Suzane Savage-Rumbaugh’s “Kanzi”

I have heard about the Kanzi controversy for quite a while now. This is a book in part about the controversy.

I am up to page 23 now and I am struck about how difficult it is to think about mind as an abstract phenomenon. As we think about “minds” we impose our heavy cultural baggage and probably even evolved “theory of minds” that comes in our genes. Savage speaks of Morgan’s canon which advises not to ascribe to mind what can be explained more simply. This sounds like Occam’s razor to me, but perhaps not to others. Incidentally people are animals and the obvious corollary is to not to ascribe to (human) mind what can be explained more simply. This is a Skinnerian slant which was receding just as the canon was being introduced.

Kuhn speaks of seeing observations through the eyes of some particular theory—indeed perhaps the very same theory being validated. This is justified an the basis of millennia of learning that things are not always as they seem. We have learned to see thru optical illusions and ever more subtle illusions. Occasionally we may be fooled when they are indeed what they seem.

On page 44 it is becoming clear that how we think about interactions includes a theory of mind—whether Sue thinks that Lucy knows that Sue doesn’t indeed know the answer to the question that Sue asks Lucy. These subtleties are 2nd nature between people.

Page 48: Sue characterizes her interactions with Lana as she would with a person—thus the theory thru whose eyes she looks is “Lana has a mind”. This is a way to organize ideas; I do not criticize. I think it is possible to do this and remain scientifically honest, but it isn’t easy.

Page 92: I just finished chapter 3—great science and anecdotes. She has firmly found evidence of language precursors which are certainly like those that led to our language. OK so apes don’t have syntax; they have symbols, and a theory of mind. They even invent new categories of symbols.