Friday, August 14, 2009

Does use of tools define humans?

For a long time, one of the defining tenants of humanity was that humans were capable of planning, for-thought, and the use of tools. Since that time there have been discoveries that other animals are capable of using tools without being trained to do so.

Chimps have been observed using sticks to probe for grubs and ants, and crows have been seen fashioning hooks and probes as well.

So, using tools to manipulate other tools could be considered a higher level of thinking. One article states:

...[U]sing tools to make or retrieve other tools has long been considered a hallmark of human intelligence, and has often been interpreted as evidence of advanced cognitive abilities, such as planning and analogical reasoning.
They then go on to state:

Experiments by researchers at Oxford University show that New Caledonian crows in captivity spontaneously used up to three tools in the correct sequence to achieve a goal — a feat never before seen in non-human animals without explicit training.

Five out of seven birds tested figured out how to extract different lengths of sticks from tubes so they could ultimately get one long enough to fish out a morsel of food at the bottom of the deepest tube.

In all, the crows needed three sticks of different lengths to achieve their objective of reaching the food — and four of the five successful birds came up with the sequence needed on the first try.

Raven, a close relative to the crow.

The conclusion? Well, they aren't quite sure, except that these birds are smart, scary smart.

"It seems that there might be something about this family of birds that is a little bit more similar to our own problem-solving abilities," acknowledged Wimpenny. "But obviously much more needs to be done in terms of experiments."
Maybe we need to take a closer look at what makes us human.
Hat tip to Terrierman for this one, and you can read the rest here.

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