Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryNatural Intelligence

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Hiker walking in the Australian bushland

Beauty is Non-Computable

Taking some time to reflect on the beautiful things in the world can lead to genuine thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? Family, friends, a good job? Perhaps having a stable home, a good car, or a rich church community? Those are all wonderful things to reflect on and be thankful for during this season, and throughout the year, but what about the beauty of the natural world? Do we take enough time to pause and marvel at the wonder and intricacy of nature? In addition, who might we have to thank for such beauty? Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, wrote a book this year called Beauty is Your Destiny in which he calls readers to attend to creation with eyes of wonder. He also notes that many scientists, far from reducing the natural Read More ›

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Gallipoli, Canakkale, Turkey; close up of an octopus eye (Octopus vulgaris Cuvier, 1797). Generative AI

Octopus Intelligence Shakes Up Darwin’s Tree

There does not seem to be a Tree of Intelligence, which deepens the mystery of intelligence

(This article was first published in Salvo 64, Spring 2023, as Spineless Wonders.) The octopus presents a conundrum in animal intelligence: A highly intelligent invertebrate. We used to live in tidy world, where vertebrates, with backbones terminating in a brain, were more intelligent than invertebrates, with a variety of nervous system layouts and structures (or, in many cases, little or none thereof). Mammals and birds are, of course, highly favored for intelligence because they are warm-blooded (endothermic), and the brain is a high metabolic area. The traditional “tree of intelligence” makes sense, actually. But then we got to know the octopus. A “Second Genesis” Called by some a “second genesis of intelligence”, the octopus is the hero or perp of Read More ›

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canine astronaut, with his paw on button to activate rocket thrusters, in the cockpit of spacecraft, created with generative ai

Do Cool Floor Buttons Really Cause Dogs To Talk?

The latest fad in “Talk to the animals” appears to be a classic in confirmation bias

Science writer Stephanie Pappas looked recently at the latest fad in communicating with dogs: Paw-friendly floor button sets that the dog can press (potty, play, come, etc.), available for US$20– $200. The anecdotes about the things dogs have thus told their loving humans practically write themselves: On TikTok, some of these “button dogs” seem to be doing surprisingly intelligent things, such as combining two words to create a unique meaning—“squeaker” and “car,” to refer to an ambulance, for example. One of the more famous members of this doggie bunch on TikTok, a sheepadoodle named Bunny, can apparently put together four-word phrases. In one instance, for example, she pushed buttons to refer to her friend: “Tenrec, come, look, play.” – Stephanie Read More ›

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Adorable little girl shopping for toys. Cute female in toy store. Happy young girl selecting toy

How a Toddler in a Toy Store Refutes Materialism

This everyday observation yields insight into a fundamental truth

I’m a magnet for materialists. I often get into discussions with people who tell me that the universe is nothing but matter and energy. These folks believe in materialism. They say I’m nutty and wrong to think there is anything else. Something like: “Silly theist! Gods are for kids!” Let’s follow that thought. A grandparent of 11 humans, I’ve journeyed with their parents through the young ones’ toddlerhood many times. There’s a lot to learn about reality from toddlers’ learning and growing. It leads to understanding Toddler Truth. Take a toddler to a game arcade, a toy store, or another kid’s house to play. There’s one thing you can count on hearing: “I want that!” We parents start tuning out Read More ›

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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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Summer meadow blow balls landscape painting

Could AI ever pass the Van Gogh test?

Van Gogh was crazy but he was talented and AI can be neither

The Van Gogh Test for sheer creativity? Thursday night at COSM presented a live, in-person interview with Federico Faggin, the Italian physicist and computer engineer who co-won the prestigious Kyoto prize in 1997 for helping develop the Intel 4004 chip. Faggin was interviewed by technology reporter Maria Teresa Cometto, who asked him to regale the audience with tales about helping to design early microchips. Eventually Faggin recounted a time when he was “studying neuroscience and biology, trying to understand how the brain works,” and came upon a startling realization: And at one point I asked myself, “But wait a second, I mean these books, all this talk about electrical signals, biochemical signals, but when I taste some chocolate, I mean 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 ›