Home > Congo(10)

Author: Michael Crichton

Peter Elliot's difficulties began on the morning of February 2, 1979. Amy lived in a mobile home on the Berkeley campus; she spent nights there alone, and usually provided an effusive greeting the next day. However, on that morning the Project Amy staff found her in an uncharacteristic sullen mood; she was irritable and bleary-eyed, behaving as if she had been wronged in some fashion.

Elliot felt that something had upset her during the night. When asked, she kept making signs for "sleep box," a new

word pairing he did not understand. That in itself was not unusual; Amy made up new word pairings all the time, and they were often hard to decipher. Just a few days before, she had bewildered them by talking about "crocodile milk." Eventually they realized that Amy's milk had gone sour, and that since she disliked crocodiles (which she had only seen in picture books), she somehow decided that sour milk was "crocodile milk."

Now she was talking about "sleep box." At first they thought she might be referring to her nestlike bed. It turned out she was using "box" in her usual sense, to refer to the television set.

Everything in her trailer, including the television, was controlled on a twenty-four-hour cycle by the computer. They ran a check to see if the television had been turned on during the night, disturbing her sleep. Since Amy liked to watch television, it was conceivable that she had managed to turn it on herself. But Amy looked scornful as they examined the actual television in the trailer. She clearly meant something else.

Finally they determined that by "sleep box" she meant "sleep pictures." When asked about these sleep pictures, Amy signed that they were "bad pictures" and "old pictures," and that they "make Amy cry."

She was dreaming.

The fact that Amy was the first primate to report dreams caused tremendous excitement among Elliot's staff. But the excitement was short-lived. Although Amy continued to dream on succeeding nights, she refused to discuss her dreams; in fact, she seemed to blame the researchers for this new and confusing intrusion into her mental life. Worse, her waking behavior deteriorated alarmingly.

Her word acquisition rate fell from 2.7 words a week to 0.8 words a week, her spontaneous word formation rate from 1.9 to 0.3. Monitored attention span was halved. Mood swings increased; erratic and unmotivated behavior became commonplace; temper tantrums occurred daily. Amy was four and a half feet tall, and weighed 130 pounds. She was an immensely strong animal. The staff began to wonder if they could control her.

Her refusal to talk about her dreams frustrated them. They tried a variety of investigative approaches; they showed her pictures from books and magazines; they ran the ceiling-mounted video monitors around the clock, in case she signed something significant while alone (like young children, Amy often "talked to herself"); they even administered a battery of neurological tests, including an EEG.

Finally they hit on finger painting.

This was immediately successful. Amy was enthusiastic about finger painting, and after they mixed cayenne pepper with the pigments, she stopped licking her fingers. She drew images swiftly and repetitively, and she seemed to become somewhat more relaxed, more her old self.

David Bergman, the child psychologist, noted that "what Amy actually draws is a cluster of apparently related images:

inverted crescent shapes, or semicircles, which are always associated with an area of vertical green streaks. Amy says the green streaks represent 'forest,' and she calls the semi-circles 'bad houses' or 'old houses.' In addition she often draws black circles, which she calls 'holes.'

Bergman cautioned against the obvious conclusion that she was drawing old buildings in the jungle. "Watching her make drawings one after another, again and again, convinces me of the obsessive and private nature of the imagery. Amy is troubled by these pictures, and she is trying to get them out, to banish them to paper."

In fact, the nature of the imagery remained mysterious to the Project Amy staff. By late April, 1979, they had concluded that her dreams could be explained in four ways. In order of seriousness, they were:

1.The dreams are an attempt to rationalize events in her daily life. This was the usual explanation of (human) dreams, but the staff doubted that it applied in Amy's case.

2.The dreams are a transitional adolescent manifestation.

At seven years of age, Amy was a gorilla teenager, and for nearly a year she had shown many typical teenage traits, including rages and sulks, fussiness about her appearance, a new interest in the opposite sex.

3.The dreams are a species-specific phenomenon. It was possible that all gorillas had disturbing dreams, and that in the wild the resultant stresses were handled in some fashion by the behavior of the group. Although gorillas had been studied in the wild for the past twenty years, there was no evidence for this.

4.The dreams are the first sign of incipient dementia. This was the most feared possibility. To train an ape effectively, one had to begin with an infant; as the years progressed, researchers waited to see if their animal would grow up to be bright or stupid, recalcitrant or pliable, healthy or sickly. The health of apes was a constant worry; many programs collapsed after years of effort and expense when the apes died of physical or mental illness. Timothy, an Atlanta chimp, became psychotic in 1976 and committed suicide by copro?phagia, choking to death on his own feces. Maurice, a Chicago orang, became intensely neurotic, developing phobias that halted work in 1977. For better or worse, the very intelligence that made apes worthwhile subjects for study also made them as unstable as human beings.

But the Project Amy staff was unable to make further progress. In May, 1979, they made what turned out to be a momentous decision: they decided to publish Amy's drawings, and submitted her images to the Journal of Behavioral Sciences.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology