aesop’s fables and thinking, summer lawn chairs, the leech – it grew and fed

I’ve read this over three times and had a difficult time imagining what the Jays did, Scientists Use Aesop’s Fable To Unlock How We Think Cambridge scientists have used an age-old fable to help illustrate how we think differently to other animals. So I tracked down the original paper which explains more detail – How Do Children Solve Aesop’s Fable?

Studies on members of the crow family using the “Aesop’s Fable” paradigm have revealed remarkable abilities in these birds, and suggested a mechanism by which associative learning and folk physics may interact when learning new problems. In the present study, children between 4 and 10 years of age were tested on the same tasks as the birds. Overall the performance of the children between 5–7-years was similar to that of the birds, while children from 8-years were able to succeed in all tasks from the first trial. However the pattern of performance across tasks suggested that different learning mechanisms might be being employed by children than by adult birds. Specifically, it is possible that in children, unlike corvids, performance is not affected by counter-intuitive mechanism cues.

[ ]…To investigate whether the birds’ performance could be explained by instrumental learning, Cheke and colleagues conducted a series of control tests that showed that the birds were able to learn in a mechanised version of the task in which stone-dropping resulted in the approach of food. The jays were, however, unable to learn when the reward probabilities remained the same, but the reward did not move. This contrast was interpreted to suggest that it was not the causal mechanism of the Aesop’s Fable task that the birds were able to learn, but the relationship between stone-insertions and movement.

The children and the birds learned that displacing the water in one side of the tube caused the prize to get close enough to the surface to retrieve. When the Jays were confronted with a situation where the prize did not move on the first try, they could not think their way to another solution.  Jays are very smart, but they’re not as smart as dolphins. So why stop with Jays on finding the differences between how children and animals think. Divided dolphin societies merge ‘for first time’

The Moreton Bay dolphins were thought to be the only recorded example of a single population that consisted of groups not associating with each other.

The was split dubbed “the parting of the pods”.

But since the study that discovered the rift, trawlers have been banned from designated areas of the bay leading to a 50% reduction in the fishing effort.

A key area of the bay to the south, where the social split was first observed by a previous study, has been protected.

The changes gave scientists a unique opportunity to observe the adaptability of dolphin society.

The “trawler” dolphins from Moreton Bay had previously fed on the bycatch from boats while the “non-trawlers” found other sources of food.

“There’s never been really any experiments looking at social structure… where you can compare what it was like before and what it is like now,” said Dr Ina Ansmann, a marine vertebrate ecologist at the University of Queensland and the study’s lead author.

Analysing how the population interacted before and after trawling meant the team could assess how the dolphins’ social network had changed.

“The dolphins had basically re-arranged their whole social system after trawling disappeared so they’re now actually interacting again,” Dr Ansmann told BBC Nature.

The scientists identified individual dolphins by the marks on their dorsal fin and recorded which animals were associating with which.

“Each dolphin has small injuries like nicks and notches, cuts and things like that on the fin so they all have a very unique looking dorsal fin.”

This technique meant that Dr Ansmann could observe changes in behaviour, in some cases down to the individual dolphins which had been studied in the 1990s to reveal the original division.

“Presumably they’re sharing information, co-operating and things like that.”

Dolphins operate in what is called a fission-fusion society, forming groups and then splitting up to form different groups.

Through complex communication and social intelligence, bottlenose dolphins often work as a team when hunting for food and Dr Ansmann believes this may be what lies behind the unification.

“When relying on natural food sources I guess it’s more important for them to interact with others, or to learn from others, or to co-operate with others to get to these food sources,” she said.

The results suggest that a flexible social structure may be an important factor in how dolphins exploit a wide range of resources in the marine environment.

It also seems like the dolphins who had been following the fishing boats had to do something like abstract thinking. How would they know that joining up with another dolphin group, one in which they had no previous interest in, would likely result in new sources of food. It appears as though they had to imagine future events, a major feature of human intelligence.

summer lawn chairs

My reading habits are probably a factor, but it is funny how essays over the course of a week or sometimes a month will have common elements. I mentioned Joyce Carol Oates critique of Charles Dickens the other day. In this essay it turns out that Charles Darwin was an admirer of Dickens and was inspired by him to improve his prose style, Darwin’s ‘clumsy’ prose

Closer to home, Darwin’s readers were not always more enamoured of his style. Within weeks of its appearance, George Eliot wrote that she thought the book (Origin of Species) “ill-written”, and that she didn’t think it would be very popular. But few could doubt its significance, and writers were among the first to see this. Hitting the bookshops in November 1859, it sold out on the first day, Darwin’s publisher John Murray told him. Eliot said “it will have a great effect in the scientific world . . . . So the world gets on step by step towards brave clearness and honesty!”, and Thomas Hardy, who read it as a teenager, declared himself to be one of its first champions. Rereading the Origin (“slowly again for the nth time, with the view of picking out the essentials of the argument for the obituary notice”), T. H. Huxley remarked that “nothing entertains me more than to hear people call it easy reading”. “Exposition”, he insisted, “was not Darwin’s forte – and his English is sometimes wonderful.” This wonderful English, the extraordinary prose that could puzzle Darwin’s Victorian readers, is the subject of George Levine’s new book, from which Darwin emerges as an artist as well as a scientist, a master of argument, analogical reasoning, hypothesis and anecdote.

Darwin became good friends with George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans). Perhaps that is why he seemed to take her criticism to heart. He struggled with and rewrote some kept passages in Origins,

Darwin had, though, in his own words, “to labour very hard & slowly at every sentence”, often reading aloud to an imaginary listener, or to his wife, as he strove to find the right way to explain something, convinced of the necessity of writing clearly, and surprised to find himself an author, promising his publisher as he finished the Origin that he would do his utmost to improve his style. And, sometimes, the metaphors weren’t right. In a laboured sentence in notebook D (1838), a force “like a hundred thousand wedges” was “trying force into every kind of adapted structure into the gaps of in the economy of nature”; by the Origin the face of nature (which a few pages earlier was “bright with gladness” in a superabundant world) is compared to “ten thousand sharp wedges” driven in “by incessant blows”. But by the second edition (Levine mistakenly gives this as the sixth), of 1860, the wedges were gone. Was the image just too violent? As Levine reminds us, Darwin was thinking more about cooperation.

adrian brody in chalk

The human species also has what appears to a fairly unique ability to engage in speech without engaging the higher parts of their brain – Romney Praises Israel’s Universal Health Care System, Which Includes Individual Mandate. Anyone can live in a mental bubble, but the wealthy and those in positions of authority, especially when those two overlap, tend to rate highly on the bubble mental state scale. Romney and his echo out in Conservatoria built everything and didn’t need no darn help from anyone, ever – How the U.S. Government Helped Mitt Romney Build His Fortune.

The leech was waiting for food. For millennia it had been drifting
across the vast emptiness of space. Without consciousness, it had spent
the countless centuries in the void between the stars. It was unaware
when it finally reached a sun. Life-giving radiation flared around the
hard, dry spore. Gravitation tugged at it.

A planet claimed it, with other stellar debris, and the leech fell,
still dead-seeming within its tough spore case.

One speck of dust among many, the winds blew it around the Earth, played
with it, and let it fall.

On the ground, it began to stir. Nourishment soaked in, permeating the
spore case. It grew–and fed.

From the sci-fi short story The Leech by Phillips Barbee via Project Gutenberg