In 2005, Terrace published a book entitled "The Missing Link in Cognition." In that book the following conclusion is presented "The evidence that apes copy actions is fragile. Currently there is no consensus regarding whether chimpanzees or other apes spontaneously imitate the actions of others." Yet Terrace continues to insist that Nim was merely aping his trainers, while maintaining that apes cannot imitate.
Terrace (2005) also states that there is "an absence of intentional meaning in an ape's use of symbols." While Nim perhaps did not do what his teachers desired, it seems self-evident, from his behavior, that he conveyed meaning.
Take a brief second look at part of the preceding segment. The teacher is trying to get Nim to sign "Nim cup." She demonstrates the sign sequence to Nim and then asks "What do you want?" hoping that Nim will sign "Nim cup." Nim signs instead "drink + hand on cup" with eye contact and a questioning expression to the teacher, asking if he can drink what is in the cup.
The teacher interprets Nim's utterance as meaningful and intentional and allows Nim to drink, even though he does not sign "Nim cup." But then she pulls the cup away before he is finished and he stares at the ceiling. She asks what he wants again and then suggests “ice.” Nim requests ice. What he can consume appears to be limited to what his teacher wants to sign about.
Nim chews the ice with his lip out, so that she can watch, which is a social act of showing and of politeness among chimpanzees. The teacher is unaware of Nim's intent. She does not watch Nim, but has ice herself and signs about the fact she is “holding ice.” From the chimpanzees point of view, this would be an 'egocentric communication.' From the teacher's point of view it is didactic modeling.
The teachers behaves as though she believes that Nim requires repeated modeling because he is a chimpanzee and therefore cannot acquire language in the service of communication, as a child might. Perhaps she does not believe this at all, but simply has encountered no other chimpanzees and is doing her best to follow the training guidelines set out by Terrace, Bever and Sanders.
Nontheless, it is clear Nim does not wish to sign ABOUT the obvious, but rather to share the experience of the obvious, which he cannot do because of his teacher's lack of appreciation of chimpanzee sensibilities. Yet he tried repeatedly to engage the teachers in almost any kind of real social interaction they will tolerate. The difference between this training method and those employed with Sherman and Austin during the same time frame will be obvious in the contrasting video clips. Terrace was familiar with the Sherman and Austin Project, but chose a different method and has continued to base his claims about the abilities of chimpanzees upon what he observed in Nim. This lack of appreciation of the power of rearing variables has brought needless confusion to the field of ape language.
This use of oil is embedded within a daily grooming routine. On this morning, Sherman spontaneously offers some of the oil he has received to Austin and the second experimenter, but they say they don't want any. You will see the experimenter employ the keyboard to state what she is going to do. Each key has a series of tones and a symbol associated with it.
Austin (the smaller chimpanzee) then becomes interested in 'pretend eating' with the experimenter. The experimenter stops the grooming routine to do what interests Austin. Austin begins to watch himself engage in ‘pretend eating’ on television. You can't see the image on the television, but the image you are watching is the same one Austin is seeing.
Note that Austin not only demonstrates self-recognition but also an understanding that what he sees himself doing is something that is being acted out from the plane of his imagination. He has no real spoon and no real food. He has a tongue depressor (as a spoon) and his hand (as a bowl). There is no reward for this behavior, not even social praise.
Even more important is the fact that the behavior of watching oneself do 'pretend eating' in front of ones live TV image was never demonstrated for Austin by the experimenters. There is participation by the experimenter in the imagined world with Austin. He is allotted the time and space from the routine to do what is coming from his volition. This is something of his own that he has been able to bring to the social plane and because his initial attempts were authenticated without questions by others in his world. Through social authentication, the skill it gains cognitive space, enabling it to grow creatively still further.
Austin is becoming a ‘person’ in the sense that we commonly think of ‘personhood.’ His world is a symbolic one. But becoming a ‘person’ is not just a function of Austin, it is a function of the social world he inhabits. It is how he tangibly lives. Should their social world change, Austin and Sherman will change as well. And it did as caretakers moved on to other things and as rules and regulations forced Sherman and Austin to become caged.
Still, their ability to engage the social world at the level of symbol and imagination grew out their capacity for self-refection. Self-reflection (often manifest as mirror recognition) is the ability to know the “I” apart from the action. This knowledge provides the actor with the ability to ‘will’ different actions consciously into being.