“Sounding a little horse” (Pet psychics)

DOGTALK

All of us can talk to animals, but only a select few can get the critters to reply.

One such Dr. Doolittle is Aimee Morgana. She owns N’kisi, a parrot whom Morgana credits with talking back in a mix of English and chirps. She also ascribes to him a sense of humor and an ability to improvise language. For instance, rather than saying aromatherapy, the birdbrain comes up with “pretty smell medicine.” That is rather amazing language versatility, either for a parrot or for the person interpreting it.

Morgana keeps a clip of herself talking with the parrot here: http://tinyurl.com/2o7pew. I encourage people to listen first without using the accompanying transcript. Comparing that transcript with what was chirped, some of it seems pretty close, while other lines require a lot of twisting. It is mostly unintelligible unless the listener is told what to hear. It is similar to listening to music backwards, with suggestion, anticipation, and pareidolia filling in the auditory blanks.

The parrot’s shrieks become sentences and his squawks become jokes, but it’s all through Morgana’s attribution. In reality, the parrot’s responses are likely due to stimuli provided by Morgana or other persons or objects nearby. If the bird had the language skills claimed of him, he could carry on a conversation with any English speaker.

Morgana and Rupert Sheldrake also put N’kisi to the psychic test. The idea of tackling the resultant article, “Testing a parrot for telepathy,” causes me to salivate in a Pavlovian manner. But it’s a little beyond this post’s topic, so we’ll drive on.

One of the earliest documentations of supposed language in an animal focused on a 19th Century horse, Clever Hans. If asked what 2+3 was, Hans tapped his hoof five times. Hans was a sensation for over a decade before Oskar Pfungst deduced that the horse was responding to his owner’s subtle movements.

This was not fraudulent, as the owner really believed in the horse’s ability, as did many scientists. The owner was unconsciously adjusting his position slightly once the “answer” had been tapped. Pfungst figured this out by noticing that when the correct answer was unknown to anyone, Clever Hans was likewise mathematically challenged. Also, when the horse was unable see the person who knew the answer, he responded incorrectly.

In the ballpark of reason, comedic parrots and math whiz horses are out in left field with a hockey stick. But a seemingly more plausible animal language claim centers on gorillas and chimpanzees employing sign language. This comes across as more reasonable since the animals are intelligent, and the language is through hands, not voices. To split ape hairs, primates can manage communication, but not language. This was best documented in Joel Wallman’s book, “Aping Language.” Here’s the book condensed into a paragraph: “Apes in these studies acquired merely crude simulations of language rather than language itself. A survey of the communication systems of apes and monkeys in nature finds that these systems differ from language in profound ways. Language is a uniquely human attribute.”

In the interest of balance, I here introduce Chris, a woman I found online who touted her ability as an interspecies telepathic communicator.

Her website includes glowing testimonials, which disappointingly, are all from homo sapiens. One satisfied customer lauded Chris’s ability to communicate with the woman’s Terrier. “Chester was hit by a car, and they didn’t know if he was going to make it. Chris told me, “Chester is going to be OK,” and he was.”

If your mutt is less fortunate that Chester, that’s OK, because Chris claims the ability to channel dead animals as well.

Talking with animals is the least Chris can do, since a horse told her which career path to gallop down: “He enlightened me to how I was to bring my blessing to the world and what I was to do with my life: Bring people and animals closer in their relationship.”

Prompted by this Mr. Ed revelation, Chris now offers private consultations, coaching, and a series of classes on animal communication, animal Reiki, and animal Shamanic healing. She also offers telephone consultation, so I signed up for my 15 minutes of lame. I have no pets, but figured she could give me some advice for my daughter, who was sick a couple of days last week.

It starts with a simple form: Contact information and the pet’s name. Customers rave about the animals being able to relate to Chris their complex mental, physical, and spiritual concerns, but none of the pets can tell her their name. In the animal dropdown menu, there was no human option, so I selected CAT, for Continually Animated Tyke.

Here’s how some of the conversation went:

“I get the feeling that you have something that’s bothering you about Isis and you’d like to fix it.” She’s figured that out already and all she knows about me is that I’ve filled out a form addressing that very issue.

“Well, she’s been sick a couple of times in the last week, and that’s unusual for her.”

“How old is she?”

“Six.”

“Has she been spayed?”

“No.”

“That might be worth considering. At her age, pregnancies can became complicated.”

“She’s not the ideal age for it, that’s for sure. ”

“How has she been sleeping?”

“Fine, but she hates getting woke up. She can be very feisty then.”

“Sounds like you want to make sure you stay free of her claws when she get roused.”

“Man, you’ve got her down.”

“Isis is telling me that she may have stomach problems. How has her appetite been?”

“Well, I sometimes have trouble getting her to eat in the morning.”

“What are you feeding her?”

“Just the usual for someone of her age and species.”

“So much of what you find in stores is lacking in nutrients and are full of chemicals. I would recommend some homemade recipes I will e-mail you. You could also try changing where she eats. Try taking her bowl off the floor.”

“That’s probably a good idea. My wife has never much cared for that approach anyway.”

“If she’s getting enough sleep, but is lethargic and has a poor appetite, her illness may be psychosomatic. She needs some new excitement. I’m sensing she would like a ball with bells or a scratching post.

“She does love toys, but doesn’t have any of those. That might be worth a try.”

“This just came to me. I’m seeing very clearly that her tail has been drooping a lot.”

“Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen her with a tail in the air much lately.”

“This means she needs more time to herself. I know you love her and want to spend time with her. But they are very solitary animals. She needs that time alone and wants to feel that she is in charge.”

“Yeah, she makes that’s last part pretty clear. Another problem is that she tears up things around the house.”

“That’s her way of reaching out. Respond with love. Do not declaw her. That is so cruel.”

“Yeah, that would be mighty rough. Well, thanks, you’ve suggested a lot of things for Isis that I would have never come up with on my own. Oh, and when you send those recipes, could you include something with Reese’s Cups?”

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