Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alex & Me - Dr. Irene M. Pepperberg

We've all heard stories of animal communication, most notably with primates and dolphins, but Dr. Irene Pepperberg set out thirty years ago "to explore the cognitive capacities of a nonhuman, nonprimate, nonmammalian animal, using communication as a window into his mind." She was ahead of her time, but her studies have scientifically proven that using 'birdbrain' as a putdown is, well, wrong!

Alex & Me begins at the end. African Greys' lifespans are 50 years+, but Alex died unexpectedly after only 30 years. His passing was noted in many prominent publications, including the New York Times. I found the opening outpouring of grief in the first chapter a bit overwhelming as I hadn't yet read Alex's story.

We then go back to the beginning, learning a bit about Pepperberg and how a small childhood pet influenced her life and led her to her life's research.

And what fascinating research it is. The fact that this bird was able to not just mimic sounds, but count, choose, differentiate between shapes, colours and much more.

I found Dr. Pepperberg's research fascinating. It's written in easily understandable terms, providing great fodder for thought. I've always looked at my border collie's eyes and known there was so much intelligence behind them. Pepperberg has proven without a doubt that the same intelligence is in the avian brain as well.

Pepperberg is honest in her book. Her research was not widely accepted in the begining. The fight for funding and her own personal life are discussesd openly.

It is Alex who is the star of this book for me. I respect Dr. Pepperberg's dedication, devotion and perserverance, but it is Alex who captured my heart.

I always enjoy Canadian connections. In Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake a character watches a video of a parrot identifying shapes. That reference was based on Alex and Atwood actually came to meet Alex. (who snubbed her!)

Visit The Alex Foundation's website, which further supports this research.

I am the final stop on this TLC Book tour. For other opinions here's the other stops.


bermudaonion said...

I've seen videos of Alex and he was so fascinating. I'm glad to see the book is good too.

trish said...

I think Alex would capture my heart as well. :)

Thank you for being on the tour and writing such a thoughtful review!

Ladytink_534 said...

My mom had an African Grey for a few years. I'm sad to say he wasn't the nicest animal we thought he may have been abused before we got him. Pepper loved my mom and my (now) husband though.

John Mutford said...

He snubbed Atwood. Too funny. She probably tried to sell him on the virtues of her robot pen.