View Full Version : Genius Animals?
08-09-2002, 03:44 PM
Can animals be geniuses?
This question was prompted byBetty the New Caledonian Crow (http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/08/09/crow.betty/index.html) ...
Professor Kacelnik said just because Betty was a gifted tool-maker, it did not mean she was necessarily bright in other areas.
"What we believe is that there isn't a single kind of intelligence," he told the UK's Press Association. "Different species have developed different kinds of intelligence appropriate to their particular needs."
Couldn't Betty be a genius crow?
Or is the professor saying the same thing and if so, are there truly human geniuses?
Or is this an incredibly stupid question?
08-09-2002, 03:48 PM
Crap. This should probably be in Great Debates.
Also, I should rephrase: "Or is the professor saying the same thing and if so, do human geniuses exist or are they merely people with 'a different kind of intelligence'?"
bibliophage, DrMatrix, manhattan... please move this thread at thy will.
08-09-2002, 05:05 PM
Intelligence is like life ó brutally difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. Frankly, I think "different kind of intelligence" is a good way of looking at it.
08-09-2002, 06:37 PM
It's a shame that the word "genius" has strayed so far from its original meaning. It used to imply exactly what the OP is talking about: A very strong talent for a particular thing. Now it's come to be so closely associated with cognitive talent and/or talent in maths and sciences that the word is less useful in other contexts.
I think, given the older definition of the word, that both people and animals can exhibit genius. Is Michael Jordan a genius the way we normally consider the word? No. Does he have a genius for basketball? Undoubtedly.
08-09-2002, 09:51 PM
Though the concept that an animal can show some form of intelligence and that genius can refer to novel problem solving to accomplish goals in a variety of domains, all sort of makes the Turing test seem like an absurd critera, don't it?
08-09-2002, 10:16 PM
In humans genius is determined by IQ - which is a mesure of intelligence proportional to what is "Normal" (100). There is some set # (say 160) that establishes a 'genius'. While I don't necessarily agree with this type of assessment (those poor 159 scorers), it could probably be applied to animals as well. A baseline would have to be established, and somehow measured. But the concept should still apply (as least by using the human definition of 'genius').
just my $.02
08-09-2002, 10:30 PM
I think Betty would be a genius crow if her tool making abilities were above that of the average crows. The whole crow species can be condisered genius toolmakers using the older definition of genius, but to apply the new definition would probably go on an individual by individual basis. This made a lot more sense before i previewed it.....
08-09-2002, 11:02 PM
Even all human beings don't have "the same kind of intelligence", much less different species. (Howard Gardner, anybody?) Doesn't genius have to do with the perceived level of the intelligence, rather than the type? I don't automatically associate "genius" with only math/science or "cognitive talent" (the ability to know a lot of stuff? Or take IQ tests?). I still closely associate the idea of genius with creativity; poets, musicians, painters, filmmakers, chefs, landscape architects, all those goaded by a burning muse. The "original meaning" of genius was that of a tutelary spirit, the idea of a sort of supernatural inspiration or influence on the human mind/spirit.
If Betty is doing something that other crows just don't do, then, yeah, she's got a higher level of that kind of intelligence, such that her crow friends would, if they could, consider her touched by some superlative (if not supernatural) ability. I don't see why she couldn't be considered a genius. And I don't see how that invalidates the idea of human genius.
08-09-2002, 11:42 PM
The point of the authors really was not that this particular bird was so unusual. It was that creative problem solving was present in a fairly small brained animal, quite removed from humans.Purposeful modification of objects by animals for use as tools, without extensive prior experience, is almost unknown. In experiments by Povinelli [experiments 24 to 26 in (2)], chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) repeatedly failed to unbend piping and insert it through a hole to obtain an apple, unless they received explicit coaching. Further experiments [exp. 27 in (2)] (8) have shown a similar lack of deliberate, specific tool modification in primates. There are, however, numerous suggestive field observations (9) and one report of a male capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) unbending a piece of wire to obtain honey (10).
Our finding, in a species so distantly related to humans and lacking symbolic language, raises numerous questions about the kinds of understanding of "folk physics" and causality available to nonhumans, the conditions for these abilities to evolve, and their associated neural adaptations. Comparisons between New Caledonian crows and their relatives, as well as between other cognitively exceptional birds and their relatives (11), offer a unique natural experiment to examine hypotheses about the ecological and neural preconditions for complex cognition to evolve. It is not yet known if New Caledonian crows are also exceptional in cognitively demanding tasks not involving tools.
Heck, humans don't really engage in creative problem solving much until 15 months (that's when you see toddlers pushing chairs over in order to get up on the table). And I know some adults who haven't found a creative solution yet!
So much that old saw about brain to body mass being a measure of intelligence ... always struck me as stupid.
What is a good operational definition of intelligence that can be used across species and perhaps apply to artificial forms of intelligence as well? An ethologically sensitive definition, if you will. Any one want to offer up a suggestion?
The Turings test clearly fails for this purpose.
And if crows, with their fairly puny brains, are able to creatively solve problems and create tools, then what were their larger brained ancestors, the dromosaurs able to do (that, being behavior, has left no hard record)? What kind of problems do whales solve with their huge cortical mass? How could you find out?
Actually, it's been known for a while that corvids are highly intelligent, and ravens have already been established as outperforming chimps on some animal intelligence tests. Among other things, they can be taught to count as high as six. (The experiment involves a number of boxes, each labelled with a different number of dots. You secretly put food in a box, and "tell" the raven which box it's in by showing them a number of objects equal to the number of dots on the box.)
Corvids are also known for play. IIRC they've been seen playing "catch" in the wild (tossing a piece of stick up in the air and repeatedly catching it in their beaks) and have also been seen doing "aerial skipping," (in groups, no less!) in which they'll fly level, then suddenly tumble, recover, tumble again, and so on. I also seem to remember a report of a crow swinging on a strand of Spanish moss like a tire swing, for no apparent reason other than that he liked doing it. I believe that play serves a role in mating behavior (in that a male and female will play together before deciding to mate) but I may be confusing them with a different species of bird.
The other cool thing is that bird intelligence evolved separately from mammalian intelligence. In mammals, intelligence is seated in the overdeveloped cortex. In birds, the cortex is underdeveloped, and intelligence is the result of an overdeveloped hypophysis (a part of the brain apparently so obscure in mammals that I've never, ever heard of it outside of discussions of bird intelligence.)
08-10-2002, 02:45 AM
Originally posted by Ben
In birds, the cortex is underdeveloped, and intelligence is the result of an overdeveloped hypophysis (a part of the brain apparently so obscure in mammals that I've never, ever heard of it outside of discussions of bird intelligence.)
"Hypophysis" is just a fancy word for "pituitary gland". Mammals have those, of course (do a Google search on "mammal hypophysis pituitary gland" and you'll get plenty of hits with phrases like "hypophysis (pituitary gland)" or "pituitary gland (hypohysis)").
08-10-2002, 02:49 AM
Aside from Betty the Crow, the CNN article from the OP also mentions Alex, the African grey parrot:
The most famous intelligent bird is Alex, an African grey parrot studied by Dr Irene Pepperberg in the United States in the 1980s.
He was able to use more than 100 English words correctly to refer to objects, ask questions, and make requests.
I wonder if he could carry on a conversation with one of those sign-language chimps, via interpretor....
08-10-2002, 03:27 PM
Okay Darwin, but bird brains DO depend on something other than the neocortex. What IS it called? I vaugely recall archipallidian but I doubt that I'm right ...
08-10-2002, 04:19 PM
From this site (http://www.biology.eku.edu/RITCHISO/birdbrain.html), the center of avian intelligence appears to be the hyperstriatum and the Wulst area (here (http://jarvis.neuro.duke.edu/nomen/proposals/Medina-july_2.html) is a proposed alteration in current avian brain nomenclature; under the proposed system, the hyperstriatum is incorporated within the Wulst), both parts of each cerebral hemisphere, and unique to birds. Here (http://jarvis.neuro.duke.edu/nomen/proposals/Medina_pic.html#top) is a diagram of a zebra finch brain; you can see the Wulst area on the right side.
And here is another article (http://www.pbs.org/lifeofbirds/brain/) (from PBS's "The Life of Birds" series) on avian intelligence, again focusing on the corvid brainiacs:
The scene: a traffic light crossing on a university campus in Japan. Carrion crows and humans line up patiently, waiting for the traffic to halt. When the lights change, the birds hop in front of the cars and place walnuts, which they picked from the adjoining trees, on the road. After the lights turn green again, the birds fly away and vehicles drive over the nuts, cracking them open. Finally, when itís time to cross again, the crows join the pedestrians and pick up their meal.
If the cars miss the nuts, the birds sometimes hop back and put them somewhere else on the road. Or they sit on electricity wires and drop them in front of vehicles.
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