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I spy with my little eye, a magpie.
August 20, 2008 11:48 AM   Subscribe


 
Didn't they find this out much earlier this year?
posted by agregoli at 11:56 AM on August 20, 2008


What about whales?
posted by Mister_A at 11:57 AM on August 20, 2008


Heckle? Meet Jeckle.
posted by coachfortner at 11:57 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Magpies recognize themselves in a mirror? Well, that puts them one up on Michael Jackson.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:01 PM on August 20, 2008 [10 favorites]


Consider the Octopus. Though consciousness is not the same as self-recognition.

And self-regard is another club, entirely.
posted by borborygmi at 12:04 PM on August 20, 2008


Oh great, yet another animal it's now immoral to brutally slaughter and hungrily devour. There go my dinner plans!
posted by DU at 12:05 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can we get a list of people who have left the self-awareness club? Like this woman?
posted by GuyZero at 12:06 PM on August 20, 2008


Man, beaten to it by Astro Zombie. Curse your space-based undead snark!
posted by GuyZero at 12:09 PM on August 20, 2008


I don't put much stock in the mirror test, but I'm not surprised a corvid was the first bird to pass one.
posted by Pyry at 12:13 PM on August 20, 2008


The magpie is not humble. I was an observer at a magpie funeral not long ago. Fine beasts.
posted by pracowity at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2008


I hope they get a thorough initiation.

The first rule of self awareness club...is to recognize that one exists independently as an individual.
posted by baltimoretim at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2008


The second of the Self-Awareness club ... do NOT talk about Self-Awareness Club.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:20 PM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


The first rule of self awareness club...is to recognize that one exists independently as an individual.

I don't.
posted by No Robots at 12:21 PM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Jeez, how many times I have rehearsed this post in my head. Well, full disclosure time:

I am a magpie.
posted by everichon at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2008 [10 favorites]


Speaking Guy to Guy, now, GuyZero, I am really sorry I saw that.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:34 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't put much stock in the mirror test, but I'm not surprised a corvid was the first bird to pass one.

It seems to me to be a fairly logical experiment. I imagine this is the sort of processing that occurs, the creature sees the mirror, and will do one of the following things:

1) not know it is a piece of material reflecting the world back on them and interpret it as the world continuing onward, try to pass through it, dumbly as an insect might
2) ignore it (as two birds mentioned in the study did)
3) investigate it

If when they investigate it they deduce the distance they stand from it, or recognize shapes/colours they've seen in themselves, or see a kind of double-vision of motion (i.e. I move my wing and it moves there!) they can figure out it is themselves which they see. They see themselves, and the dot, and since they're rather clean creatures they go to groom themselves and remove the dot. It's only this final action which the experimenter sees.

Anyway, what's wrong with the logic of these actions indicating self-awareness? They're certainly self-aware if they're trying to clean something they cannot even see except through the mirror.
posted by tybeet at 12:35 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I, for one, would like to welcome our... SQUAAAAAAAAAAWWWWK!
posted by Debaser626 at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heckle? Meet Jeckle.

Indubitably!
posted by evilcolonel at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2008


Bloody magpies, it's always me-me-me.
posted by WPW at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Speaking Guy to Guy, now, GuyZero, I am really sorry I saw that.

The uncanny valley - it's not just for CGI anymore!
posted by GuyZero at 12:45 PM on August 20, 2008


She wanted to look like a kitty, but she looks like the dude from Mask.
posted by Mister_A at 12:51 PM on August 20, 2008


It seems like many birds ought to have evolved the ability to recognize their own shadows. It would be a useful adaptation to be able to judge altitude or avoid obstacles (near cliffs, say). Perfect mirrors are highly unusual in nature, but reflections in puddles wouldn't be uncommon.

So I think that they will find that many birds have similar sorts of self recognition via reflection, especially if they are large enough to cast a big shadow and agile enough to be able to take advantage of extra positional information.

Huh. That sort of describes most of the corvids ... but why not cliff swallows or peregrine falcons?
posted by Araucaria at 12:52 PM on August 20, 2008


This just makes it even less likely that if we ever meet another intelligent (alien) race, that they'll have to look anything like us.
posted by tommasz at 12:54 PM on August 20, 2008


This just makes it even less likely that if we ever meet another intelligent (alien) race, that they'll have to look anything like us.

It strikes me that we are wasting our time speculating about alien intelligence from space when we have so much of it to explore here on Earth. And I'm not just talking about my brother-in-law.
posted by No Robots at 1:07 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anyway, what's wrong with the logic of these actions indicating self-awareness? They're certainly self-aware if they're trying to clean something they cannot even see except through the mirror.

This provides a neat explanation of why they like shiny things.

Many shiny things have mirror-like properties, and magpies want them for the same reasons we do-- to groom themselves.
posted by jamjam at 1:09 PM on August 20, 2008


This provides a neat explanation of why they like shiny things.

Heh, I was thinking something similar. Sort of like the magpie seeing the mirror thought it had found the holy grail of shiny things as was willing to do whatever it needed to do to distract the researchers long enough to get that giant sparkly thing hidden safely away.
posted by quin at 1:20 PM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Once I saw a dapper magpie
Perched before a mirror, tying a tie;
He checked his hair and buttoned his vest
And made certain that he was neatly dressed.
He winked at himself with one black eye
And said: There is none so self-aware as I.
But frankly, if he was so self-aware
Would he really go out without a pocket square?
His hairstyle is long out of style
And his tie pattern is simply vile.
And that vest is such a garish yellow!
Such miserable taste for such a little fellow!
So to his self-awareness claim
I ask: What good is it when it lacks shame?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:31 PM on August 20, 2008 [13 favorites]


Yes, that would be a fairly typical 'fantasia on rational thought' of yours, quin.
posted by jamjam at 1:34 PM on August 20, 2008


Band of Birds Steal $4000
posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on August 20, 2008


That's absolutely delightful, AZ. :)
posted by jamaro at 1:43 PM on August 20, 2008


passing the mirror self-recognition test != self awareness
posted by oonh at 1:48 PM on August 20, 2008


Anyway, what's wrong with the logic of these actions indicating self-awareness? They're certainly self-aware if they're trying to clean something they cannot even see except through the mirror.

Being able to recognize yourself in a mirror is neither sufficient nor necessary for self-awareness. It's trivial to write computer programs that recognize themselves, so mirror recognition is not sufficient for self awareness (they've also trained pigeons to be able to do this, and I don't think pigeons are commonly regarded as self-aware). Conversely, it's easy to imagine self-aware beings that would be unable to recognize themselves in mirrors for a variety of reasons (even humans occasionally attack mirrors because they are startled by them in the dark), so mirror recognition is not necessary for self awareness.

What's left? Correlation. Perhaps mirror recognition correlates with self-awareness, but it may correlate in the same way knowing what a farrier is correlates with literacy: only incidentally, and in a heavily biased way. When we're unable to keep cultural bias out of SATs and IQ tests, I see little hope for a cross-species awareness test as dependent upon interpretation as the mirror test.

Even in the linked article Irene Pepperberg admits that the test is tricky because it relies heavily on interpretation. If a bird pecks at the mirror, is it because it thinks it is an aggressor, or because its inclination is to peck at everything? If a bird cowers from the mirror, is it because it's submitting to what it perceives as a dominant bird, or because the mirror is just so out of its experience that it is spooked? If a bird violently attacks the mirror, is it attacking another bird or an eldritch alien artifact? Since we can't ask the magpies why they react the way they do, we have no choice but to inject our own interpretation on top of their mental states, and that's difficult enough to do with members of our own species.

When Bernd Heinrich was doing the string pull experiments with ravens, he had to be very careful about how he introduced the experimental setup, because the tendency of adult ravens is to freak out at the sight of anything strange. Keas will perform the string pull task faster than ravens, but is that because keas are smarter, or because they aren't hampered by the same fear response as ravens? Look at all the superstitions surrounding mirrors, and factor in that we've seen them practically since birth. Throw a mirror at a raven who has never seen one before, and whatever result will be dominated by psychological factors unrelated to self-awareness.

So sure, a properly done mirror study can be valuable evidence, but just that-- another piece in a web of evidence. They aren't the be-all and end-all of personhood tests that many people seem to treat them as.
posted by Pyry at 1:49 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I visited my large extended family on my first trip to Belfast twenty-odd years ago, there seemed to be a lot of magpies around. On each occasion I was told that you're supposed to say, "Good Morning, Mister Magpie!". I was told this by maybe ten people in a weeks time.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2008


The humble magpie joins... Club Self-Awareness.

So, do they get a nice watch or something? Half-price at matinees?
posted by brundlefly at 1:57 PM on August 20, 2008


The humble magpie joins... Club Self-Awareness.
So, do they get a nice watch or something? Half-price at matinees?


No, we just call it "slavery" now, instead of "domestication".
posted by blue_beetle at 2:04 PM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks the gods that magpies are the only creature out of that group that swoop down from the sky and attack your head.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:31 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's trivial to write computer programs that recognize themselves, so mirror recognition is not sufficient for self awareness (they've also trained pigeons to be able to do this, and I don't think pigeons are commonly regarded as self-aware). Conversely, it's easy to imagine self-aware beings that would be unable to recognize themselves in mirrors for a variety of reasons (even humans occasionally attack mirrors because they are startled by them in the dark), so mirror recognition is not necessary for self awareness.

But training a pigeon and writing a program to recognize themselves are intrinsically different from a bird that is able to do so by itself. One could train a pigeon to use specific calls to "name" the difference between two objects such as a block of stone and a block of plastic. It wouldn't be that incredible, just an example of conditioning. If out of nowhere, with no prior input from humans, a group of pigeons used calls to tell apart stone and plastic I think that'd be pretty incredible. Intrinsically different.

Your second point doesn't really hold up. Maybe mirror recognition is not in every single situation necessary for self-awareness, but I don't believe anyone is arguing that. Just that if mirror recognition is observed, it is evidence for self-awareness. (And isn't it? Mirror recognition is literally recognizing one's self. Thus self-awareness.)

Similarly, to rephrase the point, you could say that "sculpting a statue yourself, specifically." is a good measure of self-awareness. But it's easy to imagine situations in which a human would not do so or be able to do so from the POV of an another party. Doesn't mean humans aren't self-aware. But if an animal did somehow sculpt a statue of themselves, it would be evidence for self-awareness. If we're saying (not in a mathematical sense) "A means B", notA doesn't also mean notB, and B doesn't always mean A.

Apples are are red. Notapples doesn't necessarily mean notred. Red doesn't necessarily mean apples.

mirror recognition means self-awareness. absence-of-mirror-recognition (as in a startled human) doesn't necessarily mean no-self-awareness. Self-awareness (humans) doesn't necessarily mean mirror-recognition (startled humans.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:45 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Shoot, I meant to add this in reply to your statement So sure, a properly done mirror study can be valuable evidence, but just that-- another piece in a web of evidence. They aren't the be-all and end-all of personhood tests that many people seem to treat them as.

Yes. I agree with that. But I think it is a greater piece of evidence than you are giving it credit for, working with the idea that the startled humans/trained pidgeons examples are the reason you discount it .
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:46 PM on August 20, 2008


So when my cats see another cat outside the window they hiss and yowl. But when they see themselves in the mirror they're all nonchalant. They don't even try to interact with the cat in the mirror like they would with the other cat in the house (more like "I wish Kibble-For-Brains here would stop sticking my nose in the damn mirror and let me go back to licking my butt"). How is that not self-aware?
posted by hangashore at 3:08 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


i observed some interesting behavior amongst a flock of mynah birds in the fiji islands. mornings, i sat on my front porch with a cup of tea and a box of ship's biscuits which i broke up into chunks and tossed on the ground, creating what might appear to be a feeding frenzy within a large flock of birds. they became very excited and noisy and fought amongst themselves for bits of biscuit. one bird with a crippled leg stood just outside the group with it's mouth open and wings spread. occasionally another bird would emerge from the fray and feed it a piece of the biscuit. what seemed even stranger is that it didn't appear to be the same bird each time. kinda restored my faith in birdmanity.
posted by kitchenrat at 3:18 PM on August 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


Sorry if the above read like a snark. Interesting find, jamaro.
posted by hangashore at 3:20 PM on August 20, 2008


I had the opportunity, ten years back, to actually talk to Gordon Gallup, the guy who created the mirror test in the first place. He was pretty keenly aware of the limitations of the test.

The key to the mirror test is, more than anything, that it represents an awareness of internal states. The animal moves, and sees the image in the mirror move. In order to make a correlation between itself and the image, it first has to be able to perform higher-order assessment of its current state. Without this, that critical assignment operation of self->image will never take place.

He had rhesus monkeys in cages where one whole side was a mirror for 17 years - their entire natural lives - that failed to either perform that higher-order assessment or critical assignment or both.

I don't personally believe it to be the end-all and be-all, but I think the ability to pass the self-awareness test is one of *many* prerequisites for self-awareness.
posted by Ryvar at 3:24 PM on August 20, 2008


How is that not self-aware?

Animals can react to a mirror in many, many ways. You've likely encountered a few cats in your time that react to people they don't like or human behavior they don't understand by simply ignoring them. That's what cats do.

To properly perform the mirror test, you have to train the animal to remove a mark you make on it, that it CAN see (if they lick off the food-dye spot on the top of their paw they get a treat, every time), and then start putting the spot somewhere it *can't* naturally see (like the tip of its nose or its forehead) and present it with a mirror. If it makes that critical assignment operation between self and mirror, then it'll try to remove the spot to get a treat.
posted by Ryvar at 3:32 PM on August 20, 2008


kitchenrat : kinda restored my faith in birdmanity.

Birdmanity? Yeah. I'm gonna steal that.

posted by quin at 3:32 PM on August 20, 2008


Fifty years ago you could have plausibly claimed that AI will be solved when we have a computer that can beat a human grandmaster in chess; that day has come and gone, yet we are not much closer to solving AI. In humans chess playing is the product of intelligence, but it is a mistake to assume that in all cases it must be the product of intelligence. There is nothing about chess that intrinsically requires intelligence to play it well.

Likewise, self recognition is a behavior that is the product of self-awareness in humans, but it is a mistake to assume that this is always the case. That is what I meant by my reference to self-recognizing programs.

Indeed, it is interesting that self-recognition is a remarkably simple skill for a computer, but that behaviors which even the dumbest of flighted birds do-- navigating through complex 3d environments on vision alone-- are ones that roboticists would trade their souls for.

If there were an evolutionary pressure for it, self-recognition could be evolved without any higher level cognition just like other complicated instinctual behaviors (flight, web building, nest building). Alternatively, it might arise as an artifact or side effect of other non self-aware processes.

To rule out this possibility, that self-recognition is an evolutionary parlor trick, we need to look for a constellation of evidence, and not a single smoking gun. Conversely, we shouldn't let the lacking of a smoking gun stand in the way of otherwise overwhelming evidence.
posted by Pyry at 4:52 PM on August 20, 2008


Who's a pretty bird? Who's a pretty bird? Who's a smart pretty bird? You are!

also, CAW!
posted by trondant at 10:12 PM on August 20, 2008


Man, I'm still trying to get a two year old to join club self-awareness. Beaten by a magpie! I'm sure she's going to be crushed. That is, if she knew what a magpie was.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:39 PM on August 20, 2008


Man, I'm still trying to get a two year old to join club self-awareness. Beaten by a magpie!

It'll be a couple more years before that happens. ;)
posted by tybeet at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2008


Well, yes, it would be wrong to say that self-recognition means that a creature has higher-level brain functions in every way. I was under the impression that self-awareness just meant that a creature has an understanding of itself as an individual, in which case self-recognition (recognizing oneself) seems like a good way to prove that.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2008






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