I first saw the reference to the N’Kisi project – a research into the telepathic abilities of a Congo African Gray Parrot, named N’Kisi at our Skeptiko.com podcast forums where Alex Tsakiris, the podcast host, wrote about it as an example of a research done on animal communication. This appears to be an interesting study and it was actually published in the Journal of Scientific Explorations at Testing a Language-Using Parrot for Telepathy. Full text of the published article in PDF format, together with reviewers’ and editor’s comments, is available there.
The abstract of the article is as follows:
Aimee Morgana noticed that her language-using African Grey parrot, N’kisi, often seemed to respond to her thoughts and intentions in a seemingly telepathic manner. We set up a series of trials to test whether this apparent telepathic ability would be expressed in formal tests in which Aimee and the parrot were in different rooms, on different floors, under conditions in which the parrot could receive no sensory information from Aimee or from anyone else. During these trials, Aimee and the parrot were both videotaped continuously. At the beginning of each trial, Aimee opened a numbered sealed envelope containing a photograph, and then looked at it for two minutes. These photographs corresponded to a prespecified list of words in N’kisi’s vocabulary, and were selected and randomized in advance by a third party. We conducted a total of 147 two-minute trials. The recordings of N’kisi during these trials were transcribed blind by three independent transcribers. Their transcripts were generally in good agreement. Using a majority scoring method, in which at least two of the three transcribers were in agreement, N’kisi said one or more of the key words in 71 trials. He scored 23 hits: the key words he said corresponded to the target pictures. In a Randomized Permutation Analysis (RPA), there were as many or more hits than N’kisi actually scored in only 5 out of 20,000 random permutations, giving a p value of 5/20,000 or 0.00025. In a Bootstrap Resampling Analysis (BRA), only 4 out of 20,000 permutations equaled or exceeded N’kisi’s actual score (p = 0.0002). Both by the RPA and BRA, the mean number of hits expected by chance was 12, with a standard deviation of 3. N’kisi repeated key words more when they were hits than when they were misses. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that N’kisi was reacting telepathically to Aimee’s mental activity.
Of course, there’s some criticism of the study and the peer reviewers get mixed impressions when reviewing it. One of them states that there’s a methodological error, the other says he asked for more data, received it from the researchers and concludes that ”…concordance between
N’kisi’s phrases and the card images Morgana viewed cannot be explained by
chance and does not appear to be explainable by methodo logical error.”
About the involved in the study:
The researchers in this study were Rupert Sheldrake, a known biologists, who conducts many studies in the parapsychology fields, including the more recent Telephone telepathy studies and his more known study about the dogs that known when their owner returns home and experiments on The sense of being stared at.
Aimee Morgana works with animals and has been working with parrots since 1985, trying to establish better communication with animals.
“N’kisi is a captive bred, hand raised Congo African Gray Parrot. He is 4-1/2 years old, and his species has a life span similar to humans. He has received teaching in the use of language for 4 years. He is now one of the world’s top “language-using” animals, with an apparent understanding and appropriate usage of over 700 words (at least 1200 now – Jacob).” – From Sheldrake’s page on the experiment