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Science

Cockatoo Manufactures, Uses Tools 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the already-smarter-than-my-neighbor dept.
grrlscientist writes with news of a cockatoo named Figaro, who was observed to construct and use his own tools to retrieve objects that were outside of his cage. Quoting: "One day, a student caregiver noticed Figaro pushing a stone pebble through the aviary wire mesh, where it fell on a wood structural beam. Unable to retrieve the stone with his foot, Figaro then fetched a piece of bamboo and again attempted to retrieve the stone using the bamboo stick. ... During the next three days, the researchers ran trials of the original scenario, which was repeated ten times but substituting a cashew nut for the pebble. All trials were captured on video and the process of tool manufacture and use was documented photographically. ... 'Figaro made a new tool for every nut we placed there and each time the bird was successful in obtaining it,' reports cognitive biologist Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna, who led the study (PDF). During these trials, Figaro used 10 tools, nine of which he manufactured and one of which was ready-made."
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Cockatoo Manufactures, Uses Tools

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  • by dotHectate (975458) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @06:37PM (#41945763) Journal
    There's been a lot of back and forth revision of the definition over the years. I remember it was originally something like "Any object used outside of its natural scope to achieve a goal." Then people realized this meant otters used stones as tools to open clams so it became "Any object that has been modified to increase efficiency for a purpose outside of its natural scope." Then we had video of apes stripping leaves from branches to stick them in anthills... and the revision continues on ad infinitum because heaven forbid that humans have to share the title of "Tool-maker/user" with lesser beings.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @06:43PM (#41945811) Journal

    I remember reading an article about how dragonflies were using stones to tap down their nests making it harder for predators to find. The result was a reclassification on what constituted a tool removing the dragonflies from being classified as tool users.

    Many animals use tools. So, I don't really see how this is news worthy other than that the bird learned to build them on its own without help from other birds.

    I think that that is the noteworthy bit:

    In a sufficiently broad sense, every lifeform on earth has been a 'tool user' since the first proto-membrane structure in some billion-year-old primordial ooze first managed to modify the concentration gradients of some useful molecule(tools don't have to be big, do they?) across its membrane. What we are looking for, when classifying 'tool use' is cognitive development of novel uses for environmental objects, because that demonstrates something about mental capacity, rather than execution of uses for environmental objects(however sophisticated and interesting as a different object of study).

    Something like a leafcutter ant, say, has an evolved relationship with fungi rather more sophisticated than most human brewers; but we don't see experimentation, learning, cultural transmission, novel improvisation, etc. This bird, on the other hand, apparently came up with some(crude) tools that birds of its kind don't normally use, purely on its own, to deal with local problems.

    The extended relationship between organisms and their environment(extending, in many cases, far enough that you really have to consider the organism as being an element of a larger structure) is indeed fascinating; but it doesn't really do conceptual clarity much good to combine complex environmental manipulations that don't show evidence of being cognitively acquired from those that do...

  • by Empiric (675968) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @07:29PM (#41946153) Homepage

    For a substantial subset of the population of a certain worldview, the main dilemma is that they can propose no conceptual differentiator of themselves from animals at all.

    This has... implications.

  • by green1 (322787) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @07:57PM (#41946317)

    Science works by re-evaluating our world view based on the results of the experiment. Only bad science re-evaluates the definitions of the words in the original hypothesis to cause the desired result instead.
    Proper science would have the hypothesis that humans are the only ones who make and use tools, upon seeing another animal make and use tools, we would adjust the hypothesis to say "only humans and _____ make and use tools" or some such. Instead we find people re-defining "tools" so that their original hypothesis remains correct despite evidence to the contrary. This isn't science.

  • by Genda (560240) <mariet@@@got...net> on Sunday November 11, 2012 @02:52AM (#41947955) Journal

    Indeed... we are animals like all the rest no different than the others save we live in a sea of language and all that entails. Once we expand the ability of these other beings to communicate in a rich language space the differences get shockingly small. Koko loves kitty, want good banana. Koko is beautiful gorilla. Not human, but so close its scary, particularly when uneducated poachers are slaughtering gorillas for trinkets, their hands and feet and sometimes bush meat. In this sitatoin, who is the wild beast and who is the intelligent species indeed?

"Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward" -- William E. Davidsen

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