Alex & Me - Dr Irene Pepperberg - Book Review
I found the book both remarkable and sad. Dr Irene Pepperberg describes her early childhood which set her on a course to demonstrate the cognitive abilities of African greys and her life long struggle to prove to the close minded and close hearted scientific world that birds were capable of intelligence far beyond humans had credited them. Alex’s impressive mastery included a vocabulary of over 100 words, new shapes and colours. He even invented the concept of zero or nothing of his own accord to surprise of all in the research lab.
In a captivating, highly readable style Pepperberg describes her struggles with life’s hardships through a divorce, relocations and loss of funding all through which she somehow managed to keep the study going. The book is a tribute to Alex. During his life Pepperberg had to stay aloof in order to maintain the level of objectiveness demanded by her peers in order to her results seriously. It was only after his death that she could allow herself to express the affection she felt for him.
For sceptics who have spent their lives turning their back on common sense and insisting on denying that animals and birds are intelligent, conscious creatures, the book clearly provides the proof that they have always sought.
I was moved by the story and grieved for them both. In my view it is tragedy that the human scientific world is so far removed from nature and common sense that it has lost perspective and considers taking a creature out of its natural zone, away from its natural family, forcing it to learn an alien language by aliens (us humans) before it will accept that the creature has any cognitive abilities. This is not ‘objective’ science – this is false science. Instead if you observe a family unit or a community of birds in the wild and one can see them operate with incredible intelligence. Birds have to look for food – they find it in some places and nothing in others. They lay eggs, some hatch, some don’t, sometimes none hatch. They know the concept of zero or nothing and are able to communicate it to each other.
The sacrifices made Dr Pepperberg’s and Alex were not in vain. Their pioneering work was instrumental in opening the door to scientists recognising the cognitive abilities of birds. Thankfully now throught them, and work of Dr Jane Goodall, Dr Marc Beckoff and many others the tide has turned and the scientific community is recognising consciousness, intelligence and emotional abilities of animals and birds.