Thoughts on—and from—animals

Stray links from the past two weeks, all about (other) animal intelligence:

The article “Deep Intellect” in Orion describes what it’s like to meet an octopus. “It’s like meeting an intelligent alien,” wrote Peter Godfrey-Smith, a diver, professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

One sign of intelligence, surely, must be the ability to recognize when something is wrong. To me, of all the tests and puzzles and skills the octopi exhibit, their persistent attempts to monkey-wrench the experiments—or to escape them altogether—shows more thoughtfulness than we can see in most Americans.

And speaking of octopi escaping, we have the now-famous case of Inky: “Earlier this month, under the cover of night, an octopus named Inky hauled his basketball-sized body out of the tank he shared with a companion at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, heaved himself across the floor, and squeezed his gelatinous mantle into a narrow drain leading to the Pacific Ocean.”

It’s almost as if animals don’t want to be stolen from the ocean and put in habitats a millionth of the size of their normal homes.

And, finally, from the New York Times, “Do Honeybees Feel?”.  This is the most interesting bit:

This does not mean that a honeybee thinks, “Why am I not the queen?” or even, “Oh, I like that nectar.” But, Dr. Barron and Dr. Klein wrote in a scientific essay, the honeybee has the capacity to feel something.

Their claim stops short of some others. Christof Koch, the president and chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, and Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin, have proposed that consciousness is nearly ubiquitous in different degrees, and can be present even in nonliving arrangements of matter, to varying degrees.

They conclude that it is an inherent property of physical systems in which information moves around in a certain way — and that could include some kinds of artificial intelligence and even naturally occurring nonliving matter.

So the question is not “Do honeybees feel?”, but “Do rivers feel?”.


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