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Science

Magpies Are Self-Aware 591

Posted by kdawson
from the who-you-callin'-birdbrain dept.
FireStormZ writes "Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror, confounding the notion that self-awareness is the exclusive preserve of humans and a few higher mammals. It had been thought only four species of apes, bottlenose dolphins, and Asian elephants shared the human ability to recognize their own bodies in a mirror. But German scientists reported on Tuesday that magpies, a species with a brain structure very different from mammals, could also identify themselves. It had been thought that the neocortex brain area found in mammals was crucial to self-recognition. Yet birds, which last shared a common ancestor with mammals 300 million years ago, don't have a neocortex, suggesting that higher cognitive skills can develop in other ways."
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Magpies Are Self-Aware

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  • by blind biker (1066130) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:13AM (#24670613) Journal

    It has been known that magpies can solve various kinds of mechanical puzzles, much better than most (all?) other birds and even mammals. Now this isn't related to self-avareness, I guess, but it is quite interesting nonetheless.

    • by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:22AM (#24670665)

      Several other birds are also known for pretty amazing intellectual feats (symbolic language is a pretty famous one), considering their brain size.

      It's probably because of those scary velociraptor genes.

      • Crows, for one (Score:5, Informative)

        by dreamchaser (49529) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:28AM (#24670693) Homepage Journal

        Crows have been observed making tools [sciencemag.org] and using them.

        Birds are in general a lot smarter than we've given them credit for. It might be time to rethink the term 'bird brain'.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @07:59AM (#24671281) Homepage Journal

          Birds are in general a lot smarter than we've given them credit for.

          My chubby cat is not so impressed with the intelligence of the birds in our back yard.

          Seriously, anyone who has ever had a parrot or macaw as a pet can tell you they're smarter than most people would think. And more social.

        • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Interesting)

          by SharpFang (651121) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:04AM (#24671303) Homepage Journal

          Don't give them all so much credit.

          My "automatic vision systems" teacher gave an interesting lecture about research on hens. Hens are awfully dumb. They have an instinctive reaction to images of weasels (panic/run) and to sound (tweeting) of small chickens ("herd/care"). The researchers made a model of a weasel that was making the chicken noise. Hens exposed to this experienced software failure: they would freeze and stop reacting to all other external signals/impulses until the chirping weasel was removed. :)

          • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Interesting)

            by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:40AM (#24671649) Journal

            i think this is the same thing that made pigs, dogs and cows a lot more docile than their wild counterparts. selective breeding.

            dumb chickens are less likely to escape, wich is good for farmers.

            you don't have to make a complex chirping weasel model to brain-freeze a chicken. just hold its head close to a surface, then draw a straight line with a marker starting on its beak and extending about 30cm. the chicken will stay there hypnotized for a couple of minutes.

            • by TummyX (84871) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:48AM (#24672671)


              you don't have to make a complex chirping weasel model to brain-freeze a chicken. just hold its head close to a surface, then draw a straight line with a marker starting on its beak and extending about 30cm. the chicken will stay there hypnotized for a couple of minutes.

              The chicken could be stunned because it is thinking: "WTF? Why is he drawing a straight line from my beak and onto the ground. Weird ass humans".

              • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Interesting)

                by Fishead (658061) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @11:23AM (#24674395)

                I can attest that this works, and you are the first person outside of my family that I have heard it from.

                I used to do that when I was giving the chore of separating the chicken from his head. I had an old beam that I would place the chicken on, stretch her neck out and draw a line away from her beak on some dirt on the beam. When you do that, the whole nervous system must be on pause because they don't even flap a wing after you cut their head off. Hmm... any biologists needing a research project?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by SharpFang (651121)

              I don't think anyone ever specifically -bred- chickens for (low) intelligence.

              There may be two evolutionary factors though.

              1. chickens that don't run away have a better chance for being bred. The runaway ones usually die pretty quickly and are rarely a basis of huge farms.
              2. intelligence of a (domesticated) chicken doesn't improve its survival ratio the least bit. Unused organs (parts of brain) degenerate.

          • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Insightful)

            by sm62704 (957197) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:45AM (#24671719) Journal

            Don't give us all so much credit. There are a lot of things hard-wired into an animal's brain that comes from millions of years of evolution, and other things that come from the organism's experiences.

            For instance, a heterosexual man can't help but look at a pretty girl, which annoys the hell out of their wives. When I stopped smoking, a year later when I didn't have any craving for tobacco whatever and had no desire to light a cigarette, nevertheless when I walked down the steps at work my hand automatically grabbed the shirt pocket that had held cigarettes all those years.

            We are only another species of organism. There's nothing special about us; at least, no more than any other species. We have big brains, so what? We almost became extinct 70,000 years ago [telegraph.co.uk] despite our big brains.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by awol (98751)

              There's nothing special about us; at least, no more than any other species.

              On the contrary there is something special about us. We are the only species capable of exceeding the physical limits of our bodies.

              For a long time we have been able to lift heavier weights, move faster, communicate more quickly than the physical limits of our bodies, to name but a few. Soon we may even be able to reason beyond our brains capacity by the creation of special machines. That will be an extraordinary day.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by pohl (872)

                I've seen a video of a crow fashioning a hook out of a piece of wire and using it to snare something from the bottom of a glass beaker â" which exceeded the length of the crow's beak.

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by Alpha830RulZ (939527)

                  While not quite the same thing, I watched a crow roll an almost empty latte' cup around on a hill so that it could sip the last few drops out.

                  Only in Seattle do we have caffiene addicted crows.

            • Re:Crows, for one (Score:4, Insightful)

              by jav1231 (539129) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:55AM (#24672763)

              There's nothing special about us; at least, no more than any other species. We have big brains, so what?

              I realize this kind of rhetoric makes us feel better when we chide intelligent designers or want to alleviate our guilt but the fact is we are special. How many cities have dolphins, apes, and those crows built? How much literature have they written? Ever see a movie directed by Shamu? Check and mate!

              • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Insightful)

                by galoise (977950) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @10:46AM (#24673699)

                Although i am a hard-line meat eating humanist, i do think he has a point, and you have not been able to contradict him.

                Apart from an species bias based on genetic composition, there's no clear cut criteria to define human (tool making and self awareness discarded). Now you propose, among others, i presume, city building, literature writing and movie directing as criteria. I have not done anything of the above, and apart from genetic similarity, i have no relation to anyone who has. Am I Human?

                To put it differently: Who built cities? was it the worker? his part in city building is no more complex than the role performed by the crow using a tool. Maybe the architect? then his humanity is tied to a capacity for abstract design, but then again, there are many homo sapiens of whom we do not know if they posses such capacity. Are they to be considered human too? and if we have no proof of their capacity, on what basis should they be considered human?

                In the end, the whole capacity-based point of view is flawed. It's impossible to determine now if any capacity chosen as criteria will not be replicated by some non-human agent in the future, be it because we discovered it or because we create it, so we end up with only two possible criteria: Genetics and Empathy. And both are arbitrary: In the strict sense, the concept of "species" is irrelevant form a genetic point of view, as argued by Dawkins in the Selfish Gene and the Extended Phenotype. And empathy is just a generalization and aggregation of a capacity based criteria, not to say it's subjective and not possible to state formally (e.g. some forms of disability produce repulsion, etc).

                All in all, i think this is no trivial matter...

                • Re:Crows, for one (Score:4, Interesting)

                  by fyngyrz (762201) * on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @12:39PM (#24676103) Homepage Journal

                  Ants, termites, swallows, various corals, all build cities.

                  Birds and various apes use tools.

                  I can put a dollop of whipped cream on my cat's head, and when she gets on the washstand and looks in the mirror and sees it, she immediately licks her paw, reaches up to the top of her head, and wipes it off (and eats it.) She always gets it all, and turns her head this way and that while watching the mirror to make sure.

                  I taught her to do that. You know how? Trivial:

                  I put it on, used *my* finger to gets some off her head while she was watching in the mirror, and put it on her lips. I did this exactly once. Consequently, it is perfectly evident that she knows what she sees in the mirror perfectly well. It's just that she had no reason to care about what she saw until I gave her one.

                  If you have a cat, please try this; takes no special equipment other than whipped cream and a mirror, and I very much suspect there's nothing special about my cat as compared to yours; mine's a neutered female "snowshoe" meezer, just for reference. Here she is [flickr.com].

                  My experience with cats (I've always had at least one, and I'm 52) leads me to think they're the same as we are, they just tend to be similar to children in their mental capacities, except where they're neurologically better than we are (athletic abilities, predation, faster processing of threats and faster reactions, different set of vision compromises...) I've not had nearly as many dogs, but even so, I'm very comfortable saying they're like children with a different set of limits than cats. In turn, I strongly suspect that the rest of the animal kingdom follows in like fashion.

                  As far as I've ever been able to tell, the entire "we're superior to animals" meme is a consequence of hubris, thousands of years of religious nonsense, a lack of a decent way to really measure, quantify, and compare either us or them, and a baseline resistance because they're trivially easy to enslave and worse, plus they can't argue about it effectively, unlike humans.

                  IMHO, as a race, we have a long way to go. I don't see much hope for change, either. The citizens of my country (USA) are still convinced for the most part that they're the specially cared for children of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent creator, who "made" animals for their convenience. Which would be pitiful, if the consequences weren't so outright savage for animals and people.

                  Here's a place where you can support victimless animal meat research; please consider donating. I do.

                  New Harvest - Non-profit [new-harvest.org]

          • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Insightful)

            by value_added (719364) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:04AM (#24671979)

            Don't give them all so much credit.

            Hens are awfully dumb. They have an instinctive reaction to images of weasels (panic/run) and to sound (tweeting) of small chickens ("herd/care").

            Slashdotters are awfully dumb. They have an instinctive reaction to images of the opposite sex (arousal/enlarged penises) and to sound (heavy breathing) of the their favourite bands ("tribal/belonging"). Don't give them all so much credit.

            Employees are awfully dumb. They have an instinctive reaction to the arrival of their boss (panic/run) and to sound (yelling) of anyone in authority ("fear/flight"). Don't give them all so much credit.

            Lather, rinse, repeat.

            Setting aside the hand-wavy theories and taxonomies promoted by those in the social sciences, I'd say that such generalisations, while possibly interesting, are mostly meaningless. If a fairly accurate generalisation can be made, it's that our age-old insistence that we're somehow unique or different is repeatedly proven wrong, and the underlying hubris has interfered with our ability to understand not only ourselves, but the world around us.

          • Re:Crows, for one (Score:4, Interesting)

            by aug24 (38229) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:59AM (#24672839) Homepage

            If you showed me a baby that was roaring like a lion, or a lion that cried with a sound like my son, I might well stop still and think for a while too. Especially if I was in dim light or unable to see clearly for some reason.

            It doesn't show that chickes are stupid, but that they didn't know what to do with conflicting information. We humans have extremely good vision, and will almost certainly go with whatever the eyes say (heh... the 'eye's have it... heh), but chickens' vision is less acute so they would be confused.

            Justin.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by pnewhook (788591)

            My "automatic vision systems" teacher gave an interesting lecture about research on hens. Hens are awfully dumb.

            It's well known that chickens are stupid. Any animal kept in captivity and inbred for generations for food and raised on steroids can't be that bright. Turkeys are also colossally stupid.

          • Re:Crows, for one (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Miseph (979059) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @11:37AM (#24674697) Journal

            Yes, chickens are dumb. That has little to no relevance to whether magpies are smart because they aren't the same species.

            Some birds (corvids, parrots, ) ARE quite smart, some (chickens, domesticated turkeys) are much less smart. Similarly, some mammals (dolphins, chimpanzees) are very intelligent, while others (manatees, people who enjoy country music) are notoriously stupid.

        • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Interesting)

          by roaddemon (666475) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:12AM (#24671359)

          I've always noticed that, despite their propensity for hanging around roadkill on busy highways, I've never seen a dead crow on the road.

          • Re:Crows, for one (Score:4, Informative)

            by TedRiot (899157) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:18AM (#24671411)
            I remember reading somewhere that they have quite advanced learning mechanisms. It is enough that one of them gets hit by a car and the rest who saw the incident know not to get hit by cars.
            • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Interesting)

              by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:35AM (#24671593)

              I remember reading somewhere that they have quite advanced learning mechanisms. It is enough that one of them gets hit by a car and the rest who saw the incident know not to get hit by cars.

              In a pop-sci magazine I once saw a photo of a robin hovering over a pool, with a story about how it had learned to hunt like a kingfisher. It just sat there watching the kingfisher fish, and when it left, the robin tried the same technique, refining it as it figured out what worked and what didn't. For example, it had to hover over the deeper part of the water to chanse the fish to the shallower part.

              I find it very hard to believe, but the magazine is pretty reputable. Must have been the Einstein of robins.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                Herons (and other birds) have also been known to learn to fish with bait. Since this is not a common behaviour, it is supposed that each bird has to figure it out for itself, possibly by watching what happens when people throw bread into duckponds.

                Can't be bothered to post a link. Google 'heron bread fish' for more details.

          • by Smauler (915644) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @12:29PM (#24675885)

            Nice theory, but I've seen loads of dead crows on the road, as well as pigeons which seem to love attempting to dive bomb my van. The other day I was driving along, and there was a pigeon pecking away at something in the middle of the road. I braked, expecting it to fly away, but it didn't, and I didn't have time to stop. I didn't feel any impact, so I looked in my rear view mirror, and it was still happily pecking away in the middle of the road, seconds after my car had gone straight over the top of it. I'm not sure if this indicates extreme stupidity or extreme intelligence though.

        • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:12AM (#24671363) Journal

          The reason we believe that animals aren't conscious, and are like little automaton, is because it allows us to treat them with callous disregard. Humans who are ideologically unbound from natural sympathy and empathy and treat other animals with callous disregard achieve dominance over their environment.

          We do the same thing to the world itself. We are not OF this place, we are simply IN this place, temporarily, after which our soul will leave. So, we can treat the world itself with callous disregard, without consequence.

          We also do this to other humans. They don't have a soul, only we have a soul. Therefore, we do not belittle ourselves when we belittle them, because we are so much more than they are, while they are simply creatures of the muck, like animals.

          This ruthless perspective is an overwhelmingly effective tool. Therefore, it is the truth. The rest is just supporting mythology.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            This ruthless perspective is an overwhelmingly effective tool. Therefore, it is the truth. The rest is just supporting mythology.
            Oh the irony of your post. Especially your "mythology" when you mention the "soul" 3 times in your post. Pray tell, where does this "soul" of which you speak go after we leave this place?
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by mcvos (645701)

              I don't think you understand what he's talking about. It's not about soul, it's about rationalising excuses to treat others badly.

            • Re:Crows, for one (Score:5, Insightful)

              by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:40AM (#24671657) Journal
              Oh the irony of your post. Especially your "mythology" when you mention the "soul" 3 times in your post. Pray tell, where does this "soul" of which you speak go after we leave this place?

              The point is that those tribes which have embraced this ideology have dominated the world, while those that did not were driven to extinction. It's evolution at work, just at a different level of granularity than what you can look at in a lab.

              The whole concept of a "soul" exists for the purpose of supporting the perspective that we are aliens in this place, that we will go home through some mystical means when our vehicle here (our body) wears out, and we can do anything we like to the place while we're here, because it's alien and inconsequential.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by nasor (690345)
                There are roughly a billion Hindus who refute this hypothesis.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Whiteox (919863)

            Recognition by a bird in a mirror doesn't mean that it has 'consciousness', but understands that it is itself, so it is 'self aware'. This is due to the effect of natural reflection of (let's say) water. Some animals (lions, tigers and bears) would not be worried if they saw their own reflection in water. Others would - like dogs for example.

  • Food? (Score:3, Funny)

    by sckeener (137243) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:17AM (#24670627)

    I had issues with self-aware animals being used for testing or being killed for food or tusks....

    Now I have to worry about magpies? damn....I loves me Magpie meat.

  • Magpies are evil. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by acehole (174372) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:20AM (#24670651) Homepage

    In Australia, when its nesting season for Magpies they swoop people who go within their territory. Now I had to walk a fair way to catch a bus which just happened to intersect with a couple of magpies. One particular time I had one swoop, peck and draw some blood on some demon birdesque fly-by. I ran and took shelter at a nearby mall and waited about 5 minutes or so. I saw other people walking around and assumed that the coast was clear and went on my merry way. However, said demon bird was waiting for me and attacked again. Why it didnt attack any of the other potential targets and instead wait for me I'll never know.

    • "Looking at your posting history, you have entirely too many /. comments with Subject=='Hrmm'"
    • Re:Magpies are evil. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bob54321 (911744) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:31AM (#24670711)
      And for a bit of bird watcher trivia... Australian magpies are in a completely different family than their European and American counterparts.
    • Re:Magpies are evil. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by totally bogus dude (1040246) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:33AM (#24670739)

      These stories are common, and my best guess is that they recognise individual people. Or at least, they think they do. I would guess that someone who they thought looked like you was at some stage a threat to them or their nest, maybe throwing rocks or otherwise exhibiting aggressive behaviour. After that, they'll start attacking them on sight to try to keep them away; and since you look similar enough, they treat you the same way. On the other hand, maybe it's even more general than that. Simply a way of walking, or particular shapes, or particularly colour combinations you wear, etc.

      A friend of mine with twins has noticed that they will taken an instant liking or dislike to certain people, presumably based purely on how they look or sound. The assumption being that the babies are okay with people who resemble their family members, but get uncomfortable around people that look "strange". Maybe it's something similar to that.

      We had magpies around for years because we used to feed them, and they'd nest in our yard sometimes and usually would nest pretty close by. In at least a decade of seeing them every day I've never had a problem with being swooped by them. The closest was one female magpie in particular that got very used to us over the years, and would make a habit of flying uncomfortably close in order to get attention. It was never aggressive though, merely a nuisance - like a dog that keeps hanging around right at your feet so you're always almost stepping on it. (It did that too.)

    • by Nursie (632944) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:42AM (#24670789)

      Had a similar experience with crows.

      I was walking through the park and obviously got too near a nest of something. I noticed two started to circle way above my head. My first thought was "Cool" because I was heavily into the goth thing at the time. After a few more feet they attacked. No pecking, but flapping wings in front of my face, diving at my head, that sort of stuff. Nobody else walking along that way was targeted.

      People watching they would have seen a goth in a leather trenchcoat stumbling, waving his arms, running and yelling. Looking back, that must have been quite funny to watch.

    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:57AM (#24670871)

      I saw other people walking around and assumed that the coast was clear and went on my merry way. However, said demon bird was waiting for me and attacked again. Why it didnt attack any of the other potential targets and instead wait for me I'll never know.

      Tippi Hedren, is that you?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mgblst (80109)

      These are probably not the same as the Magpies talked about in this story. These are European magpies, which are a completely different family of birds. The European version are a lot smaller.

    • In Australia, when its nesting season for Magpies they swoop people who go within their territory.

      slashdotters may understand how scarey this is if they realise that Australian Magpies are large enough to steal a spark plug socket that you just happen to leave near the car while you are changing a tyre and have to answer the phone. I paid twenty bucks for that socket and was really pissed off when, through the kitchen window, I saw it fly away firmly wedged in the magpies beak - little shithead.

      I've ob

  • grey parrots as well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fsiefken (912606) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:24AM (#24670681)
    Lookup the intelligent grey parrots Alex or N'kisi, of which the intelligence has been compared to the intelligence of 6 year old human. Their intelligence might have evolved as a as "a consequence of their history of cooperative feeding as largely tree-dwelling birds in central Africa" (wikipedia: gray parrots). It might be that mirror neurons play an important role in the developmenet of intelligence: "A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting. These neurons have been directly observed in primates, and are believed to exist in humans and in some birds. In humans, brain activity consistent with mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex and the inferior parietal cortex." (wikipedia mirror neuron).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:28AM (#24670689)

    Now we can punish the thieving bastards by putting them in prison instead of just shooting them.

  • I have quite a few folks who have no idea who the fuck they are or what they are doing. Hell, they look surprised when they take a breath.

    Now if you are trying to make me feel bad for my can of bug killer. Get bent! If they had a can of human killer, don't think for a minute that they wouldn't use it.

    If they are self aware, then they have all that goes with it, ego, need for power, etc... They will get you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:31AM (#24670707)

    A few years ago they tried the red dot on the forehead mirror test with Congressmen but got no reaction. As a control they tried taping a $100 bill to their foreheads and all quickly recognized the bill and reached for it. In an even more bizarre twist they seem to be able to find the bill even when blindfolded. They seemed to sniff the air so it was assumed they could smell the bill. Even stranger still when they taped a $1 bill to their foreheads it got no reaction even when they weren't blindfolded. The researchers concluded Congressmen were amazing creatures worthy of more study. As to them being self aware the tests were inconclusive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by JosKarith (757063)
      And as an added bonus PETA won't complain when you use Politicians for "Forcible Ballistic Impact tests" instead of pigs.
  • Haven't these guys ever seen Heckyll and Jekyll?
  • Roadside magpies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kobotronic (240246) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:41AM (#24670783)

    Watching the roadkill feeding magpies cooly walk around just behind the white road lines, you can tell they have worked out a pretty solid theory for how cars move and that they understand how the cars are dangerous hazards but nevertheless predictable and avoidable. Other birds simply take flight in panic and some don't even recognize cars as a hazard - dumb turkeys and pheasants dumbly just obliviously waddle out in traffic.

    In Tokyo crows - corvid relatives of magpies - have been observed figuring out how to exploit the traffic signal cycles. The crows drop nuts in the path of the cars, in the middle of the pedestrian crossings, and patiently sit overhead waiting for the light to change so they can go down and have a look and pick up the nuts crushed by the car tires. Maybe these crows developed a theory of cars as practical and dependable "thing crushers" - producing crispy roadkill and other delicious crush jobs.

    Fascinating birds.

    • by jambox (1015589) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:54AM (#24670855)
      Pheasants are one of the dumbest creatures imaginable. Ants have more nous. Are they a product of selective breeding like cows and sheep? If so, perhaps they've been bred for stupidity. Also politicians.

      I was walking in the forest near home once with my little boy when we saw a pheasant meandering along. When it saw us it froze and stood there stock still, presumably hoping we wouldn't notice it.

      When my son saw it, naturally (for a three year old) he charged straight towards it with his arms out, laughing. The pheasant looked pretty surprised and eventually bolted for the nearest bush. Hilariously, it just stuck it's head in while it's body and legs remained flat on the floor, completely exposed.

      Possibly one of the dumbest things I've ever seen.

      I think an animal should know it's in big trouble when it's easy meat for a human toddler.
      • by macshit (157376) <miles@NOspaM.gnu.org> on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @07:37AM (#24671113) Homepage

        When my son saw it, naturally (for a three year old) he charged straight towards it with his arms out, laughing. The pheasant looked pretty surprised and eventually bolted for the nearest bush. Hilariously, it just stuck it's head in while it's body and legs remained flat on the floor, completely exposed. Possibly one of the dumbest things I've ever seen.

        Perhaps the rest of the peasants were on the other side of the bush.... waiting....

  • by Barny (103770) <bakadamage-slashdot@yahoo.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:41AM (#24670785) Homepage Journal

    Imagine a Beowulf cluster of them!

  • by Nymz (905908) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:43AM (#24670803) Journal
    I wouldn't rule out other creatures being self aware based on a visual sensory test, as a sense of self may be more strongly defined by other senses or perceptions. More likely the mirror test could tell us how preoccupied a creature is with their looks, so what would you call a creature that constantly looks for ways to compare itself with others?

    Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
    Who in this land is fairest of all?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:44AM (#24670807)

    Birds actually have more brains than people realise - literally.

    While they may not have a mammalian brain, they haven't been idle. Once they diverged from the rest of the raptor dinosaurs (or possibly before it, based on some evidence of mating/nesting habits), birds developed another brain 'layer' much like mammals did. This layer was not the same as the mammal one, but it was nonetheless more sophisticated than the reptilian brain stem we all inherit.

    Certainly, birds have shown remarkable intelligence in various studies.

    More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_intelligence

    "In recent years it was realized that certain birds have developed high intelligence entirely convergently from mammals such as humans."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:51AM (#24670843)

    The mirror mark test is long known to be a very non-definitive method for testing for self awareness. For one, it is subject to the "Clever Hans" effect, so named after a horse who could allegedly perform simple addition. For two, it assumes that if the animal moves to view the mark better that it is aware that the mark is on its own body. By placing the mark on an obvious place on the body, movements for better viewing on another individual would be the same as movements for better viewing on your own body in a mirror. For three, it uses one type of control but not an important one. The control most often use is a dot on a nonobvious place on the body. For example, a black dot on black feathers. However the most important control would be to place a mark on another individual and see if the animal responds to that.

  • Vampires (Score:5, Funny)

    by jolyonr (560227) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:28AM (#24671521) Homepage

    Doesn't this logic mean that vampires are not self-aware?

  • by smchris (464899) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:33AM (#24671575)

    Sometimes comes up in relation to cats. Never had a cat that didn't recognmize itself in the mirror. Routinely I can make eye contact with a cat in the mirror and it will turn toward the real me. Unravel the ramifications for a systems analysis of the AI.

    But we had generally adopted adults. When we got kittens a few years ago, they didn't seem to recognize themselves in a mirror for many weeks. Which makes me wonder whether psychologists have often made the mistake of dismissing developmental psychology in other species. Perhaps thinking that kittens are more "pure" subjects?

    Lesser mammels are pretty amazing too. Try to figure out what is going on when a squirrel or chipmunk runs a cat in circles around a tree. Risk-taking play behavior is an "interesting" way to ensure survival of the fittest.

    Figures that the more alien the species, the harder to connect. Octopi would be an extreme example. If the estimates that they are as smart as dogs is true, it puts calamari in a different light. I'm good on the judgment that earthworms don't have the brain structures for consciousness, but we are only beginning to explore consciousness in humans much less the comparative physiology.

  • by pbhj (607776) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:04AM (#24671983) Homepage Journal

    Anyone else wonder why they don't complete the experiment. The bird could simply be trying to establish if it has a sticker, like the other bird that it sees. This doesn't show self-recognition.

    So you have a mirror, the bird sees the sticker and tries to remove a sticker from themselves. You also need to present an image of some other similar bird with a sticker and see if the subject assumes they too have a sticker.

    You could have a two way mirror with a switch. You place either a model or real bird behind the mirror with a spot. See if when looking right through the mirror they behave the same. You'd also want to have the subject bird with a spot, looking in the mirror, flash off the lights and remove the spot, bring up the lights with the second bird behind the mirror with a spot on. Do they recognise the spot has gone (assuming they can't feel it's been removed)? This part would work well if the spot could be colour changed, eg by wetting.

    I'd want to go further and use some video equipment for the mirror. That way you could test whether they perceive their own "reflection" when the image is flipped vertically. You could also digitally add a spot that wasn't there or present an image of the same bird with no spot when the bird subject does actually have a spot on.

    Seems like quite a sloppy experiment - or are they just not telling us about the other parts.

    Also since when was self-recognition == self-awareness?

  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:05AM (#24672001)
    PLoS has multiple videos [neu.edu] of the magpies' behavior, all linked in the journal article.
  • Hawk intelligence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by aapold (753705) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:13AM (#24672131) Homepage Journal
    Its not a magpie but still an amusing story...

    There's a location near here that is in a park and often used for weddings. A company provides a service in which at which they release a bunch of white doves at the appropriate moment of the marriage ceremony. Very beautiful and touching.

    Well as they were doing this at a recent ceremony, everything went perfectly until the doves were released, at which point red-shouldered hawk [wikipedia.org] swooped down and took the first dove in flight just as it crossed in front of the altar. An ominous omen to be sure...

    The guy from the company that released the doves was upset. When trying to console him over the odds of such a freak assurance happening again, he responded that this had been going on at every ceremony they do in this park for some time, the hawk figured out that wedding ceremony = doves, and even figured out the timing of the ceremony to know when they would be released...
  • Cats (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bonker (243350) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:15AM (#24672179)

    All your base are...

    Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Cats. Anyone who's owned a cat for ANY length of time knows that these creatures are perfectly self aware of of their own bodies.

    Verify it for yourself. Put a large mirror in a room where an adult cat can easily access it. Hold the cat so that they can see themselves in the mirror. They'll try to act as if they don't like what they see and want AWAY from the mirror. A few more aggressive males will even pretend to fight with it.

    Now leave the cat unsupervised in front of the mirror and watch obliquely by pretending to read a book.

    Most cats will start to examine themselves in the mirror after a few minutes, turning so that they can see their body parts at different angles. They'll never look directly at their own face because a wide-eyed inspecting stare makes them uncomfortable. However, they will use the mirror to examine their own backs.

    Every cat I've ever owned has done this.

    Captcha: Unions. I sure wish I belonged to one.

  • Bird Brains (Score:3, Interesting)

    by localman (111171) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @11:21AM (#24674361) Homepage

    I think anyone who has taken the time to really get to know a pet parrot could tell you they seem to be about as smart as a dog or cat. Which is astonishing given their far smaller brain size. I had a couple cockatiels, who must have had brains like raisins, yet they exhibited fairly impressive learning abilities. Beyond just imitation of word sounds, they could connect those sounds to situations; I trained them to say "I'm hungry" whenever I brought them food. A more interesting one was the phrase "good bird", which I had used as generic praise, but which the male cockatiel spontaneously applied during and immediately following coitus with his mate.

    Another one that impressed me was learning to walk on a glass table: at first they were afraid to step off of a plate placed on the table, looking with suspicion at the transparent surface. Eventually, with some crumbs on it, they were willing to carefully try walking on the crumb-sprinkled parts. Eventually they ventured out onto the clean parts as well, and within a few meals they had become totally comfortable walking on the glass.

    In any case, it doesn't totally shock me that some birds test as self aware. I think there must be a different model for intelligence in birds. Much like other areas, birds seem to have adapted a weight-efficient means of carrying around what they need.

    Cheers.

  • by GrayCalx (597428) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @12:10PM (#24675469)
    Is this really the test/standard for self-awareness? I mean I guess its all a semantics debate at some level but I've always thought of self-awareness as being able to understand your (the self's) place in the grand scheme of society, Earth, and the Universe.

    For instance, aren't robots at the level by now that they could be programmed to recognize their self in a mirror but perhaps not a similar model? Wouldn't that mean that robots are self-aware according to this definition?

    Or maybe I'm missing something... like there is self-aware (recognize yourself in a mirror) and Self-Aware (realizing your place in the Universe).

    PS : Poor vampires!!!

COBOL is for morons. -- E.W. Dijkstra

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