Here’s what it looked like through reversed binoculars…
Not to say that it was boring or a bit of a disappointment, but here was the dog’s reaction to it:
The dazzling intelligence of corvids — the family that includes ravens and crows — is well-documented. Studies have suggested that corvids rival chimps in cognitive self-control. Ravens can imagine being spied on, and crows display puzzle-solving skills comparable to those of apes and human children.
Research published Friday in the journal Science adds even more evidence to the pile. Scientists from Sweden’s Lund University found that ravens appear to have the ability to plan for the future.
Cognitive zoologist Mathias Osvath and graduate student Can Kabadayi presented five ravens with a series of puzzles. First, they taught the birds how to get a food treat out of a puzzle box using a specific tool. The ravens also got the opportunity to interact with the puzzle box with no tools, and with objects that would not open it.
They they presented the birds ― with no puzzle box visible ― an array of options, including the functional tool and a bunch of useless “distractor” objects. The puzzle box was installed 15 minutes later. The birds successfully selected the tool and used it to open the box 86 percent of the time, excluding one particularly resourceful female who figured out a way to open the box all by herself, with no tool.
A similar experiment involved teaching the ravens to use a token to “barter” with humans for a food reward. (Basically, the ravens gave the token to a person, and the person gave them a treat in return.) Again, the ravens were largely able to correctly select the token for future use when presented with a range of objects.
The ravens also demonstrated self-control skills: They were willing to forgo a reward in lieu of a better reward they had been trained to know would come 15 minutes later. Researchers presented the birds with a range of objects that included distractor objects, the useful tool or token, and a food treat. The treat was “less valuable” ― it’s not specified what this means, but presumably it was smaller and/or a food that ravens like less ― than the treat that ravens could later obtain by using the tool or token. (In control versions where no tool or token was available, the birds picked the immediate treat 100 percent of the time.)
Kabadayi told NPR that the birds — like humans — were less likely to delay gratification when they knew it would take longer to get a larger reward.
“We basically found that the further ahead in the future a reward for ravens, the less value it gets,” he said.
The researchers note in their paper that the ravens’ performance bore “conspicuous similarities” to the abilities of great apes in similar tasks.
One major reason all of this is so interesting ― besides the sheer awesomeness of how smart ravens are ― is that it suggests these complex cognitive abilities would have to have evolved independently of the abilities of mammals like apes and humans. That’s because apes and ravens have not shared a common ancestor for around 320 million years, according to NPR.
For that reason, the scientists wrote that their research “opens up avenues for investigation into the evolutionary principles of cognition and shows what the brains of some birds are capable of.”
Markus Boeckle, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge unaffiliated with the study, expressed excitement over the research in an interview with Scientific American, but had some reservations. For instance, he noted that the small sample size of five hand-raised ravens might not be representative of the species as a whole.
For all we know, he told the site, those birds could be “the Albert Einsteins [of] the raven world.”
For centuries, we told ourselves that we are special — that what separates humans from animals is our ability to reason.
But that belief has been increasingly undermined given evidence showing apes also have the intelligence to use tools, solve complex problems and even plan for the future.
Now the latest indignity: Ravens can do it, too.
On a rural research farm in Sweden, working with birds he raised from hatchlings, cognitive zoologist Mathias Osvath recently taught five ravens how to use a tool to open a puzzle-like box containing a treat. He then put his birds through a battery of tests in which they had to choose the tool, despite the temptation of a more immediate goody with the box nowhere in sight.
The birds didn’t bite. Only when the box was brought back did they use the tool they had been saving to secure the better reward — demonstrating self-control, advanced reasoning and planning.
“It’s not just the fact they have these skills independently. But to use them together to make these complex decisions, that’s what makes it so amazing,” said Osvath, in Lund, Sweden.
He compared his subjects’ calculations to the sophisticated decisions that humans make daily.
“Say you’re planning a trip to London, and you know how often it rains there. So you bring an umbrella, even though it’s not raining now where you are. That’s what we are talking about here, planning based on past experience,” Osvath said.
His study — published Thursday in the journal Science — is the latest in a growing body of work from cognitive zoologists that is tearing down assumptions about the limits of animals’ ability to reason.
Some of the more recent work has built on a 2006 study by researchers in Leipzig, Germany, who used puzzle tests such as Osvath’s raven experiment to show that apes could use tools and do planning. But scientists working with birds have long suspected some winged creatures could match the intellect of apes, particularly the wickedly smart ravens, crows and jays — members of the corvid family.
Several studies tried to measure and document those birds’ cognitive skills, mainly by focusing on their obsession with hiding food. Some found that ravens hid their food more quickly if they thought they were being watched. In other tests, scrub jays even moved their hidden food to a second spot once they realized they were being watched, in an apparent effort to ward off potential thieves.
Corvid scientists contended such behavior proved some birds have a cognitive awareness of what others might know or intend, as well as the ability to plan for future consequences. Critics shot down such conclusions, saying the birds’ reaction could be simple, instinctive responses to visual cues.
“It was a big argument, because it was difficult for some to imagine that birds could do these things, too,” said Thomas Bugnyar, a cognitive professor at the University of Vienna who has studied ravens for 20 years but was not involved in Osvath’s research. “People kept looking for holes or possible alternative explanations.”
Stepping squarely into the fray, the Swede set out to design a study to definitively prove the birds’ advanced abilities to reason.
Back in the mid-2000s, he had conducted some of the very studies hailed as proof of planning in apes. One of his most widely publicized (and amusing) reports, in fact, documented how a male chimpanzee at a Swedish zoo would leisurely collect stones and hide them in strategic places during early-morning hours just so that he could later hurl them at gawking visitors.
Osvath now hoped to do the same for ravens.
To conduct his experiment, he raised a group of ravens for five years. He witnessed their intelligence up close — playing games with them, watching as they developed complicated relationships with his graduate students. (One male raven particularly loved pecking his least favorite students on the head.)
Osvath had to modify the tool-based experiments he and others had conducted on apes, given birds’ lack of opposable thumbs. Instead of the sticks or drinking straws used with apes, the ravens got small rocks as tools to open the boxy contraption. For their reward, he provided a juicy, meaty dog kibble that they seemed to love.
In the end, the ravens matched the primates in every respect. On tests in which they had to barter for their reward by trading a specific token, the birds outscored the apes and even outperformed 4-year-old humans.
In an accompanying perspective, two University of Cambridge cognitive scientists called Osvath’s study “compelling evidence.” They wrote, “These results suggest that planning for the future is not uniquely human and evolved independently in distantly related species to address common problems.”
Based on past experiences, Osvath expects some people may be upset by his new study.
“When it comes to what animals can do compared to humans, there are those who cling to cognition as uniquely human,” he said in a phone interview, as his ravens squawked audibly in the background. “I think it has to do with religion, with this argument over whether animals have a soul or free will, and whether we are unique in the world.”
This obsession with human uniqueness, however, misses the entire goal of research into how animals think.
On that central question, he and others working with corvids believe their work poses major new questions given how birds and mammals went their separate ways on the evolutionary road some 300 million years ago. So did corvids and apes arrive at their sophisticated intelligence in totally different ways or based on similar factors and principles?
For evolutionary biologists, that and related questions loom large, with ramifications for everything from how intelligent life formed on Earth to whether extraterrestrial life might look or think like us.
“These are the real questions we should be asking about nature,” Osvath said. “Instead of just focusing on ourselves as humans, we should see ourselves as part of this world. If this study changes even one or two people’s minds about that, I will be happy.”
Part of our lot as human beings on planet earth is dominion over the plant and animal kingdoms, and as a by-product of our economic and cultural heritage, we have largely become indifferent to the suffering of animals. An indicator of the cruelest aspects of our nature.
This systemic disrespect for nature and her creatures is part of, or symptomatic of, a larger problem with modern society, the institutionalized perception that we are separate and independent of our environment. This dualism is part of the division of consciousness that is often noted in ancient texts as well as contemporary discussions of the characteristics of human consciousness.
Perhaps the most appalling sign of human kind’s dualistic trap is how we treat our friends in the animal kingdom. Yet this destructive idea is a tragic falsehood, as animals and plants alike are conscious, sentient and intelligent. The examples of this are everywhere today, and in this video, we see humpback whales clearly showing their appreciation to the humans who freed them from fishing nets.
We are now also discovering the deeper lives of plants, and in a research study spanning some 30 plus years, biologists have discovered the songs of plants.
LISTEN: Singing Plants at Damanhur | Des plantes qui jouent de la musique
Forest ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Colombia has uncovered the subterranean network of organisms that allow trees to communicate with one another.
It appears that animal consciousness is rising at present here on planet earth, in spite of wholesale neglect. Elephants can understand and correctly interpret human gestures, and chimpanzees are developing new behaviors and skills. Here, Kanzi the bonobo chimpanzee starts a campfire to roast marshmallows.
SEE: Bonobo builds a fire and toasts marshmallows
Chimps have now been observed using tools to fish for food, a sign of their continuing cognitive development.
Their learning process is now being compared to that of human children, and in the following video, an experiment demonstrates the similarities between the two.
COMPARE: Chimpanzee VS Human child learning
Many of the world’s most majestic animals are under direct threat of extinction today, and while most humans fail to appreciate this for what it really means, others continue to learn from animals, admiring their tenacity in the face of overwhelming pressure from humans. In the following case a pack of Andean bears works together to dismantle remote wildlife cameras.
RESPECT: Remote Cameras Reveal: Andean Bears Hate Paparazzi
Animals display a broad range of emotion as well, as is sometimes revealed in front of cameras, for example here, when a leopard exhibits compassion for the child of monkey it has just killed.
And animals also like to have fun, as is seen in this clip of dolphins getting high off puffer fish and having a good time in the wide open ocean.
You don’t have to look to hard to find signs of mankind’s disrespect, disregard, and distrust of nature. Raising awareness of our connection and dependence on the natural world in these materialistic times is the only way to counter the devastation. Fukushima, the Deepwater Horizon, mountain-top removal, deforestation, tar sands, fracking, plastic pollution, depleted uranium, animal cruelty, so on and on… there really is no end to our ignorance and disrespect.
Whatever your relationship to the natural world is, and no matter what kind of dystopian illusions you may have for our future, there is no escaping the truth that we are all products of nature, and as such dependent on the natural world for survival and happiness.
This article (Signs of Consciousness, Sentience and Intelligence in Nature Demand Our Respect) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Sofia Adamson and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution and author bio.
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Updated 11:02 AM ET, Fri October 7, 2016
One of the things that defines humans most is our ability to read others’ minds — that is, to make inferences about what others are thinking. To build or maintain relationships, we offer gifts and services — not arbitrarily, but with the recipient’s desires in mind. When we communicate, we do our best to take into account what our partners already know and to provide information we know will be new and comprehensible. And sometimes we deceive others by making them believe something that is not true, or we help them by correcting such false beliefs.
Man is not the pedestalled individual pictured by his imagination – a being glittering with prerogatives, and towering apart from and above all other beings. He is a pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organism, differing in particulars, but not in kind, from the pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organisms below and around him.
– (J. Howard Moore, The Universal Kinship)
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
– (Mahatma Gandhi)
Animals have no voice in our wilfully deaf and conveniently anthropocentric, speciesist culture. Despite their clearly having consciousness (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear) and high levels of sapiency as well as sentiency, (which any of us who have had any sort of genuine relationship with a non-human being cannot fail to recognize,) their many languages are not understood by the majority of our fellow humans.
The failure is not on the animals’ part; it is on ours. Not even familiar canine, feline and equine languages, or methods of communication, are comprehended by the vast majority, after all these many aeons of loyal, devoted companionship, friendship and service. And this despite the fact that our fellow beings, (and especially those who are in close relationship with us) have more than managed to learn our own languages. They understand and interpret not only our many, different verbal requests, whether in French, Russian, Japanese, Arabic or Spanish, (all too frequently delivered as arrogant, dominionist commands, unfortunately) but also our physical body languages and our energetic, non-verbal (if you like, telepathic) communications. They read our emotions.
But, tragically, our determined, utilitarianist habits of exploitative thinking and living, deny them any right of response or recognition. We have reduced our highly evolved, non-human kin to mere “things,” to “livestock”, to “experimental subjects,” to “specimens,” – to commodities, to so many “its.” Our blatantly self-serving reductionism has deliberately negated their individuality, their conscious existence and experience, their personalities and their souls. We have disingenuously dismissed all their emotional, psychological and spiritual complexities (which we have barely even begun to fathom, having not wanted to look for so long,) to a simplistic, mechanized “instinct.”
Ours is the herd mentality.
How guilty and remorseful we would all feel if they spoke back to us in a language we couldn’t fail to understand, and we were actually forced to listen! (The Bible’s story about Balaam’s ass makes just this point. And the Divine is clearly on the poor ass’s side.)
It is here that the enlightened writer needs to come in. Our moral and our creative duty is to convey their point of view; to translate it for those who seem unable (or unwilling) to comprehend it otherwise.
The writer is by nature and disposition an empath. The writer is sensitive, observant and importantly able to engage with the experience of another. The writer’s heart is mostly wide open. (Very few respond to the writings of a closed heart. Clever, clever, mind-only writings simply don’t touch us. They pass through our own minds as just another load of ego-centric baloney; ‘intelligent’ perhaps, but abstract, cold. The world is not transformed by them in any way at all.) A good writer feels, sees fully, hears everything, actually dares to bear witness to what is, on all levels – and thus, thankfully, has a different, more developed lens of perception to share.
Writers who write about animals, about their fellow beings, care. We care very deeply. Our compassion and understanding, our capacity to connect, are highly developed. That is why we write. Because we cannot just remain silent. Having uncovered, having discovered, having born witness to the living hell that is most animals’ experience at our hands, we have to make use of so often inadequate, man-made words to pierce through the cold walls of human indifference.
We have to touch. We have to bring viscerally to life. We have to use the power of truthfully observed detail, noticing everything (inside and out) feeling everything, to rekindle the embers of better being in us all, to remind us of our tragically long-forgotten inter-species unity, of our sameness, (and not our petty differences). We have to break down centuries of hardened, calloused indifference.
Abstractions and vast statistics simply don’t touch the majority. If they cannot, as readers, imagine themselves inside the experience of the suffering other, if they cannot identify, they will not be motivated to make personal changes, and to fight for change. Reading is a co-creative process – and it requires the writer to have gone there fully first; to powerfully evoke.
Writers who have the conscience, kindness and commitment to actually write about animals, who have the courage to look their suffering directly in the eye (a tough, torturous path, though very necessary) who have the devotion to their animal brothers and sisters to dedicate themselves to ending all the terrible oppression, all the atrocity, abuse and pain – must never be held back by that old, bitter and selfishly motivated accusation of “anthropomorphism!”
To empathise is not to fantasize or to project at all – but rather to recognise fellow suffering when we see, hear, smell, know and touch it. To empathise is to connect to the vivid reality of another. It is to make real, to embody the cosmic Golden Rule to “Do as you would be done by” and the Silver Rule to “Not do as you would not be done by.” It is love in action.
There is nothing sentimental whatsoever about this compulsion at all. It is, in fact, our highest calling. And there should be no apologies for it either.
Where would we be if we had failed to empathize with the many victims of the slave-trade, of vicious, racist and sexist attacks, of war, terrorism and famine? Where would all the children be, all the people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, all the political prisoners who suffered so long at human hands, if we had failed to finally empathize with their plight, to bring it to light so that others could feel it for themselves – and thus demand change?
By contrast, sentimentality is to imagine what is not there. It is to dump idealized longings onto others for our own selfish sakes. It is to bypass reality.
That is not what writers who empathize with their fellow beings do at all. Writers who empathize connect again, (where most have disconnected,) and report back. We do this in order to wake ourselves and others up, to shake us all out of our self-centred reveries, to pour a cold bucket of water over our conveniently slumbering consciences. We cry out with everything we have in us: “Have you seen what’s going on here? Will you please look! How can you bear it? Do something! We each have a moral responsibility! They are just like us – how can you not care?”
Writers who empathize force us all to look at what we each are doing, what we are colluding in, what weare contributing to. We are forced to take responsibility for our negative day-to-day choices that directly correlate, incrementally, to immense, unimaginable, abominable animal suffering. Empathic writing cuts through all those guilt-filled attempts at avoidance and dismissal, the desperate pleas of “don’t tell me, don’t tell me – I don’t want to know!”
I say it again, there must be no apologies. It is our violent culture that is so wrong, not the courageous writers who dare to expose this violence. It is not the writer who should modify his or her approach for fear of upsetting the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders, for fear of public ridicule – but rather the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders who should hang their heads in shame.
The time will come when we will look back on this longest of struggles, this most devilish of slaveries – the enslavement of our vulnerable, innocent, animal kin, (who should have had our protection,) as we now do on human slavers, on human murderers, on rapists and paedophiles. (Let’s not forget all the ‘licensed’ animal brothels currently open across the world, and the crush video sadists who are making a fortune in this twenty-first century.) It is the unenlightened who need to apologize and repent for their cruel abominations – not the empathic writers who seek to understand and communicate the hidden truth.
I would rather be accused of “anthropomorphism!” and “sentimentality!” any day, than of animal rape or animal murder. I would rather care too deeply (is there such a thing?) than not enough. I would rather be accused of being over-soft, than over-hard. I would rather love, than hate. And I would far rather be defined as a bunny-hugger than a bunny vivisector, a bunny killer, a bunny torturer, an angora wool-puller, a blood-covered, live animal skinner.
Let us never be ashamed. Let us write passionately and movingly on behalf of our suffering, animal kin, in order to shine the most powerful light we possibly can, the Divine light of creativity, on the world’s man-made darkness. Let us break open hearts in the process, so that healing can begin. As Francis of Assisi said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”
Let us write without any fear of retribution or of societal reprimand. Let us remember the billions of animal victims instead, and forget our human accusers.
One day they will thank us for it. One day they will try and claim they too were part of the resistance.
Dogs can read human emotions. So, it appears, can horses. Whales have regional accents. Ravens have demonstrated that they might be able to guess at the thoughts of other ravens — something scientists call “theory of mind,” which has long been considered a uniquely human ability. All of these findings have been published within the past several weeks, and taken together they suggest that many of the traits and abilities we believe are “uniquely human” are, in fact, not so unique to us.
That statement probably sounds as if it is veering perilously close to anthropomorphism, and if you know anything about research concerning animal behavior, you likely know this: Anthropomorphism is bad. Animals are animals, and people are people; to assume that an elephant, for example, experiences joy in the same way a human does is laughably unscientific. This has been the prevailing mode of thought in this line of scientific inquiry for most of the last century — to staunchly avoid, and even ridicule, any research project that dared to suggest that animals might be thinking or feeling in the same way that humans do.
But new studies like these, along with a slew of recent books by respected biologists and science writers, are seriously considering the inner lives of animals. Now some prominent scientists are arguing that, though the impulse was well-intentioned, decades of knee-jerk avoidance of all things anthropomorphic may have mostly served to hold this field back. “It ruined the field,” biologist and author Carl Safina told Science of Us. “Not just held it back — it’s ruined the field. It prevented people from even asking those questions for about 40 years.”
The theme of Safina’s book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel pairs nicely with a forthcoming title from famed primatologist Frans de Waal called Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Both scientists make the case for something the biologist Gordon Burghardt called “critical anthropomorphism” — using your own human intuition and understanding as a starting point for understanding animal cognition. “Thus, saying that animals ‘plan’ for the future or ‘reconcile’ after fights is more than anthropomorphic language: These terms propose testable ideas,” de Waal writes.
With all the patrician talk about who were the original occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, I was planning to write a post about the nonhuman animals being the only inhabitants for millions of years until about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago.
But Marc Bender beat me to it, with the following comment:
“…humans are not indigenous to the Americas. The original inhabitants of the wildlife refuge are, of course, the wildlife.”
Likewise, I was going to inaugurate the word, “nonhumanist” to classify those of us whose ethical values incorporate nonhuman needs and interests. But when I looked it up, I found that “nonhumanistic” is already in use (in reference to those who are Not humanistic).
Meanwhile, that same search produced this related article:
Some people think atheism is synonymous with humanism. If you’re an atheist, you must be a humanist.
Not so. I am an atheist but not a humanist.
Let’s look at at what humanism is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, humanism is “a rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”
I can already distance myself from this position, but before I say why, let’s get more specific.
The “standard” positions of humanists are summarized in the latest (2003) Humanist Manifesto, which states:
It’s #3 that bothers me. I do not believe that moral values are derived from human desires. I believe moral values are derived from desires, period. To focus on human desires and ignore all other desires in the universe is blatant speciesism.
But can’t I just sign on with humanism, understanding there’s one qualification to be made on point #3?
No, for speciesism is central to humanism. Heck, it’s in the name of the thing. Humanity is the whole point of humanism. Now that is good progress beyond religious ethics, but it’s not progress far enough.
I count humanists as my brothers as sisters. We’re fighting for the same things. Mostly.
But if this post persuades you to cancel membership in a humanist association, please don’t quit activism altogether. Please join another organization that will help you live out your moral values.
That way, we can all work together to make this world a better place, for all of us.
– See more at: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=4630#sthash.zfGe8n2A.dpuf