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Paperback Alex & Me Book

ISBN: 0061673986

ISBN13: 9780061673986

Alex & Me

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Book Overview

Alex & Me is the remarkable true story of an extraordinary relationship between psychologist Irene M. Pepperberg and Alex, an African Grey parrot who proved scientists and accepted wisdom wrong by demonstrating an astonishing ability to communicate and understand complex ideas. A New York Times bestseller and selected as one of the paper's Top Ten Books of the Year, Alex & Me is much more that the story of an incredible scientific breakthrough...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

LET'S HEAR IT FOR BIRDBRAINS!

Click on YouTube and type in "Alex the Parrot," and there it is: the famous PBS interview of Alan Alda interviewing Alex the parrot and his scientist-trainer Irene M. Pepperberg. In groundbreaking studies of a Grey parrot's reasoning ability (reported in The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots (Harvard, 2000), Dr. Pepperberg proved to scientific standards that a little African Grey parrot, ten inches tall and with a brain the size of a peeled walnut, could not only count but add and subtract , could not only identify objects by color, size and nature (key, spoon, etc.) but identify mixed categories (all the shapes that are green, adding TOGETHER the green cars and green keys, and ignoring the blue keys and blue cars), could differentiate `more' and `less', and developed on its own a concept that was a simplified version of zero. Alex and Me, selected by the New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year in 2008, is now available in paperback. Get it and read it. It tells her story as much as Alex's: the fight she had to win funding and scientific acceptance. The received wisdom of the day was that animals did not reason; they simply parroted, or read subtle cues from their handlers --the "Clever Hans" syndrome, after a calculating horse in the late 1800s who 'added,' pawing the ground with his foot: it was discovered that his handler unknowingly signaled to him when the right total was reached. And certainly, if an animal could reason, it wouldn't be a bird. Pepperberg reasoned that animal learning experiences were conducted in a most unnatural way, by operant conditioning: starve the rat or pigeon, shove it on a box with no distracting stimuli, reward it if it pressed the right lever and punish it if it didn't. She reasoned that social animals, animals that live in packs or groups, would learn best if communicated with and socialized with. Using an alternative technique called model/rival training, developed by a German scientist Dietmar Todt, Pepperberg and an assistant would model the behavior (and the word and concept) they were trying to teach Alex. Alex would watch them name (out loud) an object that appealed to him (a piece of wood, for instance). When one of them repeated the trainer's word, she was handed the piece of wood and could `play' with it for a minute. Then the trainer and the assistant reversed roles and the assistant asked Dr. Pepperberg to name the object. When she said the right word, the assistant handed the object to her. When she said the wrong word, she was chastised. Greys are the most verbal of all parrots: using a Grey parrot allowed Pepperberg to talk to Alex about what Alex was doing. Alex died suddenly in 2007. He was thirty-=one years old, little over half the lifespan of a healthy Grey. The autopsy showed that he had had an undetected heart arrhythmia. But before he died, Alex, and his two companion Greys in Dr. Pepperberg's lab, showed conclusively that being a birdbrain isn't al

Never a love more objective

And so we learn that Alex, the African Grey parrot, came into the life of his human colleague, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, not because he was a smart bird, but because she wanted to investigate the cognitive abilities of the average bird.... Bird lovers the world over were saddened to learn of the death of this reknowned little creature, celebrated in science journals and pet bird magazines, shown on television and integral to thirty years of the Avian Learning EXperiment. The book begins and ends with the aftermath, but sandwiched inbetween is a tale of dedication and wonder, and of a working friendship between human and animal that was simply meant to be. While it is true that bounds of scientific objectivity and discipline were set (and here succinctly described), Dr. Pepperberg also tells of results as marvellous as ... well, a bird that transcends the loftiness of bird-dom to speak and reason in terms of our own kind! Alex could demonstrate charm, mischief, joy, fear, boredom, and cleverness. He could be stubborn, he could be sorry. And his devoted owner, sticking by him as they moved from laboratory to laboratory, knew that to prove this, and to do right by the bird, meant scientific discipline, years of experimentation, and patience that amounted to real love. Dr. Pepperberg and her now-departed friend have done a real service to bird lovers everywhere in the course of their work... and now ALEX AND ME is a treat for us, in layman's terms. Eminently readable from start to finish.

Great way to glimpse at avian cognitive capabilities

I have seen many birds in my life of 72 years, but this is the first time I could peek into what the little birds can do. Alex's cognitive ability and the way he learns not just by mimicking but applying the phrases he has heard to his own situation was really amazing to me. Dr. Pepperberg's patience in spite of huge hurdles, finally paid off. We have tendencies to judge everything through our experiences, not often ignoring or dismissing many facts and discoveries outside of our experiences. The book was truly entertaining as well as a huge discovery about something I have never really thought of. I recommend it to anyone.

A Pet story or ORNITHOLOGICAL LINGUISTICS....?

I picked up this book to glance thru it, read a couple of paragraphs, then a few pages, and before i knew it, I had finished the book in one day, and I really dont do that. I was captivated, quite literally. If you have ever owned a dog that knew what you were saying, or a cat who could use its "meow" to say things like "me out" or "no", then you know that animals DO communicate. Animal intelligence, and conscousness or awareness, is a new area of scientific recognistion, and long overdue. I suppose its not enthnocentricity, but species-centricity, that makes us think that only HUMANS have an cognitive awareness, or can communicate, at least about emotional states, in a sophisticated fashion. Early man had their "shamans", who could communicate with animals, but after St. Francis, I doubt our western culture gave any crediance to this idea. It was after Washoe the ape, who mastered around 134 hand symbols, and later the ape Koko, that linguists started to realize that many animals could understand their enviorment, at least on the level of a young child, and they could make their desires known. This book is the story of Irene Pepperberg, who got her doctorate from MIT in her early twenties, that lead to her study of the intelligence, and communication skills, of a Grey parrot named Alex. Beginning with Irene's early life and first fascination with birds, then her fight for recognistion as a serious female scientist in the 70s, the book really takes off when she buys Alex, and begins her true life's work. She wanted to learn if birds are just "repeating songs", that we teach them in the form of "polly want a cracker?" or if they KNOW what they are saying. The book tells of the scientific community's slow acceptance for Irene's work, the fights to get grants, funding, tenure, and later, the media frenzy surrounding Alex, and how that played out. (Alex was on PBS's AMERICAN SCIENTIFIC FRONTIERS with Alan Alda, had his OBIT in the NY Times, and is particually famous in magazines and books on linguistics.) With the brain the size of a walnut, and certainly not genetically simular to us, the way apes are, Alex was able to use about a hundred "labels". Alex was able to recognize, and ask for items, using words to represent these things, just like we do. Of course, the book has a heartbreaking ending, which anyone who has had a strong bond to a pet for decades, and lost it, will relate to. In fact, that is the starting point for the book, which is quite an emotional punch. ALEX AND ME teaches us to have a little more compassion for the animals that we share this world with, or keep as pets. If we can communicate with an animal, and realize scientifically that they have an emotional, cognitive awareness of a small child, maybe we can start to treat them better. (ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS TAKE NOTE. Here's some scientific backing.) Also, linguists might be interested in the way the capacity for language begins, and how important verbal communicate i

A facinating, informative, and deeply moving memoir of a true partnership between human and parrot

When scientist Irene Pepperberg wanted to study animal cognition and language, she purchased an African Grey Parrot, who she named Alex. What followed was a thirty-year partnership that rocked the foundations of our understanding of animal intelligence and challenged all previous assumptions of the phrase "birdbrain." Pepperberg writes beautifully, bringing the study of language and cognition to an easily-understood level without dumbing down the impact of her work. Beyond science, however, Pepperberg captures the dignity and personality of Alex, a lovable and admirable creature whose early death was a tragic loss.
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