Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagAnimal Intelligence

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Silvery marmoset (Mico argentatus).

Why Do Researchers Wonder Whether Animals Have Personalities?

Every friend of dogs, cats, or birds knows what some researchers struggle to prove. Let’s take a look at what they found

Recently, a research team announced that marmosets — small highly social New World monkeys — display personality traits, whether they are wild or captive: Some individuals were fast to approach any novelty, while others were more careful; hereby showing a similar pattern to humans: for instance, some humans enjoy trying out new restaurants, whereas others prefer to eat in their favorite restaurant. What is more interesting, when comparing personality traits of monkeys in Austria across four years, the authors found that these monkeys are quite consistent in their personality traits (e.g., those that are explorative when they are younger, stay similarly explorative four years afterwards). University of Vienna, “Marmoset Monkeys Have Personalities Too” at Neuroscience News The paper is open…

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The New Caledonian crow bird on the tree. Raven in tropical jungle

We Knew Crows Were Smart But They Turn Out To Be Even Smarter

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the mysteries of animal intelligence

Recently, some researchers have claimed that crows — already known to be smart — are even conscious: Nieder’s experiment showed that the birds were actively evaluating how to solve a particular problem they were confronted with. In effect, they were thinking it over. This ability to consciously assess a problem is associated with the cerebral cortex in the brains of humans. But birds have no cerebral cortex. Nieder found that in crows, thinking occurs in the pallium—the layers of gray and white matter covering the upper surface of the cerebrum in vertebrates. Other studies support the notion that the bird brain can, in principle, support the development of higher intelligence. This idea had been dismissed in the past due to…

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World Alzheimer’s day concept. Human hands holding brain of earth over blurred blue nature background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Why a Science Fiction Writer Thinks Life Is More Than Just Matter

Many animals and even bacteria show behavior that smacks of thinking, he says
Science fiction author and retired internist Geoffrey Simmons talks about the amazing intelligence that life forms, even cells, show. Read More ›
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Groupe de Bonobos autour d'un hôtel à insectes

Can Animal Minds Rival Humans Under the Right Circumstances?

Are we just not being fair to animals, as some researchers think?

In 2007, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a psychologist and primatologist , published a paper in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science with a remarkable citation: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Kanzi Wamba, Panbanisha Wamba, and Nyota Wamba, “Welfare of Apes in Captive Environments: Comments on, and by, a Specific Group of Apes,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 10:1 (2007): 7–19. What is remarkable about the paper is not the text but the authorship statement. Kanzi, Panbanisha, and Nyota Wamba are not co-author colleagues—they’re apes, bonobos to be specific. Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh (right) is a controversial scientist who believes that animals have intellectual powers that can, under the right circumstances, rival the human intellect. She included her ape subjects as co-authors on the paper because…

Gorgeous puppy looking on itself in the mirror

Mirror, Mirror, Am I a Self?

Scientists ponder, how would animals show self-awareness?

One controversy in animal psychology centers on whether or not an animal can recognize itself in a mirror. But a number of scientists are beginning to doubt that the mirror test shows animal self-awareness.

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Colorful bluestreak cleaner wrasse on black background.
A bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, on a black background. This small colorful fish can be found on coral reefs Africa, Red Sea and Polynesia

Did a fish just show self-awareness?

What if the whole question is founded on a mistake about the nature of the mirror test?

Overall, it’s a curious outcome for the mirror test. Those who felt reassured by close kinship with chimpanzees reacted quite differently when offered close kinship with fish.

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Silhouette of a female as training her dog - website banner
Silhouette of a female as training her dog - website banner

The Real Reason Why Only Human Beings Speak

Language is a tool for abstract thinking—a necessary tool for abstraction—and humans are the only animals who think abstractly

In his discussion of why only humans have language, science writer Tom Siegfried gets a lot right, but he misses the crucial reason.

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Beef on a scale
Ground meat being weighed

What Do Thoughts Weigh?

Robert Marks thrashes out with Michael Medved why our minds are neither meat nor software

In a wide-ranging conversation, Robert Marks and Michael Medved tackle questions like what it means for something to be not just unknown but “unknowable.”

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Is Salad Murder?

A Darwinian biologist wrestles with the significance of plant intelligence

If plants can sense things and communicate with each other, even though they lack a mind or brain, should they have rights? In an age of sometimes violent animal rights activism, that’s not an idle question. Plant physiologist Ulrich Kutschera, author of Physiology of Plants. Sensible Vegetation in Action (January 2019, German), talked about it in a recent interview: This is a serious issue which is related to plant intelligence. In April 2009, the Swiss Parliament discussed the topic of “plant ethics” and proposed to attribute to plants a kind of “Würde”, which can be translated as “dignity” (3). As a consequence, some radical plant ethics-activists have distributed T-shirts and other propaganda material with the slogan “Salad is murder”. Despite…

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If Computers Thought Like Fruit Flies, They Could Do More

But even with more sophisticated buzz, there remain "non-computable" things that a computer cannot be programmed to think

Recently, researchers discovered that fruit flies use a filter similar to a computer algorithm to assess the odors that help them find fruit, only the flies’ tools are more sophisticated: When a fly smells an odor, the fly needs to quickly figure out if it has smelled the odor before, to determine if the odor is new and something it should pay attention to,” says Saket Navlakha, an assistant professor in Salk’s Integrative Biology Laboratory. “In computer science, this is an important task called novelty detection. Computers use a Bloom filter for that, Navlakha, an integrative biologist, explains: When a search engine such as Google crawls the Web, it needs to know whether a website it comes across has previously…

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How is Human Language Different from Animal Signals?

What do we need from language that we cannot get from signals alone?
Language, which is the rule-based use of abstract designators, is essential for abstract thought because only designators can point to things that have no concrete physical existence. Only human beings think abstractly, and language is what makes abstract thought possible. Read More ›
Dog Sleeping after Studying

Dogs Are Not as Intelligent as Seals?

That doesn't sound right to you? Putting aside the hoopla around IQ tests for furries and flipperies, there is a serious science question about what “intelligence” really is
Dog lovers may be surprised (and displeased!) by a recent study of animal intelligence that dismisses the intelligence of dogs, compared to that of marine mammals Read More ›
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A green lizard eyeing the camera

Yes, Even Lizards Can Be Smart

If you catch them at the right time. But can we give machines what the lizard has by nature?
What is it that we want machines to be and do under our guidance that these—often seemingly strange—life forms are and do spontaneously? The life forms do those things to stay alive. Does it matter then that machines are not alive? Read More ›
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Crows Can Be as Smart as Apes

But they have quite different brains. The intelligence doesn't seem to reside in the details of the mechanism
Studying animals' intelligence has taught us many things. But in some ways, it has deepened the mystery of intelligence. Read More ›