Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why "bird brain" shouldn't be considered a slur


Imagine there's something you want to get that you can't reach and you have a straight piece of wire. How would you get it? Even a child knows that you bend the end of the wire into a hook and use it to snag the object of your desire.

"So simple a child could do it," but not an animal --many people long thought that this was a uniquely human capability that distinguished humans from the so-called lower animals (although there always were individuals who loved animals and watched them closely who knew better). In recent years animal behavioral scientists have demonstrated that this is much too restrictive a view, based more on a need to maintain some sense of human superiority -- perhaps to make it easier to exploit animals -- than on reality. Cognition in the animals world is far more complex and far-ranging than previously thought.

You can see it in action in this remarkable video of a problem-solving crow. Amazing what a creature with a tiny brain and without opposable thumbs can improvise in the way of a tool.

It does make you wonder whether our view of what's going on inside the brain is only in its infancy. We think of cognition as something that arises out of the connections between networked neurons. But the neuronal network of a crow is about the size of a pea. Makes you wonder what's going on. You'd think this little computer would already be taxeddoes the processing power for creativity, play and improvisation come from anyhow?

Maybe there's something else going on. I've long wondered whether the real processing in the brain is actually going on within neurons, rather than between them. Maybe our network of neurons is just the body's internal internet, and maybe each nerve cell connected by the network is a self-contained biological computer itself.

Just a thought.

Via Nataraj Hauser.

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