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whales trying to communicate with humans?
Posted: 28 October 2012 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]
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When I saw this I stopped for a moment and pondered on the effort it takes for man to learn and understand, let alone speak, a new language. Is it possible that whales are trying to do this very thing?

http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/49579010/#49579010

[ Edited: 28 October 2012 05:43 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 28 October 2012 07:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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When I was a kid I was really interested in dolphins and read every book I coud get my hands on. John c. Lilly’s research and his attempts to develop a language with dolphins was the sort of thing that really captured my imagination.

I have no doubt that cetaceans have complex language abilities but they don’t have human vocal equipment. I have had serious doubts about this recording ever since I saw it a few days ago. I have listened several times and I can’t help but think this is a case of our mind seeing patterns where there may not be any. Alternatively the whale may be attempting to imitate patterns without having any conception of what those patterns mean.

It’s possible there may be something much more to this but we would need a lot more evidence to support that theory. Random vocalizations that sound human are just that unless we can show there is a conscious effort to use them to communicate. It would be interesting to see if there is any rigorous investigation to follow up on this.

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Posted: 28 October 2012 09:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Communicate, sure. Language, though, is different.

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Posted: 28 October 2012 10:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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If the whale could imitate certain words on demand, it would have one of the various component skills necessary for the development of complex human verbal behavior.  What this whale seems to be doing, though, seems more akin to the pre-verbal behavior of babbling that very young human toddlers do.

It would be cool if a behavior analyst worked with this whale to try to condition vocal imitation on demand.  Because if you could get that, you could, probably also, relatively easily, establish the whale’s use of approximations of our words to mand (request things) and even tact (name things).

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Posted: 28 October 2012 10:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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This also suggests to me, that it may be easier for us to teach whales to use our language than for us to learn whale language.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 01:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yes, I immediately had an idea for testing the possibility

A simple test for associative cognition could be devised for this whale and perhaps even use vocalization.

Setting, presententation of food, while showing the word food and playing a pre-recorded vocalization of the word food.

Obviously he speaks humanlike. Visualize yourself underwater in a swimming pool and “hearing” the muffled voices of humans at poolside. That is what human voices sound while physically being submerged. The problem is that you have no idea what they are talking about.
But with a patient but persistent effort, we might be able to induce the whale to vocalize the word on request.

Can you imagine the whale popping out of the water, loudly proclaimining “I want food”, then waiting for the food that will be obediently served.

Would it not be ironic if, on translation, this little whale “that could” was telling us to knock off the silly tricks and try to learn something about how the earth’s oceans function.

[ Edited: 29 October 2012 04:30 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 29 October 2012 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The relative comment starts about the 2:10 mark, where the reporter says the researchers are not sure the whale understood any human words, but may have been just mimicking human sounds. My maternal grandfather had a Rat Terrier that did the same thing. He’d lower his voice and make cute baby cooing sounds mimicking Grandpa, similar to what the whale was doing in the video. Reading the headline and listening to the first two minutes of the video you’d think the whale was trying to speak English, when what it was doing was nothing more than my grandfather’s dog used to do.

Cute. Endearing, even, but not speech.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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DarronS - 29 October 2012 05:40 AM

The relative comment starts about the 2:10 mark, where the reporter says the researchers are not sure the whale understood any human words, but may have been just mimicking human sounds. My maternal grandfather had a Rat Terrier that did the same thing. He’d lower his voice and make cute baby cooing sounds mimicking Grandpa, similar to what the whale was doing in the video. Reading the headline and listening to the first two minutes of the video you’d think the whale was trying to speak English, when what it was doing was nothing more than my grandfather’s dog used to do.

Cute. Endearing, even, but not speech.

I agree, it’s not likely, but I give any large and complex ocean mammal, such as a whale, due respect for the ability and strategy to survive and thrive in an extremely hostile environment. IMO, they are extremely intelligent and use advanced sonic communication. If chimpanzees and gorillas can actually commuicate with humans through visual symbols, why should a highly evolved ocean mammal not be able to learn to communicate vocally?
It is an area they are functionally familiar with.. At what level remains a mystery of course.

[ Edited: 29 October 2012 06:10 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 29 October 2012 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree whales and dolphins are extremely intelligent, but we’d have an easier time communicating with chimpanzees because we are more closely related to them. Actually communicating with an aquatic mammal would be quite cool, even if all it could say was “I want another treat.”

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Posted: 29 October 2012 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Yes, it would be a paradigm shift.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Write4U - 29 October 2012 01:17 AM

Yes, I immediately had an idea for testing the possibility

A simple test for associative cognition could be devised for this whale and perhaps even use vocalization.

Setting, presententation of food, while showing the word food and playing a pre-recorded vocalization of the word food.

Obviously he speaks humanlike. Visualize yourself underwater in a swimming pool and “hearing” the muffled voices of humans at poolside. That is what human voices sound while physically being submerged. The problem is that you have no idea what they are talking about.
But with a patient but persistent effort, we might be able to induce the whale to vocalize the word on request.

Can you imagine the whale popping out of the water, loudly proclaimining “I want food”, then waiting for the food that will be obediently served.

Would it not be ironic if, on translation, this little whale “that could” was telling us to knock off the silly tricks and try to learn something about how the earth’s oceans function.

I thimk it would be more straight forward to teach the whale elemental components of verbal behavior.  I would not start with teaching the whale to mand for (request) food.  Though I might go ahead and provide food whenever she made an “oo”  sound (as that is an approximation of the mand word “food’.)

What I would do is teach her to imitate simple english like sounds (that I already know it can make) but to do so when I tell her to.  e.g., I give the command, “Say ‘ee’.” Then, when the whale says “ee” following the command, provide a reinforcer (something that you know that the whale likes) at that moment.  I would keep teaching a variety of simple basic sounds until she consistentlly says this large variety of simple single sounds on command.

I might focus on mands, next.  For instance, if the whale, had a variety of different kinds of favorite foods, I would begin teaching it to say single-sound approximations for the different kinds of food.  This would be done by providing the question “What do you want?” then providing the specific food item that closely matched the word for the food that the whale subsequently vocalized.

I would also be trying to condition her to enjoy a variety of social reinforcements from humans.

If the whale enjoys various kinds of social reinforcement from humans, I could begin teaching tacts (words that name things) following the question “What is this?” (Here, I wouild start with things that are most likely relevant to the whale.)  (The reason for teaching tacts with social reinforcement is that they are a product of social reinforcement.)

If we have the whale imitating simple vocalizations consistently, then when teaching her tacts or mands, we could use echoic prompts to help her, if necessary to get correct answers to questions such as “What is this?” or even the question “What do you want?” (if we know what she wants at that moment).  Any needed echoic prompts would need to be faded out as quickly as possible.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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As I recall fitting people’s skulls with electrodes allowed them to be taught to send various signals that could be used to activate muscles if nerves had been destroyed.  And Hawkins had a computer program that was able to make words from relatively simple movements.  Possibly these could be put together to allow the verbalization we’re looking for from cetaceans.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Occam. - 29 October 2012 09:47 AM

As I recall fitting people’s skulls with electrodes allowed them to be taught to send various signals that could be used to activate muscles if nerves had been destroyed.  And Hawkins had a computer program that was able to make words from relatively simple movements.  Possibly these could be put together to allow the verbalization we’re looking for from cetaceans.

Occam

That would be cumbersome and fraught with technological and practical difficulties, but it might be an option for creatures who cannot approximate human vocal sounds on their own. It may be that the whale in Write’s post is an outlier in terms of being able to independently produce human-like sounds.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Quoting TimB:

That would be cumbersome and fraught with technological and practical difficulties

  That describes most of research.  Do you think the equipment looking for the boson was picked up from the local hardware store, or that our space program was built from stuff at a hobby shop?  LOL

Sorry, didn’t mean to be snotty, but I couldn’t help myself. red face

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Posted: 29 October 2012 01:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Occam. - 29 October 2012 12:37 PM

Quoting TimB:

That would be cumbersome and fraught with technological and practical difficulties

  That describes most of research.  Do you think the equipment looking for the boson was picked up from the local hardware store, or that our space program was built from stuff at a hobby shop?  LOL

Sorry, didn’t mean to be snotty, but I couldn’t help myself. red face

Occam

No problem.  My point was just, why go there, if you don’t need to.  As directly teaching verbal behavior to someone who has the ability to vocalize effectively, without the use of adaptive equipment, is much more effcient because it tends to be more functional. (Verbal behavior is not learned if it is not functional, in some way.)

But, as I suggested, for species that may, ultimately, be capable of communication with us, (but simply can’t produce our vocal sounds on their own) I think that you are right, some sort of adaptive equipment could possibly help.

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Posted: 04 November 2012 10:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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TimB - 29 October 2012 01:04 PM
Occam. - 29 October 2012 12:37 PM

Quoting TimB:

That would be cumbersome and fraught with technological and practical difficulties

  That describes most of research.  Do you think the equipment looking for the boson was picked up from the local hardware store, or that our space program was built from stuff at a hobby shop?  LOL

Sorry, didn’t mean to be snotty, but I couldn’t help myself. red face

Occam

No problem.  My point was just, why go there, if you don’t need to.  As directly teaching verbal behavior to someone who has the ability to vocalize effectively, without the use of adaptive equipment, is much more effcient because it tends to be more functional. (Verbal behavior is not learned if it is not functional, in some way.)

But, as I suggested, for species that may, ultimately, be capable of communication with us, (but simply can’t produce our vocal sounds on their own) I think that you are right, some sort of adaptive equipment could possibly help.

Why am I constantly surprised by non-human animals?

http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/02/world/asia/south-korea-talking-elephant/index.html?hpt=hp_bn2

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