Lecture focuses on animal language

chimpanzee

Krause's lecture focused on the possibilities of animal language. Photo courtesy of primates.com

Over 100 people from the campus and community gathered in the Meese Auditorium to hear Southern Oregon University psychology professor Dr. Mark Krause’s lecture on human and animal communication.

Krause talked about whether animals have language the way we understand it, and how we can bridge the gap between them and us.

A large part of the lecture covered the relationship humans have with animals, specifically chimpanzees.

“There’s something going on there, there’s a connection,” said Krause. “The relationship humans have with chimps is one of the most bizarre.”

Genetically speaking, humans and chimpanzees are very similar, making them prime candidates for linguistic experiments. Project Washoe, Project Nim, Project Kanzi, and other experiments proved that chimpanzees, or in Kanzi’s case bonobos, are easily capable of basic communication. Whether this constitutes as language is still debatable.

“There are similarities to a degree,” said Krause. “The answer as to whether this constitutes language must come from you, the individual.”

Krause’s lecture is part of a yearlong series addressing the university’s campus theme “On Being Human”, and is the first of five lectures to be conducted throughout the winter term.

A different perspective on the theme will be explored every term throughout the year. The theme will be looked at from a social perspective this term. The lectures took a natural sciences approach in the fall. The theme will be examined from the humanties perspective in the spring.

Next week, Dr. Echo Fields, an SOU sociology professor, will discuss the humans of the future in her lecture, “Better than Human?”

The lecture will look at the ethical, social, and political problems posed by new technology, like genetic manipulation and nanotechnology.

“It’s no longer quite science fiction,” said Fields. “Genetically manufactured humans, organisms, enhanced people, the possibility of implants, creating fabric that would be bulletproof – think of the implications.”

“When we’re talking about human enhancement, we’re talking about the Wrath of Kahn,” Fields said, describing a popular Star Trek character.

“On the one hand it seems like a good thing—therapeutic purposes,” she said. “But what are the ethical implications of these new technologies, when the logic of technology gets wedded to the logic of capitalism? There’s something inherently human about trying to transcend one’s humanity.”

Dr. Fields’ lecture will be at 7 p.m., in the Meese Auditorium on Thursday.

 

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