Apes, Language, Evolution and PacMan

I’d like to introduce you to an interactive video by Susan Savage-Rumbaugh, speaking to the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) organization. In it, she shows what we are discovering about the Bonobo – their language, their development, and in so doing, about ourselves as a species.

I will point you to the portion of the video where they discover the Bonobo have not only understood their symbolic language, but are learning to write it. They are learning to socialize as we humans do. In so doing, we are learning to become more like them. It is symbiotic, to say the least.

Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh’s work with language among apes is controversial, and I won’t take a position for or against. Instead, I will offer you a quote.

“We found that the most important thing for permitting Bonobos to acquire language is not to teach them. It’s simply to use language around them, because the driving force in language acquisition is to understand what others that are important to you, are saying to you.”

The Bonobo have exhibited tool-making abilities that sharply emulate those of our pre-human ancestors. In fact, much of their “cultural” behavior is uncomfortably human-like. Thus, I believe, they are a good indicator of what we can do with our own children, to stimulate learning, the ability to read, to want to develop this ability to better themselves. And, importantly, to connect with those they love.

Like most boys, the Bonobo like video games. In the video piece, one of the apes learns Pacmac, and does as well as I ever did. He plays with his leader, (his human parent / teacher). He listens to her, they share the experience. Likewise, their learning is interactive.

So we must be with our own children. We must read to them, read with them. If our sons like games, play them, share the experience. Then share the experience of a good book. Many families have Game Night. Why not have a Family Book Club? It’s a great way to connect with relatives whom you have not interacted with, or whom live apart from you.

I didn’t begin writing because I wanted to be J.K. Rowling, make a billion bucks, and retire. I wrote because I believe books can connect our lives, can make each of us more. This video gives me hope that I am on the right track.