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Empathy Is For the Birds

samzenpus posted about 4 years ago | from the polly-want-to-make-an-emotional-connection? dept.

Science 201

grrlscientist writes "Common Ravens have been shown to express empathy towards a 'friend' or relative when they are distressed after an aggressive conflict — just like humans and chimpanzees do. But birds are very distant evolutionary relatives of Great Apes, so what does this similarity imply about the evolution of behavior?"

cancel ×


Empathy was yesterday. (1)

Luke727 (547923) | about 4 years ago | (#32752616)

Today you're wasting my motherfucking time.

damn (5, Funny)

cti (1595797) | about 4 years ago | (#32752626)

man, i saw the title and was hoping ubuntu ditched empathy and went back to pidgin....

Re:damn (1)

lirel (1845888) | about 4 years ago | (#32752952)

i feel with you.
and this is what empathy is about.

Re:damn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753040)

Why? That would be a step backwards.

Re:damn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753072)

I'm glad they moved to Empathy. It wasn't as good as Pidgin when they made the move, but since it became the default in Ubuntu it's improved pretty rapidly. If it wasn't made default, then said improvement probably wouldn't have happened. Pidgin, on the other hand, hasn't improved in the slightest since before it was called Pidgin.

Re:damn (1)

somersault (912633) | about 4 years ago | (#32754058)


No webcam chat, not even voice - not that I care much.

No custom animated smilies on MSN! This is the dealbreaker for me..

I fail to see any improvements since Ubuntu 9.10?

Re:damn (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753270)

The first thing I did after nuking a old version of 8.10 and Installing the latest one was opening up Synaptic.

I made damn sure anything I'd never need was removed, and promptly Installed back packets I was comfortable with. That's the power of Linux, customization without most major hassles.

Re:damn (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 4 years ago | (#32753730)

Same here.

Well, it's a compromise - pigeons *with* empathy. :P

Enough observation... (-1, Flamebait)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about 4 years ago | (#32752644)

Really, you give enough observation to anything and you can show behavior promoting whatever.

Re:Enough observation... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32752662)

You're right. The best way of understanding things is to stop observing them.

Re:Enough observation... (2, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about 4 years ago | (#32752676)

I wasn't saying that, I was saying that if you observe something for a long enough time, you will start seeing anything that you want to believe.

Re:Enough observation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32752758)

Okay, so it's a lack of objectivity that you're talking about?

Re:Enough observation... (3, Insightful)

masmullin (1479239) | about 4 years ago | (#32753448)

after careful analysis of your statement over a period of 3 hours, I understand that you are telling me next weeks lottery numbers.

Re:Enough observation... (2, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | about 4 years ago | (#32752716)

I find the more I observe /. the less I understand it. Is that what you meant?

Re:Enough observation... (1)

jhoegl (638955) | about 4 years ago | (#32753166)

mmmmmm understood mint

Re:Enough observation... (1)

steelfood (895457) | about 4 years ago | (#32753636)

Only because you're participating.

Re:Enough observation... (2, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 4 years ago | (#32753218)

And, as a bonus, Schrödinger's cat gets to LIVE!
Well, maybe...
...I'd better go check...

Re:Enough observation... (2, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | about 4 years ago | (#32752766)

That's strange. I can observe cats as much as I want and still see them not being like dogs.

Humans are social animals. So are dogs. Both are generally geared towards working in groups (even cats can be group animals - a lot of the big cats in Africa cooperate although they also can go solo). Not sure about ravens.

To me, it seems logical that empathy is a social behavior. Perhaps it's game theory, where helping out a fellow costs you relatively little at that moment but can net you help when you need it. Aesop's fable about the Lion and the Mouse nicely illustrates and exaggerates the point.

So? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32752648)

How is this surprising? Birds show a lot of advanced mental cognitive behavior in relation to socialization that isn't commonly seen throughout the rest of the animal kingdom.

Re:So? (2, Funny)

Eternauta3k (680157) | about 4 years ago | (#32752700)

In the same way a Slashdot comment dissing research is surprising.

Re:So? (3, Insightful)

Kenoli (934612) | about 4 years ago | (#32752702)

Perhaps labeling empathy an advanced behavior is erroneous.

Re:So? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 4 years ago | (#32753232)

Birds show a lot of advanced mental cognitive behavior in relation to socialization that isn't commonly seen throughout the rest of the animal kingdom.

Here's a behavior that isn't commonly seen! Were you surprised?

Re:So? (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | about 4 years ago | (#32754162)

I think the point is that it IS commonly seen throughout the animal kingdom.

Really, I don't get this willingness to pretend that animals have no emotions. Anyone with a horse, dog, cat, or even a relatively unintelligent pet like a ferret has seen playfulness, companionship, affection, and many other "human" traits.

Raven... (3, Informative)

X0563511 (793323) | about 4 years ago | (#32752652)

"Common" Ravens are among the most intelligent birds around, if you don't count parrots.

Re:Raven... (4, Interesting)

toppings (1298207) | about 4 years ago | (#32752734)

There's a great TED talk [] on the intelligence of crows.

Re:Raven... (1)

dancingmad (128588) | about 4 years ago | (#32752748)

Yeah. I'm not scientist, but I do dabble in this, and it's not surprising; a lot of the birds, including crows, ravens, and the parrot show strong cognitive abilities, even though they are "are very distant evolutionary relatives of Great Apes."

In fact a lot of animals not close to our own species have been shown to have strong cognitive abilities, these birds for example, and cetaceans, especially dolphins.

Re:Raven... (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 4 years ago | (#32752892)

To be fair, dolphins are a lot more closely related to us than ravens are, so this is still a pretty interesting and significant finding.

Re:Raven... (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | about 4 years ago | (#32752936)

Yes, but it means the underlying mechanisms for toolmaking, empathy, etc, were all present no later than the last common ancestor. If a given animal does not have these traits, then the same sections of the brain are presumably used for some other function(s) as well - function(s) more advantageous to those other animals.

It also means that the underlying mechanisms are truly primitive and cannot involve any part of the brain not common to humans and avians. This means basic skills (such as toolmaking, basic problem solving, empathy, etc) should all be achievable with the Strong AI tools that exist today, which are plenty powerful enough to simulate what are relatively trivial neural circuits - compared to the whole human, or indeed avian, brain, that is.

Re:Raven... (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 4 years ago | (#32753030)

Or it's just a matter of convergent evolution. There's no reason that the "underlying mechanisms" (which, of course, we're a long way from figuring out) couldn't have evolved twice, or more. Empathy seems to me like a survival trait in social animals. Although I hold out hope for AI over the long term, I think it's a dangerous assumption that the mechanisms are so simple we'll be able to simulate them with modern hardware.

Re:Raven... (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | about 4 years ago | (#32753366)

It means the underlying mechanisms for toolmaking, empathy, etc, were all present no later than the last common ancestor.

Not necessarily. Some or all of them could be cases of convergent evolution. You are also too optimistic about our computing power. From Wikipedia [] :

The Artificial Intelligence System project implemented non-real time simulations of a "brain" (with 10^11 neurons) in 2005. It took 50 days on a cluster of 27 processors to simulate 1 second of a model. The Blue Brain project used one of the fastest supercomputer architectures in the world, IBM's Blue Gene platform, to create a real time simulation of a single rat neocortical column consisting of approximately 10,000 neurons and 10^8 synapses in 2006.

On top of that, in order to simulate these behaviors, we would first need to understand the "signal flow" that creates them within the brain. Brains are nothing like PCBs, and even our most advanced imaging tools don't give us the resolution we'd need to begin to understand at a more than rudimentary level what is going on. There are numerous other reasons why meaningful brain sims are very far in the future, if they are possible at all; some of them are detailed in the Wikipedia article.

Re:Raven... (2, Insightful)

jd (1658) | about 4 years ago | (#32753912)

I am extremely suspicious of "convergent evolution" in cases where there are multiple ways to perform the same general task. The probability of multiple generations converging rather than diverging should be infinitesimal. Convergent evolution does happen, but even there let's pause for thought. Dolphins and whales are descended from animals that moved back into the oceans. Their methods of controlling depth and pressure are unlike that of any fish. They have flukes, which are analogous to fins but do not operate in the same way and are not used in exactly the same way. It converged to a degree, but since then has run more parallel.

Do we see parallel evolution in birds and humans? Possibly. It bothers me, though, that the manner of representation is very human-like - so much so that I'm having a hard time calling it a parallel method of doing the same thing. It seems much more like it's the same method of doing the same thing.

But even if it is parallel, does that matter? OS/X and Linux are parallel lines of evolution in OS', but they both rely on a CPU to provide primitives. Since my argument is that the primitives, the mid-level instruction set necessary to form intelligence, is common, it is immaterial if the implementations were from the same source or evolved wholly independently. They'd still be using the same mid-level instruction set. (In fact, I'm also going to suggest that this is a requirement for "convergent evolution" - that you can't even have parallel implementations if the underlying engines are fundamentally different.)

Our most advanced imaging tool for the human brain is the 9.4T MRI. Our most advanced imaging tool for animal brains is the 12T MRI. These resolve down to single cells and can be used for both static images and fMRI. There are dozens of ways to perform an MRI to get a static image, too. I counted how many other ways there were to monitor brain activity - I came up with a list of about 30. (I was bored.) It is almost unimaginable that the full range of methods and techniques could not be deployed to produce a complete analysis of just the reptilian portion of the human brain. If I'm correct and intelligence is of common descent, then the most primitive constructs on which all later forms of intelligence rest (convergent or otherwise) MUST be in that part of the brain and nowhere else.

Again, if I an correct, then only a tiny subset of that brain will be (a) in common across all animals exhibiting high-level intelligence and/or empathy, AND (b) most active when such intelligence/empathy is in use, AND (c) necessary for high-level intelligence to function, AND (d) not be dedicated to autonomous functions required by the rest of the body. This is not the same as a "seat of intelligence/empathy" or a "seat of consciousness", any more than a node in a masterless computer cluster is the seat of all operations, or an ALU is the seat of all computation. It's merely a device that provides the key primitives. The actual "program" lies elsewhere. (And, according to recent studies, probably "everywhere" in the brain.)

The information from 57 different brain scans (24 MRI + 33 other types of scan) should be plenty of information to seed a Strong AI system, and because we're talking a very tiny number of brain cells (maybe a few thousand to tens of thousands tops) it should be doable on big iron.

Now we're not going to get HAL 9000 out of this, even if I am right. All we're going to get, at best, is a system that is capable of performing a set of very basic operations that can be called Intelligence-complete (in the same way as a Turing Machine performs a few basic operations that equate to anything any digital computer could ever do, no matter how advanced or how programmed). There should be no mental task performable by humans (or any other animal) that cannot be broken down into an algorithm using solely the Intelligence-complete set of operations.

If no such set of instructions can be derived, then one or more of the assumptions is incorrect.

Re:Raven... (3, Interesting)

Nadaka (224565) | about 4 years ago | (#32753338)

Cephelapods are even farther removed and also quite intelligent.

Some indications show that they could be more intelligent than the average great ape.

Some have shown the ability to learn "tricks" after a single demonstration and no practice.

Re:Raven... (1)

hobo sapiens (893427) | about 4 years ago | (#32753470)

I canary believe that. Ostrich my imagination and I cannot see how ravens are intelligent, but then again I am just crowing on and on about nothing.

Animal Intelligence (5, Insightful)

morkk (42729) | about 4 years ago | (#32752682)

Humans have consistently underestimated the intelligence of higher animals except for one species whose intelligence has been consistently overestimated.

Re:Animal Intelligence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32752756)


Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

Frequency Domain (601421) | about 4 years ago | (#32752778)



Re:Animal Intelligence (3, Funny)

djconrad (1413667) | about 4 years ago | (#32752954)

I'm sure both dolphins and mice will have the good foresight to leave the planet before Thursday. I've already received my good by note from the dolphins, and the mice have offered to buy my brain.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

pookemon (909195) | about 4 years ago | (#32752768)

Lemmings? No, wait, giraffes...

Oh I give up...


Re:Animal Intelligence (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32752780)


Re:Animal Intelligence (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32752950)

You idiot! Lawyers aren't mammals, they come from a different phylum altogether - I think it's entoprocta.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | about 4 years ago | (#32753592)

No, marketers!

Re:Animal Intelligence (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 4 years ago | (#32752854)

One time in Malaysia with my family we stopped our car at a tourist spot and noticed that a monkey had been killed by another vehicle, probably quite recently. Another monkey stood on the road beside the dead body thumping its hands onto the top of its head in an expression of obvious grief.

We got out of the car and I stepped into a crowd of agitated primates, all about 40cm high. The tension between us was clear and frankly terrifying for me. I walked off slowly, trying not to make sudden movements.

I had no doubt that there was empathy between all players in that situation.

Re:Animal Intelligence (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753102)

Interesting. I didn't realize niggers were capable of empathy, I suppose they are more intelligent than once thought.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | about 4 years ago | (#32752900)

If dolphins are so damned smart, how come they live in igloos? /southpark

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 4 years ago | (#32752972)

Well to be fair, homo sapien is a remarkable species.

Our bodies are not the most strong, nor do we have fur. Yet, because of our intelligence and endurance, we can survive in the harshest of environments. Also, no other living organism has been able to engineer objects that can destroy life as well as harbor it on such vast scales. We've just about done it all. Everything from questioning our origin, splitting the atom, developing the computer, building space craft, to setting foot on the moon...etc. And while our wisdom is often lacking, we are undeniably intelligent and sentient.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

GSV Eat Me Reality (1845852) | about 4 years ago | (#32753050)

Humans, at this point in time, seem to be much better at destroying life than harboring it. Your last sentence is possibly more accurate than you know.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 4 years ago | (#32753712)

Maybe that's why our population keeps growing? Anyway we're doing pretty good; while the natural balance in the ecosystem is gone, humans are not killing it. OK maybe some species go extinct, but when was the last time you saw other species imbalance nature and persueing to fix the balance on their own?

Hell some humans are even trying to figure out how to create(/restore?) a livable ecosystem on Mars!

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32753114)

Based on your own judgment of intelligent and sentient, of course.

Judge, jury, executioner.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 4 years ago | (#32753182)

What other multi-cellular species on this planet can dominate homo sapien? None.

But then again, what other species would put forth the very questions we ask of ourselves? We try so hard to study and understand other animals and the way (and what) they communicate. But for the most part, we end up with a bunch of living organisms that run off genetically scripted instincts.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32753368)

1) You base your definition on domination, a variant of "survival of the fittest". Not exactly a good judge of intelligence, though a good judge of power.
2) You assume that only humans ask themselves these questions.
3) You assume that other animals don't study us.
4) You assume that it's genetic, scripted, and instincts.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 4 years ago | (#32753510)

Well, yes. Unless I actually know otherwise, is starting off on an assumption a bad thing? At this point, it's all I know until informed otherwise. But my assumptions are based on our actions and from introspection.

How can it not be biased?

Re:Animal Intelligence (2, Insightful)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32753626)

I never implied I know the solution, only that there is a problem, which is this bias you mention here. It still remains important that we recognize that we may be wrong due to this bias, that we might not be all that we think we are..

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32753634)

Addendum: Or in other words, be humble.

intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (5, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 4 years ago | (#32752990)

what elevates humankind over other animals is not grey matter, it's our vocal dexterity

take any of us, and remove our ability to talk or write, and we're pretty much a little smarter than your average raven or dolphin: we're isolated islands of thought. so we may get glimmers of brilliance now and then, but it fades, and is trapped in our skulls, and dies with us

or, give ravens and dolphins the ability to take the more complicated ideas in their heads, and share it with others with language, and this launches them to levels comparable with humanity in terms of what they can think. because now they build on each other's ideas, and nothing is forgotten: its passed and shared around, and babies are born in this sea of wisdom and thought, to build upon even more

thoughts don't matter. the ability to COMMUNICATE thoughts matters. that's what puts humanity in a genuine level orders of magnitude over other creatures on this planet

and when mankind developed writing? forget about it, game over, humanity vaults into the stratosphere (literally, around 1950, because of what writing makes possible). now, in fact, these silly biological shells hardly matter anymore. memetic evolution, the retention and sharing of ideas over generations, becomes the real story of change on this planet, and genetic evolution takes a back seat in terms of importance

eventually, the memes will shed these silly biological shells entirely, and shape the world and other worlds completely of its own volition. but it was us silly apes that gave birth to it, whatever it will be, memetically driven idea machine. and don't forget who your father is! you damn future godlike machine thingy

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (1)

GigaHurtsMyRobot (1143329) | about 4 years ago | (#32753016)

+1 for this brilliant post.

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753764)

+5 !

But it's only at +4 so mod it up.

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 4 years ago | (#32753034)

For obvious ethical reasons, the study would never happen. But, I've often wondered how a feral human being would act throughout its lifetime from child to adult (recorded and such). Would he or she come up with some advanced methods to trap animals? Would it understand the concept on its own of sharpening a stick to make spear? Just how innovative would a feral human be over that of any other primate or bird?

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (1)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32753082)

The tricky part is how to define a feral human to begin with. A human, completely isolated from birth, has as much change of survival as almost any other animal isolated from birth. (not quite true, there are plenty of creatures that manage to survive based on instincts alone, but those still have obscene death rates. But the general thought still applies). It would still need some form of care at birth.. but since humans learn from their parents, even during their subconscious states before their consciousness really forms, how can you raise the child without breaking the experiment, to let them learn 'feral' methods of food gathering and survival? And even then, you still need a community to make it a proper experiment, since primates and birds often live in communities too, which implies several generations...

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753224)

I disagree. The human brain is far more complex than the average raven or dolphin, even without the ability to communicate effectively (see

Speech and the written word are extremely important for the advancement of civillisation, certainly, but just slapping a voice box into a raven wouldn't make their brains advanced enough to comprehend language.

well yeah (2, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 4 years ago | (#32753286)

our vocal and manual dexterity evolved hand-in-hand with our brain

but i will assert that if we didn't have the vocal/ manual dexderity, there wouldn't be anything for evolution to "work with":

1. a few of us were able to say a little, so this gave those few an evolutionary advantage
2. then a few of those who were able to say a little were able to think a little deeper, which gave those few an evolutionary advantage
3. then subset of those saying a little, with a little deeper thought, in turn got able to enunciate a little more complicated thoughts
4. repeat ad nauseum: you have a feedback loop, a runaway train fo communication building on intelligence building on communication building on, etc

communication is the something that ravens, dolphins etc don't have evolutionarily (yet)

what i'm saying is, we wouldn't be so smart if communication never came into play (and likewise, we wouldn't communicate very much if we weren't so smart). we owe our advantage to our grey matter AND our vocal dexderity. so human beings are smart, sure, but just looking at the grey matter is not the real story, because obviously plenty of other creatures: ravens, dolphins, parrots, kea, etc., are shown to have significant grey matter heft. but its tragic. they're all trapped wit their thoughts in their skulls to their deaths

so what's the big deal with homo sapiens? the big deal, as i said before, is our ability communicate vocally. throw in the ability to write, and forget about it: we are far, far beyond our fellow creatures. mostly because of commmunication, the shared intelligence, the whole of our societies with their shared memory being more than the sum of its parts. that makes us truly special and light years beyond ravens and dolphins

until we kill ourselves off, hopefully not, and evolution bumps the communication/ intelligence evolutionary feedback loop into hyperdrive in one of our animal friends. assuming we don't destroy the planet we share with them and dney them the chance

Re:well yeah (2, Informative)

masmullin (1479239) | about 4 years ago | (#32753522)

"Thought is language, language is thought" is what your trying to say. It's why a large vocabulary is an important measure of intelligence; because if you lack the words to think with, you lack the very thought.

Re:well yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753584)

...because if you lack the words to think with, you lack the very thought.

And that would definitely be double-plus-ungood.

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (2, Funny)

masmullin (1479239) | about 4 years ago | (#32753490)

I agree on the ability to communicate, I disagree that vocalization is key. I think we may have come up with some sort of sign-language or language based on snaps/claps & rhythm if we lacked vocal chords.

If we lacked ear drums we would have been a dead species a very long time ago. "did you hear that, it sounded like a tiger coming to eat us" "no frank, i dont hear a god damn thing because I dont have ears, neither do you AAAAHHHHGGG Im being eaten!!!"

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (3, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | about 4 years ago | (#32753556)

While the ravens are more limited than we are for communication (they cannot build libraries for example), they DO pass ideas to each other (as do other animals), probably by watching and then imitating.

Overall, I don't disagree since just watching and doing can only convey the concrete and our greatest accomplishments require the abstract as well.

I find your sig to be quite apt in this thread. Through IP laws, we are willfully limiting the very thing that makes us what we are. If taken to the extremes the corporations want, we would probably devolve.

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (1)

outsider007 (115534) | about 4 years ago | (#32753690)

So then why aren't parrots building space shuttles?

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (2, Interesting)

jandersen (462034) | about 4 years ago | (#32754036)

What you express so boldly (and rather floridly as well) is perhaps what you learn from the more popular part of the scientific press; it is, however, not entirely correct.

what elevates humankind over other animals is not grey matter, it's our vocal dexterity

No, on two counts: Humans are not "elevated" over other animals, or "more highly evolved" or anything like that; and there is no single capability that sets us apart. The idea that we are somehow "the crown of creation" is simply a superstition from the past - we are animals, simply, and what sets us apart is that we have a set of traits that favour abstract intelligence, tool use and verbal communication. It is not that our voices are particularly flexible - most birds are able to generate a far wider range of sounds than humans (but our ears are not able follow them); in many ways, the difference is more a matter of "degrees" or "dimensions", since we don't have any trait that is unique.

thoughts don't matter. the ability to COMMUNICATE thoughts matters. that's what puts humanity in a genuine level orders of magnitude over other creatures on this planet

This is a rather naive assumption - and don't most TV shows prove on a daily basis, that communication is not what matters, since it is perfectly possible to communicate excessively without ever expressing a single, worthwhile thought?

Apart from that - do we know for certain that other animals don't communicate? Of course not - all living organisms communicate (even bacteria, by producing and reacting to chemical clues), and many communicate a good deal more than most would imagine. It is perfectly possible that some communicate thoughts of comparable complexity to ours, but that just haven't learnt their language.

As for writing, yeah, that was of major importance, since it allowed us to store verbal communications in a more durable and reliable form. We have yet to discover another animal that employs writing, although one can speculate that when animals leave marks in the landscape - eg to mark their territory or or the best route to food - this could be what later lead to painting pictures in a cave and evetually writing.

eventually, the memes will shed these silly biological shells entirely

Really? I suspect not; there is a very close connection between what you think of as "me" and the physical body. There has been many psychological experiments that show this - one of the more interesting IMO was one where they used VR to give people another body; eg. a man got the body of a young girl - when he lifted his arm, it would be the arm of a girl etc. It had a surprisingly strong effect on people's identity. Even if it became possible to record a human personality and imprint it on some other autonomous entity, it I don't think it would be the same person any more.

Re:intelligence doesn't matter, communication does (4, Insightful)

White Flame (1074973) | about 4 years ago | (#32754140)

The best example of this that I've heard is in the story of Helen Keller. Since she didn't learn to communicate until age 7 or so, she could remember what life was like beforehand, describing her early mind as a chaotic mess of strange sensations. It was only after she learned language that she was able to have actual organized thoughts and think conceptually.

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

Radtoo (1646729) | about 4 years ago | (#32753004)

Yep, especially the many animals we eat. Fishes, Cows, Pigs... all sure have got meat on them, but they are all also quite intelligent (apparently a trait that helps if you're a large chunk of calories and out there in nature, surprise surprise). They are simply not nearly as stupid as was believed for centuries.

Re:Animal Intelligence (2, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 4 years ago | (#32753320)

Not to be contrary, but what does empathy have to do with intelligence?

Re:Animal Intelligence (1)

masmullin (1479239) | about 4 years ago | (#32753538)

both are thought to be functions of the brain. humans are thought to have the most refinement of both functions.

empathy is one of the ways in which humans learn and expand their intelligence.

I tell you what (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32752692)

Psychology is crap!

mhm ravens (0, Troll)

meow27 (1526173) | about 4 years ago | (#32752750)

So mammals evolved from these special birds? these birds are in the group that is known for their intelligence. Other birds do not share these characteristics apparently.

by applying this logic i should assume that all creatures with mammalian-like eyes originates from octopuses, because their kind is more archeic and their eye-structure is very similar (though it is accepted that the eyes developed separately with no relation mammals)

Re:mhm ravens (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 4 years ago | (#32752782)

Um no, nobody is claiming that humans evolved from ravens, or vice versa. What they're saying is that empathy is a trait which apparently involved in both species, and this is an interesting finding. That's all.

Re:mhm ravens (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 4 years ago | (#32752860)

True humans didn't evolve from birds but birds and humans do have a common ancestor (amphibians?). There are two possibilities here, either mammals and birds evolved the behaviour seperately or they both inherited it from a common ancestor.

Re:mhm ravens (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 4 years ago | (#32752922)

Given that our last common ancestor was probably asocial and kind of dumb (like most modern amphibians and reptiles) it seems a lot more likely to be a case of convergent evolution than common inheritance.

Argh, I need to use Preview (Re:mhm ravens) (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 4 years ago | (#32752864)

"... which apparently evolved in both species ..." was what I meant to type, of course.

Elephants. (1)

Narcocide (102829) | about 4 years ago | (#32752878)

I hear they mourn their dead. Watch Animal Planet and you can even sometimes see them getting eviscerated in HD - EPIC.

Not sure about evolution... (5, Interesting)

Anachragnome (1008495) | about 4 years ago | (#32752916)

I'm not sure about evolution as far as ravens are concerned, but I do know nature throws us some curve balls every once in a while, and ravens are most definitely one of them.

There was some researcher visiting Fairbanks, AK when I lived there. He was trying to catch ravens for some study he was doing and needed 20 birds. After a few weeks of not catching a single one, the local newspaper caught wind of what he was doing and ran a story on him. The first paragraph explained his lack of success. He had been using cheese puffs as bait in the parking lot of the local supermarket. He had a firing net to cover the birds when they came to investigate...only they never came, even when the lot usually had ravens all over the place.

A reader finally figured it out. There was a McDonald's right next to the lot. He should have been using French Fries. The ravens knew something wasn't right and refused to touch his bait.

I've seen them open zipped containers to steal food (the cargo compartments on snow machines are easy prey)...and then CLOSE THEM.

I watched my cat carry on a 10 minute conversation with one. Obviously some sort of speech between the two...never seen anything like it before, or since.

I've heard one make the sound of dripping water, then fly down and drink from my rain barrel.

After 10 years in Alaska, I've only seen one dead raven. It had been fried on the power line above my friends truck while he was sitting in it eating his lunch. Plonk! the back of the truck it fell. It is so rare to find a dead raven that the Dept. of Fish and Game wanted the corpse for study.

Even with a 160F annual temperature variation, they never seem to be affected by the weather. I watched one trying how to figure out how to eat a rock-solid, 1-pound package of hamburger meat at -45F in a Sam's Club parking lot. He eventually dragged under the tail pipe of an idling car to thaw it out(people leave their cars idling while they shop when it is that cold). I know people that would never have figured that out.

I can completely understand the high reverence native cultures afford the creature.

Re:Not sure about evolution... (1)

GigaHurtsMyRobot (1143329) | about 4 years ago | (#32753036)

+1, thanks for the story.

Re:Not sure about evolution... (4, Funny)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32753136)

"After 10 years in Alaska, I've only seen one dead raven. It had been fried on the power line above my friends truck while he was sitting in it eating his lunch. Plonk! the back of the truck it fell. It is so rare to find a dead raven that the Dept. of Fish and Game wanted the corpse for study."

So that's the raven's equivalent to joining the Darwin Awards?

Re:Not sure about evolution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753398)

That reminds me of one great TED talk:

Re:Not sure about evolution... (1)

hobo sapiens (893427) | about 4 years ago | (#32753492)

yes! After years of pecking at seeds in the park, I have gained their trust. As a member of their inner circle, I am privy to their secret agenda. They took me to their secret lair, and I saw all of their evil plans. There in it with the squirrels, I'll tell you. Just watch your back!

Re:Not sure about evolution... (2, Funny)

Onymous Coward (97719) | about 4 years ago | (#32753512)

I watched my cat carry on a 10 minute conversation with one. Obviously some sort of speech between the two...never seen anything like it before, or since.

Yeah, but you don't know what was being said.

Cat: I am so gonna eat you.
Crow: Yeah, whatever.
Cat: No, for sure.
Crow: Yeah, whatever.
Cat: I am totally gonna eat you. Om nom, dude.
Crow: You and all your genius, verb-conjugation-challenged LOLCAT friends, I'm sure. I'm quaking in my down.

I often see my friend's cat chatter while staring, intrigued, at birds. I'm guessing it might be some kind of way to keep nearby cats informed of possible prey.

But, yeah, crows are brilliant [] .

Re:Not sure about evolution... (2, Insightful)

incubbus13 (1631009) | about 4 years ago | (#32753524)

Actually, I wrote a report about this for an Anthro class once. The advantage of "modern" humans, over homo erectus was "organization". Homo Erectus had a (20%) bigger brain (for whatever that means), massed ~20kg more than the average modern human, and was generally better established in the area.

Cro-Magnon man gathered resources and brought them to a central location, while Neanderthal went to the resources and used them there. Whether Erectus was wiped out, assimilated, or whatever, obviously organization requires communication, and it provided enough of an evolutionary advantage that Neanderthal lost.


Re:Not sure about evolution... (1)

incubbus13 (1631009) | about 4 years ago | (#32753534)

Crap, that shoulda gone under the post for communication, not evolution.


What does this tell us? (3, Interesting)

DriedClexler (814907) | about 4 years ago | (#32752934)

what does this similarity imply about the evolution of behavior?

It tells us that the optimality of the tit for tat [] strategy is not limited to ape communities, but can arise in other species, leading to the related phenomenon of empathy.

Some of the requirements for tit-for-tat to be optimal probably include the ability to recognize individuals and remember them, keen ability to identify (generalized) "defection", and a willingness to suffer a (short-term) loss to punish defectors, which requires some long-term historical memory. Which is to say, characteristics that persist in apes and probably ravens.

Because we all love THGTTG (5, Insightful)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32752988)

"For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons."

What it means.. (1)

ignavus (213578) | about 4 years ago | (#32753018)

so what does this similarity imply about the evolution of behavior?

It means that if we are very good, we come back as ravens.

Hmmm. Flight. Cool.

Re:What it means.. (1)

Psaakyrn (838406) | about 4 years ago | (#32753098)

But you'd have no /.!

Re:What it means.. (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 4 years ago | (#32753238)

Wow, they are more evolved.

Re:What it means.. (1)

kirill.s (1604911) | about 4 years ago | (#32754088)

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a crow. KARRRR! KARRR!

Easy peasy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753032)

so what does this similarity imply about the evolution of behavior?

It implies that, even after 140,000,000 years, meat eating dinosaurs are still the coolest things ever.

Not just Ravens and Crows (1)

future assassin (639396) | about 4 years ago | (#32753078)

A few weeks back I was driving down the road and a flock of birds flew under my truck. One of them must have hit the bottom and got hurt as it was laying and moving on the ground. As I looked in the rear view I saw another bird flying out of the grass when they flew into and it was flying around the hurt bird. There was no where to pull over as the road was tight but driving back later that day I saw the bird dead and moved towards the edge of the asphalt. But the bird that flew outlooked like is was trying to help out the other bird or maybe it was its mate.

Existential realism in metaethics? (1)

Push Latency (930039) | about 4 years ago | (#32753248)

Schopenhauer wrote about compassion as the real primary/genuine moral incentive ("Foundation of Ethics", p.173, EFJP). If ravens do this too, is this fodder for (moral) Realism - even in an existentialist or materialist context?

Societies of animals (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32753364)

Maybe in higher animals, forming societies is the norm and in fact higher thought is common to all animals but in that particular animals perspective. I recall seeing a bird society in Australia and it reminded me of human feudal societies.

It shows Evolution beats creationism, again (1)

JavaBear (9872) | about 4 years ago | (#32753532)

So technically the score would still be: Evolution: inf. Creationism: 0

What this really shows is that empathy and as a result morality really are evolutionary constructs, that creationists are WRONG when they claim that it takes an invisible sky daddy to be moral.

It also shows that either empathy have been a desirable genetic trait for a VERY long time (at least back to the common ancestor for dinosaurs and mammals), or that the trait developed independently in multiple branches of the evolutionary process, suggesting that it's a very desirable, and natural trait indeed.

implication (2, Insightful)

Onymous Coward (97719) | about 4 years ago | (#32753542)

what does this similarity imply about the evolution of behavior?

Empathy contributes to population fitness?

Why should that be a surprise? (1)

dakodar (1846012) | about 4 years ago | (#32753776)

It should not surprise much that ravens are able to communicate. Nor that they have some kind of empathy, or social live, or...

What most uni-dimensional scientists forget is that science is more about communicating ideas than it is only about facts. Let me briefly explain: Currently there is a discipline called 'ontology design' that tries to standardize concepts within science (biology, neuropsych.. . ). Concepts are used to communicate ideas. The concept of 'empathy' is then one of those vague concepts. Give me a standardized (recognized by both biology/psych/phil of science...) definition of empathy and I will shut up. There is no standardized definition of empathy.

So do ravens display 'empathy'? Sure, depends on your definition.

In neuroscience, empathy is tighly connected with emotions (ehem the so-called amygdala), rewards (prefrontal, caudate, bit V1 even...), attention.... In biology: behaviour In chemistry: bit of dopamine?

Science is a limited system, nifty, but limited. It is not standardized at all, let alone that it supports interoperable data. Why is it so hard to see that ravens collaborate, why would 'empathy' (in its limited sense) be restricted to humans? No (decent) scientist would have claimed that.

Science can explain a lot, but those higher-order processes are far from explained. So empathy? Choose your definition and dependent on that it will be 'yes' or 'no'.

Birds (1)

Windwraith (932426) | about 4 years ago | (#32754108)

Birds are the most underestimated creatures you can find around.
Most people just thinks birds are poop factories (actually, their "dive bombs" are necessary, since they must remove weight from their bodies as soon as possible. By the way you can actually train birds to do that in a corner you want, much like dogs and cats, but most people just lets their birds rot inside a cage without interacting with them). Or just look at the depiction of birds in popular culture, it's either poop jokes or "birds are stupid/evil/pests" jokes. The only positive trait remembered is their singing or their colorfulness.

I always noticed that in those cartoons or anime where animals can walk and talk, birds are often depicted as regular birds instead of intelligent creatures wearing clothes and stuff. Sure there are exceptions like Falco in Starfox but they are far rarer than silly talking dogs and stuff.

If you take a bit of time to read about birds, you'll see they are worth more than just something you put inside a cage. Take a look at ravens, magpies (the pica pica species AKA European magpie), most curved-beak birds, etc...they can be trained to do many "intelligent" things. Even "not so smart" birds like sparrows (you can actually teach a little sparrow to talk like a parrot). And if you actually let a pet bird be comfortable (as opposed to being inside a tiny cage all day long), getting out of the cage and fly around, have toys and stuff, they won't run away from you even if you keep your windows open all day.

The way you train them and the company they give, I find it more fitting for a nerd than cats (which seem to be a popular nerd choice). I had dogs and cats (and a hamster) to compare.

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