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The Speed of Chimp.

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Hugo Rune
269009.  Thu Jan 31, 2008 8:12 pm Reply with quote

This is to continue something I mentioned in the Speed of Light thread, and one of my favourite subjects, the brain...
On Ch5 the other evening was a prog called "Extraordinary Animals" (or something like that) which featured some chimps, and one in particular, with amazing working memory skills, they could count and use a computer via touch screen, and the first test they showed was circles with the numbers one to nine randomly arranged, and the chimp had to touch them in numerical order, which they all did with amazing speed.
Later they pitted a top mentalist in a competition with the chimps, the test was similar to the previous but only 6 or 7 numbers were displayed, randomly placed on the screen, and they were only displayed for a limited time.
The human was tested, and even at the longest display time (around a 1/4 second) he could only manage it about once every six attempts, and when they shortened the display time to just the briefest flash, he never suceeded once, even when taking as long as he wants to think about it.

The chimps, on the other hand, had absolutely perfect memory, and even on the shortest time, something like 50milliseconds, they had no problem with the test, and they never even hesitated, straight after the flash of the numbers, they pressed the monitor as fast as I can count.

It could be argued that these chimps are different than their wild brothers and sisters because they had been brought up in a controlled laboratory environment, and had constant training, but I think that wild chimps have the same capabilities.

I have a theory as to why we are not able to do that, a proper scientific one I might add.

So before I explain my rather long theory, does anyone here have an idea as to why it is that chimpanzees can make us look stupid?

 
npower1
269056.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:04 am Reply with quote

What is a 'top mentalist'?

Why is short term memory of importance?

If you follow current affairs can you rate the human species as more adaptable than chimps?

 
mr2mk1g
269059.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:11 am Reply with quote

There was a very similar test reported a couple of months ago using exactly the same protocol of flashing up numbers for fractions of a second and having the subjects touch the screen.

They pitted chimps vs. human children and also chimps vs. human adults.

The tests (as reported by the redtops) concluded that chips had a better/faster memory than humans... kinda like the ch5 show you saw.

The actual test results (as reported by rather more accurate news organisations) concluded that human children were just as quick as the young chimps and then as we age, the way our brains work changes subtly so we loose the ability which is common to both human children and also young chimps. They also noted that older chimps were, just like older humans, worse at it than their younger counterparts.

 
dr.bob
269065.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:37 am Reply with quote

mr2mk1g wrote:
The actual test results (as reported by rather more accurate news organisations) concluded that human children were just as quick as the young chimps and then as we age, the way our brains work changes subtly so we loose the ability which is common to both human children and also young chimps.


Shame nobody's done an experiment to see if human children would still lose* this ability if someone locked them in a lab all day and forced them to stare at flashy lights on a screen their whole lives :)


*Not "loose". Grrrr!

 
djgordy
269068.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:40 am Reply with quote

Hugo Rune wrote:
So before I explain my rather long theory, does anyone here have an idea as to why it is that chimpanzees can make us look stupid?


They don't. Chimps might be trained to use computers but they can't build them.

 
djgordy
269070.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:44 am Reply with quote

mr2mk1g wrote:
that chips had a better/faster memory than humans....



We're being out-thought by fried vegetable products now!

 
Hugo Rune
269326.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 9:25 am Reply with quote

Okay, not interesting then.

Fair enough, I'll just leave you with an example of a human who CAN do what the chimps do, which I doubt any one of you could do.

http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk/Tokyo_Panorama_by_Stephen_Wiltshire.aspx

 
Davini994
269337.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 9:39 am Reply with quote

Only one way to find out!

post 263521

 
Hugo Rune
269364.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 10:53 am Reply with quote

Thats the one Davini, thanks.

 
Hugo Rune
269386.  Fri Feb 01, 2008 11:34 am Reply with quote

djgordy wrote:


They don't. Chimps might be trained to use computers but they can't build them.

Douglas Adams springs to mind here...
"So long, and thanks for all the fish"

 
Leith
271063.  Mon Feb 04, 2008 9:20 pm Reply with quote

Well I thought it was an interesting topic.

Here is the New Scientist's take on the experiments. The article is fairly consistent with mr2mk1g's description but also states that, while there are human children with comparable memories to the young chimps, they are quite rare.

The identification of different types of mental ability and the relative strengths and weaknesses exhibited by different individuals is something I find fascinating, whether the comparison is between children and adults or humans and chimps. The knowledge that even young chimps can be taught to recognise Arabic numerals and place them in order was also new to me.

dr.bob wrote:
Shame nobody's done an experiment to see if human children would still lose* this ability if someone locked them in a lab all day and forced them to stare at flashy lights on a screen their whole lives :)

dr.bob's point does highlight one aspect of the tests that bothers me - the question as to how ethical it is to confine and experiment upon creatures that can, in some ways at least, demonstrate cognitive skills comparable with those of a young child. Should such testing be prohibited? Does the value of such experiments justify their use if the chimps are well treated? Or should we treat them entirely dispassionately as they are not human?

Hugo Rune wrote:
I'll just leave you with an example of a human who CAN do what the chimps do, which I doubt any one of you could do.

http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk/Tokyo_Panorama_by_Stephen_Wiltshire.aspx

Stephen Wiltshire's pictures are stunning. I remember seeing a documentary on him way back, entitled 'The Boy Who Draws Buildings'. It stuck in my memory as I was a rather socially dysfunctional child at the time with a similar fondness for drawing buildings (though neither my impairments nor my artistic talents were particularly remarkable compared to Mr Wiltshire's). I'd not heard of him since so it's good to see he's still out there.

Conditions such as autism and Asperger's syndrome also provide examples in which an individual's mental ability is severely reduced in some areas (such as communication skills), but may also be well above average in others (such as memory or numerical skills). The similarities between the mental profile associated with Asperger's syndrome and the personality archetypes often associated with my profession (systems/software engineering) is another area that I find intriguing.

Hugo - if you're still watching, I'd be interested to hear more about your theory. The same applies to anyone else who has any thoughts on the subject or on my various ramblings.

 
Guest
272662.  Thu Feb 07, 2008 10:42 am Reply with quote

The speed of vervet.

 
barbados
272766.  Thu Feb 07, 2008 1:25 pm Reply with quote

Hugo Rune wrote:

Fair enough, I'll just leave you with an example of a human who CAN do what the chimps do, which I doubt any one of you could do.


Oh ye of little faith.

 
Hugo Rune
273091.  Thu Feb 07, 2008 8:13 pm Reply with quote

Leith wrote:
Well I thought it was an interesting topic.

Hugo - if you're still watching, I'd be interested to hear more about your theory. The same applies to anyone else who has any thoughts on the subject or on my various ramblings.


Leith wrote:
Well I thought it was an interesting topic.

Hugo - if you're still watching, I'd be interested to hear more about your theory. The same applies to anyone else who has any thoughts on the subject or on my various ramblings.

Sorry for the tardiness, been decorating, and it’s a bit of a tiring job.

I got interested in how the brain/CNS works after I had an accident in 1992 that led to spinal injury, the result of which is paraplegia and life in a wheelchair. My main problem is that it seems to me that below the waist my body has reverted back to something more primitive, I get symptoms that seem to be related to the “fight or flee” function, except being in a wheelchair I can’t flee anymore, but my legs and my bladder react as if I can.

Also, my sister has one of her sons who is diagnosed with mild autism, so I had another reason to learn more.

Long ago I saw a documentary on telly about dysfunctional brains and the work of Ramachandran, and especially his book “Phantoms in the brain”. He realized that if you want to understand how the brain works it is no good looking at properly functioning brains, it is better to look at dysfunctional ones for clues as to how the whole system operates. Stephen Wiltshire featured as one of his examples in this programme.

If this subject interests you then I highly recommend you get this book, it is fascinating.

here is his webpage:
http://psy.ucsd.edu/chip/ramabio.html

To explain my model here I need to refer to this book, but unfortunately I cannot find it… (I have bought this book three times now, and every time I lend it to someone it never comes back, which is not a problem as I would only “lend” it to someone who needs to know the info, and if they find it useful then I am happy for them to keep it), so I am going to have to explain the model as I understand it from memory.

But please keep in mind that this is only a model, I am not suggesting this is how the entire brain is actually built, and it is based mainly on the work of Ramachandran.

But I do have access to the New Scientist archives, and one article will be quoted here, and the picture in this post is from that article.

It is well known that our conscious mind is the last part to know what is going on, most of the processing and decision making is done subconsciously. Some scientists go so far as to believe that it is responsible for the vast majority of our day-to-day activity and that we are nothing more than "zombies" guided by our subconscious.

From New Scientist 01 December 2007
The subconscious mind: Your unsung hero

Quote:
“What this suggests is that our brains constantly monitor our internal and external environment such that when the input becomes important enough, the subconscious decides to engage the conscious and we become aware of what is there. This is certainly what neurobiologist Michael Shadlen from the University of Washington in Seattle believes. "We suspect that the normal unconscious brain monitors the environment for cues that prompt it to decide whether to awaken and engage... The decision to engage at all is, in effect, an unconscious decision to be conscious."”

“Crucially, Shadlen sees the subconscious and conscious as two parts of the same system, rather than two separate thought processors working in the same machine. However, while Shadlen argues for a unified model of mental processing, others want to further subdivide conscious and subconscious thought and have come up with alternative descriptions to replace the old two-part model. Peter Dayan, a theoretical neuroscientist at University College London, and colleagues Nathaniel Daw and Yael Niv, see the mind as comprising four systems (see Diagram) that work together to control our decision-making and behaviour (Nature Neuroscience, vol 8, p 1704). First is the Pavlovian controller - the brain's autopilot, programmed by evolution to perform routine and instinctive behaviours such as fleeing from danger. Working primarily at the subconscious level, the Pavlovian controller is fast and efficient, if inflexible.”




Whatever, I model this subconscious processing as a whole collection of filters.

My apparently normal brain receives huge amounts of information constantly from its sensory system, and absolutely everything is noticed by the subconscious, but it filters 99.99% of this info to either automatic systems or it says “so what?” and dumps it as unimportant, and it only allows through to the conscious mind anything that is immediately important, with a priority given to anything that threatens survival.

This means that I can sit in my house and not notice things around me, like perhaps the number of bricks in the wall, that info is not important to me or my survival and is filtered out by the subconscious.
But if a massive ball and chain were to suddenly bash through that same wall, you can guarantee that I would be aware of it, but not before my subconscious had already instructed my muscles to flee from danger, even then it would react before I was made consciously aware of it.

For Stephen Wiltshire, his filters are not working at all, therefore everything has equal importance to him, the number of bricks in a wall is just as important for him as eating or drinking, and therefore he is incapable of functioning properly, from the programme it was mentioned that he is not capable of tying his own shoelaces, or making a cup of tea, and his sister was having to do everything for him. This was a few years ago while still in his teens I think, so I don’t know his abilities now beyond his drawings.

The chimps in the documentary showed the same skills as Stephen, a totally photographic memory, as if the filter modules are not working, but I’m not saying they are dysfunctional, only that for the chimps, in the lab or in the wild, getting food is of high importance so their filter modules are probably functioning normally for them.

But it does make me wonder about this difference between us and chimps, and I wonder if it is this filter module that makes us different (keeping in mind that, like Camelot, it’s only a model).

 
Leith
274507.  Sun Feb 10, 2008 10:12 am Reply with quote

Hugo Rune wrote:
Sorry for the tardiness, been decorating, and it’s a bit of a tiring job.


No worries :) Glad you could find the time to post back.

I looked up wikipedia's article on Prof. Ramachandran after reading your post. Sound's like he's done some remarkable work. The section discussing his studies of phantom limbs particularly caught my attention. 'Phantoms in the Brain' definitely looks worth adding to my reading list. According to the wiki article Ramachandran has also published a new book recently entitled 'The Man with the Phantom Twin: Adventures in the Neuroscience of the Human Brain'.

I'm currently reading 'Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid' by Douglas Hofstadter - another noted figure in the field of cognitive science. I'm finding this fascinating so far and, while probably not directly relevent to the chimp experiments or to Stephen Wiltshire, it is concerned with models of the mind - specifically Hofstadter's ideas on the nature of consciousness and our individual sense of identity. The key themes of the book are discussed primarily in terms of mathematics, with particular reference to Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorem. The abstract mathematical ideas are illustrated by drawing analogies to works in a variety of disciplines including art (the drawings of M. C. Escher), music (J.S. Bach) and literature (the theoretical chapters are interspersed with playful dialogues based on Lewis Carrol's 'What the Tortoise said to Achilles').

Your model of the subconscious as a filtering system puts me in mind of some automated decision-making systems I've had occasion to study in the past - in particular those that employ artificial intelligence techniques to make decisions based on live data supplied by arrays of sensors. Such systems typically pre-process the raw sensor data using relatively simple, conventional algorithms to produce data of a suitable volume and format for analysis by the AI core that performs the more sophisticated decision-making.

In order for these systems to work effectively in real-time, the pre-processing and decision-making tasks have to be carefully prioritised and optimised. For example, the pre-processing tasks must be given priority over the decision-making tasks - high volumes of incoming data must be processed as fast as it arrives or eventually the system will have to start discarding data indiscriminately. The pre-processing tasks must also be efficient enough that they can complete their work without monopolizing processing resources that are needed for the decision-making tasks. The better job the pre-processing task does of selecting the appropriate data to pass on, the better chance the decision-making task has of completing its work with the resources available to it and the better informed its decisions will be.

 

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