We’ve written here before about Alex, the African Gray Parrot studied by Dr. Irene Pepperberg. Alex could count to six, identify colors and had a working vocabulary of about 150 words. He also had some grasp of simple concepts, an emotional life, and something that looks very much like what we humans like to call intelligence.
Dr. Pepperberg has written a book about Alex which is reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in tomorrow’s print edition of the New York Times and can also be read online. When Dr. Pepperberg began her work with Alex most scientists held the view that animals and birds had nothing we would call intelligence but were organisms which did nothing but “mindlessly” respond to stimuli. Ms. Kakutani writes:
In the 1980s, however, “the fortress of human uniqueness came under attack” with the findings of Jane Goodall and others who worked with primates, and Dr. Pepperberg proposed to “replicate the linguistic and cognitive skills that had been previously achieved with chimps in a gray parrot, an animal with a brain the size of a shelled walnut, but one that could talk.”