Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Animal Intelligence

It annoys me when people say animals aren't intelligent. There is a lot of evidence pointing out that quite a few animals are very intelligent. They may not be intelligent in the same way as we are or apply their intelligence in the ways we do, but they still are pretty intelligent. Animals display problem solving abilities, some use tools (mentioned in a previous post), some have complicated social structures, have very good memory, etc.

Recent story I read on annanova about a bear stealing a hub cap from one car and then walking over to another car that was missing it's hubcaps putting the hubcap down and then knocking on the cars window seemingly trying to get the inhabitants attention.

There was another article in which they explained that elephants are very good at mathematics. The test involved dropping a varying numbers of apples into two buckets in front of the animals and then recording how often they could correctly choose the bucket holding the most fruit. They would drop them in clusters of up to three or four at a time on occasion to force the elephants to keep running totals in their heads to keep count. The elephants did very well choosing the correct bucket on average of 74% of the time with one elephant getting it correct 87% of the time. Humans taking the exact same test got scored a 67%.

There are also stories all the time in which an animal like a dog saves a human being. Just recently I read about a dog in Argentine that saved a baby. The baby had been abandoned by it's 14 year old mother and the dog had found it at brought it home putting it with her puppies.

There was another article on New York Times about how crows and their relatives could recognize faces. They tested this by capturing birds while wearing masks, those birds that were captured by the masked individual would remember the mask and be wary of/heckle that person. It was more complicated but with control groups and testing with different masks. End result was that the birds could remember the face and would tell other birds about that face. They would heckle the person and later other birds who were not captured would also heckle and avoid the person with that mask on.

We are constantly finding new evidence that animals are a lot more intelligent than people think they are. It's been found that whales and birds have a sort of grammar while singing. Some apes can be taught sign language. Some birds are at least as smart as five year old's (a parrot has demonstrated the ability to understand the concept of zero for example). They can be taught to do things and can teach each other things once taught. Dolphins that have been taught tricks and released into the wild will occasionally teach other dolphins how to do them. A lost parrot in Japan made it's way home because it told people it's name and address (though it at first refused to tell it to the police -which personally I find to be funny).

Sure some of it is just instinct and mimicry but our own intelligence is also instinct and mimicry. We learn to talk by mimicry and studies have shown more of our behavior is instinctual than we previously thought. A recent study on children show that little kids are selfish but as they approach eight years old they instinctively become less selfish, the change is so pronounced that it can only be explained, at least in part, by genes says the scientists that did the study.

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