Location: Darmstadt, Hessen, Germany

I'm a sort of creative person, seeking the meaning of life . Hard to capture the essence of the mind/brain/soul - but I delight in arguing with ultra-materialists on consciousness. Ah! the smell of a rose and its redness, the smell of a fine wine, a sunset, - great stuff, and all subjective. Oh yeah and actually am Scorpio by 4 hours according to expert astrologer friend - blogger auto-star-sign system missed the fact that I'm on the cusp. Though I agree with Casius when he said "the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings".

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Crows and parrots - tools and language

Crows are the handymen, parrots the loquacious ones. This is brought out wonderfully in Irene Pepperberg's book " Alex & I' about her research with African gray parrot Alex. He was so good at talking he knew he could get anyone to do what he wanted: so when they wanted to see if he was as good at solving riddles like how to use a tool to get something, while his less talkative fellow. parrots did the task, he just sat there and asked the assistant to get the thing for him. That was his way of solving the task. I highlighted crows' ability in this letter to my local paper:

"I find that (crow critics) view the activities of the crows in too negative a light. I also live near a set of trees where the crows assemble before flying to their nests in the evening or before leaving on a foraging trip in the morning. Ever since learning about how clever these marvelous birds are (in New Caledonia due to lack of resources the crows developed tools with even greater inventiveness than chimps) I have begun to observe them and find them fascinating. Especially now, as they begin their courting rituals, the males engage in feats of aerial acrobatics sometimes sweeping amongst the houses in spectacular feats of birdmanship not to attack a la Hitchcock but to impress the female of their choice: they are monogamous, forming romantic bonds with one and one bird only. Once one has learned to accept them as a marvelous part of nature, one can appreciate their elegant flights. Even their calls should not be thought of as noise, as they belong officially to the song birds. As was pointed out on a TV program recently (ZDF Doku or so) , it is a scandal that the rules of hunting in Germany were recently relaxed to allow these intelligent birds to be exterminated like vermin. Would we allow the same for chimpanzees? Thus is indeed fortunate that not many hunters avail of this return to barbarity. My life has been enormously enriched by these artists of the skies. I encourage those who fear them to read up on avian intelligence: parrots are also slowly updating the image of "pretty Polly" when Jane Goodall visited the African gray parrot N'Kisi in New York, he, having seen a photo of her with apes, greeted her with "Got a chimp?". He has a vocabulary of over 900 words - "

That tape of N'Kisi talking is amazing - I was waiting for the parrot to talk: "why are these 2 women talking away - I want to hear the bird" - until I followed the script and found one of the normal sounding New Yorkers was the parrot! See yourself:

Of course he's telling what he wants and thinks: Pepperberg showed in her research that parrots can do that: Alex, when bored with a task, jumped ahead and showed he understood what they were trying to test: i.e. he meta-performed. So Parrots are no fools. Nor are crows...