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Are animals as smart, or as dumb, as we think they are?

Does my dog only think of eating, sleeping and chasing squirrels? Does my girlfriend’s cat really have the capacity to plot my accidental death? Are cows just walking hamburgers and pigeons intent on world…

Measuring animal intelligence is extremely complex, yet some animals may be smarter than we think. Rader of Gin

Does my dog only think of eating, sleeping and chasing squirrels? Does my girlfriend’s cat really have the capacity to plot my accidental death? Are cows just walking hamburgers and pigeons intent on world domination?

Opinions vary on the answers to these questions. But where do we get our opinions on animal intelligence?

Our understanding of, and feelings for and against different species seem to be linked to our cultural and personal prejudices. We have compassion for those closely related to us. Mammals are viewed smarter than birds and reptiles, while we think of less related species, like insects, as non-thinking machines.

The reality is intelligence is a complex concept, difficult to define and hard not to base around our own abilities.

Measuring intelligence is even more difficult. With humans we can converse or give them a written test. But the lack of language and opposable thumbs makes it extra tricky to measure intelligence in animals.

Koko the gorilla has been taught to communicate via sign language

So how are researchers changing their approach to measuring animal intelligence? Today, animal cognition scientists avoid viewing humans as the apex of intellect and look at animals not as dumb furry humans, but as intelligent species that view the world in fundamentally different ways.

Tool-use is a form of intelligence long thought to be exclusive to humans. Examined in many species, only few have succeeded. When elephants were first tested, experimenters gave them a stick and placed food just out of reach. In this setup, elephants failed. Elephants knew where the food was placed and could grab the stick, but would not use it to obtain the food.

Later, researchers realised a species bias in the experimental design. Grabbing the stick with its trunk inhibited the elephant’s ability to smell and feel; senses that elephants rely on much more than vision. So researchers tried something different. They added a box to the experiment. The result? Elephants kicked the box until able to stand on it to reach the food.

Crows have adapted to their urban surroundings

A less widely studied cognitive capacity is empathy. For a very long time experiments seemed to show that non-human primates were selfish. Monkeys were allowed to either take food or push food to a companion. Monkeys would more often take food for themselves suggesting general selfishness. But perhaps the monkeys didn’t understand the experimental setup.

In a recent study monkeys learnt that two different types of tokens would exchange for food: one type would gain food for them only while the other token type provided food for both monkeys. This set-up proved successful. Monkeys preferred tokens that rewarded both individuals.

These are two simple examples among many where animals seemed void of a certain type of intelligence. But in reality they only failed solving a task the way we expected a human would. Negative findings tell us only so much. By designing a test for the specific species in mind, researchers were able to reveal the animals' true cognitive capacities.

As tough as it is to define intelligence and to measure animals’ cognitive capacities, research has provided ample evidence that animals across many different species have complex intelligence.

Squirrels fake hiding seeds when they know others are watching. Crows can construct hooks out of wire to use as tools. Chimpanzees have better short-term memories than humans.

Deep in thought. Chimps have a better short term memory than humans. Dmitri Fedortchenko

Bumblebees can solve some problems faster than computers. Rats feel empathy for their species companions. Honey bees can recognise faces. Magpies are self-aware.

And Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm with only 302 brain cells, can learn and remember.

For some, hearing that animals are intelligent is enthralling. But for many, losing their exclusivity on intelligence is discomforting.

Several studies have shown that we rate animals’ intelligence much lower if and when we eat them, a form of denial that may help us feel less guilty.

Our consumption of animals affects our perception of their intelligence Boston Public Library

Even harder to take for some is that humans may not be as smart as we once thought. More and more research is showing that the seemingly complicated logic and intellect we routinely use to solve problems relies heavily on short cuts known as heuristics. Put simply, this comes very close to what we consider instincts.

All this means is that we should remind ourselves that we are animals living in a world with other animals. All species are of course different from each other. But we’re really not so dissimilar. What we once thought was restricted to humans is showing up not only in animals like us, but also in organisms much different from us.

From our closest relatives, like other primates and mammals, to animals far from us on the evolutionary tree, like birds and insects, all biological organisms have some level of intelligence. To be successful, they all need to solve the problems they face in life.

Finding out how they solve these problems will take clever problem solving of our own. And along with it, a change in perspective.

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80 Comments sorted by

  1. Jane Middlemist

    citizen

    Many pet - owners have instinctively understood the points made in this article, e.g. because of the ways that animals give and receive affection and sympathy - and it's not about "food rewards" but seems like genuine friendship.

    I wonder how many meat eaters will bother to read this excellent article.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Being a meat eater I will answer Jane.

      Its fascinating, but nothing that I didn't already know - given that I have studied animals and my wife is an animal scientist.

      They still taste great.

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    2. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Jane Middlemist wrote; "I wonder how many meat eaters will bother to read this excellent article." Interesting question. Many sentient meat eaters cannot read.
      Raises the question; how many animal owners realise their pet could eat them?

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    3. Nick McKenzie

      Account Manager

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      I would argue Jane that most pet owners have the warped view touched on in the article where we confuse human intelligence and attributes with what we see or don't see in our pets - as the author states "Our understanding of, and feelings for and against different species seem to be linked to our cultural and personal prejudices. We have compassion for those closely related to us. Mammals are viewed smarter than birds and reptiles, while we think of less related species, like insects, as non-thinking machines"......on the other hand a lot of hunters who have to really study their quarries behaviour in order to trap, catch or shoot it - end up admiring or appreciating the animals unique intelligence to a very high degree, and in my view have a deeper understanding of it...

      I'm just saying that acknowledging an animals unique intellignece doesn't necessarily require one to be emotionally attached to it, perhaps the opposite would be more effective...

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    4. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      "....What sort of animal is your wife mike?..."

      She would be a member of the species 'homo sapien', which is of the order 'primates', the class 'mammalia' and the order 'chordata'.

      But I prefer to think of her as my little sexual animal.

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    5. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Rather than long-suffering, I prefer to think of her as benefitting from my attention.

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    6. CH Soames

      Cytogeneticist

      In reply to Nick McKenzie

      It's also possible that, emotional attachment or not, living at close quarters with another animal for lengthy periods of time affords the observer the opportunity to pay closer, more sustained attention and to perceive attributes that briefer, more narrowly focused encounters might not provide. The limiting factor on this would be the degree and types of control exerted over the other animal/willingness on the human's part to permit natural behaviour. Strictly controlled environments in which other…

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    7. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to CH Soames

      "....We congratulate ourselves on teaching dolphins to bounce balls, safe under the condescending illusion that they had no language....

      CH, you may be interested to know that we have worked out some elements of dolphin language. Apparently they have names, and will call each other using those names:
      http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/07/17/1304459110.abstract

      Now I accept that 'names' is just an anthropocentric way of describing this, but hey - I'm human.

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  2. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    And other animals perceive the world in many ways different from how we do. Just look at micro-bats or dolphins and their ultrasonic lives. Or cats and olfaction - it seems that our cats spend more than 50% of their time in just sniffing their environment - one can only wonder at what' s going through their minds, but it really must be quite a different world from ours.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Paul

      In some of my 'stoner' moments I have deep thoughts about how other species perceive the world.

      We see the world in a certain way because we are largely visual creatures - albeit with a fairly limited spectrum range - with hearing being a secondary sense and smell very much tertiary. Because of this, our brains construct an 'image' of the world for us to navigate by.

      Other species must be completely different, and their brains must contruct an entirely different worldview. Dogs use smell as their primary sense, while bats use sound. Sharks and rays have electro sensors, and bird can navigate by the Earth's magnetic field. What sort of 'image' is formed in the brain of these animals would be beyond our comprehension. However, we can get a clue about this as there are some people who have a 'miswiring' of the brain so that they 'see' smells as different colours.

      We need to realise that our 'reality' is very different from the 'reality' experienced by other species.

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    2. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Love your thinking there Mike. As humans we have language - I try to think in images sometimes; something that we all did when we were newly born. I do know when being a bit creative I often assemble materials or references without any conscious thought - the meaning revealing itself as I work, quite freaky sometimes.

      However, the better our language skills the better we can communicate to others - even other animals, that our dogs can follow simple sentences is amazing considering that such a thing as language is normally outside their frame of reference.

      On the viewing of the TV screen - we understand the perspective of the televised image, although my cat enjoys dabbing at football players running across the screen it has no comprehension that these are images of large humans.

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    3. Paul Rogers

      Manager

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Amazingly, Dianna, my cat liked the same thing -- football! I guess the rapid movements attract attention, but the little witch would sit there about a metre away and watch, with slight head movement either way.

      I think she was a Cats supporter ;-). Or maybe the Roosters!

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    4. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Paul

      For some reason AFL brought out a greater degree of attention - not so much other games. As for preferred team, undoubtedly the Cats, despite attempts to convert to supporting the Saints.

      Cats have never been much for the underdog.

      ;(

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  3. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    Utterly excellent piece of gear - many thanks for giving me such a good start to my day.

    Intelligence is a very dodgy notion up close - particularly when it comes to measuring it.

    Folks with a bit of time (50 mins) might enjoy this rather odd documentary on the octopus ... a critter I'm increasingly convinced is some alien visitor ... life but not as we know it: http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/33248835731/Aliens-Of-The-Deep-Sea

    I've been intrigued by these clever critters for many…

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    1. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Thanks Peter, I haven't seen that documentary.

      I think cephalopods are the most intriguing species. I've encountered them while skin diving (which is very unnerving at first), and loved checking in on the giant red octopus while installing software for an exhibit at Vancouver Aquarium. It was always very active and inquisitive first thing in the morning (before the general public arrived). If they weren't so prone to stress, I'd love to have one as a pet just to explore its learning capabilities.

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Craig Read

      I often see octopi while diving. I have a great pic of a blue ringed octopuswith all its rings brightly showing from underneath Edithburgh jetty in SA. They are fascinating to observe.

      Mind you, I think cuttlefish are much more interesting, and very intelligent as well. I have often wondered what brain process is required for them to be able to match their colouration to that of the background - do they see the colour of the background and then consciously change the colour of their skin to match? There is no similar colouration capability in humans, so we can have absolutely no frame of reference to compare, which is why we should stop with the nonsense about 'sentience' as some sort of standard for how we deal with animals. It's just an anthromorphic rubbish, and does not adequately consider how animals really are.

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    3. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Yeah .. cuttlefish are really wild critters aren't they? Spooky.

      My interest in cephalopds - aside from finding a really big octopus in a discarded beer bottle when I was a kid) came about from their decentralised brain structures (I think I felt an affinity) and that is how they can perform those wonderful lightshows in their skin so rapidly.

      We have a lot to learn about how things can be put together to improve speed and responsiveness ... a neural network system - useful for everything from computers to traffic management and power grids.

      The truly bizarre part of that Italian documentary I posted above is the extraordinary suggestion that octopus are actually learning to communicate and learn from each other - that they are on the hinge of some evolutionary great leap forward... well worth a watch Mike.

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    4. Sam Jandwich

      Policy Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter - have you ever sought to establish your dog's opinion of octopi? If he's into soccer, then I can imagine the octopus's talent for predicting the results of soccer matches might leave him a bit nonplussed. However if he shows an interest in playing with octopi or trying to round them up, then could we perhaps conclude that it's not so much whether his team wins or loses that is your dog's primary interest in soccer, but more just the action - and this might say something about his level of intelligence?

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    5. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Sam Jandwich

      He didn't seem to show much interest while I was watching the occy docu posted above... might have been more keen had there been a ball involved.

      He doesn't seem to barrack for any particular team but he does get very animated when there is a goal or a near miss ... sensing the crowd and commentary I guess. Not interest in league or cricket at all.

      He really loves Inspector Rex which I put on for him as a weekly treat.

      Buster - the old collie cross - on the other hand is utterly oblivious to the TV regardless of what's on.

      From what I can understand of dog vision - the accepted wisdom is that the canine eye doesn't read a screen at all well - but Shredder has very odd eyes indeed - looks quite goaty and satanic in fact.

      Here's some dog/TV science: http://sciencenordic.com/do-dogs-see-what%E2%80%99s-happening-tv

      Next he'll be wanting his own X box!

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    6. Eric Thacker

      Viticultural Contractor

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      There was a segment on (I think) the ABC program Catalyst a year or more ago about dogs that did or didn't watch TV. It seems that the shape of the dog's skull and hence the relative positioning of their eyes had a lot do do with this. The presenter had a pug who watched TV avidly whereas a kelpie cross didn't. However the kelpie could catch frisbies and balls, whilst the pug was hopeless at such activities.

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    7. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Thoroughly excellent Eric ... all these certainties turning out to be a lot less certain than our tendency to generalise would allow.

      One of the odd things about Shredder (who has quite a bit of dingo in his DNA) is that the breed is notorious for being unruly and unmanageable - they essentially stay puppies for about three years ... sigh. That also suggests smarts and learning to me. As does his insatiable curiosity. He also climbs. I've got 2 metre chicken wire fences around my yard - no problem ... over the top like a trainee on a obstacle course. The end result is that most of the neighbours here want to kill him. Me too on occasion.

      There is very little in my life that Shredder hasn't got his teeth into - hence the name.

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    8. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I saw that doco and was impressed by octopus leaning and problem solving abilities. The suggestion was made that they could be a species which will grow in abilities given enough time.

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    9. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Sam Jandwich

      You have a very odd name. Clearly you are not complying with the rule that you must use your true name. :D

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    10. Denise Wilson

      Retired teacher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike...you imagine early humans behaving in a similar way to bonobos and yet you dismiss the concept of sentience in other species as anthropomorphic nonsense?

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    11. the Krrib

      Vet Nurse

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I fully agree. "There is no similar colouration capability in humans, so we can have absolutely no frame of reference to compare, which is why we should stop with the nonsense about 'sentience' as some sort of standard for how we deal with animals. It's just an anthromorphic rubbish, and does not adequately consider how animals really are."

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    12. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Gee that's a veryStanley Kubrick moment there isn't it Mike? And the clever little bugger has four hands while we traded our lower set in for running feet.

      You watch those damn squiddly things though Mike ... 8 hands ... and everything strangely prehensile and smart enough to plot ultimate victory! We all know how bonobos spend virtually every waking moment - but occies just slide around plotting and apparently conspiring for global domination.

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    13. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      '....Mike...you imagine early humans behaving in a similar way to bonobos and yet you dismiss the concept of sentience in other species as anthropomorphic nonsense? ..."

      Not quite - I imagine bonbobos behaving in a similar way to early humans. But given that we are both primates and have a common ancestor, that isn't very surprising.

      And yes, sentience is anthropomorphic nonsense. But it is hardly surprising that humans, bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang utans share similar behavioural traits, but to ascribe these characteristics to other species is foolish.

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    14. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter

      There appears little doubt that octopi possess extremely well developed higher order analytical skills. I have only had a chance to watch short snippets of your SBS video, but I saw another one of a laboratory where things used to go missing at night and no-one could work out what was happening. They set up some cameras, and discovered that one of the octopi was opening the lid of its tank at night, climbing down and walking across the floor to steal things from the shelf, then getting back into its tank and closing the lid to avoid discovery. Very clever.

      And have you ever seen the movie "Galaxy Quest". Very funny movie, and the aliens look just like octopi when they assume their real form.

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    15. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      Henry

      Love the antics of the octopus - unfortunately they are not a long lived species.

      Other sentient animals such as elephants, cetaceans have long life spans along with primates and can pass on knowledge.

      However, I have always believed that tentacles beat opposable thumbs - given enough evolution who knows what cephalopods can achieve.

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    16. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Afternoon Ms A ...

      Yes I was most disappointed when I discovered that I'd be lucky to get three years out a pet octopus ... seems a rather anomolous business that - we tend to associate 'intelligence' with longevity - a big investment for such a short-term result. But cephalopod 'intelligence' seems to operate very differently on a number of levels - not the least their being rather antisocial critters by most accounts. But then so are orang utans we reckon.

      One of the more graphic experiences…

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    17. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Crikey, Mr O.

      "a herd of big red angry buggers "

      I was picturing a gang of Orang-utans, except I thought to my self, not thousands left in wild, finally realising you meant angry octopuses and horrifying to the max - 3 year life span or not.

      Did these errant cephalopods repeat this action? Did they learn from their experience of winding up as bait? Maybe the 'einsteins' were the ones that got away?

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    18. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Don't know if they repeated the show next day ... I know we found it sufficiently science fictiony not to risk a rerun ... next time they might have won. Maybe I escaped by the skin of my teeth. A glimpse of the future perhaps.

      I'd assume it was some sort of breeding ritual - an octopus dance party. Just shows even smart animals end up being just animals after all, caving in to their base instincts and desires. You'd hope they get over that.

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    19. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Never returned?

      Wise move. Octopus Rave better left alone. You know it happened, that is enough.

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    20. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Bait? You used octopi for bait?

      Better to eat them I reckon - much tastier than the fish you probably didn't catch.

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    21. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I would never ever commit such a culinary crime of omission again Mike but back then the idea of eating an octopus was unheard of ... wouldn't have known where to start. It would have involved boiling it for at least three days I'd reckon. Phillistines we were, no mistake.

      Fortunately my school mates parents - all Greeks and Italians - sorted me out on tasty tentacled critters eventually ... and many other things too ... a very civilising influence they were.

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    22. Denise Wilson

      Retired teacher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Pigmented "spores" are present in the skin cells. and yes The colour change is triggered by vision but the process is hormonal causing the cells to display a particular pigment depending on the surrounding environment.

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    23. Denise Wilson

      Retired teacher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike. You say "..we can have absolutely no frame of reference to compare, which is why we should stop with the nonsense about 'sentience' as some sort of standard for how we deal with animals. It's just an anthromorphic " ( your spelling) " rubbish, and does not adequately consider how animals really are".

      Sentient –“ Able to perceive or feel things” - Oxford dictionary
      "Capacity for sensation or feeling” Maquarie Dictionary.

      NOTE - There is no reference to this definition pertaining only…

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    24. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      You don't seem to be getting this Denise.

      The reason why I label 'sentience' as anthromorphic nonsense and say it should not be used as a criteria for how we deal with animals is that in doing so it allows us to justify treating animals that aren't 'sentient' more harshly.

      And nowhere is this more stark than in your very own attitude to animals:

      "......Because the more like us we believe other animals to be then the harder it is to justify treating them any way we like for our pleasure…

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    25. Denise Wilson

      Retired teacher

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      Yes I am a vegetarian. And fish feel pain therefore they ARE sentient according to the oxford dictionary. Which non sentient animals do eat?
      YOU don't get it Mike.You have not addressed any of the points I raise.You are so blinded by habit and gluttony that you are obviously incapable of reasoning on this issue. After all as you yourself admitted you eat meat because you" like it, do it, end of story".Now you are trying to claim that we treat animals more harshly when we are able to relate them! what a confused illogical brain you have. this is the last time I will open this topic. Efforts of moral reasoning are wasted on the likes of you. How sad and depressing. .

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    26. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      No Denise ... this was not 'moral reasoning' ... this was picking a fight - an excercise in moralising judgement rather than reasoning.

      Reasoning would have involved a set of propositions ... this was a series of asumptions and accusations.

      There are in fact a range of arguments favouring a vegetarian diet from personal health to ecological responsibility and yes even the sentience argument... however the latter are perhaps the weakest given the shape of our teeth and the conduct of other presumably sentient carnivores.

      It is possible to argue that we as a morally or ethically superior life form should be above such slaughter but these were not the arguments you addressed. Moral outrage and judgment is not moral reasoning Denise.

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    27. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      So you are a vegetarian then Denise. How do you feel about all the animals that have to die so you can eat a vegetarian meal? Do they even rate a moment's thought, or do you save all your horror for the people who actually eat the flesh of the animals they kill, rather than just leave their bodies rotting on the ground like yourself?

      '.....Now you are trying to claim that we treat animals more harshly when we are able to relate them!..."

      No Denise, I am stating for a fact that we treat animals…

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  4. Paul Rogers

    Manager

    Is the mirror test still useful? These animals apparently can recognise themselves in a mirror (Wiki):

    Humans – from about 18 months old
    Bonobos
    Chimpanzees
    Orangutans
    Gorillas
    Bottlenose dolphins
    Orcas
    Elephants
    European Magpies

    I guess there may be more that have not been studied. (Perhaps Peter's octopus would pass?)

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    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      I used to have a couple of mirrors out in my veggie patch for this very purpose Paul - and I found a very interesting range of responses from different bird species.

      Willie wagtails went nuts defending their patch from themselves, while the far more clever (but near identical) restless flycatchers recognised themselves - would duck around the back and study the thing - then forget all about it and go catch something to snack on. Male brush turkeys would savage the things puff up their crops and kick them about.

      I'd suspect that octopus would probably start flushing various colours - work out what was going on very quickly and start preening, maybe clean the mirror a bit and take it home.

      Here's a bit from one of my favourite sites clearly demonstrating that octopus are moody critters: http://observationsofanerd.blogspot.com.au/2010/03/picky-octopuses-dont-settle-for-less.html

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  5. Tony Smith

    Complex Systems Analyst

    A lot of the confusion stems from naive assumptions about directionality in the interplay of evolution and intelligence. What we see as intelligence is mostly a capacity for more generalist behaviour, the kind that is most useful when entering a new niche. Once certain behaviours have proven successful, the high metabolic cost of neural flexibility will be selected against, the animal becoming better at what it does "naturally" but less able to adapt to change.

    It takes a lot of discipline to honestly observe the individual and collective behaviour of animals in the wild without imposing our own cultural prejudices. I've recently become convinced that ubiquitous silver gulls are as smart as anyone, but for 65 years they had just been background to ignore. https://vimeo.com/71066743

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  6. Forth Sadler

    logged in via Facebook

    Comments war between cat lovers and dog lovers in 3...2...1...

    Seriously though, recognising that expression of cognition can be done in more than one way needs a lot more investigation. It's could give us so much more insight into human and animal behaviours (yes, I know the article just pointed out how blurry a line that is but we still treat them as separate) and potentially new avenues for AI development - who's to say that we need to model AI on human cognitive models? There's probably a pile of other stuff that hasn't occurred to me in the time it took to type this.

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  7. Ross Lambert

    Builder

    Am I in a time warp as this article reads like something from a few hundred years ago about fascinating new research that shows "primative natives" may be intelligent, perhaps even as intelligent as whites. Still just because they are intelligent doesn't mean we shouldn't use them as slaves, right?

    Roll on the rights of all aminals.

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  8. Dianna Arthur

    Environmentalist

    I have had cats warn me when strangers approach and dogs placing themselves in front of me when I was threatened (by other humans), magpies which always swooped my then husband (he used to abuse me) and never me.

    And now this:

    "Monkeys preferred tokens that rewarded both individuals."

    Clearly animals are a bunch of bloody socialists, not only helping each other, but aiding other species as well.

    Don't tell the capitalists that the way of the dollar is not reflected by any other creature apart from themselves.

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  9. Mike Brisco

    Scientist at Flinders University of South Australia

    Re cephalopods - few years back, interesting study that they also use tools. Apparentlly octopi pick up discarded pots and hold them over themselves for protection from predators - carrying them while they scurry around. The point seemed to be, it was an artefact, and it cost the animal energy to carry it (so if not useful, why do it?)

    Another author suggested whales use tools too. Some whales in the Antarctic create curtains of air bubbles, to herd krill together. The author of The Crystal Desert argued that whales were therefore fashioning a tool, and using it to get food.

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  10. Sam Jandwich

    Policy Analyst

    I've always thought that human beings have quite a well-developed ability to determine how intelligent other people are just by looking them in the eye. It seems to me that when you first meet someone, one of the first things you do is to look them in the eye and assess how intelligent they are in relation to yourself - and this goes on to inform things like the extent of commonality you feel with them, the extent to which you are interested in getting to know them, and the amount of effort you are…

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  11. matt88

    logged in via Twitter

    Your dog is going to have trouble finding squirrels to chase in Australia

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  12. the Krrib

    Vet Nurse

    The term Animal Intelligence holds no scientific merit. It means nothing because there is no feasible definition and there is no measurable way of determining it because every species has its own form of 'intelligence' that can not be compared to another. Take, for instance, a human's ability to navigate and find food underwater (and I mean using the human body not little machines we have created) and compare it to the abilities of a Dolphin. If the Dolphin were carrying out the experiment they would consider us very un-intelligent in comparison to them, in achieving this task. There are many examples of this in the Animal Kingdom and I have, for many years, pointed this out to fellow humans who wish to have this conversation with me. I thank you for your article and making it known that there is no comparison and no such thing as Animal Intelligence. We are all animals with our own unique set of survival skills and sensory organs ... and that's really it.

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  13. Bethany Jones

    Student

    Great article.

    It reminds me of Douglas Adams: “For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

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    1. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Bethany Jones

      Bethany Jones wrote; "... reminds me of Douglas Adams" Good reference, adding to it.
      The question of sentience is often confused with sapience.
      As we can see from the comments here on the thread.
      The answer is still forty two when the metrics are done.

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  14. Denise Wilson

    Retired teacher

    To mike Swinburne. Just wondering if you watched the u tube video of Koko and friend provided here . In spite of your assertions that claims of sentience re. our fellow species are " nonsense" would you eat a Gorilla? If not where do you draw the line between those species you would eat and those you would not. What is the rationale that dictates where you would draw the line? My observations of your high level of participation and boyish bravado in Animal Rights issues on this site is that they are a flippant display at justifying your pleasure in flesh eating. Likewise I wonder also about your attitude towards women when you describe your own wife as a "sexy little animal".... A very revealing comment I think.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      ".... A very revealing comment I think..."

      Why thank you Denise. And I didn't call my wife a 'sexy little animal'. If you are going to use quotations, you should at least get the quote correct. I called her "my little sexual animal" - big difference. And perhaps you should stop being so sexist and generalising about my attitudes towards women based on the relationship between my wife any I. What my 'attitude' reveals is how my wife and I interact - it says nothing about how I interact with other women.

      Where would I draw the line in terms of what animals I eat? It depends on how hungry I was. And I don't have to justify my pleasure in eating flesh - I do it, I like it, end of story. I would like to suggest I am not alone in that regard either.

      Would I eat a gorilla? I don't know, what do they taste like?

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    2. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike, to your question:

      "Would I eat a gorilla? I don't know, what do they taste like?"

      I would imagine much like haunch of human, but a little more gamey.

      Now, I'm back to my great big hunky and studly partner.

      Cheers

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    3. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Thanks Dianna. In that case, it would have to be a young one and have to be cooked properly. Otherwise it would probably be a little tough.

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    4. Denise Wilson

      Retired teacher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Good subterfuge by the way to log on via Facebook and not declare any vested interest in flesh eating. .We have all studied animals to some degree mike....flies, humans perhaps? It would add weight to your point of view if you were to come clean and reveal in what field of animal studies you and your "little sexual animal "- wife-scientist base your vast knowledge on.
      "I do , I like it, end of story" rings of a somewhat lack of ethical consideration in regards to ones behaviour to me. Is this generally your philosophy of life?

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    5. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Denise Wilson

      '....Good subterfuge by the way to log on via Facebook..."

      Yeah - it was a cunning plan to use my real name so no-one had any idea who I was.

      '....and not declare any vested interest in flesh eating...."

      Ok - I like eating flesh. Unfortunately no-one pays me to do so. I have to pay my butcher.

      "....We have all studied animals to some degree mike...."

      Some of us take of our Disney glasses first though.

      "....It would add weight to your point of view if you were to come clean and…

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    6. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      They are indeed!

      If you watch your video from about 21:30, our dive club rents the cottages at that lighthouse every year during the breeding season in winter. The water is cold - about 12C - but it is worth it to see the displays they put on. The video can't do it justice - it's just something you have to see in real life.

      Unfortunately the numbers have declined significantly in the last few years - no-one knows why just yet, although some members of the club has been involved in research to investigate. We just hope it is something that can be solved.

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  15. Jane Middlemist

    citizen

    I suppose in a world where humans treat each other so cruelly, it is too early for most of them to start empathising with animals.

    On another point, re vegetarianism, many studies have shown that it is more efficient / cheaper, better use of agricultural land, to feed humans on vegetation than to first process the food through an animal (with added hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals) and then eat the animal.

    Re use of land and soil. The hard hooves of cattle etc. are destructive to Australia's fragile soils and I've often wondered why the meat-eaters didn't just farm kangaroos / other native animals and eat them instead.
    Just saying…

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  16. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    Of course the human species is indeed a rather special and unique big-brained, big-footed, arrogant, over-populating, over-consuming, war-mongering invasive mammal. That’s the reason we measure animal intelligence by human standards. Animals (the non-human type) don’t speak the lingo or make assertions the human way because they’re intellectually "inferior."

    Yet termites don’t need tools to build mountains five hundred times taller than themselves. Rockstar my canine is a soccer whizz and the…

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