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  #1  
Old 31 March 2008, 09:08 PM
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Whalephant Elephant Paints Self Portrait

Comment: This shows an elephant painting an elephant.
It's a little unbelievable.
Is it true?

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  #2  
Old 31 March 2008, 09:18 PM
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It doesn't look manipulated to me. I think he's done quite the good job!
Better than I could do, in fact.
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  #3  
Old 31 March 2008, 09:18 PM
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[Zoidberg]He's so talented![/Zoidberg]

I like when elephants do human like things.
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  #4  
Old 31 March 2008, 09:33 PM
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It seems to be real, but it may be trained behavior. I have never before seen an elephant capable of representative painting, but BBC is carrying the story
Quote:
Elephant expert Dr Joyce Poole, who has studied the animals for 30 years, said she owned an elephant painting but had not come across animals painting their own images.
The Oslo-based scientist said: "I have seen elephants painting, but it was very free-flow.
"It's certainly capable of drawing an elephant, and could be trained, but might not really understand what it was doing."
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  #5  
Old 31 March 2008, 10:35 PM
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Pfft. I don't see what's so amazing... I could draw a better elephant than that. I mean, really, that trunk? Put some effort in!

I suspect trained, and also suspect that people should be hesistant about watching any exotic animal performances as, astounding as the stunts can be, often the conditions backstage are much less than glamourous. I'd rather see a talentless elephant artlessly taking a dump than a trained elephant living in poor conditions. I'm not making specific judgments about this one case, since I have no idea what life is like for Pachydermo Picasso here.
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  #6  
Old 01 April 2008, 12:21 AM
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I agree that it looks legitimate, in that the elephant looks to be doing the painting, but that it has been trained. i doubt very much that an elephant would independently include a flower in its self-portrait.

Even so, that is an incredibly complex and precise series of movements, and the painting is quite beautiful. What surprised me the most was the accuracy of the positioning of the paintbrush.

I was also surprised when it repainted a line that was too light in colour. I wondered if a minder somehow instructed it to do that, or if it noticed that the line needed to be redrawn. If the former, then the elephant has a really amazing grasp of language, or they have a very sophisticated communication system. If the later - well that's just incredible.
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  #7  
Old 01 April 2008, 12:52 AM
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I suppose when we look at something like this, I'm reminded of the arrogance of mankind, thinking that we alone are capable of intelligence to do a painting. It's probably been trained, but aren't we equally trained in some fashion, when we learn to do something?
At first, I thought it was fake, but the later, long shots look real enough.
Of course it could have been manipulated, but what would someone have to gain from doing this?
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  #8  
Old 01 April 2008, 01:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jw View Post
I suppose when we look at something like this, I'm reminded of the arrogance of mankind, thinking that we alone are capable of intelligence to do a painting. It's probably been trained, but aren't we equally trained in some fashion, when we learn to do something?
Most people, even with training, are capable of understanding why they are doing something. A child will draw things spontaneously, and if asked can produce a picture of a given subject. I do not believe the elephant knows that it is drawing an elephant, it is more likely just making lines that match an image it has been given, with no idea as to the significance.
Don't get me wrong, I think elephants are very bright; they seem to have an understanding of death, and quite likely have a language as well. But there has been no evidence that elephants can understand symbolism like a drawing, although it would be a very interesting study if you could figure out a way to test it.
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  #9  
Old 01 April 2008, 01:08 AM
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Ponder

Quote:
Originally Posted by jw View Post
It's probably been trained, but aren't we equally trained in some fashion, when we learn to do something?
Initially, yes. But we quickly move beyond reproducing actions by rote and learn how to apply them abstractly. Very few non-human animals are capable of a similar level of abstract reasoning.

- snopes
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  #10  
Old 01 April 2008, 01:36 AM
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It seems to be The Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project - there are more video clips here, and an art gallery too.

The elephant they show painting an elephant there is called Paya, from Thailand, but I can't tell if it's the same elephant (it looks smaller than the one in the OP to me), and the picture is different too.
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  #11  
Old 01 April 2008, 03:22 AM
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Just for a contrast:

The zoo where I worked did public elephant paintings during the on-season, daily. (As far as I know, they still do.)

It was *nowhere near* this detailed. These are African elephants, not Asian like in the video, and it's really not much more than "elephant swings a loaded brush around while the zookeeper holds the canvas at different angles" sort of thing.

Occasionally the paintings might roughly resemble things, but mostly it's just a bunch of abstract strokes of varying widths and directions. Still pretty neat, and you can buy originals at the zoo gift store, but the argument could be made that it's not really "painting," just a form of unique enrichment.

Contrasting this video with a situation like that... I'm practically speechless.
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  #12  
Old 01 April 2008, 03:25 AM
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They are definitely trained to do this, its no secret. But they are supposedly trained using positive reinforcement, nothing controversial. The money helps fund their protected reserve. Elephants are smart, so they can pick up pretty complex learned behaviors. Even though its trained behavior, just consider the precision and deliberation that they're moving their trunks with. Those are cleaner lines than some humans could make, and proportionally the canvas is pretty small for them, and they don't have fingers or thumbs.

Elephants can paint on their own without training, but its abstract, like a child playing with paint, its not like this. It may look like a simple line drawing to us, but even human artists took a long time to learn tricks like painting the back legs "behind" the front to give the picture depth. Its not something that even a human would pick up from first principles without exposure to it. Consider 2d primitive human cave drawings, in comparison, which are simpler than this drawing.

However, I do dispute that the elephant doesn't know that the lines mean anything. Given their intelligence, I think they may be able to recognize what it looks like after its already done. They may not have planned it out themselves, but they can probably understand the end result. Its hard to say without some research though. Different kinds of animals have their own perception of the world and their own intellectual gifts.

Last edited by Errata; 01 April 2008 at 03:36 AM.
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  #13  
Old 01 April 2008, 03:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Errata View Post
Those are cleaner lines than some humans could make, and proportionally the canvas is pretty small for them, and they don't have fingers or thumbs.
Elephant trunks have amazing dexterity; they are dexterous as fingers are.
Quote:
Consider 2d primitive human cave drawings, in comparison, which are simpler than this drawing.
Those paintings were very likely stylized, and meant to give a specific impression under specific circumstances. Seen in flickering firelight, they are very lifelike, almost giving the impression of movement.
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Old 01 April 2008, 03:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
It seems to be The Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project - there are more video clips here, and an art gallery too.

The elephant they show painting an elephant there is called Paya, from Thailand, but I can't tell if it's the same elephant (it looks smaller than the one in the OP to me), and the picture is different too.
The painting shown on that site for the elephant named Hong (here) is almost the same as the one shown in the video. I would wager it is either another version by the same elephant, or a version by an elephant trained to make the same picture.

erwins
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  #15  
Old 01 April 2008, 04:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by geminilee View Post
Those paintings were very likely stylized, and meant to give a specific impression under specific circumstances. Seen in flickering firelight, they are very lifelike, almost giving the impression of movement.
But they were NOT designed to show depth, because its not something that occurred to people for thousands of years.
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  #16  
Old 01 April 2008, 04:08 AM
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I hope everyone here is seriously thinking about what it means when you say the elephant was trained to do this. Do you realize how complex and subtle these actions are?

That drawing is far from crude, it has vibrancy and energy in it. I certainly could not do as well if I was asked to draw an elephant. If this is animal training, it is beyond anything I have seen or read about, and I honestly would not be so dismissive about what you are seeing here.

If this is training, then you should at least stop and think about how you would go about training an animal to accomplish something like this?
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  #17  
Old 01 April 2008, 04:16 AM
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D'oh!

Nearly all artists are trained. What kind of criticism is that?
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  #18  
Old 01 April 2008, 04:20 AM
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Whalephant

Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Initially, yes. But we quickly move beyond reproducing actions by rote and learn how to apply them abstractly. Very few non-human animals are capable of a similar level of abstract reasoning.
But that's not to say that this elephant (or that many elephants) can't. (Also, very few animals are capable of any intelligent exercise other animals are very skilled at. Very few animals can build a bee's nest.)
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  #19  
Old 01 April 2008, 04:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Horse Chestnut View Post
I hope everyone here is seriously thinking about what it means when you say the elephant was trained to do this. Do you realize how complex and subtle these actions are?

That drawing is far from crude, it has vibrancy and energy in it. I certainly could not do as well if I was asked to draw an elephant. If this is animal training, it is beyond anything I have seen or read about, and I honestly would not be so dismissive about what you are seeing here.

If this is training, then you should at least stop and think about how you would go about training an animal to accomplish something like this?
I don't think anyone is being dismissive. Elephants are extremely intelligent; they are capable of learning quite complex actions. I am certainly not diminishing the accomplishment. I just think that without some more evidence you can not absolutely say that the elephant has any idea that it is in fact drawing an elephant.
Think about Clever Hans, a story which is loved by those who wish to discount animal intelligence. What Hans did was very intelligent behavior: learning without being trained to respond to very subtle cues from his master. It was not math ability, however, as it first appeared.
I do not know of any studies that indicate that an elephant can even recognize the content of a drawing and relate it to real-world objects. Without that ability, it is extremely doubtful that an elephant can relate drawings it does by rote to real-world objects. Perhaps they can, and the tests have just not been done, but you cannot assume that they can do it just because they are able to reproduce what may be to them a meaningless pattern of lines, anymore than you can assume math ability from the fact that a horse can pick up extremely subtle behavioral cues.
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  #20  
Old 01 April 2008, 04:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Horse Chestnut View Post
I hope everyone here is seriously thinking about what it means when you say the elephant was trained to do this. Do you realize how complex and subtle these actions are?

That drawing is far from crude, it has vibrancy and energy in it. I certainly could not do as well if I was asked to draw an elephant. If this is animal training, it is beyond anything I have seen or read about, and I honestly would not be so dismissive about what you are seeing here.

If this is training, then you should at least stop and think about how you would go about training an animal to accomplish something like this?
Its training. Its a simple fact, not a guess. Go to the site that sells the paintings. It says they're trained using positive reinforcement. The news articles about this all mention that they are trained to paint specific images. They don't just decide to paint something totally new each time. Each elephant specializes in a particular image that it was trained to do.

Yes, it means that the animals are very smart to be able to learn and remember this. Elephants are quite smart. But not quite smart enough to just decide what to paint and figure out how to do it. As I mentioned, their freeform paintings look more like abstract paintings from young children. Also, as I mentioned, even human beings didn't figure out some of the tricks in that self portrait for a long time, its not something that you just figure out without exposure to the concepts behind it.
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