For those who haven’t seen the 2008 documentary “Man On Wire,” which is about a record-breaking feat of high altitude tightrope walking, I “highly” recommend it (sorry, that was awful). Director James Marsh’s new documentary, “Project Nim,” is an in-depth look at one of the most educational, tragic, monumental, flawed studies in the history of modern psychology research. In the 1970s, an experimental chimp subject, Nim Chimpsky, was reared and taught as if he was human, and the researchers hypothesized that he would be able to learn human language (through signing).
While Nim learned many signs, the results were cloudy, and researchers spent years analyzing his behavior to see what was really going on. His moniker came from a play on “Noam Chomsky,” who argued that humans were specifically wired for language and other apes were not. Though the results of the Nim Chimpsky study were heavily disputed, and, ultimately, found to be flawed, questions about the origin of language and the cognitive abilities of our primate cousins remain unanswered.
Check out “Project Nim” for a nicely made look at this multi-layered story of the crossroads between curiosity, intellectual arrogance, scientific discovery, and self-discovery.