Having been awoke from wonderful REM sleep I was understandably annoyed. So I went out to the street in front of my house and grabbed a handful of pebbles to throw at these poor little creatures.
I went out on my upper deck and these crows seemed very upset and were circling in a crazy pattern. I looked around, realizing that something was making them crazy, and they were making me crazy. Then I saw, I am not completely sure if it was a racoon or a badger but it was a small animal of some sort that was edging his way out on the limb of a tree where what appeared to be perhaps the little home of the crows and there babies or eggs or something.
So... in my groggy state, I reasoned that if I were to; instead of tossing my pebbles at the crows, I were to toss them at whatever that thing was, then the crows would shut up and let me go back to sleep. I admit, not the most altruistic of motives but, I had a goal.
So I tossed my pebbles at this thing (I am an engineer not a biologist so excuse my ignorance) but the little cat like creature scampered off and left the crows little home in the tree next to my house, alone.
I am completely fine with having crows as neighbors as long as they do not wake me at pre-dawn hours.
The very interesting thing is that since then, it really seems like they have become my little friends. Like little neighbors. OK, I could be a kook, if this had not happened I would think I was a Kook. But when I see them they bob their head. I crow back at them.
They were sitting on the ledge of my roof, and I went out on my deck and they scared me and I screamed. Then I waved at them like... OK it is you. Hi.
They were leaving some sort of bone fragments on my upper deck like a gift of some sort. I didn't know what to do, so I would pick it up and throw it in the trash. But it kept happening. So I eventually would leave it out there and just waive at them.
I have no idea if we are actually communicating but.. they seem highly intelligent to me.
Furthermore, crows can be sneaky. A murder of them hanging out behind my mechanic's goaded the dork of the group into stealing a bag sunflower seeds on top of a rolling toolbox 30 ft / 10 m on the other side of the shop from the roll-up doors. It had to figure-out how to sneak-in, hop up on the toolbox, and sneak-out without being detected like a bloody ninja. The group of them had a sunflower seed party in the alley and one mechanic wondered where his snack went to. And there were 3 people in the shop at the time! xD
I strongly suspect that one of these days we're going to discover that crows and their relatives are not only capable of using language, but already are speaking languages that we just haven't deciphered yet.
I think it originated from the observation that they started crowing whenever they saw some new person coming.
One time recently, my shop vac’s 20-foot hose got clogged so I took it out into the back yard to unclog with a broom pole. Took me a while, and I had to shake it vigorously quite a bit before I was done. When I looked up there were more than a dozen crows quietly perched in the tree above me, watching closely. I realize that to them it might have looked like I was fighting a huge snake to the death! Afterwards I’m sure they all took turns to come check on me (or maybe get more peanuts, but they were definitely more attentive that day).
Here are a few nice stories:
Damn, that might be more than I can.
This week she sent me a photo of a young juvenile magpie which had arrived for the first time, clearly brought along by the parents to learn the ropes.
I think this is well established.
If crows are social and they have their own theory of mind it’s not a huge leap to suspect they’d make friends or try and give friends what they think are valuable gifts and that wouldn’t need to be limited to just other crows.
What makes Corvids truly fascinating, is that their offspring will be taught to recognize them too.
And if you aren't, I'll ask you to take your mysogynist slurs elsewhere.
It's great that you have a relationship with these crows! Surprise connections with the wild are one of those rare, special things in life that have deep power.
I also think the depth of field is helping a lot. By blurring out the background the bits can be spent encoding the details of the plumage.
It's the most perfectly creepy thing you could teach a raven.
That's one of the American crows at Brukner Nature Center, Troy, OH US in 2019.
We have young children, and thus the back of our car is always a little disgusting with things like goldfish crackers littered all over the floor and in-between the cracks of their car seats. We got in the habit of throwing the crumbs out onto the driveway when we got home. It didn't take long for us to notice anytime we pulled in, the crows would be lined up on the power lines waiting for their free meal.
But it gets better. One of my kids loves watching the birds, so we go out there and do so a lot. Sometimes we throw them some crackers etc. for free entertainment.
We were outside one day and someone walked by pretty close to us. They didn't pose any (recognizable) threat, but apparently the crows thought we were in some sort of danger because several swooped down and attacked the person walking by. They were totally fine after the crow mauling, but I did read that crows do view people as friend and foe, depending on what they might be trying to protect.
I understand that they eat carrion, hence their association with the dead. But that wouldn't explain the stories like this:
> According to legend, prior to one battle a gigantic Gallic warrior challenged any Roman to single combat, and Valerius, who asked for and gained the consul’s permission, accepted. As they approached each other, a raven settled on Valerius’ helmet and it distracted the enemy's attention by flying at his face, allowing Valerius to kill the enemy Gaul.
I've seen several media instances of crows eating the dead.
I used to swim with this eel and a bass(?) sometimes one summer. The eel would swim near the bottom and the bass would swim above him a foot or two. I imagine the eel would flush out prey the bass would eat. I'm not sure if the eel got anything out of the deal though.
They also have a concept of foe. Crows are well-documented to wage war against red hawks (buzzards across the pond), and this goes further than just bickering over a tasty bit of carrion: they will actively gang up on red hawks whenever they see them. Which is risky business, red hawks being larger, with sharper beaks and talons.
It's pretty neat that they can extend those concepts to distinct humans!
For the next year or so, every time either my wife or I would walk out the door, if crows were in the vicinity they would sound an alarm until they were happy we weren't going to attack them. They never seemed to do that for the dog, though.
Maybe the crows were just tending to your children like livestock? ;)
People talk about ants practicing agriculture, but sounds like maybe these crows are making a foray into it as well :)
I've spent a lot of time googling research about animal intelligence, and I now know a bunch of things intelligent animals can do, but I have no idea where their limits are, what they can't do. Everything published uses such... nonflexible tasks.
If we're trying to measure general intelligence, why isn't anybody trying to teach corvids, octopi, macaques or dolphins a task that requires building towers of abstraction in their own mind, and then gives them harder and harder "levels"? I know at least octopi can use computer screens, and I know they enjoy hard puzzles that reward them with food, so it should be easy to teach them some computer puzzle game?
Say, we could build a four key keyboard that they can use, then teach them Sokoban, starting with extremely simple levels (walk up once to get a snack; walk up twice to get a snack; walk left twice; walk up twice, then down twice; walk up, then back down and right to get beneath the second crate, then up again...) and progressing towards actual Sokoban levels humans find interesting...
If they possess general intelligence this system could tell us a lot more about its limits than a series of experiments that each requires building a physical apparatus and spending a bunch of time perfecting it and then teaching it to the animals from zero?
Did I miss the answer when googling?
Is it that it's common knowledge among researchers that no animal possesses anywhere near enough intelligence to learn Sokoban (or 2048, or any non-real-time puzzle game with simple discrete controls, but I'm pretty sure Sokoban is a near optimal choice) so nobody even tries, nor bothers publishing it (or it's written in the basic textbooks that I didn't bother looking through)?
Do researchers in the field lack access to a technologist that could help them build something like Sokoban For Crows?
Or is it something else that I don't know I don't know?
I'm not sure it's that easy.
For example, suppose a race of hyperintelligent octopuses beam down and decide to study your intelligence. They notice in one test that if you begin scrambling eggs for breakfast and they cut off both your arms at the shoulder, your arms aren't able to finish scrambling the eggs.
"My, the intelligence in this species isn't very well-distributed," they and their tentacles agree.
And then maybe they conspire to orchestrate your firing from that cushy corporate office job. They note that you then go home and start working on your career skills, in hopes of joining another company.
"My, the intelligence of this creature is quite distributed," the tentacles and central brain agree, of the corporation.
If an octopus can beat me at Sokoban, I don't care whether it thinks with its brain or its arms, I would like to hire it as a programmer for my startup. If an octopus tries its best to play Sokoban, beats the tutorial but can't figure out the levels with actual puzzles, I won't consider it to possess general intelligence, even if it kicks my ass at say visual perception cognitive tests.
(Am I missing your point somehow? I think my answer is relevant but I'm not 100% sure)
Something like your sokoban or 2048 example, which you view as a thing that any being with general intelligence should be able to solve, may not be such general intelligence thing and more of a 'human specific' thing and we're too wrapped up in our anthropomorphic view points to recognize it.
There are many human cognitive skills that seem to be very helpful for some specific tasks (e.g. noticing that someone is watching you, identifying the pitch of a strummed guitar string) but are not very useful in general, but others (e.g. analogous thinking) that we found to be relevant to a vast range of cognitive tasks. There are also tasks that require mostly the second kind of skill. An animal that can perform them well should be considered intelligent even if it doesn't have perfect pitch and can't notice that it's being watched. An animal that we can't get to perform them well may or may not be intelligent - perhaps we're not good at convincing it to try hard.
Some relevant links:
and also, I guess
Look at say plants, they've been shown to be intelligent in various ways.
Now, when you take an ecosystem like a forest, something interesting happens. The plants begin to communicate with eachother using electrical signals passed along the mycorrhizal networks of the fungi that live symbiotically with them.
So, these networks facilitate learning by individual plants within the network, they facilitate long term memory, complex coordinated long term behaviour. Now, a lot of these behaviours and things happen over spans of decades to hundreds if not thousands of years.
That sounds very much like some level of higher intelligence, yet those plants will never complete a 2048 or sokoban puzzle.
(I personally don't believe plants to possess general intelligence, but I would be delighted to discover I'm wrong)
(I'm referring to the last sentence. I can accept that many animal intelligence researchers don't buy into the idea of a general intelligence)
You'd need to know something-- indeed, a lot-- about the entity in question in order to design tests to measure its general intelligence in the first place. Otherwise you're going to default to anthropomorphize the entity in question and misunderstand what it is you are measuring. E.g., vastly overestimating the language skills of a gorilla, or perhaps believing that ML algorithms somehow provide a higher level of objectivity than the data they were trained on:
Ockham's Razor leads me to believe it's much more probable to find an alien (or animal or ML) entity good at math than an alien entity overfitted for complex Sokoban puzzles.
Now, I may undermeasure (maybe they're very intelligent but suck at spacial reasoning) but it would be hard to overmeasure (if they can do this kind of math, I'd like to hire them, period).
Gotta say in my opinion it didn't age well for a paper published in 2020 (but pre GPT-3). In practice, we have an O that is pretty good at describing how to build weapons against bears despite having absolutely no idea what "weapon" or "bear" refers to.
But also, I don't seem to understand how this relates to the discussion, so can you help me there?
Agreed. The glaring issue with their argument falls out of their own introduction. What is the "linguistic intent" of the sentence "When was Malala Yousafzai born"? Well, it falls right out of a natural language training corpus which will, with high likelihood, be followed up with her actual birthdate! So there is some non-trivial signal within the training corpus of linguistic intent. Capturing this intent is then just a computational problem. But the objective function of predicting the subsequent word has within the space of solutions the linguistic intent of the writers of the training corpus.
This isn't 100% true everywhere, but for the average researcher I think it is true in almost all fields of research.
With my Linux knowledge I was able to turn our solar physics lab into a machine that could pump out way more data than it would have being built by a guy who mainly knew FORTRAN and VMS. (Paul if you are reading this, I'm exaggerating, you have a PhD and worked at the SuperComputing center and are a genius, but I hope you retired)
Even looking back, I could have done a whole lot more if I knew anything about AWS back then, which I didn't, so I used my budget on bare metal all the time, which was a huge waste of time and resources.
I also think there are other issues, because a lot of this research has to have a specific structure, you only get grants for what you propose, and they usually won't give you a ton of money for a wild new idea that's not based on some prior specific precedent.
The entire way we advance human knowledge is kind of fucked up but I don't have a better proposal :)
Thinking about the project with corvids in mind, I’d suggest two nuances to your protocol.
1. Stick with plain mazes that have no crates in order to train the association with the onscreen character. Basically just spending more time with navigating mazes of increasing complexity before introducing crates at all. Then if they succeed with those, scale the maze complexity back down and add the crate mechanic.
2. Make use of audio. Birds have great eyes, but their natural interaction will be with their beaks, and I’m not sure how easy it is for them to track the onscreen motion while pecking. Using sound to signify “move to empty space” vs “tried to move into a wall” vs “pushed a crate” vs “got snack” could tighten the feedback loop for them and let you see them planning ahead: “I see I have to go ‘up, up, right‘ to get the snack, so I’ll press those buttons without checking the screen each time to confirm.” Might even be good for “move to empty space” to have a unique sound for each direction.
> “Causal understanding of water displacement by a crow”
The main problem mentioned in the video is that pigeons don't come with a repertoire that allows them to do those tasks naturally. So, the researchers have to teach them each of the behaviors independently. The pigeons then manage to put the behaviors together, in what is arguably a display of creativity.
First of all, thanks, that's a really cool video and exactly the kind of research I'm looking for.
However, I don't think it goes far enough to actually measure what I'm interested in. In the comments of this similar video  about a crow who has been trained to do each of A, B, C, D separately to get food doing A+B+C+D to get food, a comment captures what's wrong with it perfectly by saying:
> 2:20 The "use everything on everything" stage of playing a point-and-click adventure game.
Sure, we know birds can figure out that if step 1 is sometimes good and step 2 is sometimes good, then step 1 and then step 2 might be good. But that's not at all enough to solve, say, level 2 in , a video of a Sokoban game. If I trained a toddler to solve puzzles like level 1 (so it knows how to walk and it knows how to push crates), if could spend weeks moving and pushing crates around and not reach a solution. The repertoire of behaviors that allows them to play the game is just a foundation for a whole world of logic and planning that needs to be mastered to actually solve nontrivial Sokoban levels. Had I seen a crow solve level 3, I'd believe it is no less intelligent than some of my friends, and that if we put our minds to it, we could find a way to communicate, trade, and help our new corvid friends build a civilization not less sophisticated than our own. Based on that video, I see no reason to believe that about pigeons (yet).
The other part is perhaps more interesting. For much of human history I'm not even sure that humans could solve sokoban puzzles. In fact if you raise a human without social contact I suspect he would not be able to do it. This appears to indicate that we now have something in our environment (quite possibly what we call language) that allows us to be much more intelligent with the same DNA. Can other species with the same kind of brain complexity/power develop this? That's a very interesting question. This story  appears to indicate that at least raising other species as humans doesn't appear to work, but to me, this doesn't mean that there is no way of getting them to our level of intelligence, just that they don't have the same communication tools we do.
 - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/guy-simultaneously...
I tend to believe any creature who has the capacity to learn language also has ehe capacity to solve Sokoban and vice-versa, so testing the easier to test of the two should be the first step and figuring how to teach them a complex language should be the second.
(By the way, corvids pass such complex information that some people suspect they already have language, although I would bet against. We know of cases where people the crows hated left a place, returned years later to visit and all the local crows still hated them, and it was implied where I read it that it was long enough that it was all a new generation of crows.
Some are busy divas, or busy in general, or also teaching and busy, so it doesn't always work, but there are a lot of folks out there doing research, so just keep shooting!
"We show that single-neuron responses in the pallial endbrain of crows performing a visual detection task correlate with the birds’ perception about stimulus presence or absence and argue that this is an empirical marker of avian consciousness."
In other words: when crows who are trained to look for something show behavioral evidence that they see what they are looking for, the researchers can correlate that with neuron firings in their brains. Which, compared to the overblown claim of "higher intelligence", equates to "whoop de freaking do".
As I understand, this study proves that birds have something equivalent of a cerebral cortex which has been considered exclusive to mammals. Cerebral cortex is critical for awareness, consciousness, thought, memory, and language.
I don't know what's that got to do with "higher intelligence" though.
It shows that they have a brain area that is in the same general location, anatomically and developmentally speaking, and that that brain area shows neuron activity that correlates with behavior cues that they see an object they have been trained to look for.
> Cerebral cortex is critical for awareness, consciousness, thought, memory, and language.
It is in humans. But humans provide a huge amount of behavioral evidence for these capacities, far beyond that brain area showing neuron activity when we give a signal we were trained by conditioning to give when we see something we were trained by conditioning to look for.
I read the article, and I was like, "so they remembered a light flashed and got rewarded?"
A basic lstm will do that - GPT-3 will do far more.
How does that have anything to do with higher intelligence?
Pretty sure there have been other good threads too...
The crows watch YOU and your arm, predict where you'll throw and move there in advance, often catching things in mid-air. It's not just reaction speed, they're watching really carefully and making guesses. The ducks are next on the spectrum, they spot it first (after it lands) and geese are the dumbest, the feed can hit them right in the head, and even once they realise what's happening some other duck will usually get there and eat it before they do.
(Asking because people tend to equate predatory behaviour to intelligence, which is both not accurate and rather alarming)
Smart: Collie, Springer.
Not so smart: Greyhound/Lurcher.
I've had collie puppies successfully herd cats.
I know someone who works at one of the London airports and is responsible for keeping the runway operational. One of the jobs is keeping the birds well clear, and if necessary, sadly, may resort to shooting.
The crows know the score though. This acquiantance says the crows know to disappear if they see the bird clearers. What's "clever" is that they only take flight if it's one of the shooters. They recognise the veichle(s) despite them being all the same fleet. So if someone else is driving round to check something else, the birds completely ignore. If it's the "bird guy" then off they go with little encouragement.
I would guess crows prefer hunter-gatherers over horticulture/agriculture societies of humans! A weird twist.
Whenever I see stuff like this, I can only think about this (normal operation in US and AU at least), and how absurd it is that we treat animals like this, knowing how intelligent they are.
I put peanuts out on the rail of my deck for the squirrels (I've got Eastern grey squirrels and Douglas squirrels) and the Steller's jays. If I see crows around, I'll give them some too.
If I'm actually outside on the deck, even far away from where the peanuts are, the crows will not come get them. They wait for me to go in, then get the peanuts, then fly to a nearby tree to wait for me to come put out more peanuts.
I have never been aggressive in any way to the crows, and will toss peanuts to near the foot of the tree they are sitting in. They have also seen me giving peanuts to squirrels. The Eastern greys will run up to near me, and the Douglas' would take them right out of my hand if I let them, so the crows have plenty of evidence I'm happy to give away peanuts. But they will not get close.
Yet at nearby supermarkets and fast food places, they will walk around the parking lot looking for food and come right near people. They seem completely indifferent to people there, only reacting if someone happens to be walking or driving right toward them, then they casually move to the side.
They don't seem worried at all about the humans at those places. So why are they much more cautious about me at my house?
I wonder if they recognize houses are human nests, and so we might be a lot more touchy about other animals in the area, and so the crows are much more cautious than when they encounter us at the supermarket?
Maybe staying away is the default state, but the grocery store is a hunting ground where they're teaming up with humans in a similar way?
Its fun to compare how cautious and skittish a murder of crows is compared to a mating pair of Scrub Jays. The little blue birds will swoop right in, feed a foot away from me, out of my hand, occasionally they've even hopped in the front door.
Meanwhile the crows will miss out on lots of tasty peanuts just watching the smaller birds show off their bravery and acrobatics.
That said: there are a lot more crows than scrub jays. The caution pays off.
They're fascinating to watch, the signs of intelligence are so clear, but at the same time they feel alien. They are very much not like us.
I'm not even sure if I can solve a puzzle with 5+ steps :)
The article arrives at that conclusion using two methods: 1. Behavioural analysis. 2. Reverse engineering neural circuitry.
Is "thinking about thinking" rare, or remarkable? Is it the defining trait that elevates humans above all other animals? The article tells us that the trait isn't unique to humans, because crows have it too.
Sadly, I've seen people who do not have such capabilities. They seem normal until you think why they act like they do. Then you realise that you could replace their thinking processes with some simple if-then, sometimes wired very strangely and counter-intuitive.
It seems to me that a brain going meta - thinking about thinking - could be what leads to a sense of self and thus consciousness.
So, do these results imply those things about corvids? This has implications for AI, I believe.
All living organisms have it, including unicellular.
This is cool, but what does this to have to do with consciousness?
They mention that they're not sure either about "phenomenal consciousness" and "access consciousness", but I wish they elaborated further on this.
During the entire time a local couple of ravens watched the entire process from afar. Theyv'e never been an issue so I haven't paid attention to them, but to this day, I swear that those two ravens come by with every chick they hatch, watching when I practice shoot teaching their kids to stay away from me if I have my rifle. Otherwise, they mostly ignore me.
Before watching the linked video I thought this was describing crows deliberately placing hedgehogs in harm'ss way so that they could eat the resulting roadkill
Also, it's still mosquito season in Greece where I'm currently located and I've been feasted upon often enough myself to know that refusing to feed on another animal is a peculiarly human exceptionalism. In fact, I believe its sole purpose is to place humans apart from (indeed, above, morally speaking) every other form of life on this planet.
You were born on a planet where rape and murder is common in the animal kingdom too, yet quite rightly we humans have collectively decided that they are monsterous practices. "It's the natural order" is not a good basis for reasoning.
 which we will here distinguish from killing for food, for example intra-species killing over territory, mates, etc.
I would rather things were different. I would rather not have to kill anything in order to feed. However, this is what we do. We kill other animals and eat them. We kill plants and eat them. Well, at least we usually eat them (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surplus_killing). Note that I find killing for sport morally unjustifiable.
Rape and murder are not universals. That is, some animals rape and murder their own and some cannibalise their own, but not all animals do. In any case, I personally have never felt a compelling need to rape or murder anyone, so I can attest to the fact that it's not a universal experience for humans to rape and murder (assuming I'm actually human and not some weird mutation eh).
Edit: As a summary of my views, I recommend "that's how it works" over "it's the natural order", which has connotations of a moral imperative that I don't recognise.
I sincerely believe we should be doing this - it's a core premise of one of my favorite novels: Sundiver: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundiver
all impossibly anthropocentric obviously. is being made more human even “up” or a “lift”? maybe things are supposed to be as thingy as possible (in a platonic sense) and this whole conversation is like looking at a fish and criticizing it for not being arboreal.
edit: in pockets we are above enslavement, but just barely, and I think we need to really grit through to the next stage of our humanity, but there are a lot of road blocks before that happens, and as is the general sense, it's a razor's edge between advancement and annihilation.
It reminds me of when David Brin was trying to say Dolphins might not be that smart.
> Now the birds can add one more feather to their brainiac claims: Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals.
> Humans have tended to believe that we are the only species to possess certain traits, behaviors, or abilities, especially with regard to cognition. Occasionally, we extend such traits to primates or other mammals—species with which we share fundamental brain similarities. Over time, more and more of these supposed pillars of human exceptionalism have fallen. Nieder et al. now argue that the relationship between consciousness and a standard cerebral cortex is another fallen pillar (see the Perspective by Herculano-Houzel). Specifically, carrion crows show a neuronal response in the palliative end brain during the performance of a task that correlates with their perception of a stimulus. Such activity might be a broad marker for consciousness.
Abstract of the paper:
> Subjective experiences that can be consciously accessed and reported are associated with the cerebral cortex. Whether sensory consciousness can also arise from differently organized brains that lack a layered cerebral cortex, such as the bird brain, remains unknown. We show that single-neuron responses in the pallial endbrain of crows performing a visual detection task correlate with the birds’ perception about stimulus presence or absence and argue that this is an empirical marker of avian consciousness. Neuronal activity follows a temporal two-stage process in which the first activity component mainly reflects physical stimulus intensity, whereas the later component predicts the crows’ perceptual reports. These results suggest that the neural foundations that allow sensory consciousness arose either before the emergence of mammals or independently in at least the avian lineage and do not necessarily require a cerebral cortex.
This research demonstrates that crows know whether they saw something or not. It doesn't demonstrate that they are on a par with humans when it comes to introspection.
This is something a bit more than that; they knew that they saw a light and could remember afterwards that that had happened.
Crows are also fed by staunch Hindus in the belief that they represent the souls of their ancestors. The crows catch on this behaviour and pretty soon start asking for food at the right place and at the right time to the right person.
actually, roosters crow and crows caw, so you were awakened by cawing, and now you are woke.
Well, the fact that animals can remember things for more than a second or two is pretty good evidence that they have this kind of sensory consciousness. The ability to say you saw something and the ability to act on having seen something seem to be intimately tied together in every case we can probe. We only seem to be influenced by subliminal stimuli for a second or two, for instance. And there are people whose vision systems are cut off from their consciousness, they can pick up objects in front of them but not say that there's an object in front of them. A normal person can close their eyes then remember where an object was and pick it up. They can't.
So you would tend to expect this in any animal capable of remembering things.
(1) Crows picking up chestnuts from under trees, and throwing them on the road under traffic lights. Traffic light goes green, cars drive over chestnuts munching them into a yummy (for crows I guess) little porridge blobs. Wait till traffic light goes red and enjoy the meal.
(2) I was wondering why some areas near trashcans are so extremely littered and thought "pfft humans", until I watched teams of two or three crows making that mess: one jumps into the trashcan and throws out everything it finds in there, the other team mates sort through the trash to pick out the goodies.
Also crows ganging up on kestrels is very interesting to watch. The crows are employing deception and ambush tactics (although kestrels aren't dumb either).
“Causal understanding of water displacement by a crow”
Also, if we were to make contact with an alien civilization, hopefully we have something better than "let's see how they open this tightly closed jar underwater?" or "flash them a few red/green cards and see what happens".
Surely the same would apply to any animal. But who has the time, resources, and interest to do it? Considering that we have been breeding animals for several thousand years here are remarkably few animal types that have been subjected to long term artificial selection over the thousands of generations necessary. Dogs, cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, and a few more. None of them have been selected for general intelligence as far as I can see and anyway no farmer wants independently minded sheep.
I suspect that the biggest problem would be that it takes many human generations to do it not just many generations of the target animal.
It was finding some scraps to nibble on, but it kept getting closer and closer to me giving little glances.
Finally when it was just a bit over arm's length I looked it in the eye and said, firmly, "No, I don't have anything for you."
SURPRISED SQUAWK and flight to the wall. I was like, "Hey, it's okay." Still upset by being around this human, it buzzed by the next pedestrians to get away, making them remark on the "aggressive birds".
Ravens are about the size as a 4 year old human. They love McDonald's french fries, alas: they will sort through the refuse bins, and aren't too careful about putting the trash back.
I often wonder about encouraging them to pick up litter and recycling. I am sure they could handle the job. There's at least one instance documented of getting corvids to pick up trash...
A less conscientious mate of theirs has impressed me in a different way. Surveyed a bin, chose a papercup and threw it on the ground. Extracted crumpled plastic bag from cup. Straightened bag, went around to the bottom end, picked it up, and determinedly shook out remains of sandwich. All extremly controlled and clearly planned, no hint of trial and error.
Are we talking mass here? Our local ravens are much bigger than crows, but they don't look _that_ much bigger.
It's such an ill defined concept that makes me think that one of three possibilities exist:
- consciousness is the wrong concept
- anything that has some degree of self-reference is conscious.
- there is no consciousness, just computation.
I'm erring on the side of it being just plain wrong or uninteresting.
I don't believe that there's anything supernatural about it, it must be a result of computation, but for some reason we ascribe a special status to it.
They might have had some other specials too, but in one they show them completing complicated multi-step challenges using tools to get food.
From the atlas obscure article:
> Hindus believe that crows are the link between the worlds of the living and the dead; ancestors, it is said, visit the living in the form of a crow.
And if we don't go extinct, perhaps one day we'll uplift both species.
I've always found the common thought that only humans and a select few of other animals are the only ones that posses higher intelligence to be incredibly arrogant of our species. Why wouldn't they have higher intelligence? As far as I can tell, it's because there's no simple test that could be applied to confirm or deny whether higher intelligence exists within an animal, so we then jump to the conclusion "Because I can't prove that they do have higher intelligence, then they must not have higher intelligence" - logic doesn't work that way! Glad to see some people are willing to dig a little deeper and take the time to show that crows do have this capability.
"For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons."
It's just so unfair. Just imagine if our brain is the same but we are fish and swim. How will civilization ever develop? Everything from bronze age up is pretty much impossible. That and we'd have no hands.
This is one of the big lessons in history. The civilizations that use their intelligence to make tools and weapons end up screwing civilizations that "muck about, having a good time".
I don't necessarily buy it. A pacifist civilization might be "dominated" by a violent civilization, but they might still choose death over becoming violent themselves.
You're not buying it but they're not selling it?
Even if you were super intelligent, i bet you’d get fucked up in a net if you had low visibility in the water, you were traveling at high speed, and you didn’t have opposable thumbs to untangle yourself.
(Unless we're positing that running the risk of being trawled is an essential part of mucking about and having fun, or a scientific experiment, or dolphins having enough imagination for some of them to speculate warnings about boats are a conspiracy to keep them from the best fish :D)
A reasonable exhibit one for the presently observable limits on (at least collective) human intelligence.
It’s an open question whether our aggressive strategy will be successful past anything but the very short term. (Currently it’s not looking that good.)
I dunno. There is a real, if dwindling and not that large, possibility that mankind breaks free of earth and establishes itself elsewhere.
You can't say that for any other species except perhaps some microscopic extremophiles.
It's only so easy to be cynical about this because of how close we are to something greater, because of how much we are poised to lose.
Modern humanity has certainly impacted the ecology dramatically over the past couple hundred-thousand, but calling us successful is premature. When we're as old as bluegreen algae (or hell, even Araucaria araucana), I'll happily revise my position.
The humans and proto-humans of the past weren't 'stupid'. And even if they were comparatively, 'stupidity' isn't a justification for committing harmful actions, degrading, or otherwise treating the recipient as lesser. This sounds like a philosophy that encourages "well I'm going to hurt you and it must be right because you can't stop me or dissuade me".
No, it isn't. Just like killing dolphins isn't justified. But it probably means that the interstellar empire in question is very likely to be more intelligent and/or advanced than us.
I don't think the GP was saying it is. I think he was trying to look at it from the dolphins' point of view: he was proposing that the fact that they didn't use any of their intelligence (assuming they have it) to construct ways to defend themselves from other intelligent species, like humans, was a mistake on their part.
for instance, this is how i converted from religion to atheism (arguably still a religion)... a product of my nurture that i decided to shed. other examples include my interaction model with others which included tenets such as curbing my decidedly unjustified high level of empathy for all others, controversial as it may be.
1. reprogram in the sense of mental models and thoughts or in a literal cells and atoms sense?
2. potentially depending on your definition and scope of `reprogram`, wouldn't that be a subset of intelligence, as opposed to something higher order or different?
3. what kind of behaviors/habits do you think humans (like you or I, not high-funded corporations) could employ now to get as close to achieving your second sentence as possible?
Fire, control over it and the ability to make it, is the one thing humans have that no other animal has. We may (or not) be more intelligent, have a more complex capacity for language, etc., but those are differences of degree. Only fire is truly a difference of kind. We are the animal that makes fire.
Fire is literally what made us what we are... it is probable that increased availability of food calories from cooking was what allowed us to grow our big and calorically expensive brains. So fire comes before our vaunted intelligence. And then fire made us the most powerful creatures on earth, and enabled what we call civilization and technology and progress, each new stage in our development enabled by ever greater dissipation of energy gradients... mostly through fire. Although we did also harness other energy sources throughout history, such as wind and running water, and lately, nuclear fission, always fire was primary, the real driver of our dominion over the planet, even today.
And as it looks, fire will be our end as well, as we use it to release the fossil energy nature stored up over millions of years in mere decades and turn our lovely earth into an inferno.
My bet would be on the cephalopods; they've already got ink and venom and intelligence and prehensile limbs with chromatophores that could potentially evolve into tiny manipulable chemical factories. They would probably also need to evolve the longevity and social and communication abilities to pass knowledge on in a society.
Whereas other intelligent species that lack the environment or manual dexterity to even light a fire will keep on going long after we're extinct.
Our brand of intelligence - the combination of brains and dexterity and environment that let us quickly advance from sophisticated tool building to a global industrial economy - is precisely the rare Goldilocks combination of features that allows a civilisation to spread throughout the universe.
Because that combination is incredibly rare we might very well be the first to be poised to attempt to do so.
This is the strong anthropic principle at play, which of course could be taken with a grain of salt. Still, this scenario nicely answers the question "Where is everyone?", too.
It's the same thing, but on a much grander scale.
A slightly less intelligent species (or perhaps one lacking just the right body type), such as our own ancestors or perhaps our extinct close relatives, might have taken 10 million years instead of 200 thousand, or just never have done it at all.
Or in other words, if dolphins had arms and thumbs (or generally any physical attributes that allows them to manipulate their environment as humans do), would it crazy to suggest that they could dominate the seas, as humans dominate land?
I keep reading about this, and I don't see it as a major problem.
Sure, it might take a while for them to even grasp the concept of fire. Much like it took us a while to grasp relativity.
However, once they know it to be possible, it's an engineering problem. They can build their forges above water. Holding breath to operate them (until they can do it remotely) is inconvenient but they are pretty good at it.
There's also a fair bit of construction they could do without even resorting to that. Humans can weld underwater. They could too.
Nitpick: Dolphins breathe air.
Or sourdough: https://xkcd.com/2296/
Or if that doesn't tickle you, how about: cockroaches!
Well, another thing humans have going for them is hands
Furthermore, the vast majority of humans have no idea how to build a jumbo jet, and throughout the vast majority of human history, there were no jets - jumbo or otherwise - does this mean that we only have higher intelligence in today's world, now that we are able to build jumbo jets? For the vast majority of human history, we only had the simplest of tools and if we compared those humans to today, by your standards, these humans do not possess higher intelligence. However, evolution has not progressed nearly as quickly as our ability to work with tools has; as such, the human brain really hasn't changed all that much in even the last 10,000 or even 100,000 years! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_human_intelligenc...
Finally, you have no proof that crows would be incapable of building a jumbo jet, you've simply asserted that they couldn't. To be clear, I'm not arguing that they could, merely conceding that because they haven't done so, does not mean that they are incapable of doing so.
At the end of the day, it is impossible to prove a negative, so no I can't show you off hand that a crow can't actually conceive of this or that or the other thing
What we do see in more intelligent animals such as orcas, orang-utans, elephants, parrots, crows, octopuses, even cats and dogs, etc is sophisticated planning and inventive use of their environment. We also know that early humans were likely anatomically similar to modern humans (and may well have
Are there areas where humans are smarter. Almost certainly. But is the difference as great as the outward achievements as judged by human standards would indicate. Almost certainly not. And there may even be aspects of cognition that other animals excel at that we are completely unaware.
More realistically: have they mastered fire? There are caloric efficiency benefits to eating warm/cooked food. Have they mastered writing? There's compound interest in terms of civilization development sitting right there, in the ability to put thoughts into a form that outlives individuals without degrading.
 - At least for humans; IANABiologist, but I'd guess this would be true for other animals too, including birds, and at the very least it would expand the range of foods they can consume.
Or perhaps crows only have two claws that also serve as feet and a beak, making it harder to fashion tools?
Perhaps living underwater, like octopuses do, makes it quite hard to master fire?
Or perhaps measuring intelligence is hard, and focusing only on engineering outcomes is a fallacy.
It's also not like most humans would be able to build even a steam engine, let alone a jumbo jet.
Remember, for most of the history of our evolutionary ancestors, we were hunter-gatherers that used extremely crude tools. Not really better than crows. Discoveries happened a whole lot slower back then, like the eons between making fire and starting agricultural towns. Given a few millennia, crows may be making their own fires to cook.
Lex Fridman discussed this topic with Françoit Chollet in his recent podcast episode "Measures of Intelligence" . I highly recommend it. Lengthy but really worth it.
How about the fact they can apparently build compound tools from parts?
Your example isn't just about brains. It requires both proper bodies and arguably complex social behaviors, which are quite separate from intelligence itself.
This is so ridiculous that I'm wondering if I'm missing the point. Is this sarcasm? Is this playing devil's advocate to prove some kind of point?
> We know things about anaesthesia, blood clotting, soft tissue, [...]
Actually, most of us don't know much, if anything, about any of this. Heck, for all most of us know, it could actually be wizardry powered by small elves running in hamster wheels.
> and our physical actions are informed by an amassed body of knowledge and an ability to reason from that knowledge and apply it with a degree of sophiscation [...]
That really doesn't match most of human behaviors I can observe around me, online or in the street. Actually, it seems that implementing informed and vaguely rational decision-making is a great way to improve many things.
It often feels like we merely are pompous and arrogant monkeys who are lucky some of their ancestors built most of what's around us.
> This is so ridiculous that I'm wondering if I'm missing the point.
That's my fault. I'll try to make it clear.
- Intelligence is hard to measure.
- Our biases, as individuals and as a species, are huge.
- Our knowledge, as individuals, on other living things' perspectives, is laughable.
- Objectives and desired outcomes are relative.
- Outcomes' prerequisites are many, diverse, and often unknown.
-> We really don't know much,
--> Unless approaching the subject with a scientific method and an open mind, any opinion could only be founded on pre-conceived notions, gut feelings, limited personal experience, and unfounded "common sense" and "cultural knowledge.
---> Having and expressing any personal opinion on this subject, based on anything else than scientific experience, is both pointless and presumptuous.
And now we can go into the credit we should give to science, the limits of the scientific methods, and probably many other things.
But consider very basic advancements. Communication for instance is something humans mastered from the outset. We are able to store and pass down information beyond the instinctual for generations, something no other animal has done. Imagine if humans needed to rediscover mathematics every generation!
There are plenty of examples I could give that would provide crows with an immediate improvement in the quality of life. I think the reason they have not done these things is because they cannot, rather than because they have chosen not to.
I don't know if it does. But I surely ain't convinced by gp.
> Humans are capable of doing things that our bodies cannot. We domesticated beasts of burden in order to move heavy objects from one place to another for instance.
I would be curious as to how a crow is supposed to domesticate an ox. Or even a dog. Birds are extremely fragile.
As for communication, well, it's both a matter of intelligence and sociability. And they do seem to be able to communicate information "beyond the instinctual" (such as how to identify specific human individuals )
As for "can't vs won't", my point isn't that they don't want to. I don't know. I don't know what they can or cannot do. I don't know how their minds work. And I don't know what are the actual prerequisites for our species accomplishment.
And that is exactly my point: assuming anything about such radically different creatures, or the actual prerequisites for our species', solely based on our limited experience and insights, is both vain and presumptuous.
If you have someone with you, maybe they can carry you. Crows can’t carry other crows. If they wanted to fix the other crow, they’d have to do it where the crow fell. It would still get eaten by coyotes. They can’t protect the downed bird, so it will still be eaten. Ergo, why bother trying to heal the bone?
Humans by and large, especially in less forgiving environments with harsh winters, are helpless without the ability to manipulate their environment seeing as they are hairless apes who without modern medicine could die from an infection from a mere scratch.
Basically, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison.
So why bother?
How can they physically even come close to building a jet?
It seems humans physicality has a LOT to do with our intelligence. Perhaps someone with actual knowledge on this can chime in.. but it seems to me if you have a build similar to ours, you have the opportunity to actually progress and manipulate things to a level where it might a situation where as a species you continue to evolve with more intelligence over time because you are able to actually use it.
I don't know how to say that better.. but on the other hand, if we had our same brains but had the bodies where we can hardly manipulate any tools.. don't you think that makes all the difference in the world?
It's always fun to watch a clever squirrel find its way into a bird feeder, a cunning fox outsmart a rabbit, or a curious monkey recognize himself in the mirror. These are signs of sentience, sure, but all of those are far cries from what even an immature human is capable of, and this obvious evidence is what leads us to believe we are smarter than them. It's not arrogance in any sense.
A human can't do that either. Humans as a whole can do it because we have enough intelligence to implement the whole chain of technology required to be able to do things on this scale. Not just the physical scale, but also the scale of the science and engineering required to make the thing actually work.
Tribes that expressed humanity to creatures outside of homo sapiens were frequently wiped out by tribes that couldn't even manage to express humanity to other tribes of homo sapiens.
The victors sit on a throne of skulls, wondering why they are so lonely.
Aggression is a gene that selects for itself. But if it's too successful, then the next time some external selective pressure comes from outside, that 'loneliness' may become an existential threat, wiping out the local gene pool entirely. Just like a virus.
A cat doesn't need to think like us to live in their cat world, a worm doesn't need to solve a puzzle to live and thrive. Yet they both have thrived for a long time and existed in a way let them persist with their environment in an equilibrium.
It seems pretty reasonable to frame intelligence as thriving within your environment and persisting, and humans have only been around a short time and driven our planet to literal environmental collapse. I'd contend it's equally reasonable to describe humans as some of the least intelligent species.
Not only that, mental illness correlates strongly with higher IQ:
Perhaps that's why I frequently see links about depression, bipolar etc on HN... I read so many comments about "I got burned out coding 15 hour days and then I got diagnosed with major depression and my life's been a wreck since and no one will hire me" sort of themes!
Because almost no other animal appears to think ahead of time , master fire, build tools that did not exist before? You can come up with numerous explanations as to why it's that, but what one's species' brain can come up with will be a serious constraint as well.
The angry, injured tiger that killed its hunter by stalking his house and planning an ambush comes to mind
> master fire,
Nothing comes to mind but I would not rule out some kind of animal using fire for some purpose
> build tools that did not exist before
A number of species have been shown to construct tools to make their labor easier. "That didn't exist before" is a little difficult to pin down as animal communities are hyperlocal.
To be fair, I don't think tigers were visited by Prometheus nor did they benefit from his sacrifice to humans!
Sorry, I'll see my way out...
We don't assume superior intelligence, we observe it.
Think about people who will tell you lobsters can't feel pain while they're rattling in a pot. The idea we are the only intelligent species, and that everything around us exists only to be exploited for our benefit, is quite convenient.
Edited to add: I think this is also related to the way tech companies view their users. They aren't humans with needs to be fulfilled, they're a resource to be extracted. More a coal mine than a customer. (Not to lob a grenade into the discussion, I just found it relevant.)
We rely too heavily on structured vocal responses to determine intelligence. On top of that we rely on observing erroneous unnecessary behavior to consider something might be thinking. This could be a real limitation of us as a species.
We are (hopefully) transitioning through an era where being a conqueror is less successful than collaboration. But there are way too many of us who are less than seven generations separated from conquerors. Conquerors bank on exclusiveness, not inclusiveness.
We're still trying to convince each other that all the humans deserve to be in the Humanity Club. If we can't hack that, then who is going to want to talk about cetaceans and chimpanzees and corvids?
The reason scientists do not optimistically assert animals must have human-analogous intelligence is because of the difficulty required to design a test that will reveal traces of it.