Project Nim was a scientific project done by Columbia University. The project is that they took a chimpanzee as an infant and brought him up as if he was a human being. They taught him how to talk using sign language. Nim Chimpsky was absorbing signs and learning how to talk. Eventually however he got too big to take care of and the University had to give him back. After later review by Dr. Herb Terrace he concluded that Nim couldn’t actually use the human language. This real life event has many similarities and differences with the book Half Brother that our class read. Over a span of two months we read about Zan, a chimp who also learning sign language for an experiment. There are many similarities and differences between these two, chimps however the message is the same thing.
When these two chimps were brought into the human environment when they were infants, they were both breast fed as if they were actual human babies. Even from the start, the scientists always thought of them as a scientific project. Even though Nim and Zan were being brought up as a human and Nim and Zan acted like a human, and other people thought of them as humans. Both chimps bit people who they thought stood in their way or angered them. With both of the projects it was deemed that they could not use the english language. When the chimps got sold to other universities they were both in danger of being sent to bio medical facilities. The one minor difference is that Nim was sold to a bio medical facility before they saved him. Zan was saved before he landed in one. When the project was over, both of the scientists from the projects no longer had an interest in Zan anymore and didn’t have any interest in going back to see him. Dr. Terrace the Nim scientist went back to see Nim for a staged photo shoot. At both of their facilities, they were not treated any different from the other chimps because they knew how to sign.
There were also some differences with the book and the project. In the book, they are in Vancouver, British Columbia and the university was the University of British Columbia. In Project Nim, they are in New York studying at the Columbia University. Nim did not live with the professor in charge of the project; instead he actually lived with a couple of different caretakers. Nim invented some of his own signs. Nim was not with the same caretaker during the entire duration of the project unlike in Half Brother. In Half Brother, the sanctuary where Zan was taken to couldn’t afford to pay for Zan so the Tomlin’s gave him to the sanctuary. In Project Nim, the sanctuary bought Nim right out of the bio-medical facility.
There were some happy parts to this documentary and to the adventure of Nim. The bio-medical facility where Nim was sold to (LEMSIP) ended up closing which resulted in Nim getting friends at the sanctuary. The sanctuary where Nim was residing at purchased two other chimps that Nim knew from the biomedical facility. This meant that Nim would be happier and healthier having friends that he could socialize with.
There were also some disturbing parts of this documentary. One of those things is what Nim was allowed to do when he was at the one facility. Nim was allowed to drink alcohol. Although it was in the 70’s, and it was a part of the culture back then, I still think that it is disturbing or a bad thing that they would allow a chimp to do that. Some of the scenes that were taken inside of the bio-medical facility I found fairly disturbing especially where they were injecting the chimpanzees with the shots. I also found it fairly disturbing in the documentary when they had to knock out Nim in order to transport him from the University to the place where he belonged. I think that is disturbing because I think that he deserves to know what is going on around him and know what’s going to happen to him. The most disturbing thing of all is the only reason that Herb went back to see Zan was for a staged photo shoot. It wasn’t that he actually wanted to see Nim, it was strictly that he was in it for the publicity in my opinion.
Some new information that I did learn from the documentary is that Nim or any other chimp would grow up to be about 5x the strength of a human. In order for new medicine to be sold on the American health care market, it must be tested on four chimpanzees and it must pass each test with positive results.
Put yourself in these two chimps shoes, imagine that you were taken from birth from your mother to be raised as a chimp. Then taken out of that environment to be taken to be tested on. And not knowing who to trust. What would you do if this happened to you?