Bird Brains Challenge Theories of Mind

Posted 15 May 2004 at 19:35 UTC by steve Share This

A previously accepted difference between Humans and other animals was that only Humans could possess a "theory of mind" - that is, understanding that other beings have internal thoughts, mental states, and intentions. In recent years, higher mammals such as Gorillas have show evidence of having theories of mind. An article in the Economist summarizes two new studies in which biologists have found evidence of theories of mind in birds, a much older and more primitive form of life. One study by Bernd Heinrich and others demonstrated that Ravens understood the significance of the visual behaviour of other creatures and were able to project gaze trajectories around obstacles. In a second study, Thomas Bugnyar and Kurt Kotrschal describe a strategy developed by a raven to deceive competing ravens in a way demonstrating understanding of the competitor's intentions. Oh well, we still have syntactic language and time binding.

For those who are intested, here are links to the two studies. Unfortunately, both were published in restrictive, non-open scientific publications so only the abstracts may be viewed without payment.

Ravens, Corvus corax, follow gaze direction of humans around obstacles

Leading a conspecific away from food in ravens (Corvus corax)

Bird Brain, posted 16 May 2004 at 19:18 UTC by motters » (Master)

The relative intelligence of birds compared to other creatures has long been recognised. When I was a kid there was a craze for making curious bird puzzles out of plastic bottles and such like. The birds would pull out match sticks in a particular sequence or perch in the right place in order to release nuts on which they could feed. Initially they would be baffled and simply try to peck at the nuts through the clear plastic, but after some experimentation they would figure out how to do it. Since there was often no direct stimulous/response way of solving the puzzles they seemed to use a combination of trial and error and intuition (logical induction). After figuring out the puzzle the bird would be able to solve it repeatedly in a matter of seconds.

I've also seen rooks apparently engaging in what looks like play behavior. One bird I once saw seemed to enjoy playing dangerous games with cars as they passed along a road neer to my house. He would stand in the road then when a car approached he would quickly fly vertically upwards and then down again to the same spot after it had passed, and did this repeatedly even though there wasn't any obvious benefit to doing it in the form of roadkill or whatever.

How'd they get their hands on Ravens to experiment, posted 17 May 2004 at 02:07 UTC by WhoPhlungPoo » (Journeyer)

Several years ago I had the idea of building a harness that I could place on a bird, this harness would contain GPS, camera, micro controller and some small servos that would place pressure on the bird in various locations. The idea was that with some training you could teach the bird to fly, land, etc. Much like a horse and use the bird as an extremely long-range recon robot. The Raven was the obvious choice as they are for the most part considered pests and in most states here in the US they are open game through out the year. I figured that if the government didn't mind people shooting them, then they where fair game for capture and experimentation. However, after a bit of research, I found this isn't the case. As they are a migrating animal, it is illegal to keep them as pets. I really don't understand this law, farmers are allowed to step out on their back porch with a shotgun and blast them, however, we can't keep them as pets.

After a bit more research, I did find an African Raven, which you can purchase in a pet store for around $800 US, however, the African variety is smaller and said to be not nearly as intelligent as the North American Raven. The $800 replacement cost of the African Raven component part of my robot concept made the idea less desirable, as I'm sure there would be "accidents" during the research. May bee I'll use chickens instead, at least I could eat the failed experiments.

I'm still curious as to why..., posted 17 May 2004 at 19:20 UTC by earlwb » (Master)

I am still curious as to why squirrels play chicken with automobiles myself.

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