This topic is tangentially something that I have loved discussing and investigating ever since I took FLA II with the ever-inspiring Dr. Furlong. The rest of this post will consist of my chronological thoughts throughout listening to this post, so if things seem jumbled, that it why!
The intro to the podcast was particularly profound to me in that the researcher and the chimp were coincidentally put into simultaneous “primal” states. For a few, adrenaline-laced moments, the instincts of these two creatures were one in the same, and the perhaps artificial and socially constructed division between man and ape dissolved. From a biological, sociological, ethical, and even religious perspective, this event was profound to me.
Enter Lucy. Although I have known about this “experiment” for some time now, it is still so foreign to me to imagine. Not only does it not seem legal, but it seems, well, insane. But learning more and more about chimps, bonobos, and other intelligent apes, it starts to seem more and more natural. Granted, it is easier to anthropomorphize the actions of a being like Lucy than any other animal, but the learning and assimilation that took place, especially in the area of language, certainly makes one question their preconceived notions about the extent to which humans and apes are biologically, or even cognitively separate. Lucy began to develop a level of empathy and social awareness I did not believe was possible in anything that doesn’t clothe itself.
However, the even the hopelessly fascinated part of me became skeptical when the idea of sexuality and this sort of reverse-speciation was suggested. There were some very bold assumptions made about the actions of ONE subject in ONE trial in ONE situation with MANY variables. When the male chimp was brought in, I believe that the researchers (if you can really call this research) got a bit carried away and, to be blunt, saw what they wanted to see. However, I think even the researchers couldn’t deny that Lucy was certainly not human when she became physically mature and shifted into the personality and tendencies associated with a fully chimp-populated social setting.
The story of Janice and the relocation of Lucy was quite interesting as well. The chimps’ level of connection to, and almost dependence on Janice was intriguing, and warrants recognition of their acclimation to a human companion. The picture of Lucy and Janis hugging is, as the hosts call it, a bit “haunting.” It leads the viewer to suspend assignment of any differences between the two, and simply bear witness to the love exchanged after a long separation.
As for the final segment on Kanzi (spelling?) as his adoption of the English language… If you can’t tell from what I have written above, I am extremely susceptible to over romanticizing stories to believe in the transcendental. However, it is a bit ridiculous for me to buy that a bonobo was able to speak English. I will certainly believe that some primal level of communication can be created between humans and apes, and perhaps even allow for productive, effective dialogue. But neurologically, I feel that what this podcast suggested was ridiculous.