Tag Archives: Animals

Crow Smarts

It’s been a long time since I bought a children’s book — until today. Or at least it arrived today. I heard about it on a science show, Kids book goes inside the crow’s smart bird brain, and could not resist.

Look at this:

The New Caledonian crow shapes a hooked tool to extract grubs from logs.

And this:

The damn clever thing shapes another digging tool by tapering it so that it has a thick end for holding and a pointy end for digging into crevices.

The crows here have straight beaks, not slightly curved ones, and eyes more to the front of their heads than do other species of crow. Since these traits enable a more efficient use of tools (more difficult to work them with a curved beak and harder to get the aim right with eyes further apart) it appears that tool use has favoured the evolution of these smarter crows.

If like me you want to catch up with what the kids are reading and learning, check it out….

Culture Wars: Do Non-Human Animals Have Cultural Behaviours?

culturallivesAn interesting discussion has appeared in Salon.com. It’s an excerpt from The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins by Whitehead and Rendell. Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

There are now, however, enough solidly demonstrated examples . . . for the study of social learning to be accepted as a valid and growing field within mainstream animal behavior science. . . While behavioral ecologists may question the evidence and suggest alternative explanations, they are generally not appalled by the very notion of chim­panzee or whale culture.

The fiercest critics come mostly from anthro­pology and psychology. Here, it is the very concept of animal culture that is anathema, not the nature of the evidence. It is part of the paradigm in most of the social sciences, insofar as the social sciences have paradigms, that humans are unique in having culture or, at least, in being overwhelmingly cultured. Culture in other species, if it exists, is an epiphenomenon, not ter­ribly important. It is the challenge to this paradigm that is being resisted.

And finally

We have got ourselves an idea of what we mean by “culture.” We have seen how controversial the notion that nonhumans might have culture is in some quarters. We have also seen how quickly things are changing in the way we understand these issues. read more »

More Reading: Breakthrough in Argentina; Death without God

Sandra, the first legally recognized non-human person
Sandra, the first legally recognized non-human person

One of the books that helped me on my way to atheism was Robert Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative. That work enabled me to grasp the idea that our sense of morality really does have a biological foundation, that a moral sense is not unique to humans, and our ethical nature can indeed be explained without recourse to God. I have continued to have a fascination for any observations throwing further light on the nature of us all — human and non-human animals.

So I was immediately drawn to Steve Wiggins blogpost reviewing Can Animals Be Moral? by Mark Rowlands. I can recall as child struggling to accept the more learned notion of some scientists that animals have no feelings in the sense that humans do; we must not impute our feelings into their charades. The more I have observed the less able I am to believe that.

Then only days after Wiggins’ review I read that a court in Argentina has reportedly recognized for the first time the reality of “a non-human person”.

Another book that did not interest me personally but that I see is gaining considerable attention on the web is Greta Christina’s Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God. Personally I have no problem with the idea of death as the cessation of everything. But evidently we all have different perspectives on this and Greta’s book does meet a wider interest. And given its electronic version only costs $3 I thought, “what the hell” and have downloaded it for future reference. Now I can find out what all the fuss is about when I have a spare moment.

I see Richard Carrier has also given this one a plug.


(This post is by Neil, not Tim.)


Barking Owls

New neighbours have moved in for a few months — two owls who think they’re dogs and bark instead of hoot.

Discovered them recently when I heard dog-barking sounds coming from up in a tree. That experience always requires investigation and this is what I found. Unfortunately I could not get a video of them but I captured the sound nonetheless.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Barking Owls.

The last few days I’ve only ever seen the one perched in the tree. Hope the explanation is that its mate is hidden in a fork of a nearby tree caring for eggs.

Related articles

And the cheetah shall lie down with the impala

Photo by Michel Denis-Huot: More photos and story from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246886/Pictured-Three-cheetahs-spare-tiny-antelopes-life–play-instead.html

Do Bad Chimps Go to Hell?

Image from Mail Online

Loved this, yet one more story from animal kingdom demonstrating that other species are “people too”.

Chimp Planned Rock Attack on Zoo Visitors? (this title links to the full BBC/AFP/ABC article)

The above pic and others of Santino in action, and original story, and links to similar stories, are found in Mail Online’s Science & Tech section.

Mathias Osvath, a Lund University researcher, says Santino’s behaviour shows convincingly that our fellow apes consider the future in a very complex way. . . . . . . . . . .

“It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events,” he said.

“They most probably have an inner world like we have when reviewing past episodes of our lives.”

So an ape has memory, and the ability to work with that memory to plan future events, and to plan actions now to prepare for those future events?

I loved many of the comments tagged on the end of this story. I’m reminded of what I’ve witnessed with both mice and various Australian birds, especially magpies and kookaburras. I’ll have to write up some stories here as soon as I get some real free time. But I have learned that they, too, clearly have self-awareness and love and other feelings for one another.

But back to this topic. How do Creation Scientists or Intelligent Designists explain this sort of behaviour among animals vis a vis the evidence they assert for some sort of divinely implanted human soul? We know from other studies that chimps not only plan “bad behaviour” (we know of their plans and group activity to go out on search and destroy their fellow-kind missions) but also of their loving and magnanimous gestures towards one another too.

And we know how humans can be so easily treated from bad propensities to “good” ones by the mere addition of a bit of sleep, change of diet or a chemical added to the brain.

Would this stone-throwing “hood” chimp also be changed to go out and offer bananas or gestures of friendship to visitors with an injection of seratonin?

I used to wonder, as a Christian, how God could possibly judge such cases of a child-beater repeating the pattern of parents vis a vis another reformed misfit who could attribute all their change to a good lie-down or kind word of assurance from a significant other.

for the sake of peace, think of ourselves as animals

Australian Customs ship, Oceanic Viking, has just returned with film footage of recent Japanese whaling for government ministers to study.

Campaigners against cruelty to animals know how to get their message across. Graphic footage works. It is even said to have helped turn public support against the Vietnam war.  Nothing worse than eating dinner and being confronted with footage of clubbing seals that look so damnably cute, mulesing sheep which still have that damnable iconic image of innocence, spearing and shooting whales until they eventually stop struggling against their fate, screaming naked children fleeing napalmed villages.

I can’t quite fathom the ethics that prohibit the publication of graphic pictures of humans being dismembered at times when governments call on publics to back their next war.

Why don’t we campaign for community standards that will favour the contempt of media for failing to show — “show”, that is, graphically — both sides of a story?

Anti-war campaigns rightly need to be salted with comedy, funny masks and silly costumes. But we anti-war campaigners could also take a leaf from the campaigners against cruelty to animals. Sure it upsets people. But that’s good. It should.

“Suffering is suffering” — for both human and nonhuman animals

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) makes up for its sometimes offensive tactics by it’s huge financial support from the Hollywood rich. There’s an interesting and largely persuasive (to me who is already persuaded) interview with PETA vice president Dan Mathews now available online.

But I was converted to the cause by Peter Singer. Apparently as was Richard Dawkins. Links are to online articles of an interview with Singer and a review of Singer by Dawkins.