LEARNING AMONG BIRDS

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Feb 14 12:51:16 EST 1996


For those who are interested in this (birds, milk-caps,
Baldwin effect, etc) should likely check the work
of Rupert Sheldrake, who developed this concept to
some length ('morphic resonance' - some kind of
extension of C.H. Waddington ideas).

His book on this: Rupert Sheldrake,
"Presence of the Past (Morphic Resonance and the
Habits of Nature)",  Times Books, 1988.

**********************************
Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
e-mail: BEREZIN at MCMASTER.CA
**********************************     

On Wed, 14 Feb 1996, Bert Gold wrote:

> LEARNING AMONG BIRDS
> 
> As a taunt among children, 'Bird Brain' has a pejorative sense.
> And well it should! 
> For it denotes the dimished complexity, the smaller information capacity,
> the very simplicity of the avian neocortex as compared with our own.
> 
> And yet it is from persevering in studies of simpler living systems
> Crick (1) instructs, we may more deeply understand the sources
> of memory, thought and consciousness itself.
> 
> I recall a photograph of the great austrian ethologist,
> Konrad Lorenz,
> walking booted through a verdant pasture,
> several ducks squabbling close behind, 
> having imprinted themselves upon him,
> believing Lorenz to be their mother,
> from a critical moment in their lives.
> 
> But what feels more striking for me are the ideas about mimetic
> learning that Arthur Koestler used to present (2).
> 
> This story was told before a 1956 meeting of the Linnean Society in London
> by Hardy:  Some years earlier, some thirsty blue-tits had noticed
> bottles a milkman left on a London doorstep containing
> a puzzling white liquid.  These ingenious birds discovered a way of 
> getting at it by removing gthe tops of the bottles with their beaks.
> Apparently, they enjoyed the liquid because the birds learned to deal
> with cardboard tops, and soon also with metal tops.  The new skill
> soon spread, apparently by imitation 'all through the tit population
> of Europe'(3).
> 
> Hardy went on to suggest that a progression similar to beak
> evolution in Darwin's finches could result from
> further reinforcing British milk bottle armature.
> That is, given sufficient time and selection pressure.
> 
> Imitative behavior among birds, Hardy concluded, could form
> a microcosm for human 'cultural evolution'.  As such it was dubbed
> 'The Baldwin Effect' after its arcane, turn-of-the-century discoverer.
> 
> I will not defend Koestler, Hardy, Waddington or Baldwin:
> Each of these espoused ideas in order that they might
> strengthen their own unique theories of cultural evolution.
> Rather, I choose to remember 'The Baldwin Effect'
> as I try to understand the startling discoveries of
> the last few weeks:  That on occasion, crows use tools!
> 
> The discovery is all the more remarkable because it was
> the result of almost wholly self-financed expeditions to
> New Caledonia, by a New Zealander, Gavin Hunt.
> 
> Hunt writes (4) that in making two kinds of tools, a hooked twig
> and a jagged edged chisel, his crows were ble to scavenge prey
> under forest detritus, that otherwise would have been forsaken.
> Prey here is presumably one or more varieties of local insect,
> made more suceptible to the crow's palate by use of its tools.
> 
> So now we know tools are of birds, apes and men. And that we have
> lost our claim to uniqueness in this respect.  And although one
> author (5) makes efforts to diminish the significance of the finding;
> implying that the crows lack 'imagination' in creating these
> rough hewn devices; for me he does not succeed.
> 
> Perhaps because I never pretended that I thoroughly understood
> the muse that gives rise to imagination on this green earth.
> 
> Bert Gold
> San Francisco
> 
> REFERENCES
> 
> (1)  Crick, F.; The Astonishing Hypothesis, The Scientific Search for
>      the Soul; New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994, p. 20-22.
> 
> (2)  Koestler, A.; The Ghost in the Machine; New York, Danube Edition,
>      Random House, 1976, p. 153-154.
> 
> (3)  Hardy, A.; The Living Stream; New York, Harper and Row, 1965, p. 170.
> 
> (4)  Hunt, G.R. (1996) Manufacture and use of hook-tools by New Caledonian
>      crows, Nature 379, 249-251.
> 
> (5)  Boesch, C. (1996) The question of culture, Nature 379, 207-208.
> 
> 



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