Fruit flies ‘think’ before they act, a study suggests. Neuroscientists showed that fruit flies take longer to make more difficult decisions. In experiments asking fruit flies to distinguish between ever closer concentrations of an odor, the researchers found that the flies don’t act instinctively or impulsively. Instead they appear to accumulate information before committing to a choice.
The flies were investigating smells. What model of animal intelligence would not have assumed that a more difficult decision would take longer? Unfortunately, words like “instinct”/“instinctive” have sometimes been used mystically, to imply that there is no process, that the life form somehow “knows” the answer.
Gathering information before making a decision has been considered a sign of higher intelligence, like that shown by primates and humans.
If so, it should not have been. It can be a fully automatic process, as we know from robots, or one rooted in part in a limited consciousness, in the sense of a deer deciding which shrub to graze. There is no reason to think it requires high intelligence, just a desire to find food or avoid danger, plus the sensory equipment to do so.
‘Freedom of action from automatic impulses is considered a hallmark of cognition or intelligence,’ says Professor Gero Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the new research was performed. ‘What our findings show is that fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognised.’
Actually they don’t. The categories are wrong.
If we begin by thinking that animals use little information, we will end by thinking them geniuses just for living.
Incidentally, the gene under study is FoxP:
Professor Miesenböck adds: ‘FoxP is not a “language gene,” a “decision-making gene,” even a “temporal-processing” or “intelligence gene.” Any such description would in all likelihood be wrong. What FoxP does give us is a tool to understand the brain circuits involved in these processes. It has already led us to a site in the brain that is important in decision-making.’
It’s good to hear people starting to say this. “Gene-for” is mere pop science, not real science.
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