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And today we are talking about Koko, the gorilla. I'm so excited. I do not think we have ever announced an episode topic that has inspired more anxiety.
And I know that's scenarios. I feel like some parts are going to be breaking across the world tonight.
I don't even know why people had this reaction, like we're going to cancel Coco, fuck this gorilla.
She didn't do shit like just the spoiler. That is not going to be the purpose of this episode.
Coco is guilty of white collar crime and deviance.
We might ruin a couple of the humans around Coco, but we're not necessarily going to ruin Coco Coco Chanel de. Well, this show is all about ruining humans.
I think that's fine. Yeah. All right. Tell me the story.
My I mean, this is a fun episode because, like, we've been doing so many of these true crime episodes and like deep historical episodes and this one is maybe the first one that is like really about what makes us human.
I mean, this is the first one that talks about biology and cognition and nature. It's just a fun little detour.
You're taking us on a little like microflora on a little choo choo.
And so. Yeah. Do you want to tell me what do you what do you know about Koko, the gorilla? What do you remember?
Oh, my goodness. OK, so when I was a child there was a book which I believe many of our listeners will remember, and I bet you're going to be able to say it with me. Koko's Kinton. Yes, dear. Did you have Cocoa's Ketan as a child?
Did you read that? I really didn't.
Koko's kitten was a book about Koko. I don't know if it was Creer Post Kitten that she became famous for her ability to communicate an American sign language. Or at least that was what we were told. It was both, actually.
She was kind of famous. And then Coco's kitten came out and then she was mega famous. It's like being a pop star and you really, you know, a couple singles before you had it really big. Yes. And it's like communicating with humans. Number seventeen on the charts. Right.
Number one. OK, so I remember that Coco I forget where she lived, but it was somewhere in California she had this the like main researcher working with her was named Penny Patterson, Penny Patterson, and she had beautiful blonde hair. And I as a child and I would imagine many. Other children felt very intrigued by the idea that, like women didn't seem to be very represented in science, but there were these famous women of primatology. Yeah, that's true.
And so there was Penny Patterson and there was Dian Fossey working with the gorillas. And of course, there was Jane Goodall, who I also loved when I was a kid.
The women in STEM leaning in.
There's also a lot of very interesting sort of literary analysis type literature of of the emotions that it evokes in us when we see this giant gorilla who, even though coca is a female, we sort of think of gorillas as male, like we think of King Kong.
And then we have Penny Patterson, who's this extremely petite white blonde Fayre lady.
Yes. Yeah. There's just a lot of, like, cultural stuff wrapped up in those photos. And I do think that is one of the reasons why this story went so far and so wide, because there is this kind of like Beauty and the Beast type images.
Yeah. So it's interesting that there's like certain jobs that people like the optics of a woman doing and primatology is one of them, right?
Yeah. And so what I remember about Koko's kitten is that Coco expressed via sign language that she wanted a kitten. I maybe think she wanted a baby. I can't remember she wanted a baby really bad.
But they got her kitten. They kept trying to get her stuffed animals, but she knew they were stuffed animals, like she knew that it wasn't a substitute. And so they got her a real kitten. Right. Do you remember the name of the kitten? All ball?
Yes, but all ball was a Manx. The theory was that Coco picked up a ball because, like her, all ball had no tail and she liked Rymes.
And so that's why she chose Orrible as the name. Yes.
And so the story of Cocoa's kitten was that Coco wanted a kitten and got a kitten named All Ball. And I think, you know, as a child, to me, some of the appeal of it was like here was this gigantic, sad gorilla mom who just, like, wanted a baby and like, in a way, you got to have one.
And also it's kind of bittersweet because she was all alone, far away from the other gorillas, because just a complicated figure. And I think as a child, you like some of the first complicated characters that you experience are are animals.
Do you remember what happened at the end of the book? Did your parents not tell you?
I don't know if it was in the book, but I know that all ball got hit by a car. Yeah.
And Coco mourned as a one of the really famous pieces of footage that went around was when Coco finds out that all ball was hit by a car, she signs bad, sad, bad, and then she sort of hunches over and kind of like you can see the sadness hitting her and then she signs frown, cry, frown.
It was this revelation, I think, that animals have much more complicated emotional lives and potentially inner lives.
That's so funny to me because it's not complicated. And she's just like, I'm sad. This is sad. And it's like, oh, my God, yes. Like if we didn't trust a gorilla to to experience that emotion, then like, what do we think of animals as humans?
Like, jeez, well, this is actually I mean, one of the sort of main through lines in this is the gradual realization by humans that animals are much more complex than we thought they were and that they have emotions and they know things.
Well, this is a good intro to the episode because I wanted to start with a shower thought, hmm, I forget where I read this.
But basically throughout the course of human history, humans have always defined humanity in opposition to something else.
So before the Industrial Revolution, what made us human was our ability to make complicated things right, like we can. So sure, we can make the sword right. It was always kind of us in opposition to the animals.
And then after the Industrial Revolution, we were like, well, machines can make all these things right.
And so it's like, well, then what makes us human is like this higher order stuff like, well, we can play chess. And then a hundred years after that, the computer comes along and computers can play chess.
And then we had to redefine humanity, sort of almost going back to this more animal concept where humans have feelings, humans have creativity, and so we keep redefining humanity according to what humanity isn't. And so the history of talking animals goes back a really long time.
I mean, we've talked about clever hands on this show.
Oh, I'm so excited to talk about this.
One of the famous cases was a talking dolphin. I think this was in the 1950s. There was a guy named John Lilly.
Oh, I remember that. Oh, this is Peter. Peter, the talking dolphin. Yes. And he taught himself to make the sound by like putting his blowhole in the water. And he could get through, like, suction and he figured out how to make a sound. Right.
And there's the sort of the great tell of where this comes from and the ideology that's driving it is there's a weird link, the.
This kind of research and eugenics, which we will come across a number of times in the show, so one of the things this guy, John Lilly, who quote unquote taught dolphins to speak, one thing he once said was like the black races of Africa, porpoises are on the brink of becoming Westernized.
No. Right. Oh, my God.
I mean, you can't talk about this line between humans and animals without talking about the assumed gradations within humans.
And we have a history of like measuring skulls and having books about like phrenology, you know, the the face of the the lying Jew. And, of course, that's all come back. So that's great.
And so I don't think everybody who was doing these studies was like an outand out eugenicist.
But all of these studies are kind of done on this rubric of like where do we place animals on this creature is worthy of moral attention versus creatures not worthy of moral attention spectrum.
Good Lord. It's also really interesting that the metric is assumed to be like how intelligent is this being and therefore how decently are we forced to treat it because of that? Exactly.
So I interviewed a ape researcher who actually worked with Koko for two years, a guy named Marcus Perlman. Oh, wow.
And he splits this type of research into three generations. So the first generation was in the 1930s. These early studies of can a chimp be taught to speak like a human being? So there were these researchers in the 30s, in the 40s, who basically adopted a chimp. And like, we're going to raise it as our son.
Oh, yeah, I've heard of this, too. You remember this? This was a chimp named Gour. And they and they had a human baby and they, like, raised them alongside each other. Yeah.
They tried raising them together. Basically, that didn't work because their son Donald starts taking up all these habits from the chimp. And so they cancelled the project.
There's another experiment in 1947 where another couple adopts a chimp named Vicky and they spend seven years doing all of this like vocal training and like teaching it to talk. And essentially, after all of this time, she could say four words, Mama, Papa, cup and up.
I think it's fascinating that we spend so many people spent years of their lives being like this chimp must vocalize. And there is literally no other way her being to communicate. Right.
But so this one was also basically a failure. I mean, this is like so obvious to us now. But it was not obvious at the time that humans and chimps have completely different vocal chords, like the anatomy is totally different. Another big thing, apparently I didn't know this was that apes can't control their breath the way that humans can.
So that's why they don't write operas. Right. And also why they just sort of do like I didn't know this. This is actually really cool that as humans, without realizing that you're doing it, you're calculating how long your next sentence is going to be and then deciding how much air to take in.
Wow, we're so talented.
And so basically everyone is like, well, we can't teach the chimps to speak because it's literally physically impossible for them to speak.
So if only there was some way that creatures could speak without using their mouth and lips, something that was invented like one hundred years ago.
So, yeah. So now, I mean, we have to talk a little bit about the context and the history of sign language. What do you know about this? Because you've mentioned this on the show before.
I know an unusual amount about it because I wrote like I took ASL for a year when I was in grad school and I wrote the paper that I like applied to programs with was about Helen Keller, who because initially the language was like that. She was this perfect blank space because of her lack of language acquisition when she was a young child. And the rhetoric was that like, you know, the best of Western civilization had been poured into her. And she was reading all this great literature and she was morally very pure.
And it was just this weird, paternalistic rhetoric.
And then she became an anarchist and of thing. And she was like, I support the IWW.
And people are like, right. Not going to talk about her Christ like right now. Right.
That's always something with like the social construction of disability that we never want disabled people to have, like sexuality or political beliefs or radical ideas.
Yeah. Yeah. And so she went from someone whose intelligence was ranked very highly by these kind of paternalistic figures in American society, including Alexander Graham Bell. Yes.
Because he so for people that do not know Alexander Graham Bell, of course, the inventor of the telephone was like a pretty outand out eugenicist. He took it upon himself to like.
And sign language education in America. This was like his project and to like, bring it out deaf people. Yes, he was convinced that deafness was passed down genetically, which there is a genetic component. But of course, it's not like a one to one thing.
But he was convinced that deaf people were genetically inferior and that all of them needed to be forced to join this sort of hearing and speaking world and that all sign language should be completely eradicated.
And this is kind of the story of American Sign language that it was invented in the early eighteen hundreds, but it was never widely adopted, basically because it was stigmatized.
Deaf children were basically encouraged to learn, to lip read, to speak. Some schools tied their hands to their desks or tied their hands behind their backs so they couldn't sign to each other or put mittens on them.
Yes, it's like a decades long project, this casting of ASL as like somehow lesser than are like it's a less rich version of English or it's this sort of derivative of English rather than a language on its own that has different features in English, but like features that are built around the fact that it's a visual language rather than an oral language.
So it has like different structural components. The word order is different.
So I spoke to one of our listeners, Andrea Boyle, who's an ASL interpreter, and she mentioned that ASL has different plurals.
So the way that you would say I have sisters is you would say sister, sister, I have. Or something like where do you keep the cups? You'd say cup, cup where you don't always put the number in front of the word to make it plural.
And so these are the kinds of things that people often miss when they're talking about sign language as just this like basic extension of English, which it is not.
This reminds me of some of the themes of our Ebonics controversy episode. Extremely, because this, I think, is an example of standardized American spoken English being either indifferent to the ways that other dialects or languages can improve upon the things that can do or can do things that it can't do or if not being indifferent to it, like noticing that and maybe like not liking it. Right.
I mean, I think you see this a lot with conversations about like foreign civilizations, too, in that there's this drive to see different cultures as like a degraded version of yours.
I mean, if you read old history books like written in the early 19th, hundreds, this just suffuses every single insight that they're like, well, you know, Indian society is like two thirds as advanced as English society right now. Everything has to be put on the same ladder.
Right. Like the reasons for comparing languages to each other in a way that tries to find the superiority of some of the inferiority of others has to be politically based rather than linguistic. Yes, it's a language.
Right. So it has all of the features of the language. So like deaf children will kind of babble in sign language the same way that kids will babble in spoken speech.
And when ASL speakers have a stroke, it affects their ability to speak ASL in the same way it is. It affects hearing people when they have a stroke and it affects their speech.
I mean, this debate is continuing because it's it's important for people to have a language very young because it affects cognitive development, because it gives them a language to use to speak to themselves. And so this was something that was very like deliberately denied to deaf children. So I'm going to read to you this is reasonably long, but I think it's just an amazing story.
This is a letter to the editor that gets published in the New York Review of Books in 1986 in response to an Oliver Sacks essay about basically everything we just said, just like the history of sign language and sort of what the situation is now for deaf children. Reading Sax's essay was like reading a biography of my daughter. She was born profoundly deaf, a rubella victim in nineteen sixty four. It would be fair to say that at the time, at least in New Jersey, nobody knew how to diagnose deafness.
We toted Susanna from doctor to doctor and audiologist to audiologist for two years before someone finally had the knowledge.
Thus correctly diagnosed at age three, Susannah had already missed some of the prime time for language acquisition.
Once diagnosed, however, she could at least start attending school for the deaf, right? No. The New Jersey School for the Deaf would not accept my daughter because her hearing loss was too severe.
It sounds incredible. A paradox of oralism is that Awfullest only wanted to teach the deaf who were not too deaf. I wish I could say the Susanna's story has a happy ending, however belated it does not.
She has acquired language at the second grade level a little below the usual level for the profoundly deaf. She has great difficulty dealing with the working world, even at its most menial for the working world. Even now does not sign. The greatest affliction is not deafness itself. It is having to be sequestered because only in sheltered environments can they meet with others who share their language. The condition of the deaf today is better than it was two hundred and fifty years ago, I suppose.
But not. And so this is one of the reasons why it takes these researchers so long to be like, hey, wait a minute, there's a form of expression that is much more suited to gorillas and chimps than spoken speech. Hmm.
Wow. Wow. So that's like a really interesting example of, like eugenicist and counterfactual, like superstition around a real language, but like anyone can tell is as complex if they experience it for some amount of time. The problems in one area of science, holding back another area of science. Yes. Like the science shooting itself in the foot.
Right. This is intersectional science being bad. And so finally in nineteen sixty six, this couple out of the University of Nevada in Reno start raising a chimp named wasHow with sign language.
So they start very deliberately teaching washow sign language and immediately it's just like a million times better.
Like it's very obvious that she's finding using her hands much easier than using her voice. And so by four years into the experiment, she has a vocabulary of one hundred and thirty two signs.
So this is Prikhodko. But she's like the first chimp, like speaking chimp media darling.
The Fister starts getting magazines. This starts putting on documentaries.
It's like the chimp they can talk. And the biggest thing that starts happening is she starts combining words.
The famous story is that her trainer is out in a rowboat with her on like a little pond lake outside of the university campus. And Washoe looks at a swan and she signs waterbird.
And this is exactly how like human children do this. And so the existence of Washo and like the fame of WASHOW and this waterbird thing gives rise to the debate that is really central to Kocho.
And the debate around sign language and ape communication for the next 30 years is there's two schools of thought about how people learn language.
The behaviorist explanation is this B.F. Skinner stuff that basically there's nothing special about humans.
It's just when children babble like their parents, ignore it, ignore it, ignore it. And then they say, mama, and then the parents like, hey, and they reward and they're like, I'll say mama again.
And so over the course of the childhood, children are being reinforced for saying words, not reinforced for babbling. And so eventually they start to build up a vocabulary. They start to build up sended structures. They start to build up word orders. This is how all of us learn languages with these like thousands of little tiny reinforcements.
We individually are like a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters coming up with random combinations. And we had the right thing occasionally. And our parents are like, yeah, yeah, OK.
So that's that very that's that's the behaviorist theory, the biological theory or the sort of the Noam Chomsky theory. This is how Noam Chomsky becomes famous, is this idea that humans are biologically hard wired for language. There are certain structural elements that are common to every human language.
The Chomsky argument is basically there's too many words for us to do, like one by one getting reinforced because then we'd all be like twenty seven by the time we had a full vocabulary that like there's something about the human brain that makes us vacuum up word orders and syntax and grammar much more quickly than other behaviors.
And so we have these like slots in our brain where language goes and we fill those up very quickly, like without that much prodding.
So this is like one of the central debates of human development.
And if you're a behaviorist, if you follow this reward and punishment logic, you're like, well, we can teach apes to speak to because all we're doing with human babies is just teaching them one by one words, words, words. And so we can do the same thing with a chimp.
And a chimp is never going to have the vocabulary of, like, you know, sixty five year old or whatever. They're never going to be like reciting Shakespeare.
But like, you can get them to the same place as, like a three year old or a five year old potentially. Right.
You can get them to do simple sentences. You can get them to start doing simple reflections simply based on rewarding or punishing them for delivering certain signs.
Hmm. It's interesting because like I do take a behaviorist approach to a lot. And I think that that plays a significant role in language acquisition because we can see that like language acquisition is socially enforced. But I also basically what I read about Chomsky's theories is that there are all of these things that human children somehow magically know how to do at certain intervals. And a lot of it relates to grammar and sentence structure. And my understanding is that if you ask like a two or three year old, like what do you call a monster that eats sand, they'll say sandier.
And if you ask that same toddler, like, what do you call a monster that eats? Rafe's, they'll say grape eater, they don't say grapes eater like they understand somehow, inexplicably, that, like you make the thing that it eats Singulair and there's like a million other things like that where they just kind of know. Yeah.
And I mean, huge spoiler.
Whenever we see a binary like this, we should get very suspicious when it's like, is it nature or nurture?
It's like it's very obviously both.
And also nature affects nurture. And I mean, you can't it's separating those two things is very strange.
Yeah, but so what happens as this debate becomes this like paradigmatic debate within psychology is every psychologist gets an ape.
You guys like you get a psychology degree. And like here is your people start like designing their own versions of sign language.
People start making like computer keyboards.
Somebody writes a book called Why Chimps Can Read. This becomes like the new hotness in psychological research is to try to sort of prove Chomsky wrong, to prove this thesis that apes can communicate simply based on reward and punishment.
And this is how we meet Koko at the time. This is actually interesting to think about. Gorillas were seen as like oafish, the sort of the troll Baule Rog's of the ape world.
That's why they're depicted that way. And the Planet of the Apes, they're like the cops.
Yes, chimps are the smart ones and gorillas are just like these big dumb. So like nobody's doing anything with gorillas and orangutans are.
Dr. Zayas and Coco is born on July 4th of 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. Her name is actually not Coco. It's Hanabi Ko, which is Japanese for fireworks child. And like right after she's born, she's ill.
So she's basically taken away from her family because I think she has pneumonia. These other conditions, they don't know what's going to happen with her and they're really worried that she's not going to make it very long. So she's kind of already isolated from day one. And along comes this 24 year old grad student named Penny Patterson, who essentially shows up one day and is like, I would like to teach this gorilla to speak sign language.
I want to do this for my grad school research. And the zoo basically is like, we don't think this gorilla is going to live.
So, like, yeah, have a blast, do whatever you want. We don't think she's going to be with us for very long.
And so she starts coming all the time, spending hours and hours there with baby Coco. She eventually moves Coco out to like a special facility.
Oh, so she and Coco Bond because she's with her when she's really young. Yes. How old is Coco when she's when championing the cocoa's one year old?
So she she's like she's like a primary figure in her life.
Oh, yeah. I mean, this is like a mother daughter relationship. And so very quickly, Penny starts teaching cocoa all of these signs. So by the time she's just a couple of years old, Penny says she can say 600 words. She has this huge vocabulary. Wow. She's developing much faster than the chimpanzees as well. So all of a sudden, a lot of the emphasis shifts to gorillas.
Oh, so is there this argument that, like gorillas will become the super communicators? Yes. World, yes. Because we must be competitive.
Vaisse must compete for us in the arena of intellect.
And so I'm going to show you a clip of Kogure and Penny, like relatively early in this process is very, very cute.
Research psychologist Penny Patterson is teaching lowland gorilla cocoa the American sign language of the deaf.
Can you find something soft? There's something soft here, yes, that's soft, so. With reading readiness tests used with human children, Paterson tests Coco's grasp of concepts.
Yes, that good. And then you say the tree. Well, you show me the trees. And that was wrong, right? Anything else wrong? Yes, I have that lady and it. Oh, that is a bit weird. OK, what do you think?
I really like and I like watching videos. I know of Koko. Yeah. My, my sense is that like Koko is communicating and also that she's like getting bored very easily.
It feels like, you know, like this beautiful, huge two year old. I know this is the kind of thing that you see is a little kid. You're like, I want to work with primates also. Yeah. Yeah.
What's remarkable to outsiders is not just how many signs Coco can do, but the ways in which communication is revealing, like this personality.
So she's very funny and sardonic. So apparently there's one time when a trainer is trying to get her to make the sign for drink, which is sort of placing your thumb to your lips. And they're trying to get her to do it. They're trying to get her to do it. She doesn't want to do it. And then eventually she does decide that she does it in her ear.
She also very quickly starts making up new words.
I remember this. I remember some of these. Can I tell you the ones I remember? Go, go, go. I remember that she made finger bracelet. Oh, my gosh. She wanted to communicate, ring and drink fruit melon. Yes. She also does. She calls ice cream my cold cup.
Oh, my cold cup. That sounds like a band.
Yeah. And then nectarine yogurt she calls orange flower sauce.
Orange flower sauce. Wow. It's pretty good. Yeah. She also a really big deal. She starts lying.
This was not something that people sort of knew in any regular sense that animals could do.
People who didn't own cats didn't know that. So apparently she breaks the kitchen sink and somebody like walks in and is like, who broke the sink? And then Coco, like theatrically points to another staff member.
They start to notice that she's like sort of eavesdropping on her, that apparently Penny's like talking to one of the other researchers and she's like driving to Los Angeles once a month.
It's going to kill me.
And immediately Coco runs up to her and starts spinning round, round, round, round, round, round.
And so they start spelling out words the way you do around children, like it's going to kill me. Yeah. She apparently starts roasting her other researcher.
There's another guy named Cohn who's like one of the other researchers with Penny, and he's kind of like the disciplinarian like him and Penny have kind of like a good cop, bad cop vibe.
So people at one point akoko like, who's wrong, what's wrong? Like, and she signs stupid devil.
And then this is harsh. They ask at one point they're like, do you tell jokes, Kocho? Like, what's a funny joke?
And then she signed I love Ron Jamm Coco roasted. Oh Ron.
Oh no. She starts doing like oh so she'll say like flower pink fruit stink and these other sort of like fridge magnet type rhymes.
This is like a thing she becomes obsessed with nipples. Yeah I read about that.
Yes. When does this start happening.
This is very young. One of the theories on this is that she wasn't breast fed by her mother.
And so she's always had this weird fixation with nipples.
And so like Robin Williams eventually goes and visits her, he talks about how she like puts her head under his shirt and like reaches under his shirt for his nipples and is like, show me your nipples. This is just like a thing that she's really obsessed with.
I mean, Howard Stern does that. So, yeah, somehow not newsworthy on his show.
And apparently Penny asks her once, like, what's your deal, Coco? Like, why are you so obsessed?
And signs nipples are nipples just like, yeah, she's not on Coco is just like generating endless ETM titles, right. Nipples are nipples by Michael Cup.
Coco eventually gets to 2000 signs.
I thought you were going to say two thousand nipples.
I think she's probably it more than that honestly. They try big things. I want her to have a baby because they want to figure out if she'll teach her baby to sign.
So they bring in this other chimp named Michael to try to have her meet with.
But apparently he's like much younger than her and they don't really get off on the right foot. And so she kind of friends owns him, like they just sort of have a brother sister vibe.
And there's apparently incest taboo among gorillas.
Cocoa's like, I have a personality. Yeah, this guy is not taking my boxes, so that doesn't really work.
And then they bring in another gorilla called in me from the Cincinnati Zoo. Coco chooses a. Do make from like video, it's like old video dating websites, they show her all these clips of different guerrilla's. Oh my God. And so on. Me like does his video. And he's like, I'm kind of a homebody.
I enjoy a woman who wants to see my nipple like.
Yes. Yeah. So they bring it in. But like, that doesn't really work either. I think is he's also got her.
It just never quite works because he shows up and she's like, I like you better on the video, something I can extremely relate to.
I love how Coco has the same problem as Janet and the movie Singles Video Dating Show starring Cameron Crowe content for you.
But so despite these troubles, this is when the sort of Coco fame goes into overdrive.
I love that we're doing this like behind the music of Coco. It's like despite her problems with finding a mate, Coco took over American culture as her success skyrocketed.
Don't roast my transitions. How else was I going to get out of that? That was my only move. No, I like that. It feels like an episode of biography.
That's all I got. It's it might these two things are adjacent in my notes. I was the only way I could go from one to the other.
It's like reading Coal Miner's Daughter by Loretta Lynn. You're like, wow. Like at the same moment that their personal struggles, she's like topping the charts. There's irony here.
So what happens is in 1978, she's on the cover of National Geographic.
I think I think I have that issue of National Geographic, actually. Do you remember what it what it shows? I believe it was her Ann Arbor. That's the second cover. Oh, that's her second cover. I don't know what her first cover is. It's very interesting.
It's a photo of her taking a photo of herself.
It's like what we would now understand is like a mirror bathroom selfie.
She's holding a camera to her face and like taking a photo and so evokes this image that is very important to a lot of the rhetoric that you see at the time that like she is regarding herself, she's looking at herself. She's looking at us.
Right. She has self awareness. Yes. There's a movie called Koko, a talking gorilla. This documentary that comes out, Coco's kitten comes out. It's on Reading Rainbow.
Oh, wow. So Coco is having like a Partridge Family experience.
Oh, yeah, she's huge. I mean, she shows up on Mr. Rogers. There's this whole thing with Robin Williams that he comes and hangs out with her and then he like does a story about her in his stand up set.
And then apparently, like when he dies in 2014, they tell Coco and she sort of like slumps her shoulders. They're like they had a real connection.
She was in the first ever interspecies chat on AOL watch, which is a huge time capsule, huge time capsule.
I know it was as a human, but in my head, she's talking to like a bird.
Yeah. And then, I mean, so much of the rhetoric at the time, because I read a bunch of essays that came out in like the late 1970s, in the early 1980s about this was a lot of the rhetoric.
Was this like in hindsight, like pretty lofty rhetoric about Koko's ability to sort of reason and reflect that the idea is not just that Kocho is like delivering like me want food type of violence's, she's thinking about death.
She's thinking about her relationship to she's remembering people she met years ago and grieving them. So this is from a 1980 essay in a magazine called Omni, which is now defunct. One thing is clear about Coco Patterson has not humanized a gorilla. The gorilla has seized on a useful human system to express its own nature.
Oh, are they saying that like Coco is because communicating her true cocoanuts?
Yeah, like finally apes have a system of language with which they can tell us about themselves. Right. And there's now been this bridge built between the two species.
There's a story that shows up in a lot of the old articles that like pennies, like cleaning up after cocoa, like toys on the ground.
And she sort of mutters, like, why can't you just be like any other kid? And then cocoa sort of shrugs and signs gorilla.
This reminds me of the way people will like post alleged interactions they had with their two year old. You know where you're like today? My eight month old looked up at me and said, abolish the police, daddy, whatever.
I think we do that.
And I think that we really as humans have a tendency to like, interact with inarticulate, articulate being and to become enamored maybe of a being who is like just articulate enough for us to map our own thoughts and ideas, too.
And I wonder if that's relevant here.
So in 1980, it all falls apart, man, just like a Scorsese movie.
So to do the debunking, we're going to have to meet somebody named Herb Terrace, who is a Columbia University psychologist. Hello, Herb.
He trained with the Skinner. He's like a dyed in the wool behaviourist. Right.
That language only comes from training in the wave of every psychologist. Get an. Ape, he gets this chimpanzee and as a troll to Noam Chomsky, he names it Nim Chimpsky. Wow. So the entire purpose of his project is basically to, like, prove Chomsky wrong.
I love academia wars.
We talked about this before, but I guess the best he spends four years doing everything with Nim that Penny is doing with Coco. They do the signs, they do these tests. He becomes completely enamored with Nim, the same way that Penny is enamored with Coco. And he's a true believer, right. That like they are signing it is meaningful communication.
But but then he sits down and watches the tapes.
So part of what they need to do as this process is log all of the utterances that Nim is making. Right. Like what sentences? What is he asking for? What word order is he using? They're trying to do like a mathematical analysis.
They're trying to figure out like, does he have a grammar, I would imagine. Yes, exactly. So to do that, you have to be systematic. And so he sits down and starts doing this systematically. And in 1979, he publishes an article in science called Canongate Create a Sentence to which he answers no.
And he also writes an article the following year specifically about Kocho called Why Kocho Can't Talk. So this is basically the grenade that he throws into the middle of this entire field of psychology and primatology. Hmm.
So is he arguing that they don't even have meaning that they're not even referring to, like something that the ape is looking at what he says?
This is from 1979 New York Times article. New evidence by a researcher shows the apes may be doing nothing more remarkable than a dog does in learning to sit or heal. Wow. So one of the things that he does is he makes a log of all of Nîmes utterances.
This is this appears in the 1979 science paper and it doesn't follow any form or structure. So here's a couple of them. Play meanin, eat me, nim, eat, nim, eat, tickle me nim grap eaten in banana nim eat nim me eat.
The longest utterance that Nim ever makes is 16 words and so I'm going to read it to you.
Get ready. Give orange me. Give eat orange me. Eat orange. Give me eat orange. Give me you.
Right. So he's like repeating the same idea. Yes. Many times.
And so what he says is that even in the youngest child, if you had a child who's capable of making a 16 word utterance, you would never see something that repetitive and that devoid of meaning. No. And oftentimes what you see with children is that they'll start out by saying these like very simple phrases, but then they'll add things that add information. So the example that he used in his article is that you would see a kid say like sit chair and then that would progress to like sit daddy chair or like sit me chair.
But it wouldn't be like sit chair, chair. That's not a pattern that you see in children.
Also, the speed at which toddlers are acquiring words is like super remarkable. Yeah, like toddler language. Your ability is defined by the fact that you're constantly acquiring stuff. And just like you'll say a word to a toddler one time and then they'll use it again a few hours later. Right. And you're like, how did you notice remember that and use that correctly. Like you're going through this like Spiderman mutation experience with regards to language.
Another thing that he finds is really interesting that you don't see in children is that the vast, vast, vast majority of the utterances of these apes are goal oriented, that all of this stuff about like reflection and like jokes and stuff, it's like ninety six plus percent of what they're saying are just like, feed me, tickle me.
Right. You don't need language to express those things. Right. And so what he says, this is what he says about Coco. He says, Penny Patterson is all too ready to project human meanings onto the imitative utterances of an ape who is simply trying to manipulate its teachers to feed it or engage in some kind of social activity. So it's basically an exercise in just like basic desires, right?
I want to eat. I want to sleep. Anything deeper than that is essentially projection by the researchers.
And so then is it a thing where, like cocoa is producing so many utterances in the course of the day that some of them inevitably are going to kind of match the situation?
Yeah, I'm going to show you another clip. This is a clip that demonstrates this, I think, really? Well, OK, this is Cocoa and Mister Rogers.
How do you say love for sign language? How do you love Michelle? And I say love. I love what that she's asking you about your girlfriend. Is that a flower? That's a sun. My grandfather gave me the. It looks like those look like can we talk a little bit about the phone? Oh, honey, one. Oh, no, no, it's I love you. Visit love. Oh, that was very nice of you.
There's a lot happening.
Yeah, there's a lot happening. So, Coko So they're like, Coco, how do you say love? And she's like, tell me about this cufflink. Yeah, I'm interested in that right now. Yeah. And so they do that for a while and then Penny's like, what about love, Coco? Yeah, yeah.
You can also see that she's just imitating Penny.
Penny's like, let's talk about love and then she makes sad for love and then Coco does it and she's like, oh see Coco loves you.
Yeah. But it's like she's just reproducing what Penny just did two seconds ago.
She's responding to the physical cue. Yeah. Do you think she asked the same Mr. Rogers nipples? All right. Let's just move forward and dwell on this.
But this is something that you see a lot in the footage of Penny and Coco. One of the things that's really interesting is that Penny has never released any, like raw data or raw footage of her and Coco.
So research methods wise, I mean, this is a big part of her.
Terrace's critique is that a lot of these researchers that are producing like, you know, this ape can say 150 things. They're not actually giving any of the background data of like, OK, we recorded her for eight hours. Here's the tape. It's all these like very carefully snip together clips like the one we saw earlier that has a lot of cuts in it.
And you don't know how much they're cutting out in between.
And so what oftentimes happens in the sort of the few like long one, take clips of Coco and Penny that do get revealed. Is she basically she says something like Coco, what color is this ball?
And then Coco will sign drink or something.
And she's like, ha ha, quit playing around Coco. And then Coco will say, like, Elephant.
And then she's like, oh, she's kidding.
And she'll basically keep from Coco until Coco gives the right answer. And then she's like, see, she can talk.
So is it that, like, you can read it as her being just distractible and not focusing very well, but really it's like she just has to she's just producing signs until she gets it. Basically, it's just it's always very interesting to realize how we ourselves are being cued to view footage. Yes.
This is from this transcript of like the AOL chat session. This is very nyos. The user is named Sick Boy Re and he says, Coko, have you taught other gorilla sign language on your own?
And then Penny says, that's a good question. Have you taught other gorillas cocoa and cocoa signs myself?
Lip. And then Penny says, yes, she taught herself. That's true. That's very good.
And I think part of what that answer might be is she's taught us, in other words, myself, Lip was her answer and Lip is her word for woman.
So herself has taught Lipps perhaps sick boy then got an answer, did he?
Exactly. And when you go back through the footage, there's just a lot of that kind of stuff where it's like very selective interpretation.
There's a lot of great inflation happening, a lot of grade inflation. This also explains the waterbird thing. One thing that tariff notices is that when they ask washow like, what is this bird that you see on the lake? And he signs waterbird, she could have just been signing water and then bird. Right. There's no indication that she's using a compound word there. She she's kind of giving out signs all the time.
She's like the water sky, red fruit drink. And then she happens to sign water and bird in that order. Now, like she's creating compound words.
So you think that this is at the level of just like the humans are tricking themselves the entire time?
I mean, the human intervention affecting this, like this is another thing that terrorist finds in his research is that almost all of the signing that name is doing is directly in response to researchers. So he almost never starts conversations.
He interrupts at these sort of random intervals like he doesn't listen and then deliver signs and then listen and then deliver signs.
He just kind of signs willy nilly, like whether or not someone else is signing at the time, which is another thing that very young children begin to understand, that conversations are give and take.
Like this is not a pattern that you see in children very young. Yeah.
The main sort of metaphor that terrorist uses. He notes that you can teach a pigeon to pick A, B, C, D, and then a pellet will come out. Right. Instead of ABCDE. You could write on the buttons like I want some food.
I mean, when the pigeon does it, you could be like the pigeon can read. It's asking, is the food. But it's not like the pigeon is not understanding those symbols, so, OK, so the argument is that for the apes, these signs are basically empty signifiers and they have figured out kind of that like some of them will get a response they want at various times. But even with that knowledge, they're kind of throwing them out a little randomly.
Yes, this is like when I was in eighth grade and try to teach myself how to sing. The Chinese language version of Anything Goes from Indiana Jones Temple of Doom. And there I did know parts of it at times, but like, nope, didn't speak the language. But that's the thing.
I mean, if somebody if somebody told you, like, make this gesture and then I'll give you a banana, you'll make the gesture. And whether or not, like, you understand that that gesture means banana and can use it in other contexts, there's really no indication of that.
It's more just like Coco does something and then she gets a banana and she's like, well, when I was like this, I get a banana and she's like, these people are clearly very invested in me making these characters.
They're teaching me. And so I just kind of cycle through a bunch of them all in a row.
Yeah. And this is what Marcus, the researcher who spent two years working with Koko, I asked him sort of where he falls in this like ongoing 30 year long debate.
And he said basically he's like Koko is really good at getting what she wants.
You know, it also sounds like it's from a VH1 behind the music episode.
Like, Coco is really good at getting what she wants out of my answer to your question, I mean, one of the interesting examples of projection here that I think is worth dwelling on is this whole thing of Robin Williams that, like the story goes around, that Coco like reacts to Robin Williams death.
Right. And that sort of she slumps her shoulders. She signs cry.
But this was 2014.
And Robin Williams spent one afternoon with her in 2001.
And it's like Robin Williams is special to us because he was in movies that we watched. Yet there's no indication that he's special.
Like Coco spent an afternoon with thousands of people. By that point, has Coco seen her? It's unclear.
We have this personal connection with celebrities in a way that maybe, God bless them, other animals don't have. Right. Like you don't hear a lot about celebrity fish.
But so what's amazing is, you know, after this article comes out, Herbert Terrace book comes out, the field implodes.
So there's now essentially just one place where they're still doing this type of research in the whole world so that the ape language boom has ended.
Yeah, Herb Terrace basically killed it. This is a quote from Susan Savage Rumbaugh, who's one of the few researchers still doing this. She says, Ape language research went from being a field of perceived intellectual excitement and public claim to one that at best should be viewed askance. Suddenly, it became extremely difficult to have research papers reviewed, let alone published, and funding for the major projects dried up overnight. And this, quote, hints at the next section of our debunking.
Oh, gosh. It says, Ape language research has yet to recover from Herb Harris's public surrender to Chomsky, a turnaround that felt especially treacherous considering the inexactitude of Terrace's own science.
Dun dun dun.
Surrender to Chomsky sounds very sexual, I have to say. Like that word romance novel. I would read it.
So we're now going to get a quote from Ardern Nizer, who wrote a book called The Other Side of Silence, Sign Language and the Deaf Community in America, which comes out in 1991.
And she has a really fascinating chapter of this book about the language, the ape language debates sort of told from the perspective of deaf people and people who speak ASL.
So she starts her chapter by saying, During the spring of 1979, I realized that I had been meeting a number of people, hearing people who were very excited about ASL, not because 500000 deaf Americans use it every day, but because they believed it might be taught to apes.
This gets to Herb Terrace and Nim and Nim Chimpsky and the entire field.
This is like a sort of double debunking of this that nobody who was working with the apes spoke fucking sign language.
Oh, Lordy, Miss Clarities.
So what they're basically doing, it's a lot of hearing people who don't speak sign language, who don't know the structures of sign language. They're signing ASL words in just like English grammar. It's this like weird pidgin ASL.
This is from a Harper's essay that I believe was published in 2012.
Nim was snatched from his protective mother in an Oklahoma chimp colony just after his birth and put into a household in New York City where nobody was a fluent signer.
The household, a prosperous hippie family model, neither a sign language environment.
Nor what was normal for chimps, nor what was normal for human children, they allowed NIM alcohol and marijuana what he had no discipline, no intensive exposure to use of sign in context.
And Herb Terrace rarely visited. Nim was just a pampered, wild animal kept as a household pet.
Why do people do this so weird? It's also I mean, the field was just like moving too fast that apparently this guy, Herb Terrace, just like got a chimp without really thinking it through and then just like sent it to like a friend of his who was a Freudian psychologist in like an Upper West Side Manhattan brownstone.
And this Freudian psychologist lady apparently was like much more interested in Nim's like Oedipal complex and the fact that he kept touching her breasts, even though she was like a mother figure to him, like that's what she was interested in.
Humans are gross is like the the lesson the big reveal of this episode was unsurprising. Like we're not finding out anything bad about Coco. No, we're canceling all the humans. Yes. Chancel, humans, humans cancelled.
I mean, one of the like sort of Stubbe threads of this that nobody is like don't even dive into Divin is just the like the way that psychologists kind of like economists do now thought that they were qualified to do fucking anything in the 1970s.
Yeah, I'm a Freudian psychologist. I'll just raise a chimpanzee from birth.
I'm a white guy. I know how to do it. I read your book last year. I know I don't speak sign language. I don't know anything about it. So I assume it's not very complex.
And so he just puts this chimp into this brownstone. Eventually, he pushes out the Freudian psychology lady in favor of someone named Laura and Petito, who is an eighteen year old graduate student. And he's just like you. You take over.
I busto my monkey upon you, Laura.
Apparently, they sort of start taking Nim to this, like, empty, bare classroom somewhere on the Columbia University campus where there's like there's no toys, there's like nothing to do.
There's nothing to climb or play on square.
It's just like a bunch of language drills and instructional day, which is like this is a wild animal.
It wants to like jump and play and uses energy. It doesn't want to sit at a desk.
One of the things that they say, like it's really remarkable that Nim can, like, lie and like use manipulation. Like this is one of the things that comes out of the study.
But it's like it's because he keeps saying that he has to go to the bathroom so he can get out of this room.
And so terrorists, like on some level admits this.
I found a couple of old interviews with him after his book comes out. And so in one of them, he says, I couldn't afford to pay permanent staff and so relied on volunteers. In all, Nim was taught by 60 different people, very few of whom formed close bonds with him.
And so what he doesn't say in his science paper is that they had to abandon the project because Nim started attacking his handlers.
That's what I do. If I were Nim. Yes, it's like this is a wild animal. You guys do we know about the circumstances of these attacks? We do not know.
And I did not look them up because I think they're going to really buy me out. But the phrase grievously injured oh, now comes up a lot.
OK, and then what happens to them? It's really bad. This happens actually to a lot of the apes in these studies.
After the field implodes, they're like, we have no more money. Exactly. And it's really expensive to take care of these animals. A lot of them end up in like terrible sanctuaries are like sketchy, like Tiger King, like side of the road, random places.
This is terrible. So Nim gets sent to this facility in Oklahoma where he was born, which apparently is known among chimp people for really bad.
What kind of is it a zoo? What is it? It's called a sanctuary, but it's like a bunch of animals in fucking cages.
And it's like I mean, it's just like this is the sad ending to a lot of these things that like wasHow died of a heart attack, really young Herb Terrace, actually, he's still alive. He gives interviews on this. He says he tried to rescue in a number of times, but like he didn't have the funding to do it. And so whether we believe him or not, it's also true that, like, it's very expensive.
And so you would need some sort of infrastructure to take care of these animals afterwards and that infrastructure over there.
How's Penny responded to the Koko? Can't really talk stuff.
Yeah, I mean, she's there was a very long conversation between her and Herb Terrace in the letters to the editor section, to the New York Review of Books after this article comes out in nineteen eighty.
And she basically says that Terrace is like bitter because his own project failed and he never developed a relationship with NIM the way that she developed one with Coco. And the fact is you can't get ape to sign, like to communicate with you meaningfully if you don't have a relationship, if it doesn't feel comfortable. And so her argument has always been that he set him.
Up for failure and then he failed. I mean, this is actually something that Marcus Perlman mentioned to me was that at the center of this research is this fundamental paradox that to get an ape to communicate freely, you have to have a close relationship with him.
But then if you have a close relationship with them, you're not an objective researcher.
And so anything that that produces is not going to be credible to the outside world unless you have, like reams of unedited tape that's being screened and some kind of double blind something. Right.
And you can't even really do double blind thing like future researchers actually try doing this with masks.
But then there's also like body language, like apes are probably attuned to our body language in a way that we're not, like, aware that we're sending messages.
Oh, yeah, inevitably. And so it's not I don't know. It's not it just doesn't seem like it's very well suited to the scientific method.
And so the sort of the kind of like double debunking of this is that Nim and Coko and wasHow might have actually been doing even less communication than we think.
I think the biggest tell is this idea that drives me nuts that Coco can tell when words rhyme like she names the kitten all ball and she's doing like fruit, sweet meat, green, whatever, when, like people point out that these are words that rhyme in spoken English. But Coco doesn't know spoken English, she speaks sign language.
This is from Terrace's article only slightly less amazing than Koko's ability to create rhymes and to understand pig Latin is her professed ability to substitute a sign for an English homonym of a word she does not know.
For example, Paterson says that when Coco had difficulty articulating a need, she would occasionally use need a sign that sounds like need but is made in sign language in an entirely different manner. She has also on occasion interchange signs for I and I know and No.11 and Lemon and others.
The last example is particularly revealing, as far as I can tell.
Paterson never mentioned Koko's ability to count or to use numbers.
Why then would Coco sign 11? Hmm.
So they are contending that she thinks she's learned two languages. Actually, yes.
It's just a sign that nobody really reckoned with. The fact that sign language is a real form of communication.
Of course, has its own rhymes and has its own puns and like regional dialects and like everything you have in a language you have in sign language.
But the researchers were still coming to it with this like, very English centric view of what the apes were actually doing and a very awfullest view.
And so the journalists are nicer. She's working on her book about deaf the deaf community in America. And she at the New York Public Library bumps into a deaf guy who was one of the only deaf researchers to work with WASHOW.
So this was early. He didn't actually work with WASHOW, but he worked at the same facility as wasHow.
He was co-workers with wasHow. Yes. And he says, I wasn't there long. There was a very high turnover among the deaf.
The gardeners wouldn't listen to anything. The deaf people told them about ASL. They thought we didn't know anything about it and we're just trying to make trouble. There were three shifts a day. I go in, wake up the chimp, change the diapers and put the clothes on, sitting in a chair and warm up milk just like four children. I put a little bit of milk in the cup and waited for the sign drink Thomond mouth. I made the drink sign, waited.
When he made it, I put a few drops in the cup and waited for the sign again. I wasn't supposed to give any food until he made the eat sign. I watched really carefully. The chimps hands are moving constantly. Maybe I missed something, but I don't think so. I just wasn't seeing any signs. The hearing people were logging every movement the chimp made as a sign. Every time the chimp put his finger in his mouth, they'd say, Oh, he's making the sign for drink and they'd give him some milk for part of the day.
I was just supposed to sign to the chimp about things he knew things around the place that he knew the signs for. I signed my head off, but mostly the chimp didn't seem to notice.
And so even with these utterances of like me, drink, eat, nim, eat, whatever, some of that is projection to the right.
And so the rhetoric around this is like, isn't this amazing that we've taught these apes to communicate in language and like this thing that they needed and given to them, like Prometheus with the fire? And it's like, no, it's like we're forcing them to do this thing that they are just sort of remotely mechanically doing.
Yeah, because they're hungry or and so urbanise are also speaks to Laura Petito, this researcher who joined the NIM project when she was only eighteen or nineteen years old. She's now a researcher of ASL and like how deaf children acquire language. And she was the only one who was actually taking classes in ASL.
She asked Laura like how she feels about the experiment now and she says, It haunts me. I think about it all the time.
All sorts of questions remain. Questions I never thought to. While the project was going on, I think the truly fascinating things about the chimp, social and emotional behavior have not been studied.
Nim had, I'm sure, an intact communication system above the system we gave him, but we never tapped into it.
Nim didn't do anything with the signs. He only used them for requesting things. And even that is too anthropomorphic, a description he never used them in the deeper human sense of making a request Nim could never quite understand. He was communicating. He never used the signs as a cognitive tool, and I do not believe that he used them to think with. He had his own powerful, deeply wired communicative devices. What we added was insignificant. It didn't really add a thing.
And it's like, yeah, he's a I wrote in my notes, apes are apes, dude, in the same way we talked at the beginning of this problem with kind of placing species and placing languages and placing civilizations on this literally one dimensional spectrum from sort of backwards to civilized.
That doesn't allow you to look at just the differences and kind of celebrate the differences without having to add a value judgment to them.
So sometimes you have to remind people that, like humans are not descended from apes. Apes are not like a degraded version of man, like we have a common ancestor. But the common ancestor was seven million years ago. So it's not like we were once apes and now we're people. It's that we diverged on this fucking path and we've spent seven million years developing and so have they. Right. So they are adapted to their environments. I mean, one of the one of the things you find in the biology books is that a very good reason why apes can't really learn sign language is because they still walk on their hands a lot more than humans do.
Right. We hardly ever walk on our hands.
I feel like they literally use their knuckles to, like, walk around on the ground. And so our hands are made for, like dextrous. You know, try building these like delicate gestures. And apes are like doing much more basic functions of things like holding onto trees and hanging from them.
It's very interesting to me that also specifically at this moment, you know, in the sixties when Americans are really experiencing this cultural wave of like, did we get the fuzzy end of the lollypops compared with the chimps, I mean, chimps to wage war on other chimps and stuff, but nothing on the scale of Vietnam right now to give them that.
And I wonder if there was this weird, like, sick human impulse at this moment when anxiety about what civilization had done to us, something we had done to ourselves was at the spectacular high. And when people were being very public about these anxieties, Mike, sitting on the bus reading the population bomb, we have this need to like take these blameless apes and like force them to try and do something that they could, like, kind of do.
And it's so interesting that it's I mean, it's so different from fieldwork where you would potentially be going out and attempting to sort of observe the chimps and understand the conditions that they live in by experiencing them as much as you can. And just sort of quietly like watching the chimps speak chimps.
That's what this is. I mean, this sort of gets to like the third generation of ape research that it's much more now about just like descriptive studies.
So like Marcus, the researcher that I interviewed that was with Coco, he found that gorillas actually do much more vocal like oxygen control than we thought they did. Like, they'll kind of deliberately cough and they'll blow a raspberry when they want a tree. And so you're not, like, teaching them vocal control. You're just like, what do they do? And so this sort of over humanizing of apes and like this need to see apes as some version of ourselves is really what brings us back to cocoa and what explains the later years of cocoa's life.
What are Koko's later years like? Is this like the Motley Crue story, Hucko Sunset Boulevard years?
I mean, in some ways, Koko's really lucky in that she wasn't taken away from Penny and they were getting donations from, like, you know, newsletters and like various like people would give donations to the Gorilla Foundation to keep cocoa housed and fed.
Cocoa was famous enough to be financially secure in her old age. Yes. And Penny never left her, which in a lot of ways is like this really sweet, giving, caring thing.
But then we also have reports from people who worked at the Gorilla Foundation that, first of all, they they ask everybody who leaves to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which is just like not a great sign unless you're Beyonce.
And then in 2012, we had like an open letter from a lot of the staff members there saying that basically the cocoa is like fed like a human diet and like she's not very healthy, like Penny will mention sort of casually that like cocoa loves pizza and then like actual sort of like primatologists that people who work on this stuff are like she should not be eating pizza, dude.
Like, this is not what she eats and it's not good for her.
And like the sweets, like they're feeding her chocolates. Apparently the Gorilla Foundation is like, oh, they're good. They have a. Antioxidants in them would like to guerrilla's need fucking antioxidants like, I don't know, the lack of oversight for like working and living with wild animals. As you know, we've all learned a lot in the last few months about how lax that can be.
Yes, there's weird money stuff. There's also two employees, Sue, because they say that Patterson made them show their nipples to cocoa.
Apparently, according to the lawsuit, Patterson once said, cocoa, you see my nipples all the time. You're probably bored with my nipples. You need to see new nipples. I will turn my back so Kendra can show you her nipples.
Oh, so is is this becoming like Cocoa wasn't actually asking her nipples? Cocoa was the excuse to ask people to show their nipples.
I think it's just like I think it's more emblematic of just like the refusal to place any boundaries.
Right. So you think it's like Penneys devotion is like arguably manifesting in her treating Kocho like another human. And it's like, yeah, it's really nice that you feel like you took these sacred vows to, like, give your whole life to Coco. But maybe Coco would do better if you gave less of your life to her. Yeah.
One of the things that's actually really fascinating to me, and I think this is like an archetype that we have it run across in our show all that much in that Penny Patterson is like very obviously like a good person or thinks of herself as a good person or is trying to be a good person.
Yes. And and, you know, one of the aspects of her that doesn't get all that much attention is that she's a devout Christian. I have.
Yeah. And I've never heard that before. And I've been hearing about Coco and Penny since I was a little kid.
I mean, she talks about in the first years of training, Coco, that she would like sort of fog her breath on a window pane and she would draw a little angel in it and then she would try to get Coco to draw it and then she would try to get Coco to sign Angel.
And part of her project has always been to prove that gorillas have a soul. Wow.
But it's also interesting that over time, that drive, I think, has pushed her to sort of do a like the ends justify the means kind of thing.
So throughout the time that she's with Coco, there's these kind of varied background rumors that, first of all, apparently the San Francisco Zoo actually asked for Coco back and Penny either flat out refused or she raised enough money through fundraising to buy Coco from the zoo. But it seems like nobody really wanted to have like a big public legal battle about this. And so they thought that it was better to just leave Coco with her. I can't believe we're talking about gorilla legal battles.
I really I guess this was inevitable that we would get here.
And then Michael, this gorilla that she brings in to try to impregnate Coco was actually captured from the wild.
Oh, the story that Penny tells in her book is that sort of his parents were eaten by natives in Cameroon and people in that part of the world do actually eat gorillas.
So that's like somewhat plausible. But then other people that kind of know more about the dynamics of the international trade in gorillas have said that what that usually means is that his parents were poached and that he was kidnapped and then sold. And so and I mean, she admits in her book that she bought Michael from some random guy like someone she met through Barbet Schroeder, the film director. Wow.
For twenty eight thousand dollars, she went to go see a man about a gorilla. Yes.
There's a documentary that the BBC did in 2015 where Penny talks about Coco's inability to have a child and like she breaks down crying, talking about this. And it's really moving. And it's clear that she sees this as her failure. And that cocoa's sadness is her sadness.
You know, I mean, I keep thinking about, you know, these moments that she talks about as evidence that Coco knows sign language right off. She says, oh, driving to L.A. is going to kill me. And Coco runs over and signs frown, frown, frown.
And in a way, it's like you don't really need Coco to sign frown, frown, frown for that to be like kind of a touching story.
Right. And maybe it's that Coco is noticing your emotions and what you're putting out emotionally because animals are generally much better at that than we are. Yes. And she's communicating with you on a different level than the one you're trying to teach her. But it's still real and it's still happening. Right.
And you don't necessarily need to put it in this frame of like, look, she says like grammar and syntax and she's pluralize ing words. It's like maybe she's just intuiting something and she's expressing it to you. But we aren't necessarily tuned in to the way that she's doing that. And so, you know, she set out to prove that gorillas have a soul. And I think she did. Yeah.
Yes. But not in the way that she wanted to.
I mean, she certainly made a generation of children love gorillas. I mean, that's a start. And I do think there's also something to the idea that, like when she started working with Coco, there was this idea that gorillas wouldn't take to language. Which I guess was true in the end, but that they wouldn't like because they were like inferior to the other great apes or something like that, and I think that what all these children grew up with as a truth that is still a truth is that like, here's Coco.
She's a lovely gorilla. She is best friends with this lady.
She wanted a baby and she got a kitten who loved her kitten. And then she lost her kitten. And she was sad. Like, I think that all remains true if she's not communicating with signs that she is sad. Right.
That she's still telling us that she's not necessarily telling it to us in the language that we've taught her or that we claimed to have taught her.
But it's there if we want to listen.
This actually reminds me of the famous miracle worker moment of Helen Keller feeling the water on her hand and saying water. We're like, why that didn't happen. Oh, she wasn't verbalizing at all. They weren't working on that at all yet because Anne Sullivan was like, OK, this child is deaf, blind, like I am going, whose fingers fell everything into her hand. And so the water pump moment is her realizing that the word being spelled into her hand means the thing that she's feeling.
There's no verbal language involved at that point. She's not there yet, which is very interesting. Right. We rewrote that to privilege the kind of communication that is meaningful to us. I'm like that moment of realization still happened, but it's just a little bit different than the version that was made palatable for the public.
Oh, that's lovely. That's like a little bonus. You're wrong about things. And so on June 19th of twenty, Coco is forty six and she passes away in her sleep.
The average gorilla in the wild I think lives to like 30 years, but they tend to live much longer in captivity.
I mean, Marcus, this researcher that I interviewed, I mean, he said that like, there's no way to look at cocoa or these kinds of studies with anything other than like sadness, the existence of her, like she was born in captivity. She spent her whole life in captivity. It's not clear that she, like, knew that she was a gorilla. Like her whole life. She was socializing with humans.
There's no way to look at it as anything other than just like a tragedy like the Earth.
Her existence is a tragedy, right?
Even if the abuse that she suffered wasn't as bad as NIM, but like captivity is a form of abuse and lack of other gorillas is a form of abuse.
Because what's amazing to me is like the whole debate in the 70s and early 80s was sort of like, can an ape learn sign language? And it's like, yes, they can. No, they can't.
But like, was that ever the right question to ask?
Like, I think of like, you know, if I am like, kidnapped and taken to like an alien planet and like they teach me to speak, they're like clapping and like slapping different parts of my body language or like whatever weird eight armed alien language they have.
Yeah, I like picturing you clapping as you can to try and get like a little earthling biscuit, but it's like it's an interesting parlor trick, but like that's not teaching them anything about humans.
So is it like. Yeah. Like you're on this planet and you're like clapping to get crackers and then they're like, look, this human can write klap poetry and you're just like clap banks. And they're like, wow, so beautiful. Right? And you're like, I just want a cracker, you know? So take me back to my planet. Right.
It's not telling you anything about sort of like the ability of apes to engage in higher order cognition, because our only way of tapping into that is to try to translate it into a language that we understand. It's like it's the wrong medium to be figuring out the kinds of thought that they're capable of.
I know all of our episodes are depressing, but this is depressing in a different way. Yes, it's kind of more painful because I am less of a callus on it. Yeah. Yeah. And what I mean, how would you describe this, like, modality of painfulness?
My I mean, this is I'm going to end with like a really dark Kafka quote that Kafka Kafka wrote a short story called a report to the Academy, which is about like an ape that learns to speak but like really speak. This is an excerpt from the Harpers article in recounting why he had learned to talk, the ape explains to his fellow members of the academy there was no attraction for me in imitating human beings. I imitated them because I needed a way out and for no other reason.
And so I learned things.
Gentleman, one learns when one needs a way out, one learns at all costs, in conclusion, education as a tool of the oppressors, you know.
Yeah, I mean, I guess well, I guess the ways that, like the ways that we teach are informed by what kinds of intelligence we find valuable. Right. Yeah.
And also, I mean, it's also a parallel to deaf people, right. Where it's like for 100 hundred years we were like, no, no, you need to learn to communicate in this other way. You need to communicate in this way that isn't suited to you. But we're going to make you do it anyway.
It's interesting that we became enthusiastic as Americans of. Out ASL in the process of teaching it to a population that couldn't apparently benefit from it, like when there were people who were like, we would like to communicate in a way that is useful to us, we're like, absolutely not. Right. We're going to force someone else to do it rather than doing the thing that's useful to them. See, it's only worth teaching to someone if it's painful for them.
And so we wouldn't want to recognize it for people that want to be speaking it. Yeah, we only want to impose it upon this other, you know, what we believe to be this other spectrum of humanity.
Why value a means of communication if you can't force it on people? Yeah.
So, yeah, that's it. Well, Mike, that was really about a bummer. Thanks, but we didn't cancel Coco. You didn't keep Coco and throw out everyone else.