LEARNING AMONG BIRDS

Bob Brockie BobB at ikaroa.monz.govt.nz
Wed Feb 14 18:58:54 EST 1996



 ----------
From: BIOSCI-REQUEST
To: bioforum
Subject: Re: LEARNING AMONG BIRDS
Date: Wednesday, 14 February 1996 09:51AM



Somewhere, these claims about  blue tits teaching each other to open milk 
bottles, and Japanese monkeys who were thought to have taught each other to 
wash potatoes before eating them, have been refuted by careful experimental 
work on caged animals.  Each animal learned the knack independently and no 
skills were passed from animal to animal.  Another popular myth demolished 
by spoil-sport experimentalists!   I think this was reported in the journal 
Animal Behaviour about 5 -10 years ago.  If anybody has the reference or 
could put me in touch with the authors I'd be most grateful .

Bob Brockie
Museum of New Zealand
Wellington, NZ


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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