Project Nim

{4.5/5} “Chimps aren’t humans. You have to… understand chimps to be able to understand how to work with them and be with them.”

In 1973 Herbert Terrace, a professor at Columbia University, decided to do an experiment to see how much sign language could be taught to a chimpanzee. Nim was given as a baby to a family to be raised like a human, and taught signs. After some time Nim was taken to an estate with lots of space and taught in a more rigorous fashion. Could Nim really learn a human language?

Project Nim was released in 2011.

I did a fair amount of research on ape language experiments over 15 years ago, and Nim was one of the apes I learned about. It was nice to refresh my memory about him.

This documentary shows you archival footage and recent interviews. It doesn’t just show you Nim, but also the humans who looked after him, taught him, and learned from him.

I was expecting a bit more on the results of the experiment. The movie briefly shows Terrace saying that Nim didn’t learn a language, but it doesn’t really present the alternate viewpoint.

The movie focussed more on Nim’s life — which had its ups and downs — and the people who were close to him. The sign language experiment lasted 4 years and after that Nim was taken to various facilities, some of which were better than others.

Parts are happy and parts are sad, but all of it is fascinating.

The movie was directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire).

If you watch this movie and want to learn more about apes, I have a list of suggestions.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 30th, 2013 at 6:18 pm and is filed under Reviews of movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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