11.29.2008

Bird Brains.

Here is a really fascinating interview with a scientist about Bird Intelligence.

Here is an excerpt from one of the more interesting parts:

LEHRER: What do you think was Alex's(here is an excellent video showing alex talking) most impressive cognitive feat?

PEPPERBERG: The work on the “zero-like” concept. He had shown that he could label the number of a subset of items in a heterogeneous mixture (for example, tell us the number of blue blocks in a mixture of red and blue balls and red and blue blocks), but we hadn't tested his comprehension of number. That task was important, because young children, at a particular stage in number learning, can label a set but can't, for example, remove a specific number of marbles from a big heap.

So we were testing him on number comprehension, again showing him heterogeneous mixtures of different numbers of objects of different colors (for instance, two blue keys, five purple keys, six green keys and asking, "What color is six?"). As was his wont, he was at about 90 percent accuracy on the first dozen or so trials, but we needed far more for statistical significance. The problem was that he just did not want to comply. He began to turn his back to us, throw the objects on the floor, or give us all the wrong answers and repeat the wrong answers so that, statistically, we knew he was avoiding the correct response. We started bribing him with candies and treats to get him to work. One day, in the midst of this, I'm testing him with a tray of three, four and six blocks of different colors, and I ask, "What color three?" He replies, "Five." At first, I was puzzled: there was no set of five on the tray. We repeat this interaction several times, and he consistently says, "Five." Finally, in frustration, I ask, "OK, what color five?" He says "none"! Not only had he transferred the use of "none" from a same-different task, where "none" was the response if nothing about two objects was indeed "same" or "different," to the absence of a numerical set, but he had also figured out how to manipulate me into asking him the question he wanted to answer!


If some birds are already that intelligent, I wonder how long it would take to evolve into Human like intelligence, assuming they are evolving in that direction.

I would speculate this bird is of roughly equal intelligence as Homo Erectus (gay boner), the species modern Humans evolved from. It took about 2 million years to get from Homo Erectus (gay boner) to modern humans. So, perhaps in 2 million years(or maybe even sooner if something anomalous happens*), we will have birds of human intelligence. Though, I think one big obstacle is the overall size of birds,(small size=small heads=size brains=less room for neurons) but of course birds could get bigger. Perhaps we will have giant, intelligent birds who we share the planet with. Of course, by then Humans will have likely made evolved in interesting ways as well. Also we will probably have introduced genetic enhancements as well as synthetic enhancements, giving us a leg up on our smart bird friends. I wonder what sort of relationships these two species would have. I could see these birds, at some transitional stage, being treated in ways akin to how black people were/are treated (slavery). Well, I guess we already use animals as slaves. I wonder at what point would people see these beings as intelligent enough to be treated as equals. Perhaps by that point in our development our treatment towards animals will have progressed enough in general, that we will have long stopped treated animals as property.

Maybe in 2 million years the earth will be diverse in intelligent species. Dolphins, Birds, Humans. Air, land, and Sea. Perhaps interspecies marriage will be the new gay marriage. And gay marriages and abortions will be required by law. Everyone must have one gay marriage and one abortion at some point in their lives. We will engineer human males with the ability to birth a child, just so they can have abortions.











* "In an absolutely fascinating experiment first reported in July 2002, scientists modified a single mouse gene and created mice with brains 50% larger than normal. This experiment shows that a point mutation can, in fact, have an immense effect on brain size. It is still unknown whether the larger brains make the mice smarter or not, but it is easy to imagine later mutations refining the wiring of these millions of new neurons."

8 comments:

Mberenis said...

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Version #2 said...

This is fascinating. I would love the future to entail more intelligent species beyond the human race, and I think it will; mostly because I don't believe in the apocalypse.

I'm reading a book right now called "What Are You Optimistic About" where it's just a collection of short essays, some only a paragraph long, of what our modern leading thinkers (ie. Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Lisa Randall, etc.) predict for the future.

I think you'd like it. A lot of the essays touch on or are entirely about science and religion.

Here are two excerpts from it:

"I am optimistic about the future of religion. We will learn to shed the unessential dogmas, rules, definitions, and prejudices that religions have built up over centuries and millennia. We will learn that they have been created out of feelings of insecurity, out of an innate need of humankind to define and understand even the undefinable and non-understandable. I am convinced that in all major religions we will discover the essentials of what it means to be human. We will succeed in persuading church leaders and religious leaders to be more audacious, to open up to other views of the world and rely less on what they perceive to be their own access to truth. The present battle between science and religion will someday be seen as a battle between two unjustified positions. Science will never be able to prove that God does not exist, and religion will learn that its essence is far deeper than ephemeral questions like whether we were created by evolution or not. I believe that someday we will arrive at a coherent view of the world that will transcend both what today we call science and what today we call religion."
-Anton Zeilinger (Physicist, University of Vienna, and scientific director of the Institute of Quantum Information, Austrian Academy of Sciences.)

And one more:

"[In relation to the nature of religion changing] Why am I confident this metamorphosis of religion will happen? Mainly because of the asymmetry in the information explosion. With the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the Internet but cell phones and portable radios and televisions), it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts (and, yes, of course, misinformation and junk of every genre) that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance. The religious fervor of today is a last attempt by our generation to block the eyes and ears of the coming generations, and it isn't working. For every well-publicized victory - the inundation of the Bush administration with evangelicals, the nation's growing number of home schoolers, the rise of radical Islam, the much exaggerated 'rebound' of religion in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to take the most obvious cases - there are many less dramatic defeats, as young people quietly walk away from the faith of their parents and grandparents. that trend will continue, especially when young people come to know how many of their peers are making this low profile choice. Around the world, the category of 'not religious' is growing faster than the Mormons, the evangelicals, even than Islam, whose growth is due almost entirely to fecundity, not conversion, and is bound to level off soon...

Those who are secular can encourage their children to drink from the well of knowledge wherever it leads them, confident that only a small percentage will rebel against their secular upbringing and turn to one religion or another...Many religions have already made the transition, quietly de-emphasizing the irrational elements in their heritages, abandoning the xenophobic and sexist prohibitions of their recent past, and turning their attention from doctrinal purity to moral effectiveness. The fact that these adapting religions are scorned as "former" religions by the die hard purists shows how brittle the objects of their desperate allegiance have become. As the world informs itself about these transitions, those who are devout in the old-fashioned way will have to work around the clock to provide attractions, distractions - and guilt trips - to hold the attention and allegiance of their children. They will not succeed, and it will not be a painless transition. Families will be torn apart, and generations will accuse each other of disloyalty and worse: The young will be appalled by their discovery of the deliberate misrepresentations of their elders, and their elders will feel abandoned and betrayed by their descendants. We must not underestimate the anguish that these cultural transformations will engender, and we should try to anticipate the main effects and be ready to provide relief and hope for those who are afflicted...

I think the main problem we face today is overreaction, making martyrs out of people who desperately want to become martyrs. What it will take is patience, good information, and a steady demand for universal education about the world's religions. This will favor the evolution of avirulent forms of religion, which we can all welcome as continuing parts of our planet's cultural heritage. Eventually the truth will set us free."
-Daniel C. Dennett (Philosopher, university professor, co director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University; author of Breaking the Spell: Religion As a Natural Phenomenon.)

Vincent said...

This post & its comments give frightful warning of the danger of too much intelligence.

Version #2 said...

I'm curious Vincent why you associate danger with increased intelligence? In my thinking, which I'm willing to change if convinced or presented with new evidence that spurs need of change, so much bad comes from ignorance (Slavery, racism, terrorism, genocide, ethnocentrism, superstitions, sexism, and xenophobia in general) and so much good has come from intelligence ie. general technology, medical practices/cures/medications/vaccinations, airplanes and other modes of transportation, electricity and running water, etc.

If history had seen intelligence or the increase of it as frightful and dangerous, we'd still live in a world without the conveniences and life extending practices that we all regard today as practical and necessary parts of life.

I'm very curious what you meant by that statement, and not in a confrontational tone at all, I'd just be interested to hear further clarification on your thought process so I can understand it better and take your ideas into consideration if I think there is sound logic to it.

chris almond said...

Re: Mbrenis

Is there a way i can opt out of your spam comments?

Vincent said...

Version #2, I am so happy to be challenged on this, for it will make me follow through the intuitive thought which prompted it.

You list a lot of things which you claim come from ignorance. But I think you are making your own definition of ignorance there, as indeed you and Chris were helping define “more intelligent species” in his post and your comment.

It appears to me that every species, our own included, has what it takes to survive within its environment, though homo sapiens seems to have developed an extra brain to reason his way through multiple or changing environments. I take the view that every species already manifests perfection without further tinkering, but perhaps I am speaking mystically.

What you have described as ignorance I see as the perversions of civilization whose power is abetted by one-sided intellect and the armouries which it creates.

The list of things you describe as “good” include many which threaten the planet ecologically, whilst poisoning mankind psychologically at the same time.

What you call intelligence sounds to me like cunning allied with power to create a monster which flourishes in the absence of enemies able to combat it effectively. The rise of terrorism is as much a warning signal as the crises, ecological, financial and political, that we see in the world.

The danger of “increased intelligence” is the lopsided culture it produces, whereby man loses touch with soul, with natural wisdom, with nature, with the primitive: in short with everything that nourishes; creating an inevitable nightmare. I am not talking about the future, but now.

Vincent said...

Suggestion re spam comments. they are easily deleted.

isaac isak icekick said...

"GAY BONER"!!!! OH god that is funny. if too much intelligence leads to such awesome word play(the pomo in me) then I am for it. OH my life totally sucks,