Friday, September 3


Once again, the better humans get at studying animal behavior, the clearer it is that our biases, not facts, account for the notion of "dumb beasts." This article in the Christian Science Monitor even riffs on that in its opening sentence: "Bird brains seem to be smarter these days." It continues: "Scientists are finding hints of a higher level of intelligence than expected as they look more closely at our avian friends. The findings raise anew questions of what we consider to be thinking and how thinking works."

A researcher says one new bird study "suggests for the first time that a nonprimate may be able to assess the social relationships between other animals of its own species, an ability thought to be a mark of intelligence." And a second study finds that some jays "can sort out social status in a group without fighting. To figure out who is who by watching how individuals behave toward each other is a high-level skill. Psychologists call it transitive reasoning. Scientists did not expect the birds to be that bright." The jays' behavior "implies a more complex set of cognitive skills" than does even the first study mentioned. Sorting things out without fighting? Sounds like if we look close enough, we may find "a more complex set of cognitive skills" than we have ourselves.

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