Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryNatural Intelligence

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Two cats hide under the blanket. Outside, the winter snow. The concept of home comfort, security, warmth

Why Cats Can Remember Other Cats’ Names

University of Kyoto scientists found that they can indeed remember, provided they live in the same household

In a study of 48 cats living in private homes and pet cafés, scientists at Kyoto University in Japan determined that they can recognize the names humans give to them if they live in the same household: The scientists showed pet cats living in homes and felines living in “cat cafés” photos of cats they resided with to determine their reactions. The cats were then played an audio recording of their owners, or a researcher, calling out a name — either the name of the familiar cat in the photo or a fake name. Researchers discovered that pet cats spent more time looking at the image when the audio incorrectly identified a familiar cat than when the correct name was Read More ›

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scuba diving octopus lembeh strait indonesia underwater

Can Largely Rearranged Genomes Explain Why Octopuses Are Smart?

Even compared to each other, the genomes of three cephalopods studied had been broken up and extensively reorganized

Octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish are among the smartest invertebrates, rivalling mammals for complex behavior that can include delaying gratification, having good memories (even in old age), and getting emotional about pain. Yet they are related to life forms like the nautilus which displays few such qualities. Looking to solve the mystery, researchers began to examine the genomes of the two-spot octopus, the Boston Market squid, and the Hawaiian bobtail squid. And that’s where they discovered something interesting. Squid genomes were arranged differently from those of similar life forms.: Compared to genomes from some of their mollusk kin, the coleoid cephalopods’ genomes are very divergent, says [Oleg] Simakov. “You have this mosaic of chromosomes, where ancestral chromosomes were broken up and Read More ›

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flock of bees flying near the beehive

Claim: Honeybees, “Like Humans” Can Tell Odd vs. Even Numbers

Ants, fruit flies, and even plants can also calculate but it does not follow that they are conscious of what they are doing

Recently, researchers, using sugar water, taught honeybees to distinguish odd from even numbers: Our results showed the miniature brains of honeybees were able to understand the concepts of odd and even. So a large and complex human brain consisting of 86 billion neurons, and a miniature insect brain with about 960,000 neurons, could both categorize numbers by parity. Scarlett Howard, Adrian Dyer, Andrew Greentree and Jair Garcia, “Honeybees join humans as the only known animals that can tell the difference between odd and even numbers” at Phys.org (April 29, 2022) The paper is open access. That should, of course, be a hint that bees are probably using a much less complex process than humans. Bees would be useful for this Read More ›

Chimpanzees Uganda Alain Houle CC By 4 0

Claim: Research Shows That Animals Have a Moral Sense

We are informed at Nautilus, the Templeton Foundation’s magazine, that “ It’s time to take moral emotion in animals seriously.” Really?

Philosopher James Hutton starts out his article as a sort of a “trick.” He describes the animals he works with as if they were colleagues. Then, in paragraph four, he announces, “But there are a couple of important details about Amy and Sidney that you should know. The first is that they aren’t workers in any conventional sense, but participants in an experiment.” Coming to the point, they’re dogs. And anyone who had been reading carefully would realize that they were animals, probably dogs or horses. But now here is the supposed big revelation from the University of Vienna experiments Hutton describes: The first big idea is that the moral attitudes of human beings are thoroughly emotional in nature. Of Read More ›

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Beautiful autumn tree with mushrooms and moss in forest

Not Just Plants — Even Fungi Like Mushrooms — Talk To Each Other?

They are NOT judging us but they do have complex communications systems interacting with their environment

The patterns that fungi like mushrooms use to communicate are said to be “strikingly similar” to those of human speech. But how?: Fungi send electrical signals to one another through hyphae—long, filamentous tendrils that the organisms use to grow and explore. The Guardian reports that previous research shows that the number of electrical impulses traveling through hyphae, sometimes likened to neurons, increases when fungi encounter new sources of food, and that this suggests it’s possible that fungi use this “language” to let each other know about new food sources or injury. Natalia Mesa, “Can Mushrooms “Talk” to Each Other?” at The Scientist (April 6, 2022) The paper is open access. That would make fungi, one of the kingdoms of life, Read More ›

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Sensitive plant or mimosa pudica plant.

How Plants Talk When We’re Not Around

Some aspects of plant behavior can be studied in the same terms as animal or human behavior

One genuine surprise in recent decades has been the discovery that plants have nervous systems like animals and use some of the same compounds in communications — for example, TMAO to relieve stress and glutamate to speed transmission. Biologist Peter Rogers pointed out recently that the similarities may shed a bit of light on issues around anaesthesia. Surprisingly, it is possible to anesthetize a plant. The shameplant (Mimosa pudica) and the Venus flytrap demonstrated that: Thirty years after anesthesia debuted in the operating room, Claude Bernard, a French physiologist, demonstrated that the shameplant (Mimosa pudica), which bashfully folds into itself when touched, was unresponsive to touch after exposure to ether, a commonly used anesthetic. The plant also folds into itself Read More ›

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Super macro shot tiny fruit flies on the top of a banana

The Brain Unfolds Like a Drama, With Neurons in Different Roles

Researchers studying fruit flies hope that spotting the stages at which human neurons go missing or wrong can help develop treatments to insert or replace them

We are not accustomed to thinking of fruit flies as even having brains. But they have 120 types of neurons in their visual system alone (which could be why they are so pesky): In the research published in Nature, the researchers studied the brains of the fruit fly Drosophila to uncover the complete set of tTFs needed to generate the roughly 120 neuron types of the medulla, a specific brain structure in the visual system of flies. They used state-of-the-art single-cell mRNA sequencing to obtain the transcriptome — all of the genes expressed in a given cell — of more than 50,000 individual cells that were then grouped into most of the cell types present in the developing medulla… The Read More ›

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Common Earthworm (Lumbricus Terrestris)

Evolutionary Psychologist Argues That Worms Feel Pain. But How?

Wait. Barash’s hypothesis overlooks the fact that suffering is more than an alarm system. An alarm could be going off in an empty building

A web site for fans of earthworms tackled the question recently: Yes, it is now accepted that worms feel pain – and that includes when they are cut in half. They do not anticipate pain or feel pain as an emotional response, however. They simply move in response to pain as a reflex response. They may curl up or move away, for example, from painful or negative stimuli. Aimen Mirza, “Do worms feel pain? (Can Earthworms Sense Painful Stimuli?)” at WORMMY (October 12, 2021) Possibly in line with the growing support for panpsychism in science, University of Washington evolutionary psychology professor David P. Barash, asks us to consider that worms do indeed feel pain in a deeper sense than an Read More ›

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Two stingrays are swimming on the blue sea near the underwater rocks and white sand.

Did Researchers Teach Fish To “Do Math”?

Some test fish learned how to how to get food pellets but the difficulty, as so often, lies with interpretation

University of Bonn researchers think that they may have taught fish to count. They tested the fact that many life forms can note the difference in small quantities between “one more” and “one less,” at least up to five items. Not much work had been done on fish in this area so they decided to test eight freshwater stingrays and eight cichlids: All of the fish were taught to recognize blue as corresponding to “more” and yellow to “less.” The fish or stingrays entered an experimental arena where they saw a test stimulus: a card showing a set of geometric shapes (square, circle, triangle) in either yellow or blue. In a separate compartment of the tank, the fish were then Read More ›

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crab on beach

Researchers Ask—Serious Question — Do Crabs Have Emotions?

Recent research has created some unexpected ethical problems for the seafood industry

At one time, the question of whether crabs or squid had emotions would seem ridiculous. Dogs and cats have emotions but squid and crabs don’t. Right? But in recent decades, it has become evident that there is no straightforward evolutionary path to “smartness.” What about the ability to experience pain or emotion as a dog or cat would? “A London School of Economics (LSE) report commissioned by the U.K. government found there is strong enough evidence to conclude that decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are sentient,” says York University Professor and philosopher Kristin Andrews, the York Research Chair in Animal Minds, who is working with the LSE team. Andrews co-wrote an article published today in the journal Science, “The question Read More ›

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Iguana and Blue and Gold Macaw

Are Birds Really Smarter Than Reptiles?

Scientists clash over how to measure animal intelligence: brain volume, brain organization, numbers of neurons…?

It used to be: Dog vs. cat, Who’s smarter? Now it’s Bird vs. reptile: Who’s smarter? Experts on the fascinating world of animal intelligence are locked in a debate over whether number of neurons or brain volume indicates intelligence (cognitive capacity): In previous work, [Pavel] Němec and colleagues showed that birds have high neuronal densities. “They basically compensate, with these densely packed neurons, [for] the fact that they have relatively small brains in absolute terms, but they have just as many neurons as mammals,” he says. But they didn’t know whether that was true of reptiles as well. In the new study, the researchers found that reptiles have very low neuronal densities, with an average neuron number 20 times lower 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

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 very small brains: “There is this general idea that probably spiders are too small, that you need some kind of a critical mass of brain tissue to be able to perform complex behaviors,” says arachnologist and evolutionary biologist Dimitar Dimitrov of the University Museum of Bergen in Norway. “But I think spiders are one case where this general idea is challenged. Some small things are actually capable of doing very complex stuff.” Behaviors that can be Read More ›

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team of ants gathering strawberry, agriculture teamwork

Ants Use Algorithms Similar to Those of the Internet

Optimization algorithms enable the ant colony to decide how many ants to send to a given food source and when to drastically reduce the number

Researchers are beginning to understand how ant colonies can make complex decisions. It’s best understood, they say, as something like an optimization algorithm: Scientists found that ants and other natural systems use optimization algorithms similar to those used by engineered systems, including the Internet. These algorithms invest incrementally more resources as long as signs are encouraging but pull back quickly at the first sign of trouble. The systems are designed to be robust, allowing for portions to fail without harming the entire system. Understanding how these algorithms work in the real world may help solve engineering problems, whereas engineered systems may offer clues to understanding the behavior of ants, cells, and other natural systems. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, “Deciphering algorithms Read More ›

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cropped shot of robot playing chess on wooden surface

Is AlphaZero Actually Superior to the Human Mind?

Comparing AI and the human mind is completely apples and oranges

The Google-backed AI company DeepMind made headlines in March 2016 when its AlphaGo game AI engine was able to defeat Lee Sedol, one of the top Go players in the world. DeepMind followed up this great achievement with the AlphaZero engine in 2017, which made the remarkable achievement of soundly beating AlphaGo in Go as well as one of the world’s best chess engines in chess. The interesting difference between AlphaGo and AlphaZero is that AlphaGo uses databases of top human games for learning, while AlphaZero only learns by playing against itself. Using the same AI engine to dominate two different games, while also discarding reliance on human games suggests that DeepMind has found an algorithm that is intrinsically superior Read More ›

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Super macro shot tiny fruit flies on the top of a banana skin

Single Neurons Perform Complex Math — Even in Fruit Flies

The fly wants something simple — to avoid getting swatted or eaten, for example — but that requires some algebra

We may not think of our neurons as performing complex calculations but they must do so in order to determine where sound is coming from or where a moving object is headed. For a long while, how they do it has been a mystery. Recently, researchers at the Max Planck Institute reported that they have “discovered the biophysical basis by which a specific type of neuron in fruit flies can multiply two incoming signals,” the “algebra of neurons”: We easily recognize objects and the direction in which they move. The brain calculates this information based on local changes in light intensity detected by our retina. The calculations occur at the level of individual neurons. But what does it mean when Read More ›

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Nerve Cell. 3D. Neurons

When a Tiny Brain Is Actually an Advantage

Small size — which includes having a small brain — hones the gnat ogre’s remarkable neurological abilities

The University of Minnesota, pointing to a just-published research paper, asks us to contemplate a remarkable piece of flight engineering on the part of a rather frightening fly: For those of us who occasionally trip over a curb or bump into a door frame, it’s hard to imagine an organism with a brain smaller than the period at the end of this sentence deftly maneuvering around obstacles while chasing fast-moving prey on the wing… The research, carried out by Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido, Mary Sumner, and Trevor Wardill of the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences, and Sam Fabian of the Imperial College London Department of Bioengineering, focuses on the aerial feats of a miniature robber fly known as a gnat Read More ›

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Playful White Cockatoo

The Remarkable Things We’re Learning About Bird Intelligence

These findings are only among birds that have actually been studied; most birds have not been studied for intelligence

At one time, there was an assumption — not really a theory — that vertebrates would be more intelligent than invertebrates and mammals would be more intelligent than birds. Well along came the octopus, which turns out to be as intelligent as a typical mammal. And the New Zealand crow, which can be as smart as an ape. These life forms have significantly different brains from each other so intelligence does not appear to reside in a specific organization of the brain. While researchers puzzle that out, let’s look at some recent findings as to what the bird (avian) brain can do. We are looking at behaviors that probably require some individual intelligence, not just an inherited program: ● Cockatoos Read More ›

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Cute little baby looking into the camera

The Mystery of How Newborns Know Things Gets Deeper

But learning more about it may help us understand autism spectrum disorders better

Neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara ponders the mystery of how exactly babies quickly recognize things when they are born — like human faces — that they simply cannot have learned. We might call it “imprinting” or “instinct” but that’s just a classification, not an explanation. The author of Born Knowing (MIT Press, 2021) decided to start with chicks. That’s a bit simpler. Psychology students know, of course, that newly hatched chicks seem to know that they should follow their mother and do what she does. But what specific cues enable them to identify their mother? It turns out, according to his and colleagues’ research, that they are looking for specific geometrical patterns: Chicks need to actively explore and learn about their environment Read More ›

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canada geese in flight

Source of Most Animal Intelligence Still a Mystery

Eric Cassell takes questions: If life forms are born or hatched knowing this stuff, it isn’t learned. But if it’s in the genes, where is it?

Recently, geologist Casey Luskin interviewed Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021) on one of the central mysteries of biology: How do animals “know” things that they can’t have figured out on their own? This is the third and final part. Here’s the first part, with transcript and notes and here’s the second. Below is the third part, the audience questions, with notes and partial transcript: Eric Cassell is an expert in navigation systems, including GPS whose experience includes more than four decades of experience in systems engineering related to aircraft, navigation and safety. He has long had an interest in animal navigation. His model for animal navigation is the natural algorithm: Read More ›

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Bienenkreis

Can Insects Be Conscious? Let’s Look At Bees First

Consciousness does not seem to reside in the neocortex so complex behavior in bees has raised the question for biologists and philosophers alike

Honeybee scientist Andrew Barron and philosopher Colin Klein, both then at Macquarie University in Australia, argue that bees have some form of consciousness. Let’s look at what they have to say: According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, Barron broached the question of bee consciousness with Klein, who was highly skeptical at first. But Barron pointed out that at least one key theory holds that …the core of human consciousness is not our impressive neocortex, but our much more primitive midbrain. This simple structure synthesizes sensory data into a unified, egocentric point of view that lets us navigate our world. Insects, Barron and Klein now argue, have midbrain-like structures, including a “central complex,” that seem to allow bugs to similarly Read More ›