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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A little holiday monkey business

Pursuing my never-ending desire to bring important historical anniversaries to the attention of my dear readership, on this day before Thanksgiving I salute a very talented fellow primate: Nim Chimpsky. No, not the linguist and leftist political thinker Noam Chomsky, but the signing chimpanzee who was born on this date in 1973.

Although I'm sure Conservative pundits will avow a very close kinship between this particular pairing of man and chimp, Nim, who was named after Noam, mastered a series of hand signals and helped language scientists gain a better understanding of the communication skills of our evolutionary cousins.

There was some controversy at the time as to the study's conclusions, which held that Chimps are capable of mimicry and learning basic associations but not the grasping of deeper meanings that marks the language abilities of humans. I've been told that if an infinite number of them were to sit at an infinite number of typewriters, they would however be able to bang out the complete works of Shakespeare.

I wasn't able to find any video of Nim signing on YouTube, but as an indicator of the true usefulness of that site I did locate a clip from a chimp-based 1970s TV program that I watched as a kid ... "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp." If this doesn't demonstrate the close relationship between humans and other primates to all those Evolution doubters, nothing will. It's certainly a vindication of Newton Minnow's vast wasteland prediction, and dig those cool threads.

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