By Michael Hanlon
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Additional info for 10 Questions Science Can't Answer (Yet): A Guide to the Scientific Wilderness
Some birds are, of course, able to mimic human speech, but it is only quite recently that anyone has suggested that they are able to understand what they are saying. Alex, an African Grey parrot, has been studied for nearly 30 years by the animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg in the US. His vocabulary is about 100 English words, and he seems to understand what they mean. Pepperberg has claimed that Alex understands concepts such as shape, colour and material, and can use English correctly to describe these concepts.
All sorts of alternative universes have been postulated – ones where the gravitational constant is different, or where the weak and strong nuclear forces have different values from those in our Universe. Most of these universes would be very different places and ones very challenging to life.
Skinner put pigeons in boxes and mapped out complex relationships between stimuli and responses, working on the premise that the birdbrain was a calculating engine. Skinner trained his pigeons to perform extraordinarily complicated ‘tricks’, pressing sequences of levers in order to elicit a supply of tasty food and so on. What went on between the pigeon’s ears was, he thought, not more than a continuation of these levers, an interconnected series of unknowing mental gearages that eventually made the animal do one thing or another.
10 Questions Science Can't Answer (Yet): A Guide to the Scientific Wilderness by Michael Hanlon