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Ape, All Too Human

Ape, All Too Human
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Written by Daniel Honan, a Big Think blogger

If you’re heading to the movies this summer, chances are you’ll see apes acting like humans on the big screen. In two very different films released this month, seemingly human or super-human intelligence is achieved in apes–in one case through the manipulation of nature, and in the other case through nurture. The first film is the blockbuster, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot of the 1960s Planet of the Apes science fiction franchise that dramatizes an ape rebellion and the subsequent struggle from primate supremacy in a post-Apocalyptic world.

Many will find this film a welcome distraction from all the news of real-life wars, riots and financial meltdowns we’ve experienced this summer. And yet it is another film about apes–in this case, chimpanzees–that promises to provoke big thinking.

James Marsh’s new film, Project Nim, tells the story of a chimpanzee that was taken from its mother at birth and placed under the care of a human mother. The Chimp, named Nim Chimpsky–after linguist Noam Chomsky–was the subject of a radical animal language acquisition study. Raised as a human and taught sign language, it was thought that Nim would be able to acquire enough words and grammar to communicate with humans. Nim develops a vocabulary of 120 words along with a strong inclination for biting people.

Big Think recently interviewed James Marsh about this film. Read the interview after watching the trailer of Project Nim here:

Next page: An interview with James Marsh

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Photo from tom hartley via flickr creative commons

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98 comments

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5:35PM PST on Nov 14, 2012

Maybe it should be Human, all to Ape.

6:02PM PDT on Oct 13, 2011

i think it's hilarious that this chimp bit people i hope he drew blood

7:02AM PDT on Sep 20, 2011

I also wonder why people put human clothes on dogs and cats.

4:02AM PDT on Sep 1, 2011

should we set horses and dogs and cats free? they entertain us.

8:25PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

I know I already posted, but I have another thought. I'm GLAD he bit people. I hope they remember that for the rest of their lives. I hope every member of that project who didn't stand up for that chimp feels terrible and I hope they never have to go through what that poor chimp went through. How could they do that to another living, breathing, feeling creature? I hope every person who sees this is appalled. I think I need to stop reading comments and just calm down. This is a touchy subject for me I guess. Damn scientists

8:06PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

I wish everyone could just let the animals be. Yes, they are like us. But they have their OWN world, and us imposing our world on them isn't helping anyone. I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes and I cried for the first, idk, hour. Because animals do NOT belong in cages. In fact, I almost left halfway through because my heart was breaking. Yes, it was only a movie. But testing on animals is real and it happens every day. They are creatures with feeling like ours. With relationships like ours. With desires and needs, similar to but different than ours. Let nature be. Let animals be animals, and let people be people. In a perfect world, we could watch and observe and learn, but as it turns out, people just have to push their ways on everyone and everything. It's so sad

6:51PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

I was trying to send you all stars for comments that supported leaving the wild in the wild and not using Nim or any other animal for our entertainment or enjoyment but I kept getting kicked off. Although they did not treat this chimp badly, he was definitely mistreated. No matter where he came from - even is his mother had died - then he was snatched from his own kind, from living in his own space - and treated too humanlike. As they admitted, they didn't try to understand him - they tried to teach him their language. Leave the wild animals alone!

2:42AM PDT on Aug 22, 2011

Thanks for the article.

6:23PM PDT on Aug 21, 2011

if we can get them to act like us, maybe people will respect them more? if someone views a speciese as just "some screaming beastie", but then learns they can, will and want to do people things, then they get new respect for them.

Apes and elephants can paint, some ask to paint. They would never try to paint in the wild, but people will like chimps more when they learn they make art. I know of some other animals "that make art", but that is because they are made into paintbrushes. The only one that possibly would paint for fun would be a hog. Other than that, I don't think a stoat is as smart as the big 5(was it 5 of the most intelligent animals?)
Stoat is only as smart as it needs to be. They aren't pigs or border collies. and I don't think cotton can do as good job as they do, nor would petroleum derived materials do the job too.

1:16PM PDT on Aug 21, 2011

Why are we trying to make animal act like humans? They are who they are for a reason. I can't say that humans have any characteristic's that would be desirable in any other species.

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