Do elephants understand art? This one paints...

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Randwolf, Oct 26, 2012.

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  1. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

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    This is a video of what appears to be an elephant painting a "self-portrait".

    Is this even possible? Is the video faked? If not, what are the ramifications to our understanding of how animals perceive "art"? Anything?

    [video=youtube;He7Ge7Sogrk]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=He7Ge7Sogrk[/video]

    Your thoughts and comments are appreciated...
     
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  3. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Evidently true:
    http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/elephantpainting.asp

    But not exactly what you might think. This is not an elephant spontaneously drawing a likeness from it's mind. This is a very intelligent animal that's been trained to replicate a certain relationship of lines and color. I bet every painting it makes looks the same.

    Still impressive though.
     
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  5. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

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    God, no. They don't know art.

    But they know what they like.
     
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  7. Ripley Valued Senior Member

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    Another who doesn't understand art is apparently Randwolf. Lol.
     
  8. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

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    Ah, I see that you've mastered the fine art of trolling Sci, haven't you? Anything intelligent to comment on elephant painting or is that all you got?
     
  9. Neverfly Banned Banned

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    How about how well trolls appreciate art? Looking at Ripley's posting history and complaining that he's mastered trolling is absurd. You're just snippy 'cuz he cracked on you.
    All the intelligent commentary has been said: The elephant in question was trained to paint the image. I've seen another one where an elephant paints a flower. Always the same flower mind you, otherwise, the elephant doesn't get the treat.
    It's pretty much gonna be elephant jokes from here on out...

    Now, go on and call me a troll and I'll just prove you right.
     
  10. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

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    No, I won't do that. Happen to mostly agree with you. Mainly I just wanted to share the video because I thought it was cool.

    Besides, I like you Neverfly.

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  11. Neverfly Banned Banned

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    I had seen this type of video sometime back on T.V. As I said, it was a flower that time. They went into great depth explaining how the elephant had been trained- an unusually direct and honest television program that described actuality instead of going for sensationalism...
    "Coming up next, the Rhinoceros that draws anime!"
    Elephants are quite intelligent. They have very intricate mourning for the dead. They exhibit a lot of the more admirable traits humans will, as well. Including social caring and the old myth that they are afraid of mice is... Not a myth. It's true.
    Kinda...
    They do not fear mice. They fear stepping on animals beneath them. Elephants (Not in a panic) will go to great lengths using their senses and trunks (pun intended because I'm a wretch like that) to avoid squashing mice, humans, giraffes (ok, not giraffes) - pretty much any animal that lays at their feet that they are aware of. Whether it's too avoid killing needlessly or to avoid making a mess they have to scrape off their foot is anyone's guess...
    But in the documentary I watched, several "elephantolgists" tested the painting elephant vigorously to see how it seemed to feel about the painting.
    The conclusion was the the elephant did not recognize what it had painted as a flower. It's mind was more practical, it seemed to perceive it as a trick to get some goodies, nothing more.
    Elephants do recognize their own image in a mirror, showing self awareness. They will use their reflection to explore parts of their bodies they normally cannot see, even.
    But the image painted appears to have had no meaning to the elephant, it did not understand art. It did understand goodies.

    Although I once saw an elephant use his prehensile penis to scratch an itch on his belly.

    Perhaps our brains are just too different from theirs.


    Muahahhha... I have this one fooled.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I've seen videos of this, although the elephants were painting flowers. The handler was sitting on the elephant's neck where he wasn't attracting attention and in any case he was not in a good line of sight to scrutinize his movements.

    He was gently tugging on the elephant's ears. The guys have developed a communication system: Tug this way on the right ear, he'll move his trunk a little bit in this direction. Push that way on the left ear, he'll move it a little bit in another direction.

    It was still worth watching. Both handler and elephant were making very small, delicate movements, the elephant knew how to apply paint to a canvas, and the handler knew how to paint a flower.
     
  13. Aladdin Registered Senior Member

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    So you guys don't think elephants can understand art? Well, that did not go well with the elephants in South Korea, where at least one of them is in the process of acquiring human language so that he can participate in this debate, not doubt. Brace yourselves!

    [video=youtube;PR6Mf9dhZrg]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR6Mf9dhZrg[/video]
     
  14. Neverfly Banned Banned

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    Would be a long wait...
    From the article:
    " researchers from the University of Vienna in Austria studying the elephant don't believe it actually understands what it is saying. "
     
  15. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

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    That's what they said about parrots too.

    Apparently they may have been wrong. Maybe they are wrong about elephants too.

    Wiki link
     
  16. Neverfly Banned Banned

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    Well, it's a complex subject because we cannot read minds. Alex was impressive (I followed that story before...) but in the end, really think about this... cats and dogs often understand words we speak to them. Commands and invitations, etc. They cannot pronounce those commands and may not think to, but they know them when they hear them. I've said in a soothing manner to my dog (Border Collie- gone now) the word "no" and she responded to exactly as if I said it harshly, etc. She was a smart pup.

    So it's not unthinkable many intelligent animals can understand more than we can safely conclude that they can. However, understanding five words-not even whole sentences- in a language is a very far cry from understanding or using that language.
     
  17. cosmictotem Registered Senior Member

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    I actually, ordered one of those for a relative and a gift. They are not fake but I think the elephants are just following what they are taught after much practice and reinforcement.
     
  18. kx000 Valued Senior Member

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  19. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

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    Uh...not so much.

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  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    The video says it was in Thailand. That makes a whole lot more sense, since elephants are not native to Korea, but are quite common in Thailand, where they have been trained and used as draft animals. Not "domesticated," because that includes breeding in captivity, which they don't do. All "tame" elephants are wild-caught. The same is true of cheetahs and quite a few other tamed-but-not-domesticated animals.

    Many animals understand a good bit of human language, although just single words or short phrases. Elephants are one of the most intelligent non-human mammals, probably rivaling cetaceans, raccoons and apes, and maybe even parrots. So it's not unreasonable to expect us to find a way to teach them to understand simple phrases. If their vocal apparatus can do a good job of mimicking the sounds (which is no mean feat since the human vocal organs and speech center are much, much more complex than those of any other animal) then there's no good reason not to expect them to produce the same words as communication.

    This African Grey parrot was able to construct phrases such as "red square key" to describe things shown to him. We had an African Grey who learned to say "go potty" about three seconds before it happened, giving us time to turn a disaster into a mere nuisance.

    The world record for a dog's understood vocabulary is around 200 words: a working Border Collie in Scotland who needed that skill in order to do his job of herding sheep.

    Dogs can read human emotions from our facial expressions, body language and pheromones. However, I'm not at all convinced that they can read them from our tone of voice. As far as they're concerned, when we raise our voices and speak more sharply, we're just barking. They get no negative connotation from that at all. It's just a way of getting attention.

    Nonetheless, this is the way all humans begin learning their native language.

    You may be conflating the African elephant (much larger with gigantic ears) with the Asian elephant. AFAIK, no one has ever tamed an African elephant. Asian elephants are considerably more tractable. When taken as babies, treated kindly, and not overworked, they can be about as safe and predictable as a tame bear.

    Nonetheless, there is a documented instance of a resort hotel in Africa being inadvertently built right across an elephant migratory path. The elephants march right through the front door and out the back door without bothering anyone who doesn't get in their way--something the humans learned very quickly.
     
  21. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

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