The Mind Outside The Body (Part 6)

A few years ago the adventurous British researcher Rupert Sheldrake received an e-mail from a woman who said that her parrot not only read her thoughts but responded to them with speech.
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Explorations into the mind field will become more fascinating as time unfolds. But at least one finding has its share of entertainment value. A few years ago the adventurous British researcher Rupert Sheldrake received an e-mail from a woman in New York City who said that her African gray parrot not only read her thoughts but responded to them with speech. The woman or her husband would be sitting in another room, out of sight from the bird, whose name is N'kisi, and if they were feeling hungry, N'kisi would suddenly say, "You want some yummy." If they were thinking about going out, N'kisi might say, "You gotta go out, see ya later."

Greatly intrigued, Sheldrake contacted the owner, an artist named Aimee Morgana. African gray parrots are among the most linguistically talented of all birds, and N'kisi had a huge vocabulary of over 700 words. More remarkable still, he used them like human speech, not "parroting" a word mindlessly but applying it where appropriate; if he saw something that was red, he said "red." A decade ago this talent would have been unbelievable, until a researcher named Dr. Irene Pepperberg, after twenty years of work with her own African gray, proved beyond a doubt that it could use language meaningfully. Pepperberg made a breakthrough, not just in our understanding of animal intelligence, but in the possibility that mind exists outside the brain.

When Sheldrake contacted her, Aimee had some astonishing anecdotes to relate. When she was watching a Jackie Chan movie on television, one shot showed Chan perilously perched on a girder. At that point N'kisi said, "Don't fall down," even though his cage was behind the television with no line of sight to the picture. When an automobile commercial came on, N'kisi said, "That's my car." Sheldrake decided to observe all this in person. On his first visit, Aimee looked at a picture of a girl in a magazine, and with remarkable clarity from the adjoining room the parrot said, "That's a girl." The next step was a formal experiment. Sheldrake asked Aimee to look at pictures that corresponded to words her parrot already knew. She would sit in one room while N'kisi remained isolated in another. The bird would have two minutes to utter a "key word" that matched the picture. If he said the word in that time, it would count as a hit. If he didn't say the word, or if he said it after the two minutes were up, it counted as a miss.

To insure neutrality, someone besides Aimee chose both the pictures and the key words that matched each one. (This proved unfair to the bird, since the neutral chooser picked a few words, like TV, that N'kisi had only said once or twice before.) After all the trials were over, the tapes of what N'kisi had said were played for three judges, who wrote down what they heard; unless N'kisi distinctly said the right word, as transcribed by all three judges, a hit wouldn't count. The final results were beyond ordinary comprehension. For example, when Aimee looked at a picture showing scantily clad bathers on a beach, N'kisi mumbled for a bit, then all three judges heard him say, "Look at my pretty naked body." He didn't say other, irrelevant words; in between saying the right words, the bird only whistled and made tones. When Aimee looked at a picture of someone talking on the telephone, N'kisi said, "What'cha doin' on the phone?" Perhaps the most intriguing response was when Aimee concentrated on a picture of flowers. Instead of simply uttering the key word "flower," N'kisi said, "that's a pic of flowers."

How did he do overall? Out of 71 trials, N'kisi got 23 hits, as compared to 7.4 hits that would have been expected if the results had been random. Sheldrake points out that this is quite a significant outcome, all the more because N'kisi wasn't aware that he was being tested and often said the right key word after the allotted time was up. In a small Manhattan apartment a step was taken, another bit of proof added to mounting evidence that the mind isn't solely human property. Long ago the rishis of India asserted that the entire universe is intelligent, because it is permeated by consciousness. Now we are on the verge of proving that assertion within our own belief system. Note: Dr. Avtar Singh, an MIT-trained Ph.D., has been writing more detailed posts on these topics with an emphasis on quantum physics in recent months. Interested readers might want to check these out. Non-locality of Human Mind-Beyond Biology and Paranormal: Part 1