VI. Life’s Cerebral Faculties Become More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware
4. Animal Intelligence and Sociality
2020: As the cover image bookends, a revolution has taken place since the early 1990s when animals were still seen as instinctive, dumb beasts. Today, as we well know, all great and small creatures are known to possess an intelligent sentience, personality, clever behaviors, quorum senses, empathy, salutary groupings and more. Rather then anthromorphic concerns as before, it seems that animals actually have a whole human-like array of cognitive and communal qualities. As references here and elsewhere convey, it could appear as if an independent, common cognitive and social repertoire extends through life’s evolutionary fauna and flora from the earliest neural occasion to our nascent personsphere.
Animal Consciousness. wp.nyu.edu/consciousness/animal-consciousness. The website for a conference held at New York University in November 2017 with an international array of scientists and philosophers such as Eva Jablonka (Abstract next), David Chalmers, Todd Feinberg, Joseph LeDoux, Diana Reiss, Bjorn Merker, and Marian Dawkins.
There has been a recent flourishing of scientific and philosophical work on consciousness in non-human animals. This conference will bring together philosophers and scientists to ask questions such as: Are invertebrates conscious? Do fish feel pain? Are non-human mammals self-conscious? How did consciousness evolve? How does research on animal consciousness affect the ethical treatment of animals? What is the impact of animal consciousness upon theories of consciousness and vice versa? What are the best methods for assessing consciousness in non-human animals? (Summary)
Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals. www.fcmconference.org.. As the proceedings of the Francis Crick Memorial Conference held in July 2012 at the University of Cambridge. Francis Crick (1916-2004), as you know codiscover with James Watson of the DNA double helix, in later decades turned his unique acumen to studies of cognitive sentience. This meeting brought together a leading array of neuroscientists such as Irene Pepperberg, Christoph Koch, Diana Reiss, Ryan Remedios, Jaak Panksepp, along with physicist Stephen Hawking. A typical presentation is “Through the Eyes of an Octopus: An Invertebrate Model for Consciousness Studies” by David Edelman. And a result, a closing “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness,” excerpted below and which gained much press, (Google for full online), affirmed (or gave scientific blessings to what we all know) that our creaturely companions large and small are much as aware and smart as we.
The First Annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference, focusing on "Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals", aims to provide a purely data-driven perspective on the neural correlates of consciousness. The most advanced quantitative techniques for measuring and monitoring consciousness will be presented, with the topics of focus ranging from exploring the properties of neurons deep in the brainstem, to assessing global cerebral function in comatose patients. Model organisms investigated will span the species spectrum from flies to rodents, humans to birds, elephants to dolphins, and will be approached from the viewpoint of three branches of biology: anatomy, physiology, and behavior. Until animals have their own storytellers, humans will always have the most glorious part of the story, and with this proverbial concept in mind, the symposium will address the notion that humans do not alone possess the neurological faculties that constitute consciousness as it is presently understood.
Agrillo, Christian, et al. Evidence for Two Numerical Systems That Are Similar in Humans and Guppies. PLoS One. Online February 15, 2012. As a result of clever counting experiments with undergraduate students and aquarium fish, University of Padova, and University College of London, neuroscientists find the same cognitive faculties in effect across widely disparate, yet related, species.
Our results suggest that two distinct systems underlie quantity discrimination in both humans and fish, implying that the building blocks of uniquely human mathematical abilities may be evolutionarily ancient, dating back to before the divergence of bony fish and tetrapod lineages.
Allen, Jenny. Community through Culture from Insects to Whales. BioEssays. Online October, 2019. After some two decades of wide ranging, clever studies, a Griffiths University, Australia environmental philosopher can now aver that a variety of creaturely groupings such as insects, fishes, elephants, and cetaceans are graced by behavioral attributes of cooperative foraging, resource sharing, educating young, many ways to communicate, and so on. While not overly anthropomorphic, a familiar suite of human-like social activities is quite evident. See also, e.g., Cultural Flies by Etienne Danchin, et al in Science (362/1025, 2018) about fruit fly relations.
Angier, Natalie. Parrots Are a Lot More Than “Pretty Bird.”. New York Times. March 22, 2016. The Psittaciformes order of parrots, parakeets, macaws and cockatoos never ceases to amaze and inform, as this review of current research conveys. The premier investigator, Irene Pepperberg of Alex the parrot fame, advises that they are “feathered primates,” just as relatively intelligent and creative. By virtue of their clever food gathering, tool making, articulate calls, mimic skill, and group sociality, it would seems that such a behavioral complex similar to human cultures will evolve and develop wherever it possibly can.
Anthes, Emily. Cold-Blooded Does Not Mean Stupid. New York Times. November 19, 2013. A Science Times report on how smart and foxy mammals are, which goes on to findings by Duke University’s Manuel Leal that all manner of reptiles – lizards, turtles, snakes - have similar acumens for navigational skills, problem solving to get food, learning through observation, along with social strategies.
Aplin, Lucy. Culture and Cultural Evolution in Birds. Animal Behavior. Online June, 2018. A zoologist with dual postings at MPI Ornithology and Oxford University describes novel ways that along with a comparable cognitive acumen of individual creatures, animal groupings of many foraging and migratory kinds are being found to possess external, accumulated social mores.
Social learning from the observation of knowledgeable individuals can allow behaviours, skills and techniques to spread across populations and transmit between generations, potentially leading to emergent cultures. An increasing body of research has not only evidenced the occurrence of cultural behaviour in nonhuman animals, but also hypothesized that such cultures could ‘evolve’ over time in a way that shares key characteristics with biological evolution, including through a process of selection on variance, inheritance and adaptation. Outside of humans, song and contact calls in birds provide by far the most comprehensive evidence for culture and cultural evolution. I discuss the evidence in birds for four key concepts of cultural evolution: (1) variation, selection, inheritance, (2) adaptation, (3) geographical and demographic processes and (4) the accumulation of modifications. (Abstract excerpt)
Arhem, Peter and Hans Liljenstrom. On the Coevolution of Cognition and Consciousness. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 187/601, 1997. An advocacy of the parallel increase of brain complexity and sentient mind.
We suggest that cognition, that is knowledge processing mediated by a centralized nervous system, shows the same principal features as non-neural adaptive processes. Similarly, consciousness can be said to appear, to different degrees, at different stages in evolution. (610)
Avital, Eytan and Eva Jablonka. Animal Traditions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A contribution to the incipient witness of culture in primates and mammals, which introduces a new domain of behavioral inheritance to supplant molecular genetic effects alone.
Baars, Bernard. Subjective Experience is Probably not Limited to Humans: The Evidence from Neurobiology and Behavior. Consciousness and Cognition. 14/1, 2005. An introduction to a special issue: The Neurobiology of Animal Consciousness, dedicated its pioneer researcher Donald Griffin. An “unscientific” subject for most of the 20th century, not permitted by its materialist paradigm, there is today wide assent that a continuum of intelligence and awareness extends to primates, mammals, birds and even to simpler vertebrates and insects. What seems inescapable is a perception of creaturely evolution as a singular cerebral awakening and learning process, just now of planetary dimension.
While language is absent in other species, homologies in perception, memory, and motor cortex suggest that consciousness of one kind or another may be biologically fundamental and phylogenetically ancient. In humans we infer subjective experiences from behavioral and brain evidence. This evidence is quite similar in other mammals and perhaps some non-mammalian species. On the weight of the biological evidence, therefore, subjectivity may be conserved in species with human-like brains and behavior. (7) What we know today suggests that consciousness is a basic biological adaptation, with an evolutionary basis like any other. (10) In all mammals the anatomy, neurochemistry and electrical activity of the brain in alert states show striking similarities. (19)
Balakhonov, Dmitry and Jonas Rose. Crows Rival Monkeys in Cognitive Capacity. Nature Scientific Reports. 7/8809, 2017. It pleases to report upon this later 2010s quantification, as we well know, of how smart animals are in their own clever ways. Here Ruhr-University Bochum psychologists quantify that the avian Corvidae genus (ravens, jays) has a behavioral intelligence as good as Simian primates. See also Ravens Parallel Great Apes in Flexible Planning for Tool-Use and Bartering by Can Kabadayi and Mathias Osvath in Science (357/202, 2017) and Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning by Anna Smirnova, et al in Current Biology (25/256, 2015).
The present study compares the ‘bandwidth of cognition’ between crows and primates. Working memory is the ability to maintain and manipulate information over short periods of time – a core component of cognition. The capacity of working memory is tightly limited, in humans correlated with individual intelligence and commonly used synonymously with cognitive capacity. Crows have remarkable cognitive skills and while birds and mammals share neural principles of working memory, its capacity has not been tested in crows. Here we report the performance of two carrion crows on a working memory paradigm adapted from a recent experiment in rhesus monkeys. Capacity of crows is remarkably similar to monkeys and estimated at about four items. In both species, the visual hemifields show largely independent capacity. These results show that crows, like primates evolved a high-capacity working memory that reflects the result of convergent evolution of higher cognitive abilities in both species. (Abstract)
Balda, Ralph, et al, eds. Animal Cognition in Nature. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998. Essays about the integration of cognitive abilities in nonhuman species with their ecological and evolutionary context. Especially noteworthy are papers by Alan Kamil and Colin Beer.