Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Horton sees an X

Mills of the gods

The Associated Press reported this morning that an elephant ("Happy") at the Bronx zoo recognized itself in a mirror back in 2005. The story does not explain the long hold on releasing such a critical scientific finding.

Apparently, the researchers at the Bronx Zoo, perhaps with a little time to kill, had put up a big mirror in the elephant pen. On the mirror thay had drawn an X. The X showed up in the mirror, right in the middle of an elephant's forehead, if the elephant were to look in the mirror. While several elephants did not appear to notice the X, Happy the Elephant, while staring at the mirror, placed her trunk on the spot on her head where the X appeared to be. Stop the Presses.

How many people are surprised that the elephant recognized itself in the mirror ? It would have never crossed my mind that an elephant, who in the wild spends a lot of time staring into a watering hole, had never seen its own image before. The fact that the other elephants did not react as Happy, proves only that they knew that the X was drawn on the mirror and not in the middle of their forhead. In other words, Happy, far from being the smartest pac in the derm is probably the dumbest.

The Bronx Zoo needs to stay away from research. This is the zoo which, after the St. Louis World's Fair, in 1904, put a human Pygmy on display in a cage.The Zoo's name and reputation are not synonymous with the great scientific research centers of the world. Indeed, the experiment devised for the elephants sounds more like something a middle school child would propose for a science fair.

But that just shows how little I know about science. It turns out that the original designer of the experiment (which was done for chimps) believes that a lot more testing needs to be done before we can state, with certainty, that an elephant can see itself in a mirror.This guy, Gordon Gallup, is insisting on further tests involving Elephants and "dolphins". Dolphins ? I think dolphins have been shown to be capable of translating Latin, why wouldn't they be able to see themselves in a mirror ? And how would you run that test anyway ? Put a mirror underwater ? Can a dolphin even touch the middle of it's forhead with a fin ? Sounds like Mr Gallup is just wrangling for a fat government grant ,preferably one which forces him to do his research in Hawaii.


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