Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryAnimal mind

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Tyrannosaurus Rex in the jungle. Generative AI.

Was the Tyrannosaur as Smart as a Monkey? Assessing a New Claim

One researcher argues that, based on bird studies, the huge predators may have had many more brain cells than we have supposed

Vanderbilt University neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel tells us, in a recent paper, that tyrannosaurs had similar numbers of brain neurons as “primates.” But how would we know? Herculano-Houzel stats with the assumption that dinosaurs are descended from birds and makes a distinction between the theropod dinosaurs like the tyrannosaur and others: From that assumption, Herculano-Houzel realized that theropods in particular had a similar correlation between body mass and brain size to pre-impact birds, or basal birds. From there, she used the neuron count of modern birds like emus and ostritches and applied the same rules of scaling to figure out how many neurons theropods like the T-Rex may have had. Frank Landymore, “In terrifying news, big brained T-rex may have been Read More ›

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Peaceful old man looking at his hound and holding the paw of it. Tranquil man is sitting in wheelchair and wearing eyeglasses. Hound is sitting near the chair

1000 Dogs Tested on Standardized Dog IQ test. What Was Found?

There were no breed differences for short-term memory or logical reasoning but some differences in how much they needed to interact with humans when problem-solving

Assessing dog intelligence is one of those sensitive areas because of the difficulty in agreeing on what to measure. Experts tend to say that border collies are the smartest dog breed but the response they may get is, “My shih tzu understands me and I am a difficult person to understand!” Nonetheless, a Finnish research group decided to try their hand at administering a battery of standardized intelligence tests (smartDOG) to over 1000 dogs between 1 and 8 years old, of 13 different breeds, with a minimum of 40 dogs from each breed. Here’s what they were testing for: The battery involves measuring different cognitive traits, from spatial problem solving to logical reasoning, to impulse control and an ability to Read More ›

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Screaming portrait of capuchin wild monkey

Study: Monkeys, Not Humans, Likely Made Ancient Brazilian Tools

The stone objects, dated from 50,000 years ago, look like the ones made by capuchin monkeys today

There’s a danger in looking too hard for evidence of our ancient ancestors. Sometimes we could be seeing things that aren’t there. One group of stone tools from 50,000 years ago could, it is now suggested, have been made by monkeys: Excavations at Pedra Furada, a group of 800 archaeological sites in the state of Piauí, Brazil, have turned up stone shards believed to be examples of simple stone tools. Made from quartzite and quartz cobbles, the oldest ones appear to be up to 50,000 years old, which would put them among the earliest evidence of human habitation in the Western Hemisphere. However, the tools also bear a striking resemblance to the stone tools currently made by the capuchin monkeys Read More ›

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Cat hunter with a caught mouse in her mouth

Can Animals Be Held Criminally Responsible for Their Acts?

While the idea is handled provocatively in philosophy literature, in practice, animals are envisioned as plaintiffs, not defendants, in animal rights cases

In an essay at Psyche, Ed Simon, a journalist who investigates the eclectic, looks at the history/mythology of trying animals like pigs and rats for criminal offenses. He sees an opportunity there for animal rights activism: Dismissing animal trials as just another backwards practice of a primitive time is to our intellectual detriment, not only because it imposes a pernicious presentism on the past, but also because it’s worth considering whether or not the broader implications of such a ritual don’t have something to tell us about different ways of understanding nonhuman consciousness, and the rights that our fellow creatures deserve. From our metaphysics, then, can come our ethics, and from our ethics can derive politics and law. There need Read More ›

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Guilty dog and a destroyed teddy bear at home. Staffordshire terrier lies among a torn fluffy toy, funny guilty look

Do Animals, as Well as Humans, Have Free Will?

One can make a case for animal free will in the strict sense that no life form is bound by complete determinism because it doesn't exist

In 2009, University of Würzburg biology professor Martin Heisenberg wrote a defense of animal free will in Nature, basing his argument on the behavior of flies: For example, my lab has demonstrated that fruit flies, in situations they have never encountered, can modify their expectations about the consequences of their actions. They can solve problems that no individual fly in the evolutionary history of the species has solved before. Our experiments show that they actively initiate behaviour4. Like humans who can paint with their toes, we have found that flies can be made to use several different motor outputs to escape a life-threatening danger or to visually stabilize their orientation in space. Heisenberg, M. Is free will an illusion?. Nature Read More ›

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Extreme magnification - Jumping spider portrait, front view

Spiders Are Smart; Be Glad They Are Small

Recent research has shed light on the intriguing strategies that spiders use to deceive other spiders — and prey in general

This story was #7 in 2022 at Mind Matters News in terms of reader numbers. As we approach the New Year, we are rerunning the top ten Mind Matters News stories of 2022, based on reader interest. For those of us who wonder whether invertebrates really think — well, it’s complicated because some do more than we expect but then some don’t. At any rate: “Spiders are smart: Be glad they are small. (March 11, 2022) Spiders, like octopuses, have eight legs. But they share something else as well — like octopuses, once we got around to studying them, they turned out to be much smarter than expected. What makes spiders even more unusual is that they are smart with Read More ›

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White laboratory mouse (Mus musculus ) crawling on a clay pot. Uttarakhand India

Mice Can’t Do Calculus But Their Brains Can

Neuroimaging and mathematics showed that a simple Stop! signal in the brain would not allow a mouse to stop as quickly as it in fact did

Science writer Kevin Hartnett tells us that, based on experiments with mice, the brain sharpens control of precise maneuvers by using comparisons between control signals rather than the signals themselves: [The research] explores a simple question: How does the brain — in mice, humans and other mammals — work quickly enough to stop us on a dime? The new work reveals that the brain is not wired to transmit a sharp “stop” command in the most direct or intuitive way. Instead, it employs a more complicated signaling system based on principles of calculus. This arrangement may sound overly complicated, but it’s a surprisingly clever way to control behaviors that need to be more precise than the commands from the brain Read More ›

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Dog does trick for treats

Researchers: Dogs Evaluate How Competent Humans Are

Provided that a treat is involved. Females pay more attention to competence in humans than males, they say

At Scientific American’s “60-Second Science” podcast (with transcript), science writer Karen Hopkin interviewed Kyoto University psychologist Hitomi Chijiiwa on her team’s recent finding that female dogs actively evaluate human competence. Because one their previous studies showed that dogs avoid people who refuse to help their human friends, the team decided to also test whether dogs form judgments about people based on their apparent skilfulness or competence: Chijiiwa: We showed 60 dogs two persons manipulating transparent containers. One person is competent. Hopkin: That person was able to pop open the top after just a couple of twists. Chijiiwa: Whereas the other person is incompetent and they failed at this task. Hopkin: That person tried to open the lid, then gave up. Read More ›

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Border Collie puppies

Can a Dog Be Bred To Be As Smart As a Human?

An enterprising electrical engineer thinks it can be done

Within one hundred generations or roughly 600 years? That’s the project Payton Pearson, an electrical engineer who gives his affiliation as the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio, has set himself: Artificial selection is a well-known phenomenon of selecting for certain physiological characteristics of various species of plants and animals, and it is something that human beings have been doing for thousands of years. A perfect example of this is the union and development of dogs under human stewardship since the beginning of the agricultural era of society. In that time, approximately 6,000 years [1], dogs have been artificially selected in such a way as to produce thousands of different breeds. From the stout Dachshund, a dog breed Read More ›

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Octopus in water

Micro RNAs: A New Clue About Octopus Intelligence?

While octopus brains are very different from vertebrate brains, they share with vertebrates, a huge number of microRNAs

In general, the “intelligent” animals (apes, elephants, crows, whales, dogs, dolphins) are vertebrates, not invertebrates. There is one glaring exception: the cephalopods (octopuses, squid, cuttlefish). They, like vertebrates, developed large, complex brains and unexpectedly sophisticated cognitive abilities. When thinking about the puzzle, we sometimes fall victim to a sort of confusion: We reason that greater intelligence results from the fact that it “helps the octopus survive better.” Perhaps it does. But, while greater intelligence might help many life forms survive better, only a few develop it. In short, we need a “how” explanation here, not a “why” explanation. A recent study from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine points to the possible role of microRNAs (miRNAs). MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are Read More ›

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Equestrian sport - dressage

Do Centaurs Really Exist? The Surprising Truth

Well, a half human/half horse cannot literally exist — but the way horses and humans work together has been called a “miracle”

Classical Greek mythology featured the “centaur,” a creature that was half human, half horse. Neuroscientist and horse trainer Janet Jones, author of Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship (Trafalgar Square, 2020), tells us that there is a truth behind the myth (as so often). In what amounts to a “neurobiological miracle,” the horse — a prey animal — and the human — a predator — can learn complete neurological co-operation to perform complex feats that neither can manage alone. How complex are these equestrian feats? Horse-and-human teams perform complex manoeuvres in competitions of all sorts. Together, we can gallop up to obstacles standing 8 feet (2.4 metres) high, leave the ground, and fly blind – neither party able Read More ›

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Opabinia in Cambrian Seas - Three Opabinia regalis animals hunt for prey on a reef of Cambrian Seas in the Paleozoic Era.

Earliest Brain Found — From Over Half a Billion Years Ago

No one was expecting the Cardiodictyon fossil to have a brain

A surprising find for evolutionary neuroscientists is that a tiny life form that lived more than half a billion years ago had a brain. Creatures like Cardiodictyon were not supposed to have had brains: A study published in Science—led by Nicholas Strausfeld, a Regents Professor in the University of Arizona Department of Neuroscience, and Frank Hirth, a reader of evolutionary neuroscience at King’s College London—provides the first detailed description of Cardiodictyon catenulum, a wormlike animal preserved in rocks in China’s southern Yunnan province. Measuring barely half an inch (less than 1.5 centimeters) long and initially discovered in 1984, the fossil had hidden a crucial secret until now: a delicately preserved nervous system, including a brain. University of Arizona, “525-million-year-old fossil Read More ›

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Chimpanzee with a hand in its mouth

What Motivates Chimpanzee Experts Anyway?

Is it the welfare of primates or is it “politics by other means”?

A review by animal historian Brigid Prial of a recent book in which chimpanzee experts reflect on their work tells us a good deal about the chimpanzee expert world. The reviewer is also the author of “Primatology is Politics by Other Means” from which we learn: “Adam and Eve, Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday, Tarzan and Jane: these are the figures who tell white western people about the origins and foundations of sociality. The stories make claims about “human” nature, “human” society. Western stories take the high ground from which man — impregnable, potent, and endowed with a keen vision of the whole — can survey the field. The sightings generate the aesthetic-political dialectic of contemplation/exploitation, the distorting mirror twins Read More ›

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A  jay in its beak holds an acorn. A colorful Eurasian jay sits on a thick oak branch. Close-up. Autumn. Natural blurred background.  Wild nature.

Researchers: More Intelligent Jays Show More Self-Control

The researchers say that the same relationship holds true for cuttlefish, chimpanzees, and humans

A recent study finds that Eurasian jays can pass a version of the “Marshmallow test” and that the smarter jays had the greatest self-control. The original Marshmallow test tested children to see if they could resist eating one marshmallow if they were offered two later. So enterprising researchers decided to try it on smart birds: To test the self-control of ten Eurasian jays, Garrulus glandarius, researchers designed an experiment inspired by the 1972 Stanford Marshmallow test — in which children were offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately, or two if they waited for a period of time. Instead of marshmallows, the jays were presented with mealworms, bread and cheese. Mealworms are a common favourite; bread and cheese come second Read More ›

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stately Bengal Male Cat with beautiful spots Standing and Looking up on Isolated Black Background, Front view, Gorgerous breed

Researchers: Cats Do Recognize and Respond To Our Voices

If you are a cat’s human friend, he cares when you talk to him. Whether he will, or even can, do what you want is a separate question

Do cats care whether we talk to them or not? In a recent study, animal cognition experts found that cats may change their behavior when their “humans” are talking in a tone directed to them. But they don’t react the same way to a stranger who is talking that way or when the voice is directed elsewhere. Charlotte de Mouzon and colleagues from Université Paris Nanterre (Nanterre, France) investigated the way 16 cats reacted to “pre-recorded voices from both their owner and that of a stranger when saying phrases in cat-directed and human adult-directed tones.” With adult-directed tones, no “endearing” kitty talk is used. It might not be clear who the intended recipient of the message is, apart from what Read More ›

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Funny boy and his dog looking at piles of coins

Researchers Are Zeroing In on Animal Number Sense

We’re beginning to find out more about how animals that don’t really “think” much can keep track of numbers, when needed

University College cognitive psychology prof Brian Butterworth, author of Can fish count? (Basic Books, 2022), talks about animal number sense in a recent article in Psyche: He offers many examples of animals counting single digit numbers but then helpfully addresses the question of how they do it. We are talking here about a variety of very different types of neurological equipment — insects vs. amphibians, for example. Neuroscientists are beginning to pinpoint specific brain functions associated with counting for specific tasks: Female túngara frogs benefit by mating with the male that can produce six croaks in one breath, over the male that can manage only five, because this is an indicator of respiratory fitness. Naturally, the male will try to Read More ›

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Microtubule, 3D illustration. A polymer composed of a protein tubulin, it is a component of cytoskeleton involved in intracellular transport, cellular mobility and nuclear division

One-Celled Life Form Uses Early “Computer” To Stand In For Brain

Researchers found that that’s how Euplotes eurystomus controls “legs” in a sort of walking pattern

One unexpected thing that the computer has done is given us some insight into how life forms that are utterly different from ourselves manage to do things. For example, there is an analogy between the way ants think and computer programming. That helps us understand how an anthill can be organized in a very complex way without any individual ant ever seeing the big picture — or needing to. In the same way, a single-celled organism uses an “internal ‘computer’” to walk without needing a brain: Most animals require brains to run, jump or hop. The single-celled protozoan Euplotes eurystomus, however, achieves a scurrying walk using a simple, mechanical computer to coordinate its microscopic legs, UC San Francisco researchers reported Read More ›

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killdeer on the ground

The Remarkable Deceitfulness of Birds — But Is It Really Deceit?

The birds themselves are not agents making a moral choice to deceive; they are carrying out a behavior pattern they have inherited

When Clinton Francis, a specialist in bird behavior, challenged student Wren Thompson to find out how many types of birds use deceit in their defences against predators of their nests, he hardly expected to find that the number she was able to discover was 285: Mapping those behaviors onto the avian phylogenetic tree revealed that the trait spans from some of the most basal bird families, including pheasants and ducks, to more recently evolved taxa such as songbirds. “It’s pretty amazing,” Francis says, adding that he was surprised how “particular clades on the avian tree of life really just light up,” including blackbirds, warblers, and sparrows. The frequent and disjointed appearance of the behavior across the tree suggests it evolved Read More ›

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Galapagos Giant Tortoise head shot smiling walking slowly on Galapagos Islands. Animals, nature and wildlife close up of tortoise in the highlands of Galapagos, Ecuador, South America.

How Can the Two-Headed Tortoise Have Different Personalities?

Many would be surprised to learn that either head had any personality, and yet…

Recently, a “two-headed” tortoise at the Geneva Museum of Natural History reached the remarkable age of 25, thanks to constant care by his handlers: Janus also has two hearts, two pairs of lungs, and two distinct personalities. Sometimes the heads wish to go in different directions. “The right head is more curious, more awake, it has a much stronger personality,” Angelica Bourgoin, who leads the turtle’s care team, said. “The left head is more passive and loves to eat.” News, “Two-headed tortoise Janus celebrates 25th birthday” at DW (September 3, 2022) So how could the tortoise heads have two different “personalities?” Janus — despite the single name given — seems to be a set of conjoined tortoise twins. (Here’s a Read More ›

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EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND  Bobby a Skye Terrier monument

Can Myths About Dogs Give Us a Clue re Their Origins?

A French historian studies the relationship between ancient stories told about dogs and information from genetics and archeology

Just how and when dogs originated has been the subject of much research. In one account, “Dogs originated from wolves domesticated in Europe, 19,000-32,000 years ago,” based on DNA studies (2013). But other research points to many other possibilities: “Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia or Southeast Asia” some time between 10,000 and 38,000 years ago. Some think they were tamed twice. Historian Julien d’Huy of the College of France in Paris suggests another approach, looking at stories about dogs: “With mythology, we can have explanations of archaeology, we can have reasons for domestication, we can test hypotheses,” he says. D’Huy found three core storylines for the earliest myths related to dogs: The first links dogs with the afterlife, Read More ›