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Who, me? [userpic]

Mad science

October 23rd, 2006 (09:43 am)
amused

current mood: amused
current song: Fools! I'll Destroy Them All!

So, yesterday, Elizabeth and I were down by the millpond taking pictures. We sat for a while, hoping we could stay still enough for the ducks to ignore us and get close(no, we couldn't); at some point, she said something about ducks talking.

Me: "Do ducks talk?" (This is a standard model of question, intended to trigger a "No" answer.)

Elizabeth: "Someone could have taught them to talk."

Me: "No, ducks can't learn to talk."

E:"Why not?"

Me: "Well, they don't have a human brain, or human lips." (I opted not to get into the complexities of the throat.)

E: "There was a cockatoo last year that someone had taught to talk." (True; we saw it at Petco.)

Me: "No, not really; it could make human words, but it couldn't really understand them. You need a human brain to talk."

E: "Someone could take half of a human brain and put it into a duck."

That's it, I'm not buying her that scalpel for Christmas.

Comments

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)

That was funny!

(But could you edit this so it's obvious who is speaking which line? It was confusing to me, even knowing you both.)

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC)
Attributions

But could you edit this so it's obvious who is speaking which line?

Done.

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Attributions
Kids reading

Thanks -- much clearer!

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC)
Bird Brain

You need a human brain to talk."

What's your opinion on non-human great apes using language?

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC)
Gray area

I know there's controversy there; I haven't read the details. It didn't occur to me, because we weren't talking about language; we were talking about speech. (I did consider African grey parrots, which apparently can have a large vocabulary, with better intelligence than other parrots; but I decided to keep things simple for her.)

I'll go read up on ape language.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC)
Hard to say

Short answer: hard to say right now. The lay-accessible information I can find favors the "yes, they can" side—it makes a good story. Wikipedia explains both sides, but briefly. The Google hits that look like they'd be more nuanced are all academic papers; I definitely don't have the time, or the background, to dig through those.

My personal leaning is to say, "Maybe some of them can, but we'll eventually find something they can't". However, this is based on my opinions about Neanderthals, which I also can't defend. (I prefer the hypothesis that the reason Neanderthal culture was static for 200,000 years is that their brains didn't have the Chomskyan grammar structures; but I don't know enough to argue the point very well.)

Part of the problem here is that, at least at the layperson level, the question isn't very well defined. I don't think anybody doubts that apes can communicate; I don't think anybody doubts that humans are better at language than apes are. But, if you want to answer, "Can apes learn language?", you've got to be more specific than that. Every time someone publishes a "Yes, they can" paper, the "No, they can't" faction raises the bar, by finding new things that the apes can't do. Sort of like artificial intelligence; every advance in AI gets met with "Yeah, but can it do X?" objections.

Posted by: metahacker (metahacker)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Hard to say
troll

every advance in AI gets met with "Yeah, but can it do X?" objections

And don't forget -- if a computer can do it, obviously it isn't "real" AI.

(There's a reason my degree isn't in AI... :-P)

Posted by: Ursula Messerschmitt (snobahr)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 02:46 pm (UTC)
BRAINS

That's it, I'm not buying her that scalpel for Christmas.

At least, not this year. Next year is still another year.

Posted by: Alexx Kay (alexx_kay)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)

I wonder why *half* a human brain?

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC)
Half a brain

I wondered that, too. I think it was because a whole brain wouldn't fit. When I pointed out that half a brain wouldn't fit, either, she suggested using just one ball; further questioning revealed that she meant one region of the brain's folds—she actually said, "You know, our brains are folded". Around this point, my queasiness ("my daughter is considering slicing up someone's brain!") overcame my pride ("my daughter knows about cranial convolutions!"), and I changed the subject. :-)

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain
YUM

Just now:

Do you think part of the brain would work like a whole brain?

E: yeah. It would work better in a kitten, though.

Me: Why?

E: Because the kitten is bigger. And you cut out a piece as big as a kitten's head (demonstrates size) with a knife and put it in the cat!

Me: and then what happens?

E: we try to shove the head back on.

Me: you'd need to connect all the neurons and blood vessels and stuff.

E: They could glue them together.

Arthur: with the wet glue, not the glue stick.

(they wander off)

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 06:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

Me: and then what happens?

E: we try to shove the head back on.

OK, this one is making me laugh. The image of two four-year-olds trying to stick together a disassembled cat, and getting upset when it won't work...

Posted by: maestrateresa (maestrateresa)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 06:01 am (UTC)
Re: Half a brain
boy & cat

*snerk*

I remember when my kids were young that something got broken (don't recall what), and the boy's plaintive cry, "can't you *tape* it?!"

They're so cute when they think this stuff can be magically fixed. Of course, it's also probably pretty telling that my kids think that the opposite of 'broken' is 'fixed' rather than 'whole' or some such... ;-)

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 09:47 am (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

I remember you telling me some incident with your son and grade school involving a picture of a deer... do you remember the details? I don't. I just remember that it was cheerfully carnivorous, and that disturbed the teacher.

Posted by: maestrateresa (maestrateresa)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 06:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

Hee!
Yes--it was the girlchild.

She'd made a collage. There was a photo of a lion, labelled "lion," a photo of a kitten (who was pretty large in proportion to the lion) labelled "lion cub," and a picture of a deer, nlyin on its back with a big red gorey spot markered out of its stomach, labelled "lion food."

She was excedingly cheerful about it :)

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 06:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

And she was how old?

Posted by: maestrateresa (maestrateresa)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain
Honor snuggle

She tells me that the prey animal was a gazelle, and it was standing up, with a big pool of blood on the ground beneath, dripping from its gored tummy. *Now* I remember ;-)

At any rate, I was thinking 3rd grade, so I called & asked her, and she confirmed it. We're not *positve* that the teacher was grossed out, but the girl was certainly gleeful....

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 12:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

the boy's plaintive cry, "can't you *tape* it?!"

Yeah, we've had that reaction. Me: "Don't step on the train." A: "Why not?" "Because it'll break." "But Mommy can glue it!"

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 06:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

That's because I'm the solution to all the world's ills.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 26th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

I know.

Posted by: Anpliça mka Rachel (smlibrarian)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

I can just imagine 2 4-year olds wrestling with this complex line of thinking. Esp. since I would personally opt for hot glue instead of wet or stick glue. But that's just me. :)

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

Oh, yeah: Metageek, meet my newest apprentice-sister. :)

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

"just one ball"

Note that the skeleton has been gifted with a pink marble which fits in its cranium, to be its brains. This may be part of the conceptual fabric.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 06:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Half a brain

Ah, right, I did see that!

Posted by: Tom Courtney (herooftheage)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)

Perhaps she only wanted to transplant the language center.

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