Monday, June 06, 2011

WisCon Panel: Evolving Animal Intelligence

All this week, I'll be posting my notes from the WisCon panels I attended. These notes are posted pretty much the way I wrote them, with an occasional explanation added.


This is a topic of interest to many SF writers (including me, which is why I attended this panel)

Humans are animals; this topic refers to nonhuman animals

How do we define intelligence?

Culture=shared learned behaviors (animals have culture too)

Psychologists don’t have a good definition of intelligence

Tree shrews have largest brain/body ratios

Do you need dextrous limbs or a large frontal lobe?

Janet Kagen—test for intelligent species—artifacts, art, and language

Artifacts are easy to find in the animal kingdom; art isn’t

Cleverness is manipulation; sapience is thinking forward and backward and with symbols

Emergent properties—whole greater than sum of their parts

We can learn to read because we can recruits parts of our brain that didn’t evolve to read for this task

Animal examples:

Bees, dolphins, bonobos, ravens, parrots, crows, squid, octopi, elephants (can mimic human speech, bury their dead, teach their children culture), bears, raccoons

Birds don’t have hands, but they can do some manipulation with their feet

Our methods of looking for intelligence in animals has changed over the years, but it’s still too shallow and sterile

You can’t test for it, but you can see it happen in the wild

Ravens in Yellowstone follow wolves to share in their kills

Wolves will also look for ravens circling and diving

Animals who work in a pack have some social intelligence

Intelligence is thing-oriented (for very broad definition of thing)

Whale songs go out of fashion or can be mutated into a new form

Take things from the world into your mind and do something with them

Intelligence—learn from past experiences (do you learn from your personal experience or from others?)

The Animal Dialogues (unusual encounters with animals)

Anecdote about ravens caching owl feathers and coming back to commemorate the owl’s murder

Humans are looking for symbolic behavior from animals because we’re looking for company

Can an animal recognize itself when it looks in the mirror?

Cephalods are very strange, generally solitary, don’t do much child-rearing, yet squids have a complex color-signaling system (visual language?)

Humans are wired to notice patterns and pick up grammar

Octopi can use tools but don’t have language, but squid are the other way around

Octopus can get out of its tank, cross a room, get a fish, and return to its tank

Jellyfish have no central nervous system but can still move independently of current

Whale males sing more than the females

Domesticated animals are freed of instinct (because they’re protected), so they can learn to make choices

Humans are not the keepers of free will

Having choices leads to problem-solving

Dogs have been domesticated to deal with many different environments (as opposed to sheep or poultry)

Dogs/humans evolved symbiotically (we outsourced different tasks to each other)

Dogs are most often part of interspecies relationships (companions to other animals)

Bees can recognize shapes and use them to navigate

Social insects can accomplish amazing things as a superorganism

Isolation on an island allows an animal to lose traits

Wolves are smarter than dogs when it comes to problem-solving, but dogs are better at picking up human cues

Are prehistoric tools always the product of early humans, or could they have been used by chimps?

Example—a rock may have been used to break open eggs for thousands of years

Birds are related to dinosaurs—could the dinosaurs have been intelligent?

Africa is poor in metal, so had to use plant material and stones—inventiveness may have gone into language

We experience a divide between what our instincts and our minds tell us to do

Language grows and evolves, but bee dances don’t

Do whales and elephants tell stories?

The “uplift” story—animals being genetically engineered to have human intelligence—what are the ethics?

Animals do have objections to breeding programs and lack of mate choice—look at zoos

We’ve already affected the niches of all animals on this planet; it may be nit-picking at this point to complain about uplifting

Do we have any data about what we’re like in the wild?

How smart are we without our support system?

In most intelligent species, there’s a long childhood

If we can’t figure out what intelligence is in humans, how can we find it in anything else?

Humans raised by animals are stunted and die young (they reach a point where they can never learn language; however, some normally raised people can still learn to read as adults)

Primates can learn 50-100 words without grammar; this is the limit for a human teenager who has never been exposed to language

Alex the gray parrot—(was an only child)—had the concept of zero found it on his own, manipulated the researchers into demonstrating to them that he had the concept of zero

Freakanomics.com—taught chimps value of currency; unfortunately, the chimps learned to steal and prostitute themselves for money

2 comments:

Rogue Mutt said...

That last one is hilarious.

It's always dumb when stupid people want to talk about how superior we are to all the animals of the world. We're only better in our manipulation of tools.

Eric said...

If we can't figure out what intelligence is in humans, how can we find it in anything else?

Great one here. It is the pinnacle of hubris if we assume this question is unimportant. After all, if there really is intelligent life out there, perhaps they will decide we are not worthy of intelligent interaction based on this lack of a concrete answer.

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