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Bird Brains: Intelligence and Education

By jd in Op-Ed
Tue May 22, 2001 at 01:06:48 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

As long ago as 1995, researchers were discovering that many widely-held precepts, with regards to teaching, the nature of intelligence, etc, were based more in medieval tradition than reality. I present, for the entertainment of Kuro5hin's readers, one such example, and its ramifications for humans.

Professor Irene Pepperberg studies, as part of her research, the behaviour of grey parrots.

At first, this seems a little dull. After all, parrots just, well, parrot! ...Don't they? Well, maybe not. One Grey Parrot she is studying, called "Alex", is capable of handling basic mathematical operations from 1 to 8 (hmmm! Octal!) and has the ability to understand or vocalize up to 250 words.

Unlike most of those phony demonstrations of dogs counting, etc, this is done under laboratory conditions and involves some measure of deductive reasoning. Simple repetition, on a cue, would fail these kinds of tests.

The teaching method is fascinating. It involves peer-to-peer, rather than teacher-student relationships, and is NOT reward-based. There is no special merit for doing well, and no special punishment for doing badly. As such, the training method is surprisingly similar to many papers over on GNU.org.

What does this mean? After all, we're not parrots. Our brains aren't even patterned after the avian brain structure.

The first thing it means is that we can stop talking about "our dumb animal friends". This patronizing and idiotic attitude has likely been a major reason basic studies on the intelligence of animals is as primitive and unsuccessful as it has been.

The second thing is that it implies that virtually all animal behavioural research may be barking up the wrong tree. Research that assumes all responses are instinctual will miss the Alexes of the rest of the animal kingdom.

On a related note, attempts to use sign language and touch-screens, with apes and dolphins, whilst producing some information, may be missing the boat entirely, because they're all lecture-student based, not peer-to-peer.

This brings me to the next point. School, for us humans, is almost invariably lecture-student based, but if this practice is proving to be inefficient or simply stupid for other animals, maybe the educational system itself needs a major shake-up.

(Indeed, it's problems such as imposing a fixed rate of learning on all children that cause much of the violence and disruption -in- schools. The "slower" learners are likely to feel "put down", and the "faster" learners are going to be bored, frustrated, and probably drugged by the school to maintain control.)

A peer-peer system may allow more "natural" learning, which operates in a way that works with the brain, rather than against it. And, this, I feel would seriously reduce the stresses, strains and intense dislikes within the existing hodge-podge of dictatorial systems.

In the end, maybe Alex will prove smarter than us humans.

Lastly, machine intelligence. Again, we're trying to teach AI systems on a lecture-student basis. Again, Alex (and similar studies) denonstrate that this form of education doesn't work.

The obvious conclusion is that "Strong AI" will never be developed, until we change our view on what intelligence is.

Furthermore, because Alex' brain is hardly the most complex device in existance, there are good reasons to believe that the Strong AI problem may be easier to solve than commonly thought. The brain-power required for deductive, logical and lateral thinking, in real-time, may prove to be extremely small.


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Alex proves...
o Exactly nothing. 22%
o That Big Bird should be president. 17%
o That our notions of intelligence need revising. 4%
o That our notions of teaching need revising. 6%
o That SETI researchers may need to rethink what they're looking for. 1%
o That the arbritary distinction between humans and non-humans might need to go. 9%
o College Grads are no brighter than a parrot. 14%
o Researchers get all the fun projects. AND get paid for them. 22%

Votes: 74
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Kuro5hin
o Professor Irene Pepperberg
o behaviour of grey parrots
o "Alex"
o GNU.org
o animal behavioural research
o touch-scre ens
o Also by jd

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Bird Brains: Intelligence and Education | 36 comments (27 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
I remember seeing this on TV (4.37 / 8) (#1)
by DesiredUsername on Fri May 18, 2001 at 10:50:44 AM EST

I'm pretty sure it was this parrot, the name "Alex" sounds familiar. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because I'm actually going to comment on a *different* researcher shown on the same program. The reason I bring it up is this quote: "Unlike most of those phony demonstrations of dogs counting, etc, this is done under laboratory conditions and involves some measure of deductive reasoning. Simple repetition, on a cue, would fail these kinds of tests."

The researcher I saw (this was videotape of an actual session) was claiming to have trained a gorilla to count. She'd put out X objects and then the gorilla was supposed to point to the number X on a touch screen. Trouble is, even *I*, untrained and unexpert, could see that she was cueing the animal big time. Here's what I saw: Every time the gorilla was about to answer, it would pause with it's finger just above the screen. If the area where the gorilla was point was the right answer, the researcher would say "that's right" or "go ahead" or "uh-huh" and nod her head. If the answer was wrong, the researcher would shrug and say "I don't know" or "you have to figure it out".

So, just because it's in a laboratory doesn't mean it's valid. That said, I didn't see anything wrong with Alex (on the show, anyway)--but neither am I an expert.

Play 囲碁
From what I saw (none / 0) (#28)
by retinaburn on Tue May 22, 2001 at 02:58:14 PM EST

Which was only about 30 seconds of actual demonstration on the show, did indeed show that. But what it also showed is that the number of 'correct' (which I will define as a finger point at the correct square) was much highter than the number of 'incorrect' points. So her 'prompting' only enabled the animal to avert 'negative' praise. It certainly did not look like the gorilla pointed randomly until she/he got it right.

Much more video evidence would be needed to propose that 'prompting' to show intelligence where there was none actually occured. Perhaps they only counted correct points as I defined it.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
I beg to differ (3.00 / 7) (#2)
by Tezcatlipoca on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:00:49 AM EST

What you call peer to peer education is a luxury that is unavailable in nature, the system that you seem to disregard so much (teacher-student) got us to where we are today (if that is good or bad is a different matter).

Lets go back in time, 200000 or 300000 years ago. The village is half empty, men are hunting, some women are gathering roots and fruit for lunch. Old Unlce Ugh, at the ripe age of 31 can't hunt anymore and will die soon. Nevertheless he tells histories about how to recognize animals, how to count time, how to start fire. Grandma Eek, at the ripe ta the venerable age of 28, knows everything about which roots are edible and which ones are poisonous, she knows how to skin an animal and knows of some worms that are very yummy yummy.

The children listen, ask and learn. Without Uncle Ugh and similar willing teachers, what could the children, without any experience in life, learn from each other. They are so stupid that when a lion comes they begin to say "pussy, pussy, pussy, here,here,here".

I think you have been using too much Gnutella today.

Might is right
Freedom? Which freedom?
prehistorical man (3.33 / 3) (#9)
by ucblockhead on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:27:16 AM EST

One myth about prehistorical man is that there were no old people. People read things like "life expectency of 30" and assume that this means that 30 was old, and few lived past 30. But a life expectency is merely an average, and death rates have never been linear with age. So instead, what you had back then was a massively high infant mortality rate and a fairly high death rate for children. Then, the death rate likely sank for younger adults, not to today's rates, certainly, but low enough that there were almost certainly some middle aged and old "elders" in any large group of people.

While not anywhere near as primitive as the group you describe, this is exactly what was seen in pretechnological Native American tribes. The early settlers remarked at some of the extremely healthy older people running around, and in fact despite the fact that the English had a higher life expectency overall, you were much better off being over sixty in a Native American tribe than in London, because of clean living, better diet, less crime, etc, etc.

If the ages of death for ten people are 1, 1, 1, 1, 10, 15, 20, 30, 51, 80, then the "life expectency" is 21, yet we see three people living past that, and one guy reaching an age that is "old" even for us.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

IANAB(iologist)OAS(tatistician) but... (2.00 / 1) (#24)
by Wonko The Sane on Sat May 19, 2001 at 07:36:45 AM EST

If mortality rates were a perfect bathtub curve, they would be centered around the average. So, today, the number of people dying between 145 and 150 would be equal to the number of people dying between the ages of 0 and 5.
(I'm assuming a life expectancy of 75, of course)

This is obviously false. I'd estimate the age group equivalent to 0-5 is 85-90, or maybe even 80-85. If we use the liberal estimate, we get that the beginning of that age group starts either 10 years or 13% and ends 15 years or 20% above the life expetancy. (Yes, people do live beyond 90, and even 100, but they are quite rare. Remember the human population was also significantly lower.)
Those numbers, when taken with a life expectancy of 30 mean that there were very little people above either 36 (Using the percentage) or 45 (Using the absolute number), and the chances of someone living to 80 would be nil.

Of course, input from someone who actually IS a biologist and/or a statistician would be grealy appreciated. :)

This is an EX-PARROT!
[ Parent ]
Things have changed (2.00 / 1) (#25)
by ucblockhead on Sat May 19, 2001 at 12:18:46 PM EST

You are presuming that the curve in prehistoric times was the same as that today. This is not the case. (It is also not a perfect bathtub curve in either case.)

The right end of that bathtub curb today is the host of conditions we call "old age" that starts occuring roughly in your fifties. Those conditions also likely occurred at roughly the same age in prehistoric man.

Also remember that deaths in prehistoric man were likely mostly due to violence, malnutrition and disease. Those are all conditions that strike harder on the young or the old, not someone who is physically in the prime of life (i.e. between roughly 20-40). So you while you are assuming that the curve is simply shifted to the side, the truth is more that the whole thing is moved up, especially at the ends.

Look at it this way: one of the main reasons for longer life spans is modern medicine. Yet people between the ages of twenty and forty rarely take advantage of modern medicine. Most of the lives it saves are either children or older adults.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Why... (none / 0) (#36)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Mon May 28, 2001 at 11:26:40 PM EST

...are you calling it "the bathtub curve"? I mean, it already has the names Gaussian and bell curve. Do we need a even more dumb-downed name for it?

[ Parent ]

Um... (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by elenchos on Fri May 18, 2001 at 10:04:03 PM EST

The whole question is whether or not we can speculate that the "natrual" way of human learning is lecture-student, or if it is really peer-to-peer. So as evidence for the former, you present a picture from "going back" to this more natural time (whatever that was). But you didn't really go back. You speculated, based on no evidence, but on the assumption that lecture-student is the norm. But that is just what we are trying to find out! You can't assume that is true for your thought experiment.

Your simplistic picture of children teaching each other is equally unhelpful. There is a role for the one imparting knowledge in a peer-to-peer situation; you can't take him out of the picture.

A better objection would be to wonder if anything we learn about parrots or any other animal can be safely generalized to humans, or if anything about pre-history is relavent to modern human tasks. Why assume that it is?

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have
[ Parent ]

Hans the counting horse. (3.70 / 10) (#4)
by ucblockhead on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:10:17 AM EST

One very important point, here:

People tend to assume that the "counting animals" that were displayed a couple hundred years back were invariably the result of fraud. However, in many cases, there was no fraud involved, rather, the animals where keying off of the subconcious reactions of the owners.

In other words, the owner doing the demonstration would tend to "tense up" or otherwise subconciously react just prior to the correct number, and the animals were reacting to this. This was shown by placing the owner behind a screen, and came as a huge surprise to the owner.

Anyway, keep that in mind when reading stories about scientific studies showing amazing intelligence in animals.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

AI (3.85 / 7) (#7)
by ucblockhead on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:17:31 AM EST

Lastly, machine intelligence. Again, we're trying to teach AI systems on a lecture-student basis.

Not really, because there is nothing there to learn. Before you can "teach" an AI system, you've got to build an AI system that can learn. We've not really gotten very far at that. Neural nets are the only completely generalized learning machanisms that I know of (or maybe genetic algorithms), but they have their limitations. But more importantly, they only learn by trial and error.

You can say that we ought to do it a different way, and that's all well and good, but you've got to build the system that learns that way first!

(This is one of those layman myths about AI that have floated around since the fifties. People seem to think that you can create an AI by taking some Tabula Rasa computer of sufficient size and throwing data at it. It doesn't work that way.)
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Whats the point of research like this? (2.28 / 14) (#10)
by Kiss the Blade on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:30:53 AM EST

I don't understand why there is a bunch of researchers around the world who have this strange determination to topple Man's position at the apex of our planet.

They spend time teaching parrots to count and do addition and other humanlike tasks, getting chimps to use sign language, training dolphins to understand language. Why? It doesn't teach us anything about the animals - attempting to get them to do humanlike skills is just a perversion. It doesn't show anything about the nature of humanity. Teaching a chimp to understand some basic sign language teches us nothing whatsoever about language. If we were interested in the animals, we would study them and what they are good at. If we are interested in language, we study humans. We don't embark on strange frankenstein style perversions. The real agenda with expirements like this is to show that humans are no better than animals. There is a scientific agenda to show that every skill a human has is posessed by some animal somewhere. It is the copernican process gone mad.

The first thing it means is that we can stop talking about "our dumb animal friends". This patronizing and idiotic attitude has likely been a major reason basic studies on the intelligence of animals is as primitive and unsuccessful as it has been.

What utter bollocks. That would be a patronising attitude if it were untrue - but guess what, it is true. Animals are much more stupid than humans. They are dumb. Nothing idiotic about that - it is best to be aware of the truth than to live in a fantasy world where animals are our equals.

This brings me to the next point. School, for us humans, is almost invariably lecture-student based, but if this practice is proving to be inefficient or simply stupid for other animals, maybe the educational system itself needs a major shake-up.

LOL! You are saying that because animals don't thrive in a lecture-student environment, humans don't either? Can't you see the flaws here? The reason the lecture-student system is so successful is that we have language, and animals do not. This system has sufficed for Einstein, Newton, Picasso and so on. It has a great advantage - one lecturer can teach many students, meaning that we can afford to pick the very best lecturers and all students are exposed to the greatest minds.

The simple fact is that animals are dumb and stupid in comparison to humans. No amount of teaching them simple parlour tricks and wishful thinking will change this. Furthermore, the animal 'rights' agenda that seeks to show that animals are saintly, smart and human is false - your anthropomorphisism will fail.

KTB:Lover, Poet, Artiste, Aesthete, Programmer.
There is no contradiction.

Let's make a distinction here (3.60 / 5) (#12)
by DesiredUsername on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:43:46 AM EST

There are "research" projects (Koko springs to mind) that are really nothing more than a flimsy, quasi-scientific base on which to place a political agenda. You can identify some of these projects by how often the "researcher" talking about how "humbling" it is that apes (/dolphins/dogs/mice/whatever) are "just like you and me".

But there are other projects that are genuinely scientific and worthwhile. I have no idea which group Alex falls into, but I can easily imagine someone who is just plain curious about how parrots learn and who might thereby come up with interesting *questions* (not answers) about how humans learn.

In any case, judging a project by the breathless commentary it generates in a semi-informed layman is practically useless.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
In order to study a phenomenon (3.00 / 2) (#15)
by error 404 on Fri May 18, 2001 at 12:25:47 PM EST

it is helpfull to look at as many different versions as you can, and to vary the parameters.

With something like language, under normal circumstances you have this one big variable that just doesn't vary much: the speaker/listener is a human.

Teaching a bird language provides a different example. Sure, it isn't natural, but then superconducting particle accelerators aren't exactly natural phenomena either.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Ummm,... (none / 0) (#35)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Mon May 28, 2001 at 11:18:51 PM EST

"This system has sufficed for Einstein, Newton, Picasso and so on."

...did it? I thought that Einstein's teachers considered him rather dull and he did rather poorly in many classes. What would he (and others) have been capable of had education fostered their intellect from day one? That is the relivant question that drives education reform? Not, 'does the current system work well enough to allow some genius through?'

[ Parent ]

Let me guess... (4.33 / 9) (#13)
by trhurler on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:55:18 AM EST

You're a disgruntled student, well above average in most ways, but you don't actually think you ought to have to do the work, seeing as you already know the material better than your classmates will at the end of the course; your grades are suffering, and you're pissed off, right? Yeah, I did that too, but I at least had the decency not to pretend it wasn't my own fault.

Anyway, we've known that birds can count for quite a long time, so the idea that they can do some very basic arithmetic is not that amazing. It also doesn't prove that they have the same sort of mental faculties we have; a computer, after all, can do arithmetic, and we've known birds have very basic learning ability for centuries, but that hardly makes them smaller versions of human minds.

On the topic of educational methods, instructors have known for a while that the lecture model is not ideal; the problem is, it is the only educational method that scales particularly well if you want to have accountability, which is needed when people are paying for an education. How precisely do you intend to have peer to peer calculus courses of 500 students? Of course, you can argue that this is a suboptimal class size, and you're right, but it is also an economic necessity in some places; the (possibly) optimal solution for educational purposes would put the school out of business, which is certainly suboptimal for other reasons!

And when you consider that Siggy is second only to trhurler as far as posters whose name at the top of a comment fill me with forboding, that's sayin
Close, but no cigar (3.60 / 5) (#20)
by jd on Fri May 18, 2001 at 03:49:49 PM EST

I graduated, with a BSc (with honors) almost a decade ago. I've worked within the University system, since then, as a computer officer and researcher, but what I saw was a bunch of archaic finger-twiddlers, scared that technology and information might put them out of twiddling.

Lecturers at many UK Universities (ha! most are Polytechnics in disguise!) are there to maintain power and prestige, not to disseminate information.

[ Parent ]

that's mixing up the cart and the horse (none / 0) (#29)
by jayfoo2 on Tue May 22, 2001 at 05:02:42 PM EST

Your argument seems to be that some/many/most/all teachers aren't very good and therefore the lecture/student system is inferior.

I'd say that you're a bit confused there. What you should be saying is that the lecture/student system doesn't work very well with a bad teacher. Which we all know allready.

Likewise the peer-to-peer system will fail if you introduce a moderate number of idiots into the peer group (or non-peer group if you prefer). That doesn't impeach the system, only the participants.

What really annoys me is when people take phenomena (like a talking parrot) and use them to support their pet (no pun intended) theories without showing causality.

[ Parent ]
Some more details (4.66 / 9) (#16)
by rusty on Fri May 18, 2001 at 01:09:40 PM EST

I voted for this, mainly because the study itself is a pretty good read. I really, really recommend anyone thinking about commenting read that, because this article doesn't, IMO, give a very good idea what was actually done.

The "peer-to-peer" learning thing was as follows:

A typical interaction proceeds as follows: Alex is seated on his gym, his cage, or the back of a chair, and observes two humans handling one or more objects in which he has already demonstrated an interest. In the presence of the bird, one human acts as a trainer of the second human. The trainer presents the object(s), asks questions about the object(s) (e.g., "What's here?", "What color?", "What shape?"), and gives the human model praise and the object(s) in question as a reward for a correct answer. Disapproval for incorrect responses (erroneous answers that are similar to those being made by the bird at the time: unclear vocalizations, partial identifications, etc.) is demonstrated by scolding and temporarily removing the object(s) from sight. Thus the second human not only acts as a model for the bird's responses and as a rival for the trainer's attention, but also allows the parrot to observe the effects of an error: The model is asked to try again or talk more clearly if the response was (deliberately) incorrect or garbled.

...our protocol also involves repeating the interaction while reversing the roles of the human trainer and model, and occasionally includes the parrot in the interactions. We thus demonstrate that the interaction is indeed a "two-way street": that one person is not always the questioner and the other always the respondent, and that the procedure can be employed to effect changes in the environment.

What this has to do with GNU.org, I have no idea. The gist is that the bird shouldn't be learning that one human is always the one to "learn from" or interact with, and all others may be ignored. I've been in many classes set up to encourage this kind of thing. For example, an english class in college where the professor only actually "taught" once -- the rest of the class sessions were student presentations and Q&A on the topic of that session. I do think this is often a good technique, as opposed to lecturing, but isn't really a new thing.

More clarification: there were rewards for doing well. There have to be, because otherwise, how would the bird know if he was doing the right thing? The difference with this study was that the reward for correctly identifying an object was either that the bird was given the object itself (to reinforce the label-object connection), or was given the opportunity to ask for a different object he wanted more. But he had to specifically name the other object to get it ("Wanna bananana"). Previous studies, say the researchers, have used a single favorite item to reward correct answers, whch these researchers believe to be confusing and to delay the association of name with object. The way it's described in the above article is misleading, at best.

It's an interesting study, and I do think they at least were paying attention to a lot of the problems with previous animal-intelligence studies. As always though, I'm left with one major qustion.

We know animals can distinguish between different objects. Otherwise, they'd never know what to eat, and what to mate with! So does it mean anything to train an animal to cast these distinctions in terms humans can understand? That is, are we really proving anything?

Not the real rusty

no offense (3.75 / 4) (#18)
by cbatt on Fri May 18, 2001 at 03:41:33 PM EST

but the fact of the matter is that the submission fails to mention this information. It has taken your comments in order to illuminate this. It fails to stand on it's own, not due to lack of the content's merit for discussion, but due to the poor write up.

I'd give it a +1 if it were re-submitted with more information contained in the article. This way, the topic can be done proper justice as more people will have better information on which to base their own comments. Thus making the conversation richer.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

What it has to do with GNU (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by Elendale on Wed May 23, 2001 at 01:50:58 PM EST

The GNU guys (and many others, including respected psychologists, etc) say that rewards/punishments are an inadequate motivation. Their spin on it is the whole "code for money" bit, but it can definately be expanded. Schooling is a big (and i mean big) offender in this: practically all classes rely entirely upon grades as motivation for learning. Motivation for learning should be learning, not a pseudo indicator of performance. As you say, however, there is a reward: its just not entirely reward based :)
Finally: i think most people with pets already knew this...


When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.

[ Parent ]
A few comments on all this... (4.33 / 6) (#23)
by chuqui on Sat May 19, 2001 at 02:10:46 AM EST

Just a few comments on some of what's been said. I've kept birds for over 15 years now, and follow Pepperberg's research fairly closely. My main companion is a 6 year old female umbrella cockatoo (my second cockatoo, my first was with me about a decade).

Pepperberg's research is quite solid, well designed, and if anything, she's understating her results to avoid blowing them out of proportion. Having said that, it should also be noted that Alex, her primary subject, is an exceptional bird and not typical of most birds. Some have called him the Einstein of birds, which may be hyperbole, but he is an exceptional talent.

Last I heard, Pepperberg was breeding Alex to see if he'd teach his offspring -- to see whether the learning would be passed on through generations. I haven't heard results of this yet. And if you've seen TV pieces on bird research, it was probably Pepperberg and Alex; they've been on a number of shows, including Nova.

The gorilla mentioned was Koko, who also had a very unusual language ability.

People who are interesting in seeing more info on avian's intelligence should find the book "The Human Nature of Birds" by barber, a 93 book from St. Martins. I think it's out of print, but it's fascinating.

From my personal experience in handling and keeping birds for all these years, I believe Pepperberg is right on target, as long as you realize that Alex is an exceptional subject. I don't think the typical African Grey would react as well to the training, although the intelligence of these birds can't be denied by anyone who spends any time around them. My cockatoo is equivalent to a 3-4 year old human child in many ways; she's at that stage where she understands right and wrong, enough to know that some things will get her in trouble (and, in her typical headstrong way, decide to do them ANYWAY). She also understands rules, even when she chooses to ignore them. She's a tool-user, and is more than happy to disassemble stuff if you don't keep a close eye on her. She will happily open her cage, and even more happily disassemble the door completely. She uses language, not to the level of Alex, but she has some standard phrases and uses inflection to communicate.

At the same time, she is NOT human; her thought processes are different -- that doesn't make her less smart, it makes her different. The same thing can be said for Alex, Koko and much of the dolphin research that's gone on. If there's a flaw with this research, it's that we define "intelligence" in terms of human intelligence, and then try to define how intelligence other animals are by how well they get squeezed into that pigeonhole.

Why does all this matter? First, understanding animals helps us understand ourselves, because we, too, are animals. And I think it's important for us to start realizing that simply because it's "not human" doesn't mean it's not intelligent. Birds of many types have shown great intelligence; go look at the research done on ravens, for instance (or study aboriginal legends; there's a reason why the natives of the pacific northwest have given the raven a high level of respect in their pantheon, as both the trickster (which the southwest indians gave to the coyote, of course) and the giver of fire.

These things ar eimportant to understand while we still can, because I think it's important that we learn to live within the environment around us, and stop doing waht humans traditionally do, which is dominate or destroy everything around us... And by learning that animals have more to them than we've given them credit, it helps us to understand that there's more to the world around us than we've traditionally been willing to admit -- it's part of the slow process of learning to be part of the world around us. (and no, I'm not suggesting we buy into the whole PETA-babble; which is nothing but an anti-human rhetoric. I keep birds as pets and companions -- and still happily eat chicken... Just because some animals have more to offer us doesn't mean that cows and chickens do. Some animals are -- animals. But what all this leads to is udnerstanding that will, hopefully lead us to a balanced humanist approach to what's around us, and better understanding of ourselves...)

-- Chuq Von Rospach, Internet Gnome <http://www.chuqui.com> <kuro@chuqui.com> "The first rule of holes: If you are in one, stop digging"
"Dumb" animal friends (1.33 / 3) (#26)
by Burrito Supreme Dictator on Sun May 20, 2001 at 01:40:58 AM EST

The phrase "dumb animal" isn't talking about intelligence; it simply means that the creature can't talk. Not equivalent to "mute"--after all, most "dumb" animals can make other vocal noises that doesn't pass for speech.

Since some parrots can talk (or at least mimic human speech), the term "dumb" already doesn't apply.

-- This space devoted to wasting your bandwidth. (A token gesture, to be sure, in these days of high-speed connections. But it's the thought that counts, right?) --

But it doesn't (none / 0) (#30)
by fluffy grue on Tue May 22, 2001 at 09:46:55 PM EST

The use of the word "dumb" to mean "mute" is quite antiquated, and almost nobody uses it to mean that these days. Also, the fact that the author of this article used "dumb" to mean "stupid" in the context of this phrase means that it's highly probable that other people do as well.

Honestly, do you think that the standard beer-swilling football-watching couch potato cursing at his "dumb dog" is meaning "mute?"
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Bah. (5.00 / 2) (#31)
by Burrito Supreme Dictator on Tue May 22, 2001 at 11:04:34 PM EST

Antiquated, schmantiquated.

In my day, if a dog wasn't at least trilingual, versed in poetry, chess, music, calligraphy and philosophy, he wasn't fit to be called a dog! Maybe a peasant's dog, but not a dog fit for von Bismarck's army, let me tell you that. (Well, not fit to serve in the army, but still fit to serve to the army!)

I blame low academic standards and apathetic parenting for the present-day drop in the canine literacy rate. We obviously need more standardized testing to correct the problem.

-- This space devoted to wasting your bandwidth. (A token gesture, to be sure, in these days of high-speed connections. But it's the thought that counts, right?) --
[ Parent ]

Nothing new (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by joecool12321 on Mon May 21, 2001 at 05:34:23 PM EST

As long ago as 1995, researchers were discovering that many widely-held precepts, with regards to teaching, the nature of intelligence, etc, were based more in medieval tradition than reality.

This is nothing new. Peer-to-peer education dates back to the "Platonic" method. And it is the method of teaching which the school I hope to attend uses.

Much of today's educational method is not "medieval", but relatively modern. A man by the name of John Dewy wrote at the turn of the 20th century, during the heyday of the industrial revolution. He realized that the "classical" learning method was producing smart people -- people above pushing buttons and moving levers. So he modularized education, and made it into a lecture based environment. You go from class to class, moved by a ringing bell akin to the old factory horn. You're (for the most part) encouraged to listen passively, and taught to not question.

Well, he was right, and stupid people were produced. A much better form of education is this: a small group of students (8-15) read "great works" -- Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Nitche, Marx, Hegel, Shakespeare, etc., and discuss them amongst themselves. The "tutor" is there not to guide discussion, but to answer questions regarding the setting, time period, etc. of the work. And instead of going from math to science to English to history, all of these topics are seen as contributing to a complete understanding of the world, and all part of making a more virtuous person.

For those curios, the school is BIOLA University, and specifically their Torrey Honors Program


Great Troll! (none / 0) (#33)
by Bridge Troll on Thu May 24, 2001 at 09:41:27 PM EST

See here for why
No point for point rebuttal for you. :0)

And besides, pounding your meat with a club is a very satisfying thing to do :) -- Sleepy
[ Parent ]
Suggested reading... (none / 0) (#34)
by Kasreyn on Sat May 26, 2001 at 01:39:19 AM EST

Carl Sagan: The Dragons of Eden. Go read a book that came out in 1977 and made pretty much the same points you did. By one of the most amazing thinkers of our times, though sadly deceased.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Bird Brains: Intelligence and Education | 36 comments (27 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
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