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Inclusa
2014-Sep-28, 01:27 AM
While cetaceans show the highest degree of encephalization (next to humans by a wide margin), we wouldn't say that they are next to humans in intelligence.
The current great apes may be our next to kin, but I'm not sure that they are all that superior to cetaceans in intelligence.
We mostly likely to rate mammals highest as far as intelligence is concerned, but birds like corvids and psitacoidea are also known for their intelligence.
Robins demonstrate organization skills as well.

Squink
2014-Sep-28, 01:14 PM
Birds are likely GPU based systems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphics_processing_unit), so their intelligence is a little different.

grant hutchison
2014-Sep-28, 02:04 PM
Birds are likely GPU based systems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphics_processing_unit), so their intelligence is a little different.I don't understand the analogy, but it sounds interesting. Can you explain?

Grant Hutchison

Squink
2014-Sep-28, 05:31 PM
Can you explain?Watched a small flock of little brown birds (LBBs) barreling through a patch of dense woodland the other day. Not only did they all manage to avoid leaf and branch at 30mph, but they also kept up a reasonable semblance of flock behavior at the same time. The image frame rate to manage both simultaneously must be huge. With such a small brain to start with, whatever system they're using to accomplish both tasks must take up a reasonable fraction of skull space.
These birds, unlike humans, might actually stand a chance of surviving something like the speeder bike chase (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speeder_bike) in Star Wars/ Return of the Jedi.

Noclevername
2014-Sep-28, 10:40 PM
These birds, unlike humans, might actually stand a chance of surviving something like the speeder bike chase (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speeder_bike) in Star Wars/ Return of the Jedi.

I've seen videogame players "fly" through virtual spaces just as cluttered at similar speeds. So it may be difficult, but it's not impossible for humans.

eburacum45
2014-Sep-29, 03:21 AM
If birds are so smart, with their tiny brains, maybe humans could be genetically engineered to be a lot smaller, and still retain some respectable level of intelligence. Smaller humans would have a lot of advantages- they would require less food, would suffer less damage if they fall over, and they might even be able to fly. It would be nice to retain the capacity for complex language, though - something that is dealt with in the human brain in two quite small areas (Broca's and Wernicke's).

Many birds are capable of complex vocalisations, but the actual data content seems small - a bird will sing something really complex and beautiful, but all it seems to be saying is 'I'm a nightingale/thrush/robin, and this is my territory' over and over again, with a few extra details about sex and dialect mixed in. Discussions about quantum physics and cosmology seem to be outside the creatures' repertoire. Maybe miniature humans would be the same, really good at moving in a flock, or identifying its sense of place, but not much good at abstractions.

Grant Hatch
2014-Oct-01, 04:19 AM
I believe you have written off the Cetaceans far to quickly! Just because we cannot speak with them does not mean they are UNINTELLIGENT compared to us. Superior encephalization is in fact, worthy of consideration. Think about it....the Ocean has been more stable over time and thru many extinction events.... why would not an intelligent species arise?

Noclevername
2014-Oct-01, 04:46 AM
I believe you have written off the Cetaceans far to quickly! Just because we cannot speak with them does not mean they are UNINTELLIGENT compared to us. Superior encephalization is in fact, worthy of consideration. Think about it....the Ocean has been more stable over time and thru many extinction events.... why would not an intelligent species arise?

Cetacean brains are large and active, but a large portion of that activity is dedicated to interpreting complex sonar images, not abstract thought. To our best testing, the smartest of them seem to have the intellect of a very smart dog.

Jens
2014-Oct-01, 06:43 AM
Cetacean brains are large and active, but a large portion of that activity is dedicated to interpreting complex sonar images, not abstract thought. To our best testing, the smartest of them seem to have the intellect of a very smart dog.

I think that's an important point, more generally speaking. I'm not sure the exact percent, but apparently a large amount of our brain is dedicated to visual processing, so having a bigger brain doesn't necessarily equate with the ability for abstract thought.

malaidas
2014-Oct-01, 09:39 AM
What I would say here is the entire question is very difficult. We don;t have a formal scientific definition of what intelligence is and without this its difficult to actually provide a meaningful metric. Human beings it seems have a bigger capacity for abstraction than other animals, leading to a greater ability to think ahead and actually plan etc. but we are no means unique in our ability to do this in some form. I want to stress that here I am not being philosophical, before I pose the question. What is our metric to define intelligence and what do we consider to be the most important factors of thought in defining such? It seems to me that in ordeer to be able to even begin ranking stuff with evidence we need to have a clear idea of what we are trying to establish.

Hornblower
2014-Oct-01, 01:14 PM
I once saw a magazine article in which the author was speculating on the anatomy of extraterrestrial beings with human-like intelligence. He argued against birds on the grounds that flying is so difficult that a bird's brain is fully occupied with the mechanics of flight. I disagree. The control of the wing beat to achieve controlled powered flight is no more complicated than what I do in playing rapidly moving musical passages on my horn. I would even go so far as to say that it is no more complicated than walking or running. The basic action is regulated by reflexes that require no conscious step-by-step thought, with much of the reflex action occurring in the cerebellum and the spinal cord, if I am not mistaken.

primummobile
2014-Oct-01, 02:21 PM
Bird flight is very complex, and involves much more than just beating the wings. It is especially evident in non-soaring birds like hummingbirds, which have among the highest brain to body mass ratios of any animal. They also have the most complex flight patterns of any vertebrate. It doesn't mean that they are consciously controlling their bodies for flight, it means that they need that "extra" brain mass in order to have the degree of control over their bodies that allow for the kind of flying they do.

Birds of prey, on the other hand, have relatively uncomplicated flight patterns compared to other birds and they really aren't very intelligent when compared to their cousins. However, they have extraordinary vision and a large part of their brain is devoted to that.

A human being playing an instrument is doing so consciously and with a purpose. You are using parts of your brain for that that you also use for other activities. Birds seem to devote large parts of their brain to just one thing so that they can do instinctually what we would have to learn and train ourselves to do.

So, the question becomes one of if a bird using a brain more like a human brain could ever fly. I don't think they could. It's not that they couldn't learn to fly with a brain like ours, but I think the learning curve would be too great and they wouldn't survive.

malaidas
2014-Oct-01, 09:48 PM
I have to disagree in part here, there are several species of bird that can both fly and perform at least rudimentary abstraction, in forward planning and rational problem solving

primummobile
2014-Oct-01, 10:19 PM
I have to disagree in part here, there are several species of bird that can both fly and perform at least rudimentary abstraction, in forward planning and rational problem solving

Disagree with what? No one said that birds can't solve problems. What was said was that using so much of the brain for flying may put a limit on their intelligence.

malaidas
2014-Oct-01, 10:29 PM
That I agree with in principle, my contention was the impression that they couldn't have any intelligence.

Noclevername
2014-Oct-02, 02:49 AM
That I agree with in principle, my contention was the impression that they couldn't have any intelligence.

I think the referenced article may have meant that they could not achieve sapient levels of intelligence, while still being small enough to fly. (I doubt that, but from the other direction; flyers have gotten very large in Earth's history, see Quetzalcoatlus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus).

primummobile
2014-Oct-02, 03:48 PM
I think the referenced article may have meant that they could not achieve sapient levels of intelligence, while still being small enough to fly. (I doubt that, but from the other direction; flyers have gotten very large in Earth's history, see Quetzalcoatlus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus).

Quetzalcotlus was probably a soaring flyer, which requires less brain devoted to flight. But, I think it is more about body size in relation to head size and shape. It seems to me that owls probably have the largest heads in relation to their body size of all birds, and I think most of their brain is tied up with flying and night vision. Most birds I can think of have heads quite a bit smaller than that. The head is one part of a bird's body that doesn't contribute much to flight. I'm not sure it could be much larger than it is. I've been saying "head", but the brain is entirely enclosed in there.

Hornblower
2014-Oct-02, 04:02 PM
I still don't see what is so complicated about the wing action in flying as compared to the action of our legs in bipedal walking. I can see the motion of the wings in large birds such as geese, and I have seen slow motion video of hummingbirds. In both cases it looks like simple repetitive and approximately sinusoidal motion that is subject to voluntary overrides of the reflexes for fine tuning. Our legs, which also are doing a basic oscillation, also have to provide small but instantaneous balance corrections in what is a fundamentally unstable stance if the center of mass gets outside of being directly over the footprint. My inclination is to infer a tossup in the demands made on the brain.

Noclevername
2014-Oct-02, 04:23 PM
It's telling that we've been able to program robots that flap wings to fly, but we have not been able to make a bipedal robot with a convincing humanlike gait.

cjameshuff
2014-Oct-02, 05:44 PM
I think the referenced article may have meant that they could not achieve sapient levels of intelligence, while still being small enough to fly. (I doubt that, but from the other direction; flyers have gotten very large in Earth's history, see Quetzalcoatlus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus).

A little issue with this line of argument...not all birds fly. A flightless avian could benefit from the highly optimized brain structures evolved by its flying ancestors while no longer being subject to the evolutionary pressure against spending brain tissue on non-flight-related tasks.

Main problem I see is ability to manipulate their environment. Crows can make tools, but they are distinctly limited by working with beak and foot, and modern birds have wings so completely optimized for flight that re-adapting them for other purposes seems unlikely...the tendency in flightless birds seems to be to lose them. But that's for modern birds on Earth, the limitations don't necessarily apply to birdlike aliens.

primummobile
2014-Oct-02, 06:24 PM
It's telling that we've been able to program robots that flap wings to fly, but we have not been able to make a bipedal robot with a convincing humanlike gait.

They don't use muscles. They use gears and servo motors, and quite a bit fewer parts than the number of muscles a bird uses to fly.

No one said that one task is more difficult than another, and I can't really tell you which is more difficult. But people can walk with no arms and even most of their legs missing. A bird is controlling flight through three dimensions of motion and using most of the muscles in their body to do so. I've watched sparrows and crows fly through pretty thick growth at high speed without even disturbing a branch. I've watched crows chasing away hawks and in the process performing maneuvers that we are nowhere close to perfecting in mechanical devices.

Bottom line: it takes a lot of brain power to fly. Birds may be limited in brain size because they can't carry around a giant brain and still fly. So that may mean that they have traded some intelligence for the ability to fly. Playing a musical instrument or humans walking really has nothing to do with this.

It is interesting to note that birds are the only other animal on the planet that is exclusively bipedal. Most birds that spend a lot of time flying aren't very good at walking compared to humans or other animals. But flightless birds walk just as well and even better than we do.

Noclevername
2014-Oct-02, 06:26 PM
A little issue with this line of argument...not all birds fly. A flightless avian could benefit from the highly optimized brain structures evolved by its flying ancestors while no longer being subject to the evolutionary pressure against spending brain tissue on non-flight-related tasks.

I think the existence of ground-walking intelligent life is not in question... ;)

cjameshuff
2014-Oct-02, 07:22 PM
I think the existence of ground-walking intelligent life is not in question... ;)

The possible existence of intelligent birds (or birdlike aliens) was questioned, with the unstated assumption being that any such creature would be capable of flight.

Noclevername
2014-Oct-02, 07:44 PM
The possible existence of intelligent birds (or birdlike aliens) was questioned, with the unstated assumption being that any such creature would be capable of flight.
Per the OP:

We mostly likely to rate mammals highest as far as intelligence is concerned, but birds like corvids and psitacoidea are also known for their intelligence.
Robins demonstrate organization skills as well.
All flying species.

IIRC, the flightless birds are generally rather low in intelligence of the problem-solving sort. They tend to rely more on their size and/or speed than intelligence. (Penguins have speed, in an aquatic environment.) So, no evidence that flightless birds might be smarter than flyers.

...And what about bats?

cjameshuff
2014-Oct-02, 07:51 PM
Per the OP:
All flying species.

...the quote just says birds. It doesn't even mention flight.



IIRC, the flightless birds are generally rather low in intelligence of the problem-solving sort. They tend to rely more on their size and/or speed than intelligence. (Penguins have speed, in an aquatic environment.) So, no evidence that flightless birds might be smarter than flyers.

I didn't say they were, just that they aren't subject to the evolutionary pressures that come with flight.



...And what about bats?

What about them?

Noclevername
2014-Oct-02, 08:03 PM
...the quote just says birds. It doesn't even mention flight.

Huh? Psittacoidea (parrots), corvids, and robins are in fact the types of birds specified in that quote. Don't they all fly?

Hornblower
2014-Oct-02, 08:16 PM
I still don't see what is so complicated about the action of a bird's wings in flight. Most of the bird's muscle mass is used to flap the wings, but that is numerous muscle fibers contracting in unison, which seems like a relatively simple operation for whatever brain cells are regulating it. What am I missing, if anything?

primummobile
2014-Oct-02, 10:12 PM
I still don't see what is so complicated about the action of a bird's wings in flight. Most of the bird's muscle mass is used to flap the wings, but that is numerous muscle fibers contracting in unison, which seems like a relatively simple operation for whatever brain cells are regulating it. What am I missing, if anything?

It's the fact that they have to change their angle of attack constantly along with coordinating the angle of the rest of their body. Sparrows don't fly through thickets just by flapping their wings. If you watch slow motion video of a hummingbird hovering or flying backwards you can see their wings doing incredible things. And they are doing that seventy times a second. The closest we can get to a hummingbird is a helicopter and they are pretty complex and nowhere near as maneuverable as a hummingbird.

Hlafordlaes
2014-Oct-03, 10:01 AM
Watched a small flock of little brown birds (LBBs) barreling through a patch of dense woodland the other day. Not only did they all manage to avoid leaf and branch at 30mph, but they also kept up a reasonable semblance of flock behavior at the same time. The image frame rate to manage both simultaneously must be huge. With such a small brain to start with, whatever system they're using to accomplish both tasks must take up a reasonable fraction of skull space.
These birds, unlike humans, might actually stand a chance of surviving something like the speeder bike chase (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speeder_bike) in Star Wars/ Return of the Jedi.

So by saying their brains are like GPUs you mean parallel processing of image data for much better throughput than, say, that of mammals. Wouldn't be surprising to find that to be true.

Here's a link to an MS Word doc (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDQQFjAC&url=ftp%3A%2F%2Fftp.tuebingen.mpg.de%2Fpub%2Fkyb%2 Fschuez%2Fencyclopedia_Brain_Connectivity%2FBrain% 2520Connectivity%2520and%2520Brain%2520Size%2520Sc huz-Sultan.doc&ei=rXAuVLCyOMvmaMDugbAI&usg=AFQjCNGnX5s-MCzX935WUBM1EoiYBVsZLg&sig2=22P20omoV9HEGm6a2KCZGw) from some researchers at Max Planck re brain size and complexity (deals only with mammals). Interesting to see that not all structures/elements are affected equally by scale. The wide variety of cell types, connections and arrangements possible indicates that functional abilities and higher-order processing do not depend on size alone, making brain size a less-than-perfect indicator for the degree of a given form of functional intelligence.

primummobile
2014-Oct-03, 11:45 AM
I don't think anyone is saying that the brain to body mass ratio is a direct indicator of intelligence. But we do know two things: that the brain to body mass ratio does have some correlation to intelligence in vertebrates, and that the more developed some skill or sense is the larger the part of the brain is required to deal with it. For example, dogs have a sense of smell anywhere from a hundred thousand to a million times more sensitive than humans and the olfactory bulb of their brain is proportionately forty times larger than the olfactory bulb in a human's brain.

In the case of soaring birds like eagles the fact that they can see a rodent from almost a mile away, or see a fish under the water from several hundred feet in the air, or simultaneously scan three square miles from an altitude of 1000 feet suggests that their brains have a lot of real estate tied up in vision processing. That, along with the fact that they must also be able to fly and dive with incredible accuracy, may be part of the reason that eagles are relatively dumb compared to other birds.

What I am suggesting is that the amount of processing power needed for flying, along with the aerodynamics of flight limiting the size of a bird's head, may place an upper bound on how intelligent they can evolve to be. I don't know that to be the case. It just seems logical to me.

Darrell
2014-Oct-03, 01:46 PM
A couple of interesting things that may be relevant to this discussion.

Study Shows Bird Brains Came Before Birds (http://commcgi.cc.stonybrook.edu/am2/publish/General_University_News_2/Study_Shows_Bird_Brains_Came_Before_Birds_printer. shtml)


New research published in Nature and led by Amy Balanoff, a Research Instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, provides evidence that dinosaurs evolved the brainpower necessary for flight well before they actually took to the air as birds.

And regarding some birds' ability to accurately fly through cluttered habitats, there is good evidence of how they do it, and it is not particularly data processing intensive compared to many other animals including us. Ornithology Nervous System: Brain and Special Senses II (http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/birdbrain2.html), just a short scroll down the page to a section on "Optic Flow."


When birds have strong motion cues on each side, they can balance optic flow and fly mid-way between objects (or walls). When birds lack strong motion cues, they are unable to balance optic flow and may inadvertently fly too close to the object (or wall) providing weak motion cues (as on the right side of this figure) (Figure source: Bhagavatula et al. 2011).


In the case of soaring birds like eagles the fact that they can see a rodent from almost a mile away, or see a fish under the water from several hundred feet in the air, or simultaneously scan three square miles from an altitude of 1000 feet suggests that their brains have a lot of real estate tied up in vision processing, and that along with the fact that they must also be able to fly and dive with incredible accuracy may be part of the reason that eagles are relatively dumb compared to other birds.

Another factor is that birds of prey are not social. In birds there is a strong correlaton between sociality and cognitive abilities. That same correlation occurs also among mammals. Though the how of it is far from clear, much work is being done on it and hypotheses abound, the correlation is clear and strong.

Hornblower
2014-Oct-04, 03:08 PM
While flight-related structures in the brains of modern birds are highly developed and enable advanced flying skill beyond mere soaring, they are still tiny compared to the sheer mass of the human brain. If it is resolved that a brain has to be that massive to have anything resembling human intelligence, merely eliminating the flight control structures is not going to make it compatible with a bird's anatomy, in which the brain and its protective shell are on the end of a long neck, far from the center of mass.

Suppose, on another planet, the precursors of land-based creatures had evolved with the cranium between the shoulders instead of far forward of them. That would make more sense from an engineering point of view, and I can imagine that a creature the size of a trumpeter swan, about 30 pounds, could carry a much larger brain than the actual swan does. That would allow for the avionics along with a much larger cerebrum analogous to ours. The mouth and eyes could still be carried at the end of a long neck, with the optic nerves as part of the spinal cord. If the precursor had six limbs instead of four, our avian creature could have a pair of arms and hands for manipulating things, as well as wings for lift and propulsion.

Remember, evolution does not practice engineering, and thus does not necessarily yield a perfect creature. It yields creatures whose traits are adequate for survival of genotypes in various ecological niches.

malaidas
2014-Oct-04, 08:11 PM
While flight-related structures in the brains of modern birds are highly developed and enable advanced flying skill beyond mere soaring, they are still tiny compared to the sheer mass of the human brain. If it is resolved that a brain has to be that massive to have anything resembling human intelligence, merely eliminating the flight control structures is not going to make it compatible with a bird's anatomy, in which the brain and its protective shell are on the end of a long neck, far from the center of mass.

Suppose, on another planet, the precursors of land-based creatures had evolved with the cranium between the shoulders instead of far forward of them. That would make more sense from an engineering point of view, and I can imagine that a creature the size of a trumpeter swan, about 30 pounds, could carry a much larger brain than the actual swan does. That would allow for the avionics along with a much larger cerebrum analogous to ours. The mouth and eyes could still be carried at the end of a long neck, with the optic nerves as part of the spinal cord. If the precursor had six limbs instead of four, our avian creature could have a pair of arms and hands for manipulating things, as well as wings for lift and propulsion.

Remember, evolution does not practice engineering, and thus does not necessarily yield a perfect creature. It yields creatures whose traits are adequate for survival of genotypes in various ecological niches.

Nice summation.

Inclusa
2014-Oct-05, 01:27 AM
While flight-related structures in the brains of modern birds are highly developed and enable advanced flying skill beyond mere soaring, they are still tiny compared to the sheer mass of the human brain. If it is resolved that a brain has to be that massive to have anything resembling human intelligence, merely eliminating the flight control structures is not going to make it compatible with a bird's anatomy, in which the brain and its protective shell are on the end of a long neck, far from the center of mass.

Suppose, on another planet, the precursors of land-based creatures had evolved with the cranium between the shoulders instead of far forward of them. That would make more sense from an engineering point of view, and I can imagine that a creature the size of a trumpeter swan, about 30 pounds, could carry a much larger brain than the actual swan does. That would allow for the avionics along with a much larger cerebrum analogous to ours. The mouth and eyes could still be carried at the end of a long neck, with the optic nerves as part of the spinal cord. If the precursor had six limbs instead of four, our avian creature could have a pair of arms and hands for manipulating things, as well as wings for lift and propulsion.

Remember, evolution does not practice engineering, and thus does not necessarily yield a perfect creature. It yields creatures whose traits are adequate for survival of genotypes in various ecological niches.

We probably shouldn't complain why evolution doesn't result in scarless healing, limb or neural regenerations in humans; some argue it is time for us to take evolution in our own hands, but this is another story.
Ratites, the flightless birds, are clearly inferior to corvidae and psittacoidea in cognitive abilities, but they have eyes that can see 3.5 km away! I guess someone has talked about the distribution of cerebral abilities before.

Inclusa
2014-Nov-16, 01:23 AM
How should we explain the cognitive functions of cephalopods, such as octopuses?

Inclusa
2015-Oct-20, 05:05 AM
Then again, why do we assume that extinct dinosaurs are dumber than extant dinosaurs (the birds)?
The assertion is that members of the Troodontidae, which was assumed to be the smartest dinosaur as a family, were no smarter than a newborn cat.
But as noclevername has said, they are all extinct, and we don't have meaningful means to measure their cognitive ability anymore.

Noclevername
2015-Oct-20, 05:36 AM
How should we explain the cognitive functions of cephalopods, such as octopuses?

Big brains are needed to coordinate their large number of muscles and their chromatophores and interpret their advanced vision.

Inclusa
2015-Oct-24, 02:37 AM
Big brains are needed to coordinate their large number of muscles and their chromatophores and interpret their advanced vision.

So cephalopods are "smart" out of necessities?
I'm still thinking what are the "smartest mammals beside primates; some candidates include pigs, rodents, etc.

Noclevername
2015-Oct-24, 04:10 AM
So cephalopods are "smart" out of necessities?


I don't know. My interpretation is that brain size by itself is not enough, the necessities take up a large amount of brainspace all by themselves, and the "luxury" of being "smart" uses whatever is left over. Big brains just can generally spare more processing power for non-vital functions like thinking. But birds with problem-solving talents show that brain size is not the only factor.

Inclusa
2015-Oct-26, 03:04 AM
I don't know. My interpretation is that brain size by itself is not enough, the necessities take up a large amount of brainspace all by themselves, and the "luxury" of being "smart" uses whatever is left over. Big brains just can generally spare more processing power for non-vital functions like thinking. But birds with problem-solving talents show that brain size is not the only factor.

What do these feral parrots entail about the adoption and cognitive abilities of Psittacinae?

Noclevername
2015-Oct-26, 04:13 AM
What do these feral parrots entail about the adoption and cognitive abilities of Psittacinae?

I have no idea.