Monday, September 17, 2007

Goodbye Alex the Parrot

The New York Times had two touching and though-provoking articles about Alex the Parrot, a 31 year old African gray parrot who lived and worked at Brandeis University with Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist. Alex knew more than 100 words and could recognize colors and shapes, count, and some suggest at the end of his life came close to comprehending the concept of "zero" or "none," an extremely difficult concept.

The Times links to a great YouTube video, embedded here:





Watch until the end, where you will be presented with a menu of other videos of Alex.

Detractors believe that Alex was merely parroting (pun intended and not intended) his handlers, while others believe that Alex showed real intelligence and could provide insight into human intelligence, language acquisition, and interaction between animals and humans. Meg got a little misty when I read to her the end of Alex's obituary in the Times:

Even up through last week, Alex was working with Dr. Pepperberg on compound words and hard-to-pronounce words. As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, she recalled, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

He was found dead in his cage the next morning, Dr. Pepperberg said.

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