Chapter One Early Days on the Chimp Farm NIM'S STORY BEGINS AT the research facility in Oklahoma that was founded by the notorious Dr. William Lemmon. Early in his academic career chimpanzees became the focus of Lemmon's lifelong research, and helped to make himfor a timethe most prominent psychologist in Oklahoma.
Over several decades, he authored many of the state's mental health policies, helped to shape numerous public programs, and virtually founded the clinical psychology department at the University of Oklahoma (OU), where he remains a legendary figure thanks to his early chimpanzee experiments. From its inception until its demise, Lemmon ran the Institute for Primate Studies (IPS), the place where Nim Chimpsky was born. Lemmon bred and owned Nim. As a result, the psychologist was responsible, often behind the scenes, for every major event that shaped the chimp's life, both before and after Project Nim. Virtually everyone who ever had anything to do with Lemmon (Bill, as he was called) or his chimpanzees came away with strong feelings about the psychologist, but what those feelings were varied considerably. Some loved Lemmon, some despised him, and some still won't speak about him at all because it's just too painful. Lemmon, who has been dead for more than two decades, remains a controversial figure in Norman and the wider primate world, where his unconventional methods of animal husbandry and research are often attacked. He ruled his chimpanzees with an electric cattle prod, as many unenlightened keepers still do, and tried every possible disciplinary technique, including shock collars, all kinds of guns, and a pair of Doberman pinschers trained to tree escapees. (This last was not an effective method; the chimps dominated the dogs and ripped one of them apart.) When asked by a friend, "How do you discipline a chimpanzee?" Lemmon responded, "Any way you can." The chimps learned to respect their keeper. Lemmon's graduate students also understood their place. One claims that he locked her in a cage inhabited by a few adult chimps, just to see her reaction. She survived to tell the story, one of many about the sadistic pleasure Lemmon took in pushing people to the edge. Lemmon's proteges, employees, and patients all worshipped himor fled. Still, however much he was feared by both his experimental animals and his students, Lemmon was one of a very few researchers in the 1960s who had any expertise in raising and breeding chimpanzees in captivity, where they rarely survived or reproduced. Lemmon and his carefully selected graduate students studied chimpanzee mating habits, sexuality, and social development, and they even collected data on the personalities of individual chimps. Unfortunately for Lemmon, and for the field in general, little of this research, apart from a handful of articles, was ever published. Lemmon's vast knowledge of chimpanzees mostly benefited those who became members of his prestigious inner circle in Norman. Ultimately, the scientific community labeled his work "anecdotal," their way of deeming it worthless. For better or worse, he was an outsider who was destined to remain on the margins because he refused to maintain his academic status by regularly publishing his results or writing books. In the long run, this arrogance did not serve him or his animals well. But in the short run, it made IPS, known as the "chimp farm," a compelling place for students to cut their teeth on primatology. Lemmon was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916. A prodigy of sorts, from a working-class family, he earned his doctorate at Ohio State University, where he studied with Carl Rogers. The promising young psychologist had a background in biology and a passion for the theories of Sigmund Freud. By twenty-eight, Lemmon had married, fathered three children, and become the director of clinics in the psCould an adorable chimpanzee raised from infancy by a human family bridge the gap between speciesand change the way we think about the boundaries between the animal and human worlds? Here is the strange and moving account of an experiment intended to answer just those questions, and the astonishing biography of the chimp who was chosen to see it through. Dubbed Project Nim, the experiment was the brainchild of Herbert S. Terrace, a psychologist at Columbia University. His goal was to teach a chimpanzee American Sign Language in order to refute Noam Chomsky's assertion that language is an exclusively human trait. Nim Chimpsky, the baby chimp at the center of this ambitious, potentially groundbreaking study, was "adopted" by one of Dr. Terrace's graduate students and brought home to live with her and her large family in their elegant brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. At first Nim's progress in learning ASL and adapting to his new environment exceeded all expectations. His charm, mischievous sense of humor, and keen, sometimes shrewdly manipulative understanding of human nature endeared him to everyone he met, and even led to guest appearances onSesame Street,where he was meant to model good behavior for toddlers. But no one had thought through the long-term consequences of raising a chimp in the human world, and when funding for the study ran out, Nim's problems began. Over the next two decades, exiled from the people he loved, Nim was rotated in and out of various facilities. It would be a long time before this chimp who had been brought up to identify with his human caretakers had another opportunity to blow out the candles on a cake celebrating his birthday. No matter where he was sent, however, Nim's hard-earned ability to converse with humans would prove to be his salvation, protecting him from the fate of many of his peers. Drawing on interviews with the people who lived with Nim, diapered him, dressed him, taught him, and loved him, Elizabeth Hess weaves an unforgettable tale of an extraordinary and charismatic creature. His story will move and entertain at the same time that it challenges us to ask what it means to be human, and what we owe to the animals who so enrich our lives. From the Hardcover edition.An adorable baby chimp, a loving family, and an experiment that changed the lives of all it touched... Project Nim, the brainchild of a Columbia University psychologist, was designed to refute Noam Chomsky's claim that language is an exclusively human trait. Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee chosen to realize this potentially groundbreaking experiment, was raised like a human child and taught American Sign Language while living with his "adoptive family" in their elegant Manhattan town house. But when funding for the study ended, Nim's problems began. Over the next two decades he was exiled from the people he loved, put in a cage, and moved from one facility to another, including, most ominously, a medical research lab. But wherever he went, Nim's humanlike qualities and his ability to communicate with humans saved him. A creature of extraordinary charm and charisma, Nim ultimately triumphed over a dramatic series of reversals and obstacles. His story, both moving and entertaining, also raises the most profound questions of what it means to be humanand about what we owe to the animals who enrich our lives."Nim Chimpskyis a very important story that should go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of our betraying the trust of animals who depend on us for their well-being. Laugh, cry, and share widely."Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado; author ofThe Emotional Lives of AnimalsandAnimals Matter;editor of theEncyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships "If you read only one book about the strange, fruitful, and fraught relationship between humans and animals, let this be it."Dale Peterson, author ofJane Goodall, The Woman Who Redefined Man "Nim Chimpskyis an indictment of our attitudes toour closest relatives."Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University and author ofIn Defense of Animals: The Second Wave.andThe Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter "An absolutely absorbing page-turner by a writer of such boundless empathy that she could tell an animal's story and make it, yesdeeply human."Barbara Ehrenreich, author ofNickled and Dimed "I stayed up all night reading this book and could not put it down. I became totally convinced that Nim understood sign language when he banged on a closed door and signed 'hurry open now."Temple Grandin, author ofAnimals in Translation "A smart, tough-minded, big-hearted meditation on the fate of our nearest relatives, and a marvelous biography as well. The story of Nim Chimpsky tells us more about our own species than we probably want to hear, but we need to hear it, now."Russell Banks, author ofDarling "An unforgettable biography of an extraordinary animal. Nim's voice is on every page of this book. You will remember him long after the book has ended, and what he has taught you will change, forever, the way you look at animals."Ruth Reichl, author ofGarlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic "Hess's clear, lively, and gently sorrowful biography swings from Nim's 26-year life story ... to a larger portrait of the human researchers, philosphers, and caretakers who upended Nim's life."Entertainment Weekly "Elizabeth Hess' splendid account ... amounts to a biography of Nim, a story every bit as stirring and elaborate as that of a famous person."Seattle Times "As poignant an animal story as you can get.... Nim was an unforgettable characteraffectionate, mischievous, empathetic, and utterly charming."Christian Science Monitor From the Hardcover edition.Elizabeth Hess is a journalist and the author ofLost and Found: Dogs, Cats, and Local Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter. She lives with her family in East Chatham, New York. From the Hardcover edition.
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