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Celebration for John Pilley

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2008-11-12

His nickname is Merlin, and his magical effect on those around him on the Wofford campus is why there will be a Celebration for John Pilley on Nov. 14 at 4:30 p.m. in the psychology suite of the Milliken Science Building.

“We’re celebrating so many years of him affecting student’s lives,” says friend and colleague Alliston Reid.

Reid recently submitted an article for publication with Pilley for the journal Animal Cognition. It is based on Pilley’s work with his border collie Chaser.

“It’s really amazing what the dog can do,” says Reid. “John is able to do a tremendous amount with Chaser. He can distinguish between proper nouns and common nouns which represent categories, adverbs, adjectives, verbs, and many different things. He has demonstrated that very, very well with physical tests and so forth.”

The dog has learned more than 1,000 different words in the past three plus years.

“Most of us think that humans are the only animals on Earth who can talk and communicate,” adds Reid. “But of course humans must have evolved to have these abilities from their precursors. So there must be some kind of modules in the brains of animals that are language related. So the question is, ‘What sort of cognitive processes do animals have that are similar to ours?’ Of course ours allow us to have extensive language abilities.”

Pilley turned 80 this summer but is still very active in the Wofford community. He continues to work with the volleyball team, still socializes with psychology staff and students, and even attended the recent Wofford/Appalachian State football game in Boone, NC.

His work with Reid is potentially very important to the scientific community.

“The research paper isn’t about seeing how many words a dog can learn,” Reid explains. “It’s actually very good science where he is looking at the ways in which children and lower animals share certain cognitive processes for language acquisition.

“It’s a major paper. I’m just so proud that he has done this.”

It’s cause for celebration, and that’s what Pilley will be getting.