Bird and Baby Physics

on October 17, 2009

ScienceNOW: “Physics? It’s All the Same to Birds and BabiesYet another experimental study teaches us more about the sophisticated (and, perhaps, surprising) intelligence of crows.

Cambridge zoologist Christopher Bird and colleague Nathan Emery of Queen Mary, University of London, report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B a study they conducted on rooks, a Eurasian member of the crow family (“Rooks Perceive Support Relations Similar to Six-Month-Old Babies”). The researchers attempted to ascertain rooks’ “perceptual understanding of support relations,” i.e., whether the birds understood what physical relationships between objects were possible. (We previously reported on a Bird and Emery study of rooks in May.)

The rooks spent significantly more time looking at the “impossible” scenes.

Specifically, the scientists put the rooks through a test to see if the birds knew that an object would fall if not being held up by another object. The birds were placed on one side of a wall that had several peepholes in it. Through each peephole, the rooks could see a different image of an egg-and-table setup. In some of the scenes, the eggs were arranged on the tables in physically possible situations (such as an egg resting on a table). In other scenes, however, the eggs were in impossible locations, such as floating in midair above the table or just off the edge of the table.

As it turns out, the rooks spent significantly more time looking at the “impossible” scenes, an indication that they knew something was abnormal about the situations. Human babies have the same reaction by around six months of age.

University of Louisiana–Lafayette psychologist Daniel Povinelli criticized the study, however. “How could [rooks] not have these interpretations? How else would they know how to land on a branch?” Bird answered that while many animals surely understand the basic idea of physical support, rooks appear to better understand its nuances.

As proof of that, Bird pointed out that rooks did better than even chimpanzees at the test, suggesting crows’ understanding of some physical laws exceeds primates’. This, along with a series of other tests (many of which we’ve reported on), indicate that crows are near or at the top of the animal kingdom in terms of intelligence. God designed many intelligent creatures, and not all have the same types of intelligence. Observing the intellectual abilities of not just chimpanzees, but also crows, elephants, and cetaceans reminds us of this fact. While evolutionists frequently point to chimp intelligence as indicative of our relatedness with them (often comparing primate and human baby smarts), continuing research into crow intelligence demonstrates that this is not an argument for evolution.

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