Wildlife Sightings, or... Our Animal Friends

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I spent last week at the Pacific NW coast. While I was hiking there I had the opportunity to make several wildlife sightings.

The least unusual (but still exciting) was sighting several whales - California Grey Whales, I'm pretty certain - spouting about 300 yards offshore, not too far beyond the breakers - all swimming north. At that distance I could only rarely see the dark grey back breaching the surface. Mainly, all I saw was the spout, looking just like a puff of smoke. It had been a couple of decades since I saw a whale in real life so I was pretty happy about seeing even that much.

The next most unusual sighting was... a raven. Of course, I've seen a lot of ravens and heard a lot more in my life, but this one did something I doubt I'll ever see again. I had hiked up to a mountain top in the coastal range and was walking at the edge of a meadow. It was windy and the raven was soaring and playing around. It flew over me a couple of times, just out of curiousity. Then... it started doing barrel rolls! It would twirl around the axis from its beak-to-tail, once, twice, then tuck its wings and do a dive, for all the world just like a hawk stooping on its prey. It did this three times. I got the impression it was showing off -- and mighty damn proud of itself!

The other sighting that was especially memorable happened while I was walking out on a cape that juts far into the ocean. This cape is a park, so it hasn't been logged or disturbed. The forest is lush and full of native plants. And it is devoid of roads. That makes it prime wildlife habitat.

I was walking along a trail about 2 miles from the nearest road when I turned a corner in the trail and there, about 6 feet away, was a very small black bear cub! I stopped dead in my tracks. It turned to look at me, promptly stumbled over its feet and tumbled over, nose first. It was so small and awkward I got the impression it hadn't been long out of the den. It seemed far more surprised than afraid.

Presented with this priceless sight I did what any sane hiker would do... I turned around smartly and loped away as quietly as I could. God knows where Mama Bear was, but I sure as shootin' didn't want to find out!

After I had loped off about 150 yards, I slowed down and started walking briskly. Then I heard a very strange sound. It was almost like a housecat's yowling, but not exactly quite. I listened for a few moments, wondering what on earth could be out there in the wild woods making a sound like that? Then it became clear: I was hearing another bear cub, crying for its mama. So I did what any sane hiker would do... I speeded up again!

Thinking back, I can see that your typical Mama bear is a very smart creature. By sticking to her game plan of attacking first and asking questions later whenever her cubs are involved, I had been thoroughly trained to treat the very sight or sound of a helpless cub as a mortal danger to me. A charging, roaring adult could scarcely have got me out of there quicker.

But, now that I am safe, I am damn glad I had the experience.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 06, 2002


A gentle nudge into New Answers.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 06, 2002.

LN, glad you had sense enough to run from the baby bear. So many people would stop to take pictures or try to pet it.

Once we took the kiddies out into the snow for a hike in the woods around here. The sun was going down when we found mountain lion scat full of deer hair. (There's not supposed to be any around here, but that's another story.) Suddenly nature wasn't very fun any more. My husband took the kids down the trail toward the house, but one of them dropped a glove along the way. I went back for it. I don't know how the sun went down so fast. One minute I was on the clear trail, then I didn't know which way to go -- and I hadn't moved. The snow muffled my family's voices, or they were too tired to talk. It was just me, woods, snow, and fresh big cat scat.

Downhill was generally homeward, so I went that way. Snow on leaves doesn't leave a good trail in full dark, so after a while I wasn't following them any more. I grew up here, so I reasoned I could just keep walking downhill until I found the house. Two rises later I saw an outdoor light. I forgot, truly forgot, that we don't have one of those. All I could think of was how Steven King always starts out with something nice, like a family hike, before the dead start crawling out of panther bellies. I went to the light, thinking I was going home.

At the edge of a clearing I realized I wasn't home. What was worse, I was at the home of a nutcase -- pardon me, highly independent thinker -- man who was known to shoot first and ask questions later, kind of like a mother bear. The choice was to knock on his door, or head back out into lost darkness with an unknown level of danger from a big cat.

Good thing the woods aren't full of bears here. :)

-- helen (scat@cat.scat), May 06, 2002.

Yeah, helen, I'm glad you never "saw the elephant" that time, too.

I surprised myself in one way: the standard operating procedure when black bears might be around is to make plenty of noise to, um, scare them away. But a Mama Bear with a cub to protect just doesn't scare that easily. Without much thinking about it, I was as quiet as a passing shadow until I was a good 1/4 mile from any sign of a cub -- only then did I start singing out loud as I walked. Being quiet wasn't exactly a plan, but more of an instinctive reaction.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 06, 2002.

Loved the raven adventure. Jealous. Confident you're guess is correct. All we have here are their lesser, smaller cousins crows. They're smart and I've heard a couple of remarkable stories from a friend that challenges his locals with food puzzles. Have seen examples on TV with squirrels & jays. Setups that challenge the animal to gain the food prize.

BTW, good job with the momma.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 06, 2002.


-- (lars@indy.net), May 06, 2002.

Carlos, crows are very smart, but it is more of a communal intelligence in my view. They talk a lot to one another and share their thoughts.

Ravens are more solitary, more individual and more sagacious. Over the years I have come to admire them greatly. But, until that recent day, I had never seen a raven engage in tom foolery. It was a refreshing revelation. Must have been an adolescent, don't you think?

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 07, 2002.

From the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco there comes this shocking account of avian infanticide, gang rape, incest and savage attacks on female humans.

Tippi Hedren, call your office

-- (lars@indy.net), May 07, 2002.

Lars, I should just send you some chickens. They do that stuff allatime.

-- helen (they@are.dinosaurs.afterall), May 07, 2002.

Lars, everyone knows swans are right bastards.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 07, 2002.

Ok, call the paddy wagon...there's this king snake who takes my eggs right out from under the hens. Every year, this snake gets more eggs than I do. We remove him to a different barn at least three times a year. He's already gotten a batch last week or so.

So... he doesn't like goat poop. Think about it, the floor of the goat barn burns my eyes, so prolly it burns his eyes more since he's right down there with it. Besides that, he can't blink. He never goes in that side.

I got the hens to start laying on the goat poop side by making a nest and putting plastic Easter eggs in there. There is finally a good use for the stupid things after Easter.

Meanwhile, old snake got hungry. This morning I went into the hay side where the chickens used to lay, and there was this weird little hump of loose hay on top of a tight bale. I backed out and got a flashlight.

It was old snake, all four feet or so of him, and he had made a freaking chicken-blind with hay. He was all coiled up tight inside this little mound of hay. And the little mound of hay hadn't been there the night before.

-- helen (the@snake.has.plans), May 07, 2002.


-- helen (sorry@mea.culpa.so.sue.me), May 07, 2002.

ye gods

-- helen (brother@where.art.thou), May 07, 2002.

Anthropomorphism - The tendency to attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals and others.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 07, 2002.

Ok, Ken. Why did the snake make a pile of loose hay and coil himself up in it right where a chicken would lay an egg? I can see Unk disguising himself to get a chick to ... well, anyway, my momma says they're mutating. Growing brains. Getting smart. I called her for reassurance and now I'm afraid to go to sleep. %{

-- helen (anthropomorphism@is.a.fighting.word), May 07, 2002.

Yeah Nip a kid having fun but with a better brain than my locals. I have to shoot two each year. Pains, but otherwise the whole murder savages my meager pecan crop. I hang 'em up where the others can see and needn't worry till the kids from next year's brood. Community smarts spreads the word.

Pseudo Kenny bought a dictionary. That's good. Cept there's nothing in this thread that speaks to anthropomorphism.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 07, 2002.

It is good to know, Carlos, that time has not changed your ability to read. Perhaps you can quantify the sagacity of a raven? Or the "communal intelligence" of crows? Delight us with your explanation of how an animal with a brain the size of a hulled walnut feels "pride" or "shows off." Whatever you do, don't read my cheeky answer aloud in front of any of your pets... lest they be offended.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 08, 2002.

The absolutist position on anthropomorphism (that one cannot make any statement whatsoever about animal behavior which references human emotions) is not accepted by people who know better (e.g. animal trainers). Fear and anger are obvious examples.

Regarding crows, it is generally accepted that crows are remarkably intelligent compared to most birds. And if communal intelligence refers to the ability to learn, this has been shown in birds a lot less intelligent than crows (e.g. tits, in the U.K.). When milk bottles with foil caps were introduced in the U.K. after WW II, when milk was being delivered to people's doorsteps, there is documentation of the gradual spread of adaptive tit behavior, learning to peck through the caps to get milk.

-- Peter Errington (petere7@starpower.net), May 08, 2002.

Carlos, I figured Ken was thinking of my reference to the whales "spouting". However, since he has weighed in on it, I have some comments on what he said.

Perhaps you can quantify the sagacity of a raven? Or the "communal intelligence" of crows?

Ken, before any one of us attempts to "quantify the sagacity of a raven", I would like to see you try to "quantify" your own sagacity. But, no, that would be unfair. Sagacity is a quality of wisdom. It does not lend itself to quantification, no matter what animal or human it appears in. You are again asking the wrong question, a very unsagacious thing to do, since it usually results in mental myopia.

Delight us with your explanation of how an animal with a brain the size of a hulled walnut feels "pride" or "shows off."

If the size of a brain had anything to do with the matter, then whales and elephants take pride of place over humans. Their brains outweigh ours. As for "how" a raven feels pride, I will make the same observation as before. Favor us with the scientific explanation of "how" you manage to feel pride and I will be impressed - never mind that, when it comes to pride, you represent a "best case" opportunity for such a description.

For someone who hunts, I am surprised to find you sneering over the idea that animals have intelligence or emotions. Since humans are animals and evolved from the same ancestors as other animals, why do you suppose that intelligence and emotions appear in us and nowhere else in the living world?

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 08, 2002.

Snippy, that you apparently observed sagacity in the raven. I think it your responsibility to defend this assertion. I find it silly to defend possession of an attribute I have never claimed; one you feel I do not possess and where my possession or lack thereof is not relevant to your anthropomorphism of the the raven. Logic is a wonderful tool; you might try using it.

"I think that you could make a fairly good argument that our anthropomorphizing is a highly adaptive trait. Being able to anticipate what we would do if we were somebody else is a clear selective advantage in a group-dwelling species. As far as being compulsive goes, there are lots of examples, ancient and modern, of how we tend to do this. In ancient times it was clear that people anthropomorphized nature: the volcano erupted because of some reason, or if you propitiate these forces of nature they will stop doing these things to you. How this affects our understanding of animals is really one of the major subjects of my book. We tended for a very long time to judge animals' intelligence with reference to us. If an animal can do what we can do, it's smart, and if it can't, it's not as smart. Our eagerness to seize upon anecdotes of communication, tool-making, and problem-solving in animals as signs of humanlike intelligence is also an example of compulsive anthropomorphism at work. Stephen Budiansky

I agree, Snip, that wisdom is more than intelligence and difficult to quantify. To borrow from Budiansky, "...sentience or consciousness is not the same as a moral capacity, a capacity to anticipate the future, a capacity to have thoughts about thoughts, a capacity to have an awareness of oneself as an independent moral agent."

It is difficult for a person to behave wisely. I think it impossible for an animal because an animal lacks the requisite self awareness. Your "wise" raven is simply your projection of a human quality to an animal. The same goes for pride. While Flint would say it is simply a biochemical process, I can identify "pride." I can communicate the emotion, or lack thereof, and sense the existence of pride in another human, though not perfectly. Pride is a function of self awareness, much like shame. Flint may be correct and these emotions are simply variations on a synaptic theme, however, I find no satisfactory evidence that "pride" exists in a species other than human.

I find your evolutionary argument quite silly. I am related to the bat by evolution, but have not the ability of echo location. The quirks of evolution led to a critical mass where we achieved sentience, consciousness and self awareness. The size of the brain is not the only factor, but it is important. When our ancestors began walking on two feet to see over the tall African grasses, the size of our brains literally exploded in evolutionary terms. I imagine the free use of hands and the wonderful opposing thumb helped stimulate the growth.

Finally, I do not sneer at the idea that animals have intelligence. I simply do not think the human standard of intelligence relates to animal "intelligence." I think the vast majority of those so-called animal "emotions" are the compulsive human desire to attribute a human response to an animal. Budiansky's excellent book, "If a lion could talk..." explains this quite well.

As an outdoorsman, I am always impressed with the small miracles of nature. A dew-covered spider web always holds my attention for a few moments. As a rationalist, however, I do not imagine the spider is an artist. I do not project my human aesthetic onto the work of an insect. Anthropomorphism makes wonderful poetry and bedtime stories for children... but your imagining the wise raven does not make it so.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 08, 2002.


"I do not project my human aesthetic onto the work of an insect."

Time to go back to the new dictionary for a brush-up on taxonomy.


-- SO (someone@whocares. anyway), May 08, 2002.

Ken, we are playing definitional games now. You define "pride" and "sagacity" exclusively in human terms and then use these definitions to 'prove' that only humans are capable of them, and hence to ascribe these emotions and abilities to an animal is anthropomorphism.

The wisdom of a raven is not the wisdom of a human, because the foresight of a raven is not the foresight of a human. But among animals, and especially among birds, the raven is wise, in that it displays a greater foresight and an ability to apply it. Again, the pride of a raven is not the pride of a human, for similar reasons.

However, emotions evolved for survival purposes. Fear is probably the oldest emotion in evolutionary terms. Pride and shame are probably among the youngest. But they are adaptive in the life of a raven no less than of a human being.

Pride is the emotion consequent to the perception of a job well done. It requires only the ability to discern when one has surpassed one's earlier skills. Pride is a form of pleasure that arises within a particular arena. It reinforces the desire to learn and to practise what one has learned. The pride of a raven that does barrel rolls is the pride of a being conscious of having mastered a difficult high-level flying skill. You deny that a bird could have such discernment. I accept that it not only can, but it does.

Or do you believe that flying barrel rolls is an innate skill among ravens, an instinct, the evidence of a genetic blueprint? If that is the case, then all ravens ought to invariably perform such manueuvers, given the appropriate set of stimuli. They don't. Believe me, Ken, ravens aren't born either knowing how to do stunts like that, or with a narrowly focused drive to learn them. This was not an instinct at work. It was self-conscious.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 08, 2002.

Yeah, LN:

Reminds me of another member of the family. This was from the late 70's. We have hoards of blue jays. Their major enemy is the p. falcon [the most common raptor here].

We put out ground feeders and the jays come in large numbers. In the late 70's we had this one jay who looked like the rest but had figured something out. When the feeders got too crowded he would amble over to the side of the flock. He would stick his beak into the air and do a perfect impression of a falcon call. All of the other jays would run for cover. He would then amble back to the feeders and chow down. Damnest thing I ever saw.

Best Wishes,,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (Z1X4Y7@aol.com), May 08, 2002.

I define pride and sagacity in human terms because they are responses limited to humans. What you offer is a personal observation devoid of any scientific data. You see a raven flying in an unusual fashion. Unless you are an ornithologist, you have no idea how unusual this behavior may or may not be. By observing the behavior repeated, you conclude the raven feels "pride" in its accomplishment. This "pride" would involve several levels of awareness. It would require the raven be aware of its actions. It would require the raven be aware that its action are unusual or special as compared to other ravens. It would require the raven be aware that some flying behaviors are more "difficult," which requires the raven have the cognitive ability to differentiate between that which is "easy" and that which is "hard." It would require the raven have a level of self awareness where the performance of an unusual task generated a pleasure response. Was this a raven or Jonathon Livingston Seagull?

A dog that has been beaten often shies away from a reaching hand, friendly or not. This is not "foresight," but a response created by training. Wisdom presupposes judgement. The dog does not weigh complex variables, aware of self and others, and carefully reach a "wise" decision. It reacts based on instinct and training. A dog salivating at the ring of bell does not reveal wisdom... even if the bell often rings for dinner.

I do not question that animals have evolved. This evolution often results in complex behavior that the sympathetic confuse with human emotions. Pride is an extraordinarily complex emotion requiring not only self awareness, but the awareness of others, the awareness of a task, of relative goodness in performing a task.

I am not an ornithologist, but I doubt you have witnessed the only raven barrel roll in history. I'm not so foolish as to think every animal behaves identically given a narrow set of circumstances. Ten ravens spooked from one tree branch on separate occasions will not fly to the exact same place. Why does the behavior differ? A fascinating question and one you seem more ready to answer than me. Animals behave in myriad fashion. Some of the mating rituals of birds are quite complex. Does the peacock strut because it is "proud?" I think not. As biologists examine complex animal behavior, they generally find a sound, survival reason underlying the "mystery." I do not claim to have a ready explanation for every animal behavior. On the other hand, I did not assert that the explanation is that ravens have some human motivation... an assertion you have yet to prove except by personal testimonial.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 08, 2002.

It would require the raven be aware of its actions. It would require the raven be aware that its action are unusual or special as compared to other ravens. It would require the raven be aware that some flying behaviors are more "difficult," which requires the raven have the cognitive ability to differentiate between that which is "easy" and that which is "hard." It would require the raven have a level of self awareness where the performance of an unusual task generated a pleasure response.

This is a very fair and accurate respresentation of what would be required for the raven to have felt pride. This does not appear to me to be such a rarified level of attainment as you seem to believe.

Your description of the beaten dog is pure, Pavlovian behaviorism. Leaving aside the fact that such pure behaviorism has been losing adherents among zoologists for a couple of decades, I can only wonder at what pleasurable or adverse stimulus you would identify in this case to serve the same purpose as the violent hand or the ringing bell, in training the raven to perform as I saw?

I would identify the stimulus as internal, rather than external, and furthermore I would identify the stimulus as the internally-generated pleasurable emotion of pride in accomplishment. That is what emotions are for. To reinforce desirable behaviors that enhance survival. In this case, mastering the skill of flying.

Unfortunately, you persist in dragging into this discussion examples of anthropomorphism that have no resemblance to the incident in question. I am not claiming that peacocks stut because they are proud, so you may safely drop that example as irrelevant to our disagreement.

Mating behaviors, too, are not under scrutiny. Sexual selection can and has resulted in many bizarre and useless behaviors, having no value apart from attracting a mate. But they aren't germaine, since they are universal traits within the species, as barrel-rolling among ravens is not.

As for my not being an ornithologist, that is also moot. What ornithologists do is observe birds. They have a deeper background of knowlege than I do in regard to what has been observed in the past, but the whole of that knowlege has been gained through people watching birds, positing theories as to why the birds are as they are observed to be, and engaging in discussions that help to test the theory for weaknesses. We are doing no diferently. It isn't magic, nor is it confined to people with degrees.

You'd get farther addressing the facts. The fact is that a raven learned to do barrel rolls. I have identified this weakness in your behaviorist explanation: that there is no external stimulus to account for this training and no species-wide instinctive beahvior involved that results in ravens universally displaying this ability. Positing a purely internal stimulus, the pleasure taken in learning mastery of flying is just another way of saying the raven was motivated by pride.

My theory has the benefit of being falsifiable (to the extent that theories of animal behavior are subject to falsifiability at all). If the behavior itself (flying barrel rolls) is instinctual, then it should be universal among ravens. Showing evidence of universality of barrel rolling would defeat my theory. Or even universality of barrel-roll attempting.

The difficulty of proving the pleasure felt by the raven that my theory requires is a drawback. I'll admit that, for that reason, my theory that a raven takes pleasure in mastering a difficult flying manuever should be questioned. But when competing theories, such as yours, exhibit obvious flaws, the Sherlock Holmes Principle applies. Once you have eliminated the impossible, what remains, however improbable, is the truth.

I look forward to your bringing evidence that will answer my objections to your behaviorist explanation of my observation.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 08, 2002.

Blasted unclosed tags!

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 08, 2002.

It would require the raven be aware that its action are unusual or special as compared to other ravens.

Sorry, this slipped past me. Not required for pride as I understand it. A toddler is proud of his or her learning to walk or go potty precisely because he or she is aware that this is not a rare accomplishment among others.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 08, 2002.

Jeez Decker, come down off your high horse already. Could it be that you feel better about killing animals if you devalue them to level of stupid and incapable of amazing displays of intelligence?

-- (cin@cin.cin), May 08, 2002.

The fucking bird was having fun Kenny. It wasn't having human fun it was having bird fun. You're picking a fight for fun but you're not being ornithopomorphic. They're smarter.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 09, 2002.

You have made an assertion. You observed a raven engaging in what you think is an unusual flying behavior. From this observation, you deduce the raven feels "pride" in its "accomplishment." You provide no scientific data about the flying behavior of ravens. You provide no data on the ability of ravens to "feel" any emotions, let alone pride. So, when you boil away the rhetoric, we have an assertion based on a single observation of animal behavior by a person with no training.

Let's consider a book by an individual who actually has some training and whose conclusions are much more modest than yours:

Review Link

"The raven (Corvus corax) is the largest crow, weighing between 1,200 and 1,400 grams (about 2.5 pounds), compared with about 400 for a standard American crow. It has a long-standing reputation as one smart bird. Heinrich, professor of biology at the University of Vermont, has raised raven chicks in his home ("the world's worst roommate," he says), observed ravens in an aviary and spent a great deal of time watching the behavior of wild ravens. He admires the raven's intelligence and describes numerous examples of it.

Among the behaviors he or others have seen are flying upside down, doing barrel rolls, using objects to displace gulls from nests and rocks in defending their own nests, and poking holes in the bottom of their nests on a hot day. He inclines to the view that such behaviors are conscious, thinking acts. But it is a cautious conclusion. "Extraordinary cleverness can often be explained by 'simpler' hypotheses," he says. "With ravens I'm no longer always sure of how to distinguish a simple from a more complex hypothesis, how to know whether all of the ravens' behavior is somehow complexly preprogrammed or whether they know or learn to know what they are doing."

If you wish, I would be delighted to correspond with Dr. Heinrich and ask what scientific evidence exists to prove ravens can experience "pride." I imagine Heinrich, based on his writing, is intrigued by the raven's cognitive abilities, but would find the notion of "pride" wildly speculative.

You would get further (farther applies to physical distance) by providing any facts aside from your one observation. It would help if you did some research rather than play word games. It would also help you adhered to the rules of logic. You asserted the raven felt pride. Prove it. I'm sure Dr. Heinrich would appreciate another interested researcher in this esoteric field. On a related note, Dr. Heinrich's observation of the "barrel roll" in ravens suggests the behavior is not uncommon. Do Dr. Heinrich (and me) a favor and purchase his book. Let me know when you are prepared to continue this discussion with a broader base of information than your single observation.

Cin, hunters usually have a genuine appreciation for animal intelligence and instincts. It doesn't take any particular skill to step on an cockroach, but it does to kill a mule deer in the high mountain country. I think I appreciate the deer more than a person who has never experienced the animal in its natural surroundings. I find it a waste of time to explain hunting to someone with a closed mind on the subject. If you choose to live a vegan lifestyle, I will not interfere. I simply ask the same respect be extended to me as a hunter.

And, Carlos, at least Nipper is trying to build an argument. Your hissy fit does not help his cause or this thread.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 09, 2002.

Ken, thank you for the very interesting quote. I cannot say that I am surprised that you did not acknowlege that Dr. Heinrich's position goes a long way toward bolstering my position and undermining yours, but my reading of it would conclude that such is the case. The quote specifically states that "he inclines to the view that such behaviors [as flying barrel rolls] are conscious, thinking acts."

It doesn't matter, as you seem to think, whether any other raven had ever been seen to fly barrel rolls, but only the means and methods by which a raven might acquire such a skill.

Your assertion that this quote proves that such behavior is "not uncommon" is wrong. The quote clearly cites each behavior in the list because it was somewhat startling and unusual and thus tended to support the cautious conclusion that a raven is concious of itself and its activities. Citing a behavior common to all ravens would be useless in this context.

As for your pretense that if some other ravens have learned to fly barrel rolls, then my argument is somehow weakened -- all I can do is shrug. I never claimed this one raven was some monsterous prodigy, whose acheivement was absolutely unique among all ravens who have ever lived. I only claim that this raven was capable of feeling pleasure at having attained this level of skill, and by extension that all ravens have an innate ability to feel pleasure, as a genetically encoded feedback system, providing reinforcement for learning new skills.

The standard you established for taking pride (and that I agreed to) was:

[Taking pride] would require the raven be aware of its actions.[...] It would require the raven be aware that some flying behaviors are more "difficult," which requires the raven have the cognitive ability to differentiate between that which is "easy" and that which is "hard." It would require the raven have a level of self awareness where the performance of an unusual task generated a pleasure response.

Your argument that this standard is unreachable by a raven was founded upon your assertion that a raven did not have self-awareness. Dr. Heinrich concludes (albeit cautiously) that your position is incorrect. After all, it is rather hard to be "conscious" and "thinking" while at the same time having no sense of self, no thought of an "I" whose will it is to act in this way or that way. That is the essence of conciousness.

As for your demand "You asserted the raven felt pride. Prove it", that is kind of silly. We aren't speaking about mathematics here, but about the state of mind of a creature of another species. All that we can hope to achieve, short of ravens learning to testify about their state of mind, is to assess where the weight of probablity lies.

The best evidence for a raven's ability to feel pride is whether raven's display an ability to behave in complex, adaptive ways that are not merely reactive, but creative. In other words, when a raven pokes holes in the bottom of its nest when it is hot (presumably to ventilate the nest more effectively) there are only a few possible models for its having behaved this way:

1) The behavior was hard-coded. IOW, every raven who finds itself sitting in a nest when the temperature is above a certain threshold will automatically, without concious volition, feel an urge to poke holes in its nest and will do so. In this case, the observable will be that every raven invariably does this, when the right conditions prevail.

2) The behavior was random and was positively reinforced by external consequences, leading to more of the same behavior. IOW, ravens in the nest engage in a certain amount of random behavior, such as poking holes. Every once in a while, this random poking of holes coincides with a hot day. Ravens who experience the positive reinforcement of a better ventilated nest learn to poke holes on hot days. the observable here would be most ravens engaging in poking holes in their nests, but with a greater distribution of this behavior on hot days.

3) The behavior was a result of applied knowlege. IOW, the raven could combine several pieces of specific knowlege to create a more complex piece of knowlege. For example, it knows that a breeze feels cooler than still air. It knows that a breeze can't flow through solid objects, but can flow through openings. It knows its nest can be rearranged to have openings. It forms a connection between these pieces of specific knowlege, and decides to make some openings in the nest, in the belief that this will allow the breeze to blow through them. The observable here would be some ravens poking holes in their nests, only at appropriate times, with no observable precursor behaviors.

Now, obviously, lots of animals get by at the level of 1 and 2. Worms. Starfish. Probably most birds. But the observables, as I know them, and as indicated by Dr. Heinrich, put ravens at level 3.

Once you have a brain adapted to level 3, it is natural to nail down your new learning style with a couple of added emotions: one would be curiosity, which leads the organism to acquire the bits of specific knowlege it will recombine, and the other is pleasure at successfully learning a useful new skill, which helps to reinforce the learning behavior by adding an internal reinforcer to the external reinforcer (such as cooling off when the breeze blows into the nest).

Yup, Ken, I know this doesn't "prove" my point. I can live with that.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 09, 2002.

Nipper's a maven of ravens

who seems not to know they are craven

They scavenge a road-kill

and barrel-roll home til

they snugggle with Clifford Claven

-- (lars@indy.net), May 09, 2002.

Dr. Heinrich refers to the "intelligence" of ravens. This is quite different than emotions. It is possible for sophisticated computer programs to demonstrate a level of intelligence, and even learn. I have not seen evidence that such intelligent mechanical devices have emotional states.

Where we disagree, Nipper, is the distance of the walk between a display of nonhuman "intelligence" and the existence of a complex emotion. I am aware some primate use tools. I am not aware that the use of a tool in an "unusual" manner provokes a state of "pride." In general, I think the human observation of "pride" is a projection of a uniquely human concept to another creature, i.e. anthropomorphism.

I do not suggest you claimed the raven was a prodigy, but that you drew your conclusion about the raven's supposed emotional state without bothering to do any research. Why do some ravens barrel roll and other do not? That is a fascinating question for biologists, but you have not demonstrated any evidence the behavior is connected to pleasure. In fact, there may any number of reasons for this behavior (aside from your list).

My bar for self awareness is apparently higher than yours. An adaptive or evolutionary behavior does not prove self awareness. A deer sees movement in a bush and runs away. Another deer sees the same movement and does not. One lives and the other is dinner. That deer routinely run based on sensory input does not prove the deer is self aware. Highly adapted behavior can appear intelligent, even magical... but biologists have learned that there are most often simple explanations for apparently complex actions.

For an interesting example of how complex actions may be misinterpreted, see Link

I reject your reduction of a raven's behavior having only three possible explanations. I also reject the notion that instinctual (hard-wired) behavior means animals will behave identically under like circumstances. Clearly, animals can adapt and engage in new behaviors. As noted, chimps can use tools. This might be "instinctive" or it might be learned through rudimentary communal interaction. This may explain why animals raised in a natural social group may behave differently than an animal raised in isolation. We know ravens are social animals, adaptive and possessing a high level of "intelligence," by avian standards.

Based on your other posts, Nipper, I respectfully suggest you prefer a world of wondrous animals. You strike me as a sentimentalist. I say this not to criticize, but to point our you may not approach the subject of animal cognition from a purely rational view. If you are content thinking the raven can feel pride, so be it... but I doubt we'll resolve the issue here.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 09, 2002.

Blatant speciesism!

-- (Peter Singer @ Princeton.edu), May 09, 2002.

Ken, check out years of research with Koko the gorilla.

-- helen (read@about.the.death.of.her.kitten), May 09, 2002.

I did not follow your link, for the simple reason that the fact that it is possible to mistake complex behavior for higher intelligence isn't news to me, whatever you may think. Also, we were discussing whether I have made a similar mistake in this specific instance, and I doubt that your link could resolve that very specific question. It is not enough to say mistakes are possible, therefore you are mistaken.

As for your "rejecting" my tripartate explanantion, this doesn't get you off the hook for either explaining why these models do not fit the data, or for offering a different model that works better. You can, of course, sidestep this issue, but only at the cost of showing you have no adequate answers of your own. Nor any articulated reasons why my answer is not correct.

In regard to computer programs showing "intelligence" without emotion, human programmers endow programs with whatever modicum of intelligence they have; a computer is not an organism and drawing your analogy from that realm is singularly unconvincing. Computer programs are wholly deterministic. True intelligence is not. Don't presume to instruct me on this matter. I have personal experience writing AI programs.

, I respectfully suggest you prefer a world of wondrous animals. You strike me as a sentimentalist. I say this not to criticize, but to point our you may not approach the subject of animal cognition from a purely rational view.

I respectfully suggest that you have devolved to an ad hominem. If this presumed "sentimentality" exists in my argument, rather in me, then by all means, point it out. Pointing past my argument to my personality is not logic. As you yourself said, "Logic is a wonderful tool; you might try using it."

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 09, 2002.

Dr. Heinrich refers to the "intelligence" of ravens.

Actually, the article says "He inclines to the view that such behaviors are conscious, thinking acts." Italics mine. No computers are concious or thinking.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 09, 2002.

*I think I appreciate the deer more than a person who has never experienced the animal in its natural surroundings*

Decker, you appreciate an animal in its natural surrounding so much that you feel the need to kill it. That makes a lot of sense(note sarcasm here). You could explain why black is white and wrong is right and up is down, and killing that animal is okay, all that you may ever wish to, but it will never make me understand your mentality.

-- (cin@cin.cin), May 09, 2002.

Wrong Kenny. The post is a knife in the heart of your badly chosen fight. Patience my friend and someone will start a thread more easily plucked.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 09, 2002.

Anyone who thinks animals are incapable of emotion has never owned a dog.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeeD@yahoo.com), May 09, 2002.

In talking about animals, we are of course dealing with a continuum. The higher on the evolutionary scale (i.e. closer to human beings), the more plausible become arguments that the inner life of the animal has similarities to the inner life of the human being. The great apes are a prime example.

Further down on the evolutionary scale, one has a very strong suspicion that behavior which seems the same in the animal and the human being (e.g. anger) may reflect quite different internal states. Thus regarding anger, in the human being it is very often tied in with feelings of personal humiliation. This is surely not the case with all of the animal species capable of anger.

And playfulness, in otters and other creatures, may reflect a different internal state than we experience. I have to say that I regard pride in a bird as a stretch.

-- Peter Errington (petere7@starpower.net), May 10, 2002.

Nipper, you still have not provided any data to support your assertion that a raven can feel pride. I have tried to make the exchange more interesting by offering some related thoughts, but you continue to try to place the burden on proof on me. Nice try, Nipper, but Logic 101... he who makes the assertion is responsible for proving it. I need not "prove" you incorrect. I simply point out you do not provide any legitimate evidence to support your theory that a raven can feel pride? A gratuitious assertion may be gratuitiously dismissed. As an aside, do you need a lesson on the difference between an inclination and a provable hypothesis? Unless you actually find some data, Nipper, I consider your theory simply unfounded speculation and am content to end this.

Cin, I need not justify my behavior to you. I have already suggested a discussion with you on this subject would be a mutual waste of time, a point you have amply proven.

Carlos, I doubt you could find my argument, let alone its heart. You continue a fine tradition of content free posts.

Unk, I have owned several dogs, and not one I think capable of the emotion of "pride."

And Peter, thank you for your voice of reason. While I generally agree with the notion of a continuum, I think the progression is one of steps rather than a steady rise. As to the issue of primates, I think you'll appreciate the above link and the comment that the researcher makes, that chimps have finally taught him they are not just hairy children.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 10, 2002.

Perhaps. But surely capable of emotion.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeeD@yahoo.com), May 10, 2002.

If a dog can feel one emotion, then it is possible it can feel others.

-- helen (tell@the.mule.he.feels.nothing), May 10, 2002.

I've seen many animals display far more emotion than Decker ever has. And I've seen humans not capable of an ounce of compassion I've even seen (gasp!) humans INcapable of intelligence LOL

-- (what@jerk.), May 10, 2002.

Dogs are an interesting example. In their wolfish natural state, they are "social", if you define fawning deference to the alphas of the pack as social. But they are also savage killers, they run their prey to the ground and eat it alive.

I received a funny birthday card today. It showed a womaan standing at the front door of her house. A collie was facing her with a severed arm in his mouth. The woman was asking "Lassie, did something happen to Timmie?

-- (lars@indy.net), May 10, 2002.

Nice try Kenny. My assertion was that the bird was having fun. If our lessers are incapable of that then what do we do about otters? Try to corral and misdirect your arguement after getting whipped if you wish but you disappoint me. Anthropomorphism was inserted by you and subsequently responded to and that changed the thread near the start. The bird was just having fun.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 10, 2002.

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