I talked to my students about intelligent animals in the morning yesterday, and again in the afternoon.
I wasn’t planning to talk about intelligent animals in the afternoon, but I wanted to show my student one or two of the extraordinary crow-videos I had watched in the morning. Such as this one, where a crow navigates eight separate stages to secure a bit of food.
I’m not actually all that convinced that the multiplication of stages is a properly adequate test of intelligence, however. A human might look at the puzzle and reason backwards from the objective, but for the crow there is only ever one thing to be done next. The crow simply does the next thing it can do. A more remarkable index of crow-brains comes from Japan, where crows have learnt to use pedestrian crossings:
Again, it is hard to know how far this behaviour is an indication of reasoning (impressive though it is), and how far it is a gradual adaptation to environment. We also read in class about a crow called Betty who, when presented with some food at the bottom of a tube and a straight piece of wire, used her beak to fashion a hook on the end of the wire before hoiking out the food. Making a tool is in fact very impressive.
For all my scepticism, crows clearly are unnervingly smart, and will probably one day rule the earth. Inevitably there’s a TED talk about just that – Joshua Klein has built a vending machine for crows, and envisions a future where crows will be trained to clean up garbage after concerts, or do search and rescue.