Been reading Frans De Waal's Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? and wanna start a mega-thread on animal intelligence. Will post excerpts as they come up.
Starting the thread after discovering a Wikipedia entry on causal reasoning in non-human animals:
New Caledonian crows have been studied for their ability to reason about causal events. This intelligent species uses tools in a way that even chimpanzees cannot, making complex tools to bring food within reach.
Experimental work with this species suggests that they can understand hidden causes in a way that was previously believed uniquely human. In the first of two experiments a crow was confined, with food in a tube inaccessible to the crow without some effort. A human entered the enclosure and went behind a curtain, waving a stick near the food tube through a hole in the curtain. When the human left the enclosure the crow confidently moved toward the food area and retrieved the reward, knowing that the human cause of the moving stick (albeit invisible) was gone. In the second experiment, no human entered or exited the enclosure. In this case the crow moved toward the food uncertainly, not knowing what caused the stick to move.
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I'm betting on Corvid's for first meaningful communication with another species, BTW.
They have this really interesting brain structure:
and the upshot is that they seem to have a crazy number of neurons for actually managing high-level behavior, but it's arranged very differently from primates. This has lead some researchers to suggest that they have emotions. But one has to wonder, Nagel-style, how on earth will we ever know what their emotions feel like?
This one's a bit of background on ethology as a discipline, that's potentially relevant to TIS stuff:
It is less known that ethology, too, rose amid skepticism about subjective methods. Tinbergen and other Dutch ethologists were shaped by the hugely popular illustrated books of two schoolmasters who taught love and respect for nature while insisting that the only way to truly understand animals was to watch them outdoors. This inspired a massive youth movement in Holland, with field excursions every Sunday, that laid the groundwork for a generation of eager naturalists. This approach did not combine well, however, with the Dutch tradition of "animal psychology," the dominant figure of which was Johan Bierens de Haan. Internationally famous, erudite, and professorial, Bierens de Haan must have looked rather out of place as an occasional guest at Tinbergen's field site in the Hulshorst, a dune area in the middle of the country. While the younger generation ran around in shorts holding butterfly nets, the older professor came in suit and tie.
young Tinbergen soon began to challenge the tenets of animal psychology, such as its reliance on [human] introspection. Increasingly, he put distance between his own thinking and Bierens de Haan's subjectivism... Tinbergen is nowadays best known for his Four Whys: four different yet complementary questions that we ask about behavior. But none of them explicitly mentions intelligence or cognition. That ethology avoided any mention of internal states was perhaps essential for a budding empirical science. As a consequence, ethology temporarily closed the book on cognition and focused instead on the survival value of behavior. In doing so, it planted the seeds for sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral ecology.
In other words, by skipping wrought and laden debates over whether animals could "empathize," or if they "could feel curiosity," ethology just looked at functional behavior: the animal explores his environment.
One of the first studies De Waal talks about was run by Wolfgang Kohler on the Canary Islands in the early 1910s. Kohler was uniquely "open-minded about animal cognition"—in stark contrast to the prevailing theories of the day. A "wait-and-see attitude" versus "trying to control his animals to specific outcomes." Kohler strung up a banana from the ceiling, left a buncha wooden boxes around the room; the monkeys apparently, after jumping/throwing objects/begging humans for help, would have a eureka moment and start stacking boxes into towers (up to 4 boxes high). His findings back up our intuitions about cultural evoltuion: "Kohler remarked that once a solution was discovered, the apes found it easier to solve similar problems, as if they had learned something about the causal connections."
Frequently I have seen a young chimpanzee, after trying in vain to get its reward by one method, sit down and reexamine the situation as though taking stock of its former efforts and trying to decide what to do next... More startling by far than the quick passage from one method to another, the definiteness of acts, or the pauses between efforts, is the sudden solution of problems... Frequently, although not in all individuals or in all problems, correct and adequate solution is achieved without warning and almost instantly.
On the one hand, none of this stuff is revolutionary—stacking boxes isn't very hard!—but I think what De Waal wants us to walk away with is the combination of sudden revelation and "unswavering purposefulness"—a solution arrives cognitively and is just there, the chimp carries it out to its correct execution even as the (irregularly shaped boxes) tumble, or collapse, the chimp keeps building them—as if it has had a vision of the end-state, and is working toward it.
Can't find a video online, but in Blue Planet II, they catch sea lions doing coordinated, strategic tuna hunting. I think @veryragged watched the episode with me, it's the "Coasts" one if folks are interested. Here's the Scientific American coverage.
Normally there was one sea lion that would instigate the hunt and we could hear them all calling to each other - almost like players on a football field. However, it wasn't until Dan got the drone in the air and we watched the footage back that their game plan became obvious - there was always a driver which was often a younger sea lion we called 'tag boy', with a small yellow tag on his flipper. You'd then see him peel off and block the deepest channel, keeping the fish in the shallows, the other sea lions would then flank the main group of fish and drive them ever shallower.
Tuna are huge fish that can weigh around 100 pounds. Normally, a single sea lion would not be able to bring down one giant tuna alone.
In other words, sea lions are able to maximize outcomes in a stag-hunt game.
Costa suspects sea lion cooperative hunting behavior is similar to that of wolves. When their prey is small, the wolves hunt on their own, he says. But when it is large and can be shared, they hunt in groups. After all, he notes, “In Spanish sea lions are called lobos marinos, or sea wolves!”