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My elephant is smarter than your elephant
March 16, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

It's not 'cheating' if you don't get caught. Elephants can figure out how to cut corners.
posted by mudpuppie (39 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was about to say I thought we already knew Republicans were cheaters, but that elephant is actually smart and clever.
posted by kmz at 9:45 AM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which just goes to show that elephants can not only learn to work together, here's one who figured out how to do something human males have been doing for years; she tricked her partner into becoming...a waitress. Elephant scholars everywhere must be impressed.

Yeah. Stupid, jerkass human males. They're worse than anteaters.
sorry, this paragraph made me a little 'wut'
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:51 AM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Minor suggestion: don't name your organization PNAS.

*snicker*
posted by phunniemee at 9:53 AM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Granted, I can't read elephant body language very well but it's hard to tell if that "cheater" was really faking or not. It might be a stretch to say that the elephant knows how to shuck off work like that. If anything, it would want the food as quickly as possible.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:54 AM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which just goes to show that elephants can not only learn to work together, here's one who figured out how to do something human males have been doing for years; she tricked her partner into becoming...a waitress.

Is that really necessary?
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable at 9:55 AM on March 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


I thought she was going to step her back foot on the rope and stretch across the pen to reach the other one. That's what I would do.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:56 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Animals are smart to the extent that they act exactly like humans do.
posted by goethean at 9:58 AM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Well, at the very end, she does a pretend, theatrical 'grab,' but that's just for show.)

In my head I narrated this as "Oh Jeez, are we doing this now? Let me help with that..." because I'm loving the idea of theatrical phelephants.
posted by quin at 9:59 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which just goes to show that elephants can not only learn to work together, here's one who figured out how to do something human males have been doing for years; she tricked her partner into becoming...a waitress.

This would perhaps be better as "mean older sister." This is the kind of crap I pulled all the time when I was little. She's an elephant after my own heart.
posted by phunniemee at 9:59 AM on March 16, 2011


I was hoping she'd step off the rope so that her partner went flying forward.
posted by dismas at 9:59 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Animals are smart to the extent that they act exactly like humans do.

Well, being that we are the smartest things we think we know about, judging their intelligence based on how closely it approximates what we would do seems like reasonably good ape thinking.
posted by quin at 10:00 AM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like the stories of elephants breaking down stockades so they could get at the booze then go on a rampage.
posted by edgeways at 10:01 AM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Sort of a bullshit article, premise, and conclusion.
Let me sum this up. Elephant learns to behave to get food. Elephant behaves in that manner to get food... Lets attribute it with all sorts of human traits, motivations, and cunning for doing what we've trained it to do to get food.

meh! The elephant is smarter than the idiot that wrote the article.
posted by tomswift at 10:03 AM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


If elephants can paint, I see no reason why they couldn't write pop science articles. Give one a really big keyboard and see what happens.
posted by Zozo at 10:05 AM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


For the record, I have never tricked a woman into becoming a waitress.
posted by swift at 10:11 AM on March 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


Given that the elephants could probably smash their way through the barrier to get to the food if they were so inclined, I find the fact that they are willing to pull a rope very interesting.
posted by tommasz at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Many pairs of elephants figure out one way to do a task. One pair of elephants (or at least one member of the pair) figures out another way to do the task.

Does the other elephant consider that "cheating?" I'm not sure it's appropriate to apply human standards of fairness to activities of other animals without evidence of what the animals consider to be unfair or not. (And to be fair, I do vaguely recall seeing reports of studies showing that some other primates have a concept of fairness similar to humans, but I don't know if similar studies have been done for elephants, and without such studies I don't believe it's appropriate to extrapolate to elephants.)

If you wanted to show that Neua Un was "cheating," it would be more convincing if Alina realized what she was doing, and then either showed some kind of anger at her action, or refused to work with her on future trials, or something like that.

Even if you did apply human standards of fairness, it might still depend on how hard the task was. If it was physically strenuous, I'd probably be pissed if I caught my partner letting me do all the work. But if it wasn't, I wouldn't care that much. Notably, the PNAS [phunniemee: the name of the journal, not of the organization] article reports that while the original 1930s chimpanzee experiments used "a counterweight so heavy it required two chimpanzees to pull together," while this used a setup with a single rope, and it's unclear at best whether the task is physically strenuous for the elephants.

To be fair, neither the PNAS article nor the New Scientist article characterizes Neua Un's action as "cheating." (The PNAS article simply calls it an "alternative successful strategy.") The characterization of it as "cheating" seems to be entirely the invention of NPR blogger Krulwich.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


To be fair, neither the PNAS article nor the New Scientist article characterizes Neua Un's action as "cheating." (The PNAS article simply calls it an "alternative successful strategy.") The characterization of it as "cheating" seems to be entirely the invention of NPR blogger Krulwich.

His description seems anthropomorphic.
posted by zarq at 10:20 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm sorry, Mr. Plotnik, but your research has been invalidated by some dude on MetaFilter who said 'meh'."
posted by Legomancer at 10:20 AM on March 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Given that the elephants could probably smash their way through the barrier to get to the food if they were so inclined, I find the fact that they are willing to pull a rope very interesting.

That was my reaction, too. "Hey, there's food! Hmm. Can't get to it. Better wait for my pal so we can coordinate our... Wait a minute! I'M A GODDAMN ELEPHANT!" SMASH SMASH SMASH
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:24 AM on March 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Minor suggestion: don't name your organization PNAS.

They should take a note from more respected animal concern organizations like WOFDCAP, and A.A.A.A.A.A.A.Z.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:29 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


goethean: Animals are smart to the extent that they act exactly like humans do.

Humans are intelligent in various ways, one of which is how they manipulate the world around them. Ravens comprehend sequential and incremental changes, and apparently can plan out their activities without practice.

On the topic of animal intelligence and anthropomorphic terminology, see what this parrot get a treat when it's "lazy" (pulling up a rope and holding the rope with its foot, to bring the treat within reach - a multi-step process).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:32 AM on March 16, 2011


For the record, I have never tricked a woman into becoming a waitress.

"That woman was a waitress when I got here! This is a setup!"
posted by Deathalicious at 10:35 AM on March 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


My dad may have been shiftless, good for nothing, Windows user, but damn if he wasn't right about not trusting elephants.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:37 AM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


My corn snacks bring elephants to the yard
And they're like
It's better than yours
Damn right it's better than yours
I can teach you
But I have to charge
posted by gilrain at 10:43 AM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]




Well, at the very end, she does a pretend, theatrical 'grab,'

I was hoping for a slo-mo reach with the elephant going "nooooooo!" I was sadly disappointed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:56 AM on March 16, 2011


I'm not sure it's appropriate to apply human standards of fairness to activities of other animals without evidence of what the animals consider to be unfair or not. (And to be fair, I do vaguely recall seeing reports of studies showing that some other primates have a concept of fairness similar to humans, but I don't know if similar studies have been done for elephants, and without such studies I don't believe it's appropriate to extrapolate to elephants.)

You may be thinking of the studies mentioned in this article.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:08 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Neua Un you're such a slacker!

Also PNAS stands for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is the name of the journal published by the National Academy of Science. You may resume your misplaced snickering.
posted by Mister_A at 11:11 AM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hey boss! Got a new bit of fascinating elephant behaviour to report!

Great kid! Now think of a SUPREMELY STUPID way to frame it!
posted by Trochanter at 11:45 AM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


That article would have been great without the misandry. Nice work, Robert.
posted by Tehhund at 11:48 AM on March 16, 2011


There are several things the absence of which would have increased the quality of that article. The absence of not getting the point, for instance!
posted by Mister_A at 11:50 AM on March 16, 2011


To me, it looked as though she was sort of miming the "pull movement" in impatience. Like, "Come on, come on! We had a deal, Kyle!"
posted by Trochanter at 12:03 PM on March 16, 2011


I came in expecting to read about elephants calling home to say they'll be late from work or going on business trips with their hot assistants. I was disappointed.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:21 PM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Baylor and Tupelo in the Pool
posted by homunculus at 12:51 PM on March 16, 2011


I'm with DevilsAdvocate on this. This team just figured out a different way to accomplish the same task.

If you think about it logically: The elephant comes up and pulls the rope but then sees that the rope end pulls through the other side. The next step to try would be securing one end of the rope while the other end is pulled.
posted by zephyr_words at 3:05 PM on March 16, 2011


Ah Robert Krulwich. Half of Radio Lab. NPR's "science" reporting for an audience they imagine to be stupider than ... a very stupid thing.
posted by mrnutty at 3:40 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have to say, this same sort of thing happens all the time with animal researchers: they get so used to looking at these animals and interacting with them that they become almost people in their eyes. Seems doubtful to me that the "cheating" really was occurring as such. Perhaps the elephant was exploring new properties of the rope, or perhaps it was just learning a new strategy for getting food without having any intent to "cheat" the other.

There is an important lesson in scientific methodology about pre-hoc and post-hoc theorizing. Ideally, the scientists will stick their necks out in advance, stipulating precisely what the test is, what sort of response they are looking for. Then, they'll only draw conclusions about these particular results, generally in terms of being consistent or inconsistent with a hypothesis.

By staking a claim and success conditions before the test, a researcher can avoid all of the traps of growing fond of the animals, or seeing things that simply aren't there. (Koko can't REALLY say all those things they claim she can... and even so, "they" are the only ones able to translate for her!)

All this elephant-cheating talk is evidently post-hoc interpretation of something new: something to stick in the results section at the end---and to avoid going overboard with.
posted by phenylphenol at 8:22 PM on March 16, 2011


But, is it even cheating? Or just another successful strategy. She stood on the rope, everybody got fed -- win win.

Maybe you could see what happens when two rope standers face the challenge together...
posted by Trochanter at 8:29 PM on March 16, 2011


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