Primate Games and Missed Opportunities

Here are some guys spending our tax dollars who should have decent goals of study but fail to carry out even the most obvious experiments to test their hypotheses, missing the opportunity to test in a manner that might have actually gotten some useful results. This was going to go in the Science Not Science section, but on conferring with colleagues about the validity of this, we all voted to move it into the junk science area as it seemed such an egregiously poor expenditure of our tax dollars and not the kind of stuff we would expect to come out of the great distance learning institution of Harvard University.

You can try the Am I Dumber than a Rhesus Monkey test at this web site to get frustrated about this before you read further, then come back here to finish.

It turns out that some folks (G. Gergely, H. Bekkering, I. Király, Nature 415, 755, 2002) did some actually interesting work back a few years ago in which they had 14 month old infant humans watch adult humans perform actions from which they had to make inferences about the adult motivations. In that work, the infant humans watched an adult use their head to turn on a light switch either when the adult had both hands occupied or with hands free. As one might expect, the human infants turned on the switch with their hands, after seeing the adult with hands occupied turn on the switch with their head. When the infants had instead seen the adult turn on the switch with their head even though their hands were free, then the human infants tended to use their heads as well. The conclusion was that the human infants figured that there must be a reason why the humans did not use their hands when they were free, so therefore they should also use their heads. In the other case, the idea is that the infants understood that the adult would have used hands instead of head of possible, so the infants go ahead and use hands when the adult had hands occupied.

The above seems to make sense. It seems to make sense to conclude that the 14 month old human infant is indeed inferring things about the intent of the adult human.

Now, if you wanted to make a comparable experiment to see if a primate has a similar ability to infer, would you not devise a virtually identical experiment where instead of a light switch the experimenter adult human instead touched a lever or a button which released food? Heck, if you did this experiment you could easily do the same test with a crow or a dog even as they have feet and heads as well! Anyway, the obvious answer is, 'Yes', yes you would do that experiment.

Apparently, however, the folks at Harvard didn't think of that, so they instead crafted a variant of the Am I Dumber than a Rhesus Monkey test so as to make the testing of this idea on primates a foolish exercise in futility.

We could go into details here, but it isn't worth it. That's one of the problem with junk. It may not be worth anything, and sorting through it is just a waste of time. In fact, you may just want to abort now before reading the post script.

Conclusion:

Try the monkey test. Then read the original article and come to your own conclusions. Science 7 September 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5843, pp. 1402 - 1405

p.s. One final note about the hard science performed here. Given that the experimenters had not hand reared the monkeys who participated in their experiments and watched them every moment of their lives, how do they possibly conclude the following: "all three species perceived an elbow touch as goal-directed, presumably having had experience witnessing other agents manipulate objects with their elbow when their hands were occupied, and likely having had experience with other conspecifics indicating objects with their elbows".

Hmmm... Or did they conclude, "all three species perceived an elbow touch as goal-directed, despite presumably having little or no experience witnessing other agents manipulate objects with their elbow when their hands were occupied, and certainly no experience with other conspecifics indicating objects with their elbows"?

If you wonder which is the true statement, and which is the false one, then it proves the point that the assumption is patently wrong in the first place! If you are going to make conclusions based upon assumptions, they should be unassailable assumptions or (who ever would propose this) even facts!

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