(I hope this is coherent enough. I've been working on this, and Part III, for several days now, here and there, but my day to day mental states haven't been all that conducive to writing. And then something awful happened, but at the moment it's not over yet, and I just can't think all that straight. But this was close enough to being ready to post, I think
, that after a few edits or so, I just have to go ahead and post what I have here.)Part I
More response to Stuff to Blow Your Mind's The Unsettling Depths of Bird Intelligence
. My comments might seem a bit random, but that's because I don't particularly feel like attempting to write a smoothly flowing essay.
It is worth beginning by pointing out the one glaring issue with all of this: what exactly do we mean by 'intelligence'? History of anthropology and anthropological accounts clearly reveal biases on what constitutes intelligence. (And how many times did tribal peoples think these anthropologists were idiots for not understanding certain things that were obvious to them?) I won't go into (again, for the umpteenth time
) all of the criticisms and problems with the notion of "intelligence" qua
IQ test, or anything similar. One might also argue that there are perhaps distinct types of intelligence. Furthermore, even if one could come up with a suitable definition and a method of determining the degree of intelligence, the issue of whether intelligence is fixed or flexible
needs to be addressed, especially since it often isn't. And while that might seem to apply only to humans, whereas for all other species it must
be fixed, such an assumption would clearly be biased so as to find some
way of somehow distinguishing [distancing] ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom and varied forms of life on the planet. Besides, there are characteristics in some species that we assumed for the longest time had to be instinct
or inborn, but have turned out to, in fact, be learned. For example, otters must learn to swim; a mother spends quite a lot of time teaching her pups to swim, and she is even methodological in her curriculum of teaching lessons. Meerkats have to learn how to eat the poisonous scorpions they are so well known for eating; and once again, mothers are quite methodological. There are migratory birds that have to learn to migrate, and one very significant example is the whooping crane. Conservation efforts – which, for the whooping crane, are very challenging – involve raising them in captivity until they are mature enough to make a migratory flight; then they are led across the entire migration route by a person flying a powered parachute (or some such vehicle). And there are plenty of other examples.
They – the hosts of the podcast, that is – read a quote from Herzog on the intelligence, or lack thereof, of chickens. Herzog sees them as incredibly and utterly stupid, and makes the claim that this is evidenced by how easy they are to hypnotize.
I was rather surprised that neither of the hosts doing the episode made any mention of why Herzog's statement is refutable nonsense. Herzog is claiming that hypnotizability is evidence of a lack of intelligence. Except that the evidence is quite clear: there is an observed correlation between higher than average intelligence and hypnotizability (in people – and pretty sure we're talking about IQ). Of course there are exceptions, but it has been observed to be generally true. As always, correlation does not equate to causation, so whether the correlation is meaningful or accidental, no one knows, though there are many hypotheses out there to choose from. So, whatever you think about the cognitive capacities of chickens, Herzog's statement is misguided and confused.
Related to the Herzog quote, there is mention of, for some people at least, though this is not being claimed by the hosts themselves, a sense of emptiness in the eyes of birds. I simply had to say that, my first thought was: try looking into a hawk
's or eagle
's eyes, or even some vultures, like a beard
or a cape griffon
. (And I would just like to point out that I just spent two and half hours being mesmerized looking at pictures of those birds.)( Collapse )