Natures wonders: killer penguins hunt in packs (Introduction)

by dhw, Friday, September 29, 2017, 13:34 (721 days ago) @ David Turell

dhw: Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the implications of your comment, but please would you be a bit more specific about what you mean by a “learned activity”. Learned from what? It seems obvious to me that this would have started when some intelligent penguins realized that they could hunt more efficiently if they did it in packs, and they continue to use their intelligence to organize the hunt. But that doesn’t stop individuals from hunting too. What is the difference between this and human behaviour? Of course generations of penguins will learn from earlier generations, just as humans do, but in both cases it has to be penguin/human intelligence that starts things off.

DAVID: Your comment is right on. The humpbacks were observed learning in the same way.

Thank you for this very important confirmation that the origin of such forms of behaviour must be the intelligence of the organisms concerned. It is a major issue between us that so often you attribute lifestyles and natural wonders to divine preprogramming and/or dabbling, when I see them as the product of natural intelligence. I suspect that many of those we discuss are the product of this (perhaps God-given) intelligence, which is why I try to find out where you draw the line between the two causes. You have given us another example of bird intelligence today, which raises further questions on the same subject:

QUOTE: Recent research has demonstrated that many bird species have high-order cognitive processing abilities comparable to primates. […] For a long time, scientists used to believe the mammalian cerebral cortex to be the anatomical cause of cognitive ability,” coauthor Sara Letzner of Ruhr-Universität Bochum says in a press release. But birds have no cortex. “That means the structure of the mammalian cortex cannot be decisive for complex cognitive functions such as multitasking.”

DAVID’s comment: I think the study is misinterpreted. The birds are trained to respond automatically. The human metacognition, introspective brain comes to play when the delayed signal is introduced. But those birds are bright!

I don’t think you can have it both ways. If they respond automatically, it has nothing to do with brightness. Nobody would claim that pigeons are capable of metacognition and introspection on a human scale, but if the cerebral cortex is not the only source of cognitive abilities, we have to ask (a) whether cognitive abilities depend on the physical brain at all, and (b) just how “bright” our fellow organisms might be – from bacteria upwards. As you keep reminding us, what appears to be automatic may be pure intelligence – although you like to put it the other way round, don’t you?

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