Friday, November 28, 2003

Animal Intelligence

Interesting article this morning in The Washington Post about cognition in chimps and dolphins. Apparently, when faced with an either/or choice, they can recognize (and admit) when they can't tell. For example, the dolphins had to flip one lever if they heard a low-frequency tone, another if they heard a high-frequency tone. As the amplitude of the low-frequency tone was increased to a point where it approached the high-frequency tone it reached a point where the two tones were two similar for the dolphin to tell the difference. At that point they kept flitting back and forth between the two levers without flipping either. When given the "I don't know" option, the dolphins would select that when they were stuck.

The chimp experiments sounded even more conclusive, but they're both interesting; and rats and other animals didn't seem to understand/use the "I don't know" option.

One other animal intelligence item, well more animal mimicry than intelligence: A few weeks ago, The World had a quick segment about Hoover, the talking seal who used to live at the New England Aquarium. Apparently, he was raised by a couple from Gloucester and at some point picked up their speech patterns as his own. He wouldn't speak coherently, just laughing (with a very human laugh) and yelling things like "Come on!" "Get down!" and "Hoover, get over here!" (actually, factoring in the Gloucesterman accent, it was more like "Huvah, git ovah herah!"). The aquarium has an audio file of Hoover yapping.

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