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Math Science

Mathematical Parrot Reveals His Genius With Posthumous Paper 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the math-is-for-the-birds dept.
ananyo writes "Even in death, the world's most accomplished parrot continues to amaze. The final experiments involving Alex – a grey parrot trained to count objects – have just been published (abstract). They show that Alex could accurately add together Arabic numerals to a sum of eight, and correctly add three small sets of objects, putting his mathematical abilities on par with (and maybe beyond) those of chimpanzees and other non-human primates."
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Mathematical Parrot Reveals His Genius With Posthumous Paper

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  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @03:39PM (#39115707) Homepage
    Alex was clearly pretty smart. However, it is as yet still unclear if Alex was actually a representative parrot or was smarter than other parrots. A lot of the current work being done will help answer that. There's also some concern that some of the early experiments with Alex didn't adequately handle the Clever Hahns problem- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans [wikipedia.org] where an animal rather than give actual answers uses subtle cues from the examiner on how to answer correctly. The more recent experiments help address that. It seems clear at this point that Alex's intelligence, and that of the other African Greys, is genuine, but what the average is like is still unclear. One thing is certain though: the use of the word "parrot" to mean mindlessly repeat is deeply unfair.
  • by cyberchondriac (456626) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @04:35PM (#39116587) Journal
    Corvids are as, or may even be more, intelligent. There's the classic story of the Caledonian crow [wikipedia.org] who custom fashioned it's own tool to get at grubs, a trait previously only known to primates, to cite one example. Others abound, but I'm feeling too lazy right now to go hunt them down. Heckle and Jeckle would've outsmarted Wiley E. Coyote any day of the week.
  • by Tharsman (1364603) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @04:59PM (#39116889)

    I dare "blindly" guess Alex was an average African Grey. My mother happens to own one and it is honestly as smart as a very young child. It's hard to explain. He knows what kind of words use for anger, happiness, request food, denote you are eating (without requesting food for himself, and actually rejecting it, just because he noted you are eating does not mean he WANTS some,) dance, sing, laugh at jokes on the TV (i think it’s more a matter of intonation on that one than actually understanding the joke) and even tell the dog to get the hell away from him. That on top of many other tiny behavioral things.

    I think their learning is mostly hindered or boosted by their teacher. My mother is an elder woman, though, without much science or math skills to go trying to impart that knowledge on the bird.

    I can’t help but smile in amazement every other week for some new thing he reacts to intelligently.

    My doubt does not lie on them being able to learn, but instead being able to transfer knowledge to their children. It would take insane decades, but I would love to find a species in this planet we can teach to, that in turn teach their children the same skills.

  • by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @09:59PM (#39120105)

    Yes. Back in about 1976 Psychology Today had a pair of articles - one showed that of all professions, teachers had the highest incidence of a 'mental block' against math, and the other showed that they were successful in communicating that to their students. In Grade 3 about 50% of all students liked math. By Grade 5, only about 15% of girls and 30% of boys liked math.

    In my own experience, back in the late 1950s my school was one of those working with the experimental 'New Math' from Stanford Research Institute (now SRI international) - the books were stapled together paperbacks. The New Math basically taught math from an algebraic perspective. It worked great, and it probably accelerated my own understanding. Nationwide the New Math failed, and the analysis showed that while it worked great for students the teachers just couldn't hack it. So school systems dropped it, to the lasting detriment of all students for the last four decades.

    It's yet one more unfortunate result of the stultified Education establishment, along with phonics, critical thinking and other power learning tools. The system was originally developed (by Dewey's own account) not to teach but to indoctrinate good industrial workers. The entire concept of age-based class cohorts was never efficient, cost effective or productive. It is now a completely obsolete anachronism, where crowd control and logistics comprises between 75% and 85% of a given day, and actual learning the poor relation.

That does not compute.

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