The Tentacle Brain: How Animal Intelligence Works

A life 2023

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The Tentacle Brain: How Animal Intelligence Works
The Tentacle Brain: How Animal Intelligence Works

Video: The Tentacle Brain: How Animal Intelligence Works

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Video: Comparison: Animal Intelligence 2023, January

Today our attitude towards our planetary neighbors is changing. Increasingly, there is talk of other species' rights, people are moving towards vegetarianism and veganism, companies are abandoning animal testing and striving for ethical production. Even the term “spessishism” has appeared, which denotes discrimination on the basis of species. But the idea that animals are capable of experiencing and intellectual life did not take root in science right away. Let's figure out how this happened and what science thinks about the mind of animals today.

Text: Asya Pototskaya


"Beaver's morals"

and a complex of reflexes

Human science has addressed the subject of animal intelligence and psyche ever since it appeared. Even Aristotle described in detail their physical structure, and also suggested that how smart and intelligent a particular species is, depends on the ability to remember. At the same time, Aristotle believed that there are three types of soul: vegetable, animal and rational, that is, human. Moreover, the latter in his hierarchy was valued above others.

Throughout history, there have been two of the most popular and yet conflicting approaches to assessing the ability of animals to feel and think. According to the first, they have an inner life and it is in every way similar to a human. In ancient times, the mythological belief was widespread that the animal world is a kind of copy of the human world: tales of animals that act like humans are found in a variety of cultures. Indian "Panchatantra" shows animals that behave like people, the Persian poem "Conversation of the Birds" is devoted to how the birds gathered to choose a king, and the French medieval "Novel of the Fox" tells how a cunning fox traces the lion king, a donkey around his finger. a priest and a gruff wolf. The latter is nothing more than a satire on medieval society: with the help of images of animals, the authors deduce characteristic types and condemn vices. At the same time, animals are credited with a human social structure: they have their own social roles, "game of thrones" and even governments.

With the spread of the mechanical understanding of the universe, the view has become popular that animals are a kind of biological robots. René Descartes believed that mechanical laws govern the material world. At the same time, according to the philosopher, animals, in contrast to a person with an immortal soul, do not have consciousness - that is, they cannot be aware of themselves and are arranged as simple signal systems. “They feel neither pleasure nor pain and nothing at all. Although they scream shrilly when they are cut with a knife, and writhe in their efforts to avoid contact with a red-hot iron, this does not mean anything, "- said Descartes.

However, such an opinion, fully justifying vivisection, met with criticism. Several decades later, Voltaire wrote indignantly: “What a pathetic, wretched thought that animals are automatons, devoid of consciousness and feeling, as if they always act the same way, learn nothing, improve nothing! The bird makes the nest semicircular when it winds it against a wall, a quarter circle when it is in the corner, and round in a tree; does she always build it the same way?"

All assumptions are based on

to the anthropocentric setting. According to her, a person with his way of perceiving reality is a starting point

for judging other living things

Subsequently, Charles Darwin shocked the world with the theory of evolution and made it clear that humans and animals are not as far apart as was commonly believed. In his work "On the Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals," he suggested that many of the experiences of animals are comparable to those of humans. Followers of Darwin, such as George-John Romans and Maximilian Perty, took much of an anthropomorphic, that is, humanizing approach.They did not deny animals the right to feel and learn, but made many assumptions, suggesting that animals experience the same experiences and follow the same behavioral principles as humans. In The Mind of Animals, Romans writes that although "the psychology of an insect is clearly far from human psychology," both the ant and the bee "show sympathy and anger." "Beaver manners," "the villainous tendencies of a monkey," and "such an emotional trait as vindictiveness" applied to elephants are common examples of the vocabulary of 19th century anthropomorphic scholars.

For its unscientific nature and lack of strict rules for observation, this approach was criticized by researchers from another camp - behaviorists. Behaviorism studies the behavior of animals and humans, assuming that it consists of a complex of reflexes and reactions to the environment. That, in turn, reinforces it or indicates that such behavior is undesirable. All animal activity is reduced to a scheme of stimulus and response to it.

Moreover, the mental life of animals was often considered unworthy of study or was not recognized at all. For example, Academician Pavlov, to whom we owe a description of conditioned and unconditioned reflexes, in the course of his research even tried to avoid humanizing expressions: “We completely forbade ourselves (even a fine was announced in the laboratory) to use such psychological expressions as“the dog guessed, wanted, wished” ".

In general, it can be seen that, speaking of other species, science has always fluctuated between two extremes. At the same time, both the assumption that the thinking and psyche of animals are in everything similar to humans, and the opinion that animals have no such abilities at all, are based on an anthropocentric attitude. According to her, a person with his way of perceiving reality is a starting point for judging other living beings.

Unwise tests

for smart animals

Around the same time, when Eurocentrism ceased to seem the only possible view of the world, living beings belonging to other species began to be considered in a new way. We began to pay more attention to how species adapt to the environment. Dutch ethologist Frans de Waal notes that animals only know what they need to know - while many things that are important to humans, they do not take into account. “We learn that rats can regret their decisions, crows make tools, octopuses recognize human faces, and special neurons allow monkeys to learn from each other's mistakes. We speak openly about the culture of animals, their ability to empathize and friendship. Forbidden topics no longer exist, including in the field of reason, which was previously considered an exclusive human being,”writes de Waal.

The traditional way to determine the intelligence of animals has always been tests: for example, to find a solution to a problem, use a tool, get out of the room, and so on. It was believed that an animal deserves the status of "smart" if it solves problems exactly as a person would solve them - differences in anatomy and sensory organs were not taken into account. For example, for some time, scientists believed that elephants were incapable of tool activity, that is, they did not know how to use tools to solve problems. When they were asked to get a banana with a stick, they could not cope. But this happens because the elephant, clutching a stick in its trunk, closes its nostrils - not being able to smell food, it is forced to act blindly. Moreover, when in the experiment the fruits are suspended high, and the elephant is offered a box, he can move it where required, climb onto the platform and reach the target. A stick as a tool simply does not fit the anatomy of an elephant - primates would also hardly use their hands if they sniffed with their palms.

In addition, many intelligence tests put animals in notoriously stressful situations.According to Baal, they are tediously monotonous, and also downright cruel. For example, in the Morris Water Maze memory test, rats are placed in a container of water, where they have to swim in search of a way out. In other experiments, they are electrocuted and underfed to maintain food motivation. It's not just ethics: the results of such experiments can be questioned - animals cannot act like automata under stressful conditions.

The intelligence and emotions of animals today are studied by cognitive ethology and zoopsychology. It is difficult to draw a line between them: intellectuality is closely related to how the animal perceives the surrounding reality. More modern tests show: often the point is not that animals "fall short" of our level, but that people experiment to the best of their understanding, how to set up experiments.

Chimpanzee insight

At the end of the 19th century, psychologist Edward Thorndike began to conduct experiments in which animals were required to get out of a "problem box" - a specially designed device with obstacles. He concluded that animals can learn through trial and error and accidental success - that is, going through options. When an action is accidentally correct, the result is reinforced and the animal remembers it - quite a behaviorist interpretation. At the same time, Thorndike did not find understanding in the actions of animals.

Another psychologist, Wolfgang Köhler, proposed the concept of insight, that is, insight. In the course of experiments with chimpanzees, he found that they are able to guess when all the components for a solution are given to them at the same time. Let's say a female chimpanzee was able to stack four boxes on top of each other to retrieve a suspended banana. Koehler proved that monkeys are able to build in their mind the general structure of a plan, combining facts, and they do not always need to go through all the possible options for a long time. This is how chimpanzees understand the connection between phenomena.

In addition to the ability to solve problems, an indicator of intelligence is considered tool activity, that is, the ability to use tools. Many animals cope with this - given that not everyone uses objects in the way that a person expects. It is known, for example, that elephants drive away flies with branches and can scratch; otters use stones to split shells. Not to mention the monkeys, who use not only separate sticks and stones, but also paired tools, like a hammer and anvil.

Another indication of intelligence is the ability to self-awareness. Consciousness is a complex enough topic for us to doubt exactly how it works in our country. The "difficult problem of consciousness" (it consists of how processes in the brain cause subjective experiences) have not yet been resolved by philosophers, cognitivists, or neuroscientists.

It was believed that an animal deserves the status of "smart" if it solves problems exactly as a person would solve them - differences in anatomy and sensory organs

did not take into account

Science has long questioned whether animals are self-aware. Nevertheless, scientists drew attention to the fact that, when discussing learning, memory and fantasy in animals, the same human abilities were taken as a starting point. “It never occurred to anyone, for example, to take into account morphological differences, that is, the difference in the structure of the body in humans and animals. For all the differences between man and animal, there is a tremendous similarity. And is it impossible to assume on this basis that, comparing the structure of the body, in the same way it is possible to compare the mind, memory, emotions and so on. And even consciousness itself? " - said the Swiss zoologist Heini Hediger.

Biological tests show that at least six species of animals (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, dolphins, elephants and magpies) are able to recognize themselves in a mirror.Chimpanzees, who were painted on the eyebrow and ear, began to actively touch these places when they saw it in the mirror, that is, they clearly understood that "makeup" was something superfluous.

Another technique for proving intelligence is to study the language of animals and teach them sign systems. As in many other cases, people have long been let down by the belief that it is our way of communicating (through the mouth) that is the standard. However, in the 60s, ethologists drew attention to the fact that although the monkey's larynx is not adapted to imitate the sounds of human speech, they have very developed facial expressions and gestures. Chimpanzee Washoe mastered sign language, Sarah communicated using tokens representing words, Lana mastered a specially designed artificial language. Today in the world there are dozens of "talking" monkeys capable of giving logical answers to questions and combining words to form phrases.

Considering all this, we can conclude that the intellectual abilities of animals are quite developed, although today it is still difficult to say exactly which species are intelligent and which are not. Apparently, only higher vertebrates should be considered as such, but, as studies show, not only primates alone.


Lonely cats and pack dogs

Considering how differently living beings perceive the world, and how different problems they need to solve in their natural habitat, it is difficult to measure their mind in the same way as ours. To answer these questions, you need to put yourself in a different kind of shoes. This is a difficult task, even when it comes to other people - not to mention creatures with a different nervous system and different ways of social organization. Let's say ants and termites have a kind of collective intelligence. The actions of each member of the colony merge in the work of the "superorganism" - this is how the collective mind works, the abilities of which greatly exceed the capabilities of a particular ant.

At the same time, there is a lot in common between us and other species, although in the past scientists often ignored this, and people considered it offensive. Suffice it to recall the cartoons that were drawn on Charles Darwin, and the protests in educational institutions where the theory of evolution was taught. Nevertheless, it is Darwin's theory that explains where the roots of certain signs and abilities of a person grow from. Animals are curious about new objects and love to play. A person reads well the language of animal emotions, especially when it comes to social species for which facial expressions are important: loners like bears have not very expressive facial expressions, but a lot can be seen on the monkey's face. Modern biologists even talk about animal culture.

There are also differences that make the picture of the world for different species fundamentally different. That is why the question of who is smarter - for example, cats or dogs - will be incorrect: some have adapted to the environment like flocking animals, while others prefer to hunt alone. It is also difficult to compare animals with humans. For example, in comparison with dogs, we practically do not feel smells, while for a dog the world is woven from many of them. The visual abilities of birds are superior to those of humans, as is their ability to navigate in space - this is necessary for long-distance flights. Due to the fact that in the limbs of the octopus there are neurons and its own nervous system, each of its tentacles can act independently. In addition, thanks to the suction cups, octopuses are unusually tactile.

The animal kingdom has a huge number of sensors and ways of sensory perception - so there is hardly a universal interpretation of the world. In biosemiotics, the term “umwelt” is used to describe a unique way of seeing the world. In order to better understand other living beings, one should not forget that their umwelt is fundamentally different from ours.This, for example, explains why they are so uninterested in many of the tasks specially invented for them. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that, as companions in evolution, in some ways, animals are still similar to us.

Photos: smallable


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