the playfulness of the films. The contrast of this “naïf” expression and filthy sex practices adds to the comicality of Green Porno.
Green Porno is an experiment specifically conceived with the third screen, namely cellular screens, computers and ipods.