STELLA, HE TALKING DOG – By ELLIN CURLEY

I’m sure you’ve heard about the studies in which chimps/apes are brought up from birth by humans and taught to ‘talk’ through sign language and other means. It’s not a big surprise that other primates close to us on the evolutionary scale can learn to communicate in a fairly sophisticated, ‘human’ way.

But I just read about a woman who trained her dog to do roughly the same thing! I am so excited! This dog, Stella, has learned to communicate in words AND sentences by touching buttons that signify specific words on a soundboard. To me, this is the coolest thing ever! I’ve always known that my dogs had complex thoughts running through their heads but just had no way to share them with me.

Stella next to her soundboard

Now, don’t get too excited – you won’t be able to teach your significant canine to do this. It’s not for amateurs. The lady who helped Stella master language is Christina Hunger and she is a speech-language pathologist who has vast experience working with children who have speech-language deficits. Many of these kids need ‘ linguistic technology’ to communicate, like modified computers, flashcards, soundboards, etc. So she’s an expert at creating and using these tools.

Christina got Stella, a Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix, at eight weeks old and started to train her immediately. She set up a soundboard with buttons for the words she wanted Stella to use. At eighteen months now, Stella knows 29 words and can tell her mom and dad her thoughts. She can even combine words into sentences of up to five words. Human babies usually can’t speak in phrases and sentences initially and have to master individual words first.

Stella using her board

Stella can ask for walks, playtime or a trip to the beach. She can communicate emotions, like anxiety, as well. One day, she heard a noise outside and pressed ‘look’ nine times and then ‘come outside’! Another time Stella was whining at the front door and Christina assumed that Stella wanted to go out. But Stella went to her board and tapped out ‘want’ ‘Jake’ (Christina’s fiancé who lives with them) and ‘come’. Stella then planted herself in front of the door until Jake came home. Then, to Christina’s amazement, Stella pressed ‘happy’ and assumed the position for a belly rub!

Stella and Christina

Stella recently started using both paws on the board and she appears to be developing the turn-taking skills of conversation, like answering questions. This also develops in children only after they are able to say words and phrases on their own. Here’s an example:

Stella: ‘Stella’, ‘bye’, ‘play’

Jake: ‘Where do you want to play? We’ll eat now then play’.

Stella: 15-20 second pause. Then, ‘eat’, ‘eat’, ‘park’. This indicates that she understood the sequence of eating first and then playing. Remarkable.

Another big advance in Stella’s communication skills is her mastery of time. She can now talk about something that just happened, not just what she wants now. After she eats, she’ll press ‘eat’ and after coming back from the park, she’ll press ‘park’ as if she’s trying to tell Jake where she just went. This implies a more sophisticated concept of language. To test this, Christina added an ‘all done’ button for Stella to signify something that happened in the past. And Stella used it after a walk!

In addition, Stella originally could use only single words, like a human infant. Then she started using short phrases once or twice a week. Now she uses as many word combinations each day as single words so her skills are improving along the lines of a human baby.

I’m sure that Christina devoted a huge amount of time to training Stella and that most average people couldn’t duplicate her experiment at home. But it’s still wonderful to know that our dogs are capable of understanding more human language than we thought and when given the opportunity, they can use it to talk back to us. I’m beyond thrilled that much of the anthropomorphism of my dogs is warranted and backed up by science!

Stella using two words.

You can follow Stella on Christina’s blog at HungerForWords.com.

SHARE YOUR WORLD FOR THE MIDDLE OF NOVEMBER — Marilyn Armstrong

World Sharing – Mid November — almost holiday time!

Can we ever experience anything objectively?  Why or why not?  (Now for the people who may not understand that idea, this is what objective means (definition wise):  Something that is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions).

I would like to think that mathematics, physics, and scientific inquiry are non-emotional. That’s true, but not entirely. Expecting a particular result tends to make it more likely that scientists will find that result. Also, a lot of scientific inquiry comes up with answers that are hypothetical and theoretical and not “hard” science. A scientific “theory” is not the same as pretending something that’s not true IS true. It’s not “fake.” It’s just something that can’t be absolutely proven.


Answers change as new technical solutions become available and also when the culture sees the world “differently.” When the rigid Catholic control of Europe began to slip, the way we looked at the universe changed too. In fact, that change of cultural control was critical to scientific inquiry.


So no, there’s no such thing as “entirely objective,” but there is certainly a big difference between fantasy — completely made up — and reality. Fact-seeking brings us a lot closer to objectivity than deciding the truth before you hear the facts and deciding anything else is not true. Climate change is one of those things.


Massive amounts of science have been used to determine the reality of this event and objective events — storms, rising water, and melting ice — have shown us that this is real. This is probably as close to objective as anything gets … yet those who are likely to make money from further despoiling of our environment reject it.

It isn’t that is is not true or objective. It’s greed, pure and simple.

Do humans have a soul? Do animals have a soul?

I don’t know. Do you?

Why are people told to respect the dead? (example: “Don’t speak ill of the dead”)

That’s cultural. Some religious groups idolize their ancestors, others merely bury them. Most people would really like us to have a soul, but I reserve my judgment on this. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone “knows.”

We hope. We believe. We yearn. We may (or may not) pray — but we do NOT know because the dead have not come back to chat with us. Until they do, we can just wonder and hope.

Without using the names of specific people, discuss “the ideal” President or another world leader.  Saying ‘anyone who is the exact opposite of a certain orange-skinned creature’ is cheating.  While (to me) that’s a true statement, there’s more depth to the question than to reduce it to one sentence.

I don’t know if there is any such person. Politics does what it does. Even the most honest people and truthful people get bent in politics.


So you do the best you can, trying to find people who believe what you believe and you hope that they will do their best for you and this world.

GRABBING A LITTLE ANTI-MATTER – Marilyn Armstrong

When I worked with NASA back in the late 1980s, I had to do a large, complicated study on what kind of unit they should design to retrieve satellites in space.

The NASA guys believed anything with fewer than three arms would be worthless. It turns out satellites do interesting things. Not just rolling, but doing a sort of shimmy — like a spitball in space. Despite more than 700-pages of diagrams and explanations, the financial wizards in the government decided on building a unit with only two arms.

Which, as their own scientists had noted, wouldn’t work. They tried it in space. It didn’t work.

Neptune from 1989 Voyager

They were still putting all the space travel stuff on television, so when the “satellite catching” event came up, I had to watch it. “Hey,” I told Garry, “I was the lead writer on the study for this thing.” I really was, too.

The multi-million dollar satellite catcher did not work at all. It was completely useless and could not catch anything. Eventually, the astronaut dumped the “catcher” and grabbed the satellite with his hands.

It turned out, they didn’t need any kind of special catching machinery because even very big things are weightless in outer space.

So much for a lot of scientists, artists, writers, and editors working on this monumental study. I worked 7-days a week for five weeks. Which earned me some really serious overtime money, even though the study was a bust.

1989 shot of earth’s arctic ice

The most interesting thing was I got to talking with my NASA scientist who was in charge of the project.

It was 1988. They already knew about things like anti-matter — something I thought was just science fiction.

My scientist guy said “Oh, no. We know it’s there. We just have to figure out how to get some.”

I said, “What would you do with it?”

Yes, we CAN!

He laughed. “Oh, I don’t know. Destroy the world? Maybe the universe?”

He wasn’t kidding. Even a tiny bit of anti-matter could go a long way towards blowing up the universe. Let’s not wait for climate change to do us in. Let’s grab some anti-matter and blow up the world. Whoopee!

Soon thereafter, I quit that job.

It had begun to make my brain do weird barrel rolls in my head. I had nightmares and helping them find stuff that could not only blow up the earth but all the planets and maybe the sun. Maybe the whole universe.

That’s a lot of blowing up. Every now and then, I still have those nightmares. Sooner or later, those scientists will find a way to get their hands on anti-matter.

A slip of the finger later …

I refer you to this article on Anti-Matter. If you think I’m kidding, really, I’m not.

And finally, a little quote to whet your appetite:

“… when matter and antimatter come into contact, they annihilate – disappearing in a flash of energy. The Big Bang should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter. So why is there far more matter than antimatter in the universe?”

Maybe there isn’t more matter than anti-matter. Maybe we just haven’t found the big anti-matter grab bag yet. And if there is an equal amount of anti-matter in the universe, are there also anti-people? Anti-trees? Anti-birds?

Maybe given our human record for destroying everything we get our hands on, we should just skip the whole anti-matter thing and do something positive?

Just a thought.

B+ AND ME: BLOOD TYPES AROUND THE WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

A few years ago, I got to thinking about blood type. I wondered how come I have B+ blood when everyone in my family is O or A. I decided to go hunting on the Internet to see if I could learn something about where I come from using this tidbit of information.

Blood type O: the Americas

Blood type O: the Americas

It turns out, B-type people are universally less common than O and A.

It might mean I have some tidbit of Asian ancestry. Genghis Khan made serious inroads into Europe. Who knows where the seeds of his army were left?

The incidence of type B is low amongst Jews. Low everywhere, but not unheard of, nor so infrequent as to be rare. But low.

My mother was type O, the most common blood group everywhere. Among native peoples in the western hemisphere, type O is close to 100%. Many scientists theorize that “O” was the “original” human blood type and all other types mutated from it.

That’s one theory, anyhow. Blood types do mutate and occasionally even change completely following a transfusion.

This is a bit of a hot topic because some places, blood typing has been used to categorize people as inferior, notably Japan. There are always racists looking for a way to prove they are superior to everyone else. At least one study (I’m not sure I should dignify it with that name) claims people of B-type blood are descendants of Neanderthals while O and A descended from Cro-Magnon.

This is pure speculation. Not research.

Worse, there are pockets of racists who contend that A is the only pure Aryan blood type. What evidence did they base this on? None. Particularly interesting since O is the dominant blood type everywhere.

Overall in the world, B is the rarest ABO blood allele. Only 16% of humanity has it. It reaches its highest frequency in Central Asia and Northern India. It’s believed to have been entirely absent from Native American and Australian Aboriginal populations prior to the arrival of Europeans. However, there are relatively high-frequency pockets in Africa too. 

B is not a dominant blood type anywhere. It is highest in the Philippines and Siberia, the lowest in the Americas. Very rare in the British Isles and Scandinavia. The highest percentage it reaches is 38% of the population and that is in the Philippines. In the Middle East, the ultimate melting pot, all the major blood types are more or less evenly divided in the population.

If this shows some kind of migratory pattern for our ancestors, no one can prove it. Not yet, anyway, but they are working on it. The Middle East is the land pathway between Africa, Europe, and Asia, so it makes sense that many types of people might make their homes there.

It turns out there is no universally accepted theory of the origins of man. Scientists and other theorists can’t even agree whether or not we all have the same progenitors.

blood types around the world

So after all this, I don’t know much more than I did when I started. Clearly, there is something to be learned from the distribution of blood types in the world, but no one is certain of exactly what.

One of the possibilities of my “B” blood type is that my father was mistakenly typed and rather than A, was actually AB. But the truth is that blood types do sometimes pop up unexpectedly. There are lots of recessive traits lingering in us. My B+ blood has a number of unique qualities, which is why I have a blood donor card that specifies the unique other qualities of my blood.

In fact, the blood types we know – O, A, AB, B – in both positive and negative forms are not the whole of blood-typing. It gets a lot more complicated than most people realize, which is why there are whole hospitals dedicated to dealing with blood.

I think eventually blood typing will be one of the many ways we trace the movements of our Neolithic ancestors. Maybe even pre-Neolithic.

The Mystery Of The World’s Greatest Butterfly Migration – Reblog – Science!

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES AND THEIR TRAVELS!

ScienceSwitch

Every winter, tens of millions of butterflies travel up to 4,500 km from all over North America to spend the winter hanging from oyamel fir trees in central Mexico’s mountain forests. But how does an animal with a brain the size of a poppy seed travel safely through to this one special place?

Via – It’s Okay To Be Smart

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THE BIGGEST LIE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE – SCIENCE IS REAL

You should watch this. And don’t buy anything from ExxonMobil. Isn’t it great how giant corporations have done and continue to destroy OUR world so they can make an even bigger profit? They already have more money than anyone could possibly spend, but they want it all and the way things are going, they will get it all. And we will be left with the burnt out shell of our green planet earth.


 

ScienceSwitch

We were all lied to about climate change.

Via – AsapSCIENCE

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The Origin of Consciousness – How Unaware Things Became Aware – REBLOG

Interesting that we don’t really know where consciousness comes from. Even computer programming. I know how it’s done … but why does it work? Why does writing all those lines of code make a computer DO the things it does?

ScienceSwitch

Consciousness is the state of being aware of both our surroundings and our own inner state. But where does it come from?

Via – Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

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