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Intelligence studies too focused on apes, ravens are smart in the same ways

"See! He left his BBQ to answer that ringing noise. Dive bomb!"/ Xaver Klaußner / Fotolia

From “’Look at That!’ Ravens Gesture With Their Beaks to Point out Objects to Each Other” (ScienceDaily, Nov. 29, 2011), we learn:

Pointing and holding up objects in order to attract attention has so far only been observed in humans and our closest living relatives, the great apes. Simone Pika from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Thomas Bugnyar from the University of Vienna, however, now provide the first evidence that ravens (Corvus corax) also use so called deictic gestures in order to test the interest of a potential partner or to strengthen an already existing bond.

It’s not news that ravens are unusually intelligent. What we should be asking is, why are chimpanzees supposed to be so intelligent when species of birds often rival them in cognitive ability? Isn’t that just the need of Darwin’s agenda? Not an accurate way of assessing intelligence.

This new study shows that differentiated gestures have especially evolved in species with a high degree of collaborative abilities. “Gesture studies have too long focused on communicative skills of primates only. The mystery of the origins of human language, however, can only be solved if we look at the bigger picture and also consider the complexity of the communication systems of other animal groups” says Simone Pika from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Which is nonsense. No bird group and no primate other than humans has ever developed anything similar to a human language. More examples of pointing (what you do when you don’t have a language) are not going to help.


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