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Are smart birds felling “pillars of human exceptionalism”?


As claimed in a recent study? No:

Stripped of the rhetoric about supposedly fallen “pillars of human exceptionalism,” the researchers found a neuronal response in carrion crows that “might be a broad marker” for consciousness.

Well, sure, it might. But before we get carried away, the consciousness we should know the most about is human consciousness, which remains almost a complete mystery to us, despite much research. Many elements of brain organization in humans and birds may turn out to be correlates of consciousness. But the treatment of the question here has far more to do with a myth—that science is showing that human consciousness is not exceptional—than it does with unraveling the mystery of human or corvid consciousness.

That said, one science writer offers an interesting tidbit that impacts the current Darwinian theory of evolution:

“The broader, speculative implication of the research is that the last common ancestor of birds and mammals, which existed 320 million years ago, may also have had the same cognitive machinery and thus been similarly capable of formidable thinking abilities. – Ross Pomeroy, “Newly Discovered Brain Structure May Grant Birds Impressive Intelligence.” at RealClearScience”

His proposed new estimate greatly shortens the amount of time available for natural selection acting on random mutation to produce intelligence. Not surprisingly, evolution theory is currently undergoing considerable revision just now, on account of many similar issues.

Denyse O’Leary, “Why does science embrace the “talking animals” myth?” at Mind Matters News

These sorts of findings are more of a problem for conventional evolution theory than for human exceptionalism.

From Smithsonian Magazine :

Crows and ravens are famously brainy birds, but a new study suggests they possess a kind of consciousness, something once thought to be the exclusive domain of humans and some primates, reports Sharon Begley for Stat.

Alex Fox, “Do Crows Possess a Form of Consciousness?” at Smithsonian Magazine

Whoever thought that was quite mistaken, more so than most average joes with little education. Ravens and crows have always been thought of as smart enough to be conscious. We didn’t used to know specific stuff about why.

Dogs and cats unmistakably exhibit consciousness, which just means that they exhibit awareness of events as happening to themselves. It’s all different when you want to talk about reason, abstractions, moral choice, etc. All that goes well beyond consciousness and is what makes humans different.

See also:

The real reason why only human beings speak. Language is a tool for abstract thinking—a necessary tool for abstraction—and humans are the only animals who think abstractly.


In what ways are cats intelligent? It’s hard to come up with an interspecies IQ test. We live in a world where dogs are smarter than wolves in some ways but wolves are smarter than dogs in others. So much depends on what we want to measure. So let’s look at cats in relation to dogs because dogs have been studied so much more.

When birds, chimps, Orcas, etc, start writing their language down, or construct buildings, transports, music, computers, square granite blocks, etc, etc, or construct zoos where they keep humans, then the claim they are in the same zip code as humans will have my attention. Peace out mike1962
Such is science journalism these days: find some tiny new fact, interpret according to your virtue signalling world view, hype up the speculative aspects, ignore or pooh-poo any counter evidence. In this case, demote human consciousness as just the top end of a continuum, and promote bird consciousness as something "new", even though few people doubt that birds are conscious to some degree or other, and even as some people claim that human consciousness is an illusion. All this just underscores the fact that consciousness is indeed such a "hard problem" that we cannot even define or quantify it meaningfully. Fasteddious

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