Monkey See, Monkey Do Math

I think the general public has a somewhat comical view of animals and their mental abilities. From chickens playing tic-tac-toe at county fairs to “stupid pet tricks” on TV to humorous news clips of zoo animals entertaining the masses. It isn’t much of a résumé. Perhaps one of the mental barriers to seeing evolution in a clear light is regarding animals as buffoons; and being related to a buffoon is unacceptable to many people.

But if we actually give animal behavior more than a cursory glance, we find that many groups exhibit extraordinary abilities on par with humans, if not quanititatively then qualitatively. My favorite is the birds, specifically the corvid family. (Monkeys get all the attention, the diaper wearing media whores.) New Caledonian Crows have demonstrated their ability to use tools. Watch the video of a crow forming a wire tool, but look closely or you’ll miss the key moment.     


Bird Intelligence


Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays” by Candace Savage

 “Ravens In Winter” by Bernd Heinrich 



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2 responses to “Monkey See, Monkey Do Math

  1. Sirius

    You seriously compare that with the intelligence of homo sapiens???

    –Sirius Knott

  2. thedarwinreport

    To Sirius,

    You miss the point by a mile. There’s no problem in stating that aspects of human intelligence are superior; but it is basically a quantitative claim, one of degree. The type of intelligence displayed by primates and members of many other animal groups is on the same level qualitatively (kind) as our own. Analogously, 1950’s computers work on the same principles as today’s machines, but the speed and performance are different in the two groups.

    But it is human bias and ego which makes us choose one aspect of intelligence over another in a comparison test. Humans are better at some mental tasks, and weaker at others, compared to other animals. Some people, like yourself, only want to conencentrate on the “winnable races”.

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