Philosophical animals

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Today's SMBC:

And the after-comic:

As Geoff Pullum argues here and elsewhere, it's usually not necessary to scan for instances of RAAHHHK in order to distinguish the parrots from the philosophers. Some previous LL discussion of related issues:

"A parrot after my own heart", 10/9/2003
"Parrot telepathy at the BBC", 1/28/2004
"Stupid fake pet communication tricks", 1/29/2004
"Talking birds vs. singing birds, 2/2/2004
"Desires, beliefs, conversations", 3/18/2004
"Monkeys saying things again — Not", 3/2/2004
"Koko in the chat room", 3/2/2004
"Red gorilla bad me unattention", 3/4/2004
"The strange, new sight", 6/11/2004
"Canine intelligence", 6/12/2004
"Signs or symbols? Words or tools?", 6/15/2004
"It's always silly season in the (BBC) science section", 8/26/2006
"Ineffable apes", 5/2/2007
"Groundbreaking research with credulous primates", 5/31/2007
"It's a dog's life, 0.3 bits at a time", 1/19/2008
"Dog language mailbag", 1/21/2008
"Not Professor Milton, but Professor Schwartzman", 1/21/2008
"Bowlingual education, critical pet studies, and human-poultry interaction", 1/25/2008
"Autistic dogs: teaching instinctual communication?", 10/26/2009
"'What is it, Lassie?'", 8/4/2009
"Stupid canine lexical acquisition claims", 8/12/2009
"'Chimps have tons to say but can't say it'", 1/11/2010
"Advances in animal self-consciousness", 3/30/2010
"Frontiers of animal communication research", 4/1/2010
"Moo und Bedeutung", 6/2/2010
"Annals of animal communication", 10/20/2010
"Caesar and the power of No", 8/14/2011
"Nim: the unproject", 8/16/2011


  1. Victor Mair said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    Polly wants tenure. RAAHHHK! RAAHHHK!

  2. Sili said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    I like the way Mair thinks. And not just because his was the comment I was about to make. (Well, I was gonna try "Phillolly" in place of "Polly", but nevermind.)

    Still, if we could put a Chinese Room in poor Polly's head, how could we determine her not to be a philosopher?

    Or we could put her on Jersey Shore/Fox News, but …

  3. Svafa said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 10:00 am

    I often read posts here (and elsewhere) in my Google Reader, rather than following the link. Thus, I made the mistake of thinking SMBC (which I also follow) was plugging Language Log. >.<

    That really messed with my head for a bit. At least until I clicked on the link to point out that the last two dates in the link section are wrongly ascribed to 2010.

  4. Keith M Ellis said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    It's very embarrassing when academic specialists confuse expertise in their own field with expertise in others. This and many of the linked posts, as well as many other posts on LL, are examples of this sort of thing.

    And yet another example of this is when philosophers pretend to be linguists.

  5. Willie said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    This brings me back to my undergraduate days, when Bob Brandom (University of Pittsburgh) would often rehearse his parrot example and, on occasion, squawk himself, in a very 'raaahk!'-like fashion.

    (Of course, his point was the precise opposite of the one the SMBC parrot is making (or rather, mimicking).)

  6. cameron said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 10:48 am

    Some parrots may deserve tenure. Some should be nominated for Grammy awards:

  7. Elise said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    The N'Kisi story was unfortunate, but what about Dr. Pepperberg's work with Alex and other African Grey parrots? For example, she holds out a tray of toys of different colors and shapes and asks, "How many blue blocks?" and the bird answers, correctly, "Four."

    In another example, he invented the phrase "cork nut" to distinguish an almond from other nuts based on on the cork-like texture of its husk.

  8. John Lawler said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    Well, at least we do have a canonical set of tests to tell linguists from philosophers.

  9. Steven Gross said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

    Last two links in your list should be 2011.

  10. Ozzy said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

    I have been religiously following Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for more than a year now and this is first time I learn about the secret after-comic. You just blew my mind at an unimaginable level.

  11. Mark F. said,

    August 17, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

    Pepperberg is interesting. She seems to do a lot of work that isn't easy to dismiss, in the sense that it's hard for me to think of a Clever Hans explanation for some of the things Alex apparently used to get right. And I have heard Pepperberg explaining parrot behavior in a way that I found reasonably modest in its claims; for instance she seemed comfortable with the notion that the words were tools, rather than symbols, to the parrot. On the other hand, I can see how the enthusiasm with which she relates anecdotes about the birds, and her willingness to place the birds' mental skills on a human age range, could rub people the wrong way. In particular, I wouldn't read too much into the "cork nut" anecdote.

  12. John Cowan said,

    August 18, 2011 @ 2:26 am

    "Awk! I don't understand a word I say! Carrk!" If I were to say that, it would be a vicious self-reference, but in a parrot's case?

  13. Bill Benzon said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 8:12 am

    We're copy animals.

  14. Stuart Clayton said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 1:30 am

    a vicious self-reference

    John, I wonder whether you intend "vicious" to qualify "self-reference", or to suggest that self-reference is always vicious ? I just tried saying "Awk! I don't understand a word I say! Carrk!", and still felt virtuously sensible after saying it – because I was pretending to be a parrot. Pretence involves a harmless kind of self-referentiality.

    Of course reactions to self-referentiality can be vicious, but this is not the fault of the parrots. I think we can learn a lot from them on the subject of discursive tool-making.

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