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Orangutan culture
January 3, 2003 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Cultured Apes: According to a study published in today's issue of the journal Science, orangutans have been passing on a shared culture for generations (free registration required to view entire study). To what degree are animals intelligent? Are primates more intelligent than other animals? What about crows and ravens? (My favorite subject of animal intelligence studies is still Koko the gorilla.)
posted by jdroth (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
For anyone interested in further reading on the intelligence of ravens, I highly recommend Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich. It's a fascinating read, and Mr. Heinrich is clearly passionate about his work.
posted by DakotaPaul at 11:01 AM on January 3, 2003


To what degree are animals intelligent?

That depends... :)

Are primates more intelligent than other animals?

I sure hope so, since we are primates... :) What I want to know is how intelligent you have to be to acquire these behaviors from your consociates; how dumb are humans?
posted by rschram at 11:08 AM on January 3, 2003


To what degree are animals intelligent?

That scares me and gives me the willies, the Raven.

It's the only bird known to fly to the source of a gun shot afterwards.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:15 AM on January 3, 2003


In spite of Einstein (things should be made as simple as possible but not more so) here's the too-somple answer. Monkeys are animals, great apes are people. Apes have self-concept (they recognize their images in a mirror, while monkeys and non-primate mammals either react socially, as if the reflection was another animal, or don't react at all.) Apes can learn and use symbolic language but they don't ever seem to get sentence structure (if Lana wants a Coke she may say "Give Lana Coke" but is just as likely to say "Coke Lana give" or "Lana Coke give." -- instrumental communication by dumping all your concepts in a heap.) Tool use isn't diagnostic of anything: Cebus monkeys make tools (i.e. modify found materials to make them more suitable for a particular task.) Several species of birds use tools in as-found condition, without modifying them.
posted by jfuller at 11:15 AM on January 3, 2003


P.S. complex shared culture transmitted across multiple generations has been known and demonstrated in Japanese Macaques (monkeys) for twenty years.
posted by jfuller at 11:20 AM on January 3, 2003


Of course birds are intelligent! See: it's Coinbird!!
posted by byort at 11:22 AM on January 3, 2003


I keep waiting for the next animal to discover fire. I know the chances are nil that in my lifetime it would happen, but somewhere along the millions of years of evolution, another species is going to figure out how to do it (aside from cows in Chicago). It'd be great to be alive for that milestone of biological history.

Plus, I think "Monkey Arson!" makes a great headline, after the discovery grows widespread among the species.
posted by mathowie at 11:24 AM on January 3, 2003


Monkeys are animals, great apes are people. Apes have self-concept (they recognize their images in a mirror, while monkeys and non-primate mammals either react socially, as if the reflection was another animal, or don't react at all.)

Good answer, but by those requirements, dolphins are "people" too. Great apes also have complex concepts of time (as discussed in "The Origins of the Human Mind", they view the past as in front, because you can see it, and the future behind, because you can't).
posted by biscotti at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2003


I keep waiting for the next animal to discover fire.
This is a fantasy of mine! When I go to the zoo, i like to imagine sneaking in special monkey tools that they can use to escape with and start a secret monkey town hidden in the wilderness.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:52 AM on January 3, 2003


Ravens are amazing (I gave campfire talks on them as a park ranger). They can count to, depending on who you ask, ten or twenty, they have a brain-body ratio higher than dolphins (and approaching ours), and they outperform grad students on tests of memory.

Ravens will lead wolves to a frozen carcass that they can't break open themselves, and they have figured out how to open Velco flaps on snowmobiles to get at food. They're incredible mimics, too - a friend was imitating a red-tailed hawk one morning, poorly, and swears he heard a raven imitating him imitating the hawk, like it was mocking him.

It's impossible to watch them play-diving, barrel-rolling, and playing tag and catch in midair and not think, if they had hands and a few pounds on us, we'd all be slaving in the Raven Sugar Mines for our glossy-black overlords.

biscotti: is OHM a book? can't find it on Amazon.

Monkey Arson, heh. Great band name.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:06 PM on January 3, 2003


> Good answer, but by those requirements, dolphins are
> "people" too.

Somebody's demonstrated self-concept and symbolic language in dolphins? Cool! Who? When? & especially How?
posted by jfuller at 12:12 PM on January 3, 2003


Matt, sonofsamiam: You need to read "Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson.
posted by languagehat at 12:14 PM on January 3, 2003


Intelligence is a matter of degree, of course. But you can't tell me that the crow in the picture from the link above isn't some sort of genius. It's a been a few years since college, but I'm pretty sure that little guy is building a home-made bong.

Incidentally, I'm too lazy to find a link, but crows were hated in England for causing fires. Apparently they snatch burning twigs, bring them to a safe spot, and then use the smoke to drive the parasites from their feathers. Unfortunately, the safe spot would often be a barn, or other flammable structure.
posted by Samsonov14 at 12:14 PM on January 3, 2003


dolphins are "people" too

Two mamals that can learn from others through their mistakes, Dolphins and Humans.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:25 PM on January 3, 2003


jfuller, Here's the dolphin self-awareness study you were looking for.
posted by Samsonov14 at 12:29 PM on January 3, 2003


Ooh. "Bears Discover Fire" is good. I hadn't made the connection to this intelligence study, of course, since Bears is fiction. Matt and languagehat have made a nice leap there.

"Bears Discover Fire" is anthologized in the oustanding Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias, edited by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Animal intelligence, and the potential for greater intelligence than we, as humans, have given credit, is fascinating, exhilerating.

I believe that if you have never had a close personal relationship with an animal, have never witnessed an animal exhibit profoundly intelligent behavior, then this says more about your intelligence than the intelligence of animals. (How's that for an intentionally provocative statement?)
posted by jdroth at 1:08 PM on January 3, 2003


start a secret monkey town hidden in the wilderness.

Heh. Heh heh heh. Heh.
posted by ColdChef at 1:18 PM on January 3, 2003


More data (bonobo).
posted by rushmc at 2:06 PM on January 3, 2003


Came across this a few days ago... The Alex Foundation, studying Communication and Intelligence of Parrots. From the site intro:

Dr. Pepperberg currently works with 3 Congo African Grey Parrots. Alex, the oldest, can count, identify objects, shapes, colors and materials, knows the concepts of same and different, and bosses around lab assistants in order to modify his environment! They have begun work with phonics and there is evidence to suggest that, someday, Alex may be able to read.

Check out this 35-second QuickTime video (3 MB) of Alex in action.

Oddly enough, I had come across this while reading a Holocaust denier's website. Saving that kooky character for a FPP. :P
posted by son_of_minya at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2003


is OHM a book? can't find it on Amazon

Yes, by Merlin Donald (IIRC - I borrowed it so don't have it handy). It's out of print now, I think. It's a bit flawed in places, but has some fascinating information about great ape studies.
posted by biscotti at 3:10 PM on January 3, 2003


There were some excellent points raised last time this was discussed

[link posted strictly for purposes of expanding conversation, not as an accusation of double posting]
posted by quin at 3:23 PM on January 3, 2003


I was just going to mention that thread, quin; for perhaps obvious reasons, it's one of my all-time MeFi faves. Great links in this one, too. Once again I can only marvel at the fact that some scientists start from the assumption that only humans "learn special skills" and "pass knowledge to new generations."

What's that? Orangutans do it? Maybe even other animals? Omigod, stop the presses!
posted by mediareport at 3:50 PM on January 3, 2003


Craneworld is a German site. You can click-through to a study of crane intelligence.

In reviewing the earlier thread on this topic, I noticed that the terms consciousness, self-awareness, and intelligence all appeared. One of my favorite books on two of these subjects is Julian Jayne's Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. It is a controversial work, now OOP.

Searching Google under these 3 terms produces a lot of hits for sites discussing artificial intelligence, including one on strong vs. weak AI (cf. the concurrent thread on Orion's Arm).
posted by newlydead at 4:21 PM on January 3, 2003


Even with my feeble brainpower, I could kick any animal's butt in checkers, chess, Sorry!, Monopoly, and probably tic-tac-toe.

I'm just sayin'.
posted by davidmsc at 5:20 PM on January 3, 2003


It's more than just a fear, apparently it's fact.

Seems Charlton Heston had the right idea about them damn apes.
posted by ciderwoman at 5:36 PM on January 3, 2003


Even with my feeble brainpower, I could kick any animal's butt in checkers, chess, Sorry!, Monopoly, and probably tic-tac-toe.

And bats could kick your butt on finding insects in the dark while flying through the air.

Just sayin'.
posted by mediareport at 5:37 PM on January 3, 2003


Oh, so now mediareport is on the payroll of the animals...? Hey - harmless fun. I was only kidding about beating an animal at chess.
posted by davidmsc at 10:04 PM on January 3, 2003


I could kick any animal's butt in checkers, chess, Sorry!, Monopoly, and probably tic-tac-toe.

Don't be too sure about that last one.
posted by biscotti at 11:41 PM on January 3, 2003


These last few posts bring up the unspoken assumption in studying "animal intelligence" - that for animals to possess a certain "level" of intelligence, they have to do something that we do, or at least something that we comprehend well.

Of course a lot of animal behavior is "merely" instinctual, but humans' ability to distinguish which animals are doing something for a smart reason and which ones aren't is extremely limited, because the only things we try to get them to do are things we can understand and categorize. Meanwhile, there may be many other ways of behaving, communicating, whatever, that we have no inkling of - yet.

Notice how in the past century many more species of animals have suddenly become capable of communication - why? Because we became capable of perceiving it. As we get better at understanding other animals, you can bet they're gonna get smarter and smarter.
posted by soyjoy at 1:15 PM on January 6, 2003


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