You’ve probably heard about all the apes who have been taught to communicate using sign language in recent years. As Mario Beauregard and I discuss in The Spiritual Brain, the discovery that American Sign Language could, in principle, be taught to apes spurred a number of interesting research projects – and some pretty unrealistic claims. In Dragons of Eden (1986), for example, Carl Sagan dreamed of a day when
Although a few years ago it would have seemed the most implausible science fiction, it does not appear to me out of the question that, after a few years in such a verbal chimpanzee community, there might emerge the memoirs of the natural history and mental life of a chimpanzee, published in English or Japanese (with perhaps an “as told to” after the byline).
What you probably DIDN’T hear much about is the mood of skepticism with which much of the science community has greeted this work in recent years – even as the apes impress hosts on national television programs.
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