Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Reasons to Feel Humble

What is black and white, can fly without machines, and can recognize itself in a mirror?

No, not batman doused with some white paint, I am talking about a Magpie, as this new scientist post demonstrates.

What I liked a lot was the way the researchers prove it without a doubt. They placed a colored spot under the beak of a Magpie, so it could not see it directly. When the Magpie was shown a mirror, it began scratching at the dot, recognizing itself in the mirror. When a black spot was used, so that it was not visible in the mirror against its feathers, no scratching happened. Pretty convincing.

Next step in my opinion: Take two magpies in neighboring cages, put a dot under one's beak, and see if the other one begins scratching -- to make sure that it clearly understands that only the "other" magpie has the dot :).

The funny part is, in our arrogance, we humans had believed that self-awareness is possible only if the brain has a neocortex, but birds don't have one. Go figure.

In other related news, in addition to being able to be trained to paint, Elephants have shown how they can add numbers, and differentiate two quantities, even when they are close-by like 5 and 6, and not just like 2 and 6, as even Salamanders can!

Still think we humans are "God's special creatures"?

P.S. Watched Ice Age 2 last night. Good movie :). Apparently mammoths speak like Raymond, and vultures speak like George Oscar Bluth ;)

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