Animal Intelligence – Part 1

Up until fairly recently learned people believed that humans alone enjoyed a ‘higher’ existence than any other animal or creature in our unique ability to be so very clever. Conventional wisdom held that only humans:

  • had language
  • use tools
  • meaningfully play
  • demonstrate reasoning
  • and the biggie – can consciously process theoretical information

Lately, animal ethologists (those who study animal behavior) have caught up with the far more delightful realities of various animals substantiating all of these formerly exclusive to homo sapien characteristics.

An excellent example is Alex, the African Grey parrot under the tutelage of Dr. Irene Pepperburg who displayed a working knowledge of the concept of zero – an abstract core component of theoretical mathematics. To have done this Alex also employed the language Dr. Pepperburg taught him to communicate his answers to her queries. Why a parrot? Parrots can speak words that sound a lot like human language. Alex actually spoke in English. (He’s since died but the work carries on with other parrot students.)

So Dr. Pepperburg may ask, “How many keys?” and Alex responds clearly “Two.”. Then she might ask “What different?” and Alex says “Color.” as the two keys are each a different color. This in one usually cooperative being (Alex says “Wanna go back.” when he’s had enough of the training and testing) elements of naive intelligence heretofore assigned exclusively to humans alone were practiced by this little being with huge impact throughout the community of animal science. See Dr. Pepperburg’s interesting book about her adventures with Alex and the at first coldly unsympathetic world of animal behaviorists in her book Alex and Me.

With research like this showing the abilities of animals to employ intellect in ways similar to people old prejudices are forever invalidated. Mind you, observant pet appreciators could have told you this too.

Discussion

  1. Have you observed intelligence in animals? What did you see? How was what you saw different from purely ‘instinctual’ behavior?
  2. What are some ideas for experiments you could design to test for intelligence in behavior animals? The sky is the limit. No budget constraints.

Creative Consideration

Design a fantastical devise for measuring intelligence in the animal of your choice:

  1. Decide on your animal
  2. Figure out what you want to test and how.
    Can an elephant count? How can you tell? How will you measure that?
    Do seahorses sing their own compositions? How does one know? How will you find out?
    Do butterflies engage in politics? etc.
  3. Sketch out your device with all it’s controls, bells, knobs and whistles.
  4. Write a description about how it works.
  5. Make a model or full sized version of it using whatever media is most appropriate or on hand to do so.

Extra Credit

Use it on yourself.

Use it on the animal you’re testing!

Post a Youtube video of your results!

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