Friday, August 20, 2004

Stupid Humans, Smart Birds.

Here is an article about a study done with a tribe in Brazil. These peoples' number system only has words for one, two, and many. Accurately working with quantities larger than three is basically impossible for them and they lack any concept of mathematics. Lacking the number zero is one thing, but this is something else...

One the other end of the spectrum, we have some very smart birds. These crows have abstract spatial reasoning and tool making skills only exceeded by one species: Homo sapiens.

In one experiment they were given two bits of wire and a long plastic tube with a small basket of food at the bottom. One wire was straight, the other had one end bent into a hook. The purpose of the experiment was to see if they would be able to figure out how to use the hooked wire to get the food and then choose to use that one there after. On the fifth trial the male got frustrated and flew off with the hooked wire. The female then took the straight wire, jammed it under some duct tape, bent the end into a primitive hook, and then used the bent wire to get the food.

Before this experiment none of the birds had observed humans or anyone else bending metal wire, nor worked with wire in any previous experiments. The crow deduced that wire could be bent simply by observing two wires: one bent and one straight. Pretty clever, huh?


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