[extropy-chat] FWD [Skeptic] Re: Crows Invent Machine

Terry W. Colvin fortean1 at mindspring.com
Mon May 1 04:47:50 UTC 2006

On Apr 30, 2006, at 2:36 AM, Terry W. Colvin fnarded:

> Regarding this most amazing report:
> let me propose this
> ARGUMENT: the example above constitutes the use and
> *invention* of a machine by crows. The machine is a
> function M that accepts the input of a properly placed
> nut n that is then processed by the weight of rolling
> automobile tires into the target output M(n) of a
> cracked-open nut. Crows not only use this machine but
> they invented it assuming that the invention of
> machine X need only constitute its original conception
> and comprehension followed by physical proof that
> input y does in fact yield the target output X(y). I
> believe the crows have satisfied those criteria of
> machine invention.

It seems to me like most instances of associative learning and/or 
operant conditioning would satisfy the same criteria.  Pigeon inputs a 
peck to the correctly-colored key, output is a food reward.  That sort 
of thing.  The crow example is more impressive by virtue of its 
conceptual complexity, of course, but they all require the functional 
equivalent of abstracting the system somehow.

> The proposition of invention may seem a stretch given
> that the crows did not manufacture any cogs in their
> nut-cracking machine.

If you'd like instances of that, there are plenty of examples.   I 
posted this a while ago:  http://www.orenhasson.com/EN/bait-fishing.htm

Crows fishing with bait (bread).  They modify the bait, tearing off 
small chunks at a time and dropping them in the water, rather than just 
tossing the whole slice in.

New Caledonian crows seem to be the reigning kings of corvid tool use & 
manufacture, mostly focused on extracting food from holes and tubes.  
They use sticks to push food out, choosing length and diameter to match 
the dimensions of the hole and distance of the food; they agitate 
beetle larvae and get them to bite down on the stick, then pull them 
out; they tear strips off pandanus leaves and pull out food with the 
barbed edge.  Social learning seems to be involved; the juveniles 
closely watch adults using the tools, and local populations make 
pandanus-leaf tools of characteristic shapes.  Moreover, at least one 
crow, when given straight pieces of wire, innovated the technique of 
bending the end into a hook (which is impossible with any of the 
natural materials they're familiar with) and using it to retrieve food.

 There's a research group website with lots of info at:  

--Anton Mates

"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
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