Saturday 22 July 2017

We're primates

No No, only some of us are Archbishops but we are all great apes (rather than fallen angels).  I can say that safely because almost all my current readers (according to the Blogspot statistics) are French, or at least have French IP addresses, and only a minority are Merkins. I'd be quite confident that the latter are from the minority Evolutionista party rather than from the man-is-built-from-Eve's-rib-Genesis majority.  But there's no future in he-said-she-said on our ape ancestry, we need evidence. For me a compelling datum is the remarkable similarity between the genomes of humans, chimps and gorillas.  But other scientists have their baggage in a different toolkit and a group from St Andrew's U in Scotland is following up the commonality of non-verbal communication among the great apes. There is a strong tradition in such ventures for starters see Chuck Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals [prev].

We're in England{spending time with | minding | bonding with} Gdau.I who uses words to achieve her aims "Dado said we're allowed to watch Peppa Pig for the whole of Saturday morning" and Gdau.II who is pre-verbal.  Her older sister claims that she knows purple and yellow but that is more responding correctly to "Say yellow" rather than "what colour is elemental sulphur?" or "what dye-colour can you abstract from Murex gastropods?". There is a hypothesis that this verbal deficit is physiological and larynx-developmental rather than cognitive. Same argument has been applied to Koko and Washoe and other languaging great apes. If you make the assumption that a pre-verbal child knows nothing you can make communication frustratingly difficult. Like the does he take sugar? syndrome when dealing with Stephen Hawking and other physically handicapped adults.  Well, help is at hand [literally] if you're prepared to embrace Sing & Sign and learn a reduced instruction set with your toddler [see R]. You're not going to discuss meaning in the works of Wittgenstein but at least you'll be able avoid pissing off the child so it throws a tantrum when the grandparents [very high standards there] are visiting.

On the journey across country from the ferry we tuned into BBC Radio 4 and caught a piece on the Great Ape Dictionary. Cue joke:
Two apes in the bath.
One goes "Ah ah ah ooo ooo ach ACH ACH"
There other says "If the water's too hot, mate, you can run some cold in"

The Boy can run that joke in French from his time surfing in Biarritz.  The French Connexion is actually important because that link invites you to participate in a test to see if humans can correctly [multiple choice] interpret ape gestures captured on video. If the only responders are graduate students from Scotland there will be bias. Mostly they'll be thinking "that gorilla really needs a pint o' heavy".  Because the language of gesture is not universal among humans. If you try la barbe in Ireland, folk will think you're making the universal sign of choking and wrap you in a Heimlich embrace.  Well I've helped push the frontiers of science by participating in the St. Andrew's Experiment . . .  and I haven't done as well as Jane Goodall! Indeed I suspect that, if I had to hang out in the Gombe Reserve with some chimpanzees and asked one  of them for a share of termites I'll get soundly rogered by the alpha male. Nevertheless, I scored 12/20 which (with 4 choices in the MCQ = 5/20 ) is much better than random!

The one chimp gesture that I felt most confident about was when an infant chimp raised its arms in the hope that someone would pick her up . . . because I had, minutes before, acceded to a similar demand from Gdau.II. It's like those reflexes - Babinski [prev], Moro, etc. - which small-small human infants have but which fade as they grow up. I don't know enough about the field of non-verbal comms to know if they have Trevor Lloyd arguments about whether the gestures are random with cultural accretion of meaning or if they are more deeply embedded in the genome of behaviour. aNNyway: you are encouraged to help the St.Andrew's Experiment.

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