Alex, the parrot who had the intelligence of a 5 year old and who could really hold a conversation
May 17, 2021
We all discovered as children, much to our surprise, that parrots could "talk". This belief has accompanied us for a long time, but science has amply demonstrated that these wonderful birds, some more and some less, are not really endowed with a faculty of language comparable to the human one but, simply, they are very skilled in reproducing the sounds of what they hear frequently. A great exception in this field was represented by the famous parrot Alex, symbol of a long and complex piece of scientific research lasting about 30 years (and which continues through numerous other experiments), on the acquisition of human and animal language. Alex the parrot was the first, and still remains the only animal to have posed an existential question to its owner, Doctor and researcher Irene Pepperberg.
Although it seems a common name, perfect for a parrot, Alex is an acronym that stands for "Avian Language EXperiment", just to emphasize the fact that that bird was a real living experiment. Scientist Pepperberg, with the help of other university students and researchers, took care of Alex for 30 years in an attempt to teach him to speak. Unlike the other birds of his own family, Alex, who is a gray parrot, actually managed to learn a vocabulary of about 100 words to associate with an object and also learned to perform some simple mathematical operations.
For example, the doctor often showed him two plastic cups turned upside down on a tray, under which there were some nuts. Briefly, the woman raised the cups, one after the other, showing the quantity of nuts under the cups and then covered them again; she then asked Alex: "How many nuts are there in total?". The parrot was able to respond with 85% accuracy. In practice, Alex was able to demonstrate an intelligence level equivalent to that of a 5-year-old child.
Furthermore, he was the first animal in the world (and also the only one) to ask his owner an existential question: "What color?" she asked her looking at her image of her reflected in a mirror. Alex was so used to recognizing the colors of objects that Dr. Pepperberg showed him, that one day he asked the woman what color his feathers were. The parrot learned the answer, "Gray," after it was repeated six times. Alex died unexpectedly back in 2007, after 31 years of life as a research subject. His last words remained in the hearts of Dr. Pepperberg and all those who followed his path. The night before he died, the parrot turned to his beloved mistress, Pepperberg, and said, "Be good. See you tomorrow. I love you."
How can you not be moved by this sentence?