Monday, September 17, 2007

RIP Alex...

I was sad to hear that Alex, the African Grey Parrot who gave his life to science, died earlier this month. Alex (short for Avian Learning EXperiment) was purchased in a pet shop by Dr. Irene Pepperberg in the mid-70s. As an animal psychologist she noticed his remarkable communication skills and began a comprehensive study into the linguistic architecture of Alex's mind - a fascinating, controversial experiment that would last 31 years (until the bird's death). Alex had a vocabulary of 150 words and could express complex ideas and moods. Often, if he was tired of being part of an avian experiment, he would stop all activity and say: "I'm going away now."

Pepperberg maintains that Alex had the consciousness of a five year old human - on par with a great ape or a dolphin. Others in her community suggest that she and the bird had created a subtle system of conditioning that really has nothing to do with the inner life of a bird. I'll add this: I met an African Grey once, randomly, on while a beach with my nephew. We both had the feeling that we were in the presence of something very extremely conscious. Almost disturbingly so.

No one knows why Alex died - African Greys have a lifespan of 50 years - however, he had recently been introduced to the concept of "zero." Perhaps this new awareness of "nothingness" triggered something that interrupted his "being."

And now for some miniature birds...


Post a Comment

<< Home