Animal minds Intelligent Design

Michael Egnor: The bird does NOT do math

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At Mind Matters News, he notes a recent claim about number sense in parrots:

Dr. Pepperberg could have been more forthright: Parrots can’t do statistics. No animal (except man) can do statistics, because statistical reasoning is abstract and only human beings are capable of abstract thought. Parrots think concretely—they think of particular things and relations between particular things, but they cannot think without particular things—they can’t think abstractly.

My little dog Pippa loves treats, proffered as a reward for good behavior. She spends much of her time angling for treats—showing me how good she is. She jumps in excitement when I reward her. I usually give her two treats (“you’ve been twice as good as usual today!”), which delights her. Occasionally, I give her one treat (she’s a bit chubby) and her disappointment is obvious. She eats it, then looks at me as if to ask “where’s the other one?”

Pippa’s charming behavior does not demonstrate that she does mathematics. She does not think of “one” or “two” as numbers and she most certainly does not think of nutrition…

Michael Egnor, “Polly Want a … Statistician?” at Mind Matters News

Further reading on intelligence in birds:

Crows can be as smart as apes. But they have quite different brains. The intelligence doesn’t seem to reside in the details of the mechanism.


Can genes predict which birds can learn to talk? A recent study disappointed researchers, who really hoped to learn why humans use language.

5 Replies to “Michael Egnor: The bird does NOT do math

  1. 1
    asauber says:

    Our cat Hazel behaves similarly to Pippa. At bedtime treats she squawks persistently until given the treats, always anticipating “another one.” She doesn’t seem delighted though, just appeased.


  2. 2
    Pater Kimbridge says:

    How does HE know what parrots are thinking? Unless, of course, he has a bird brain.

  3. 3
    ET says:

    I disagree with Dr. Egnor with respect to animal thought. And I don’t understand his need to diminish the intelligent design of all organisms.

  4. 4
    polistra says:

    “They can’t think abstractly” is too broad. There’s plenty of experiential and experimental evidence for true abstraction in other mammals and birds. Humans can reach several LAYERS of abstraction beyond other animals, but this isn’t a qualitative distinction. The slowest humans and the sharpest dogs aren’t all that far apart.

  5. 5
    AaronS1978 says:

    I wouldn’t compare the slowest human to the sharpest dog

    Generally the human would have to have some kind of mental impairment

    The dog has nothing wrong with his brain if it’s the sharpest dog

    And from all the animal experiments and all the anthropomorphizing of the results I have seen, if they have not found the smoking gun to bridge the gap of intelligence between us and most other animals now, then they’re not going to in the future

    It’s like trying to squeeze blood from a rock

    However I do agree with ET when it comes to animal intelligence they are their own special little thing and what I really hate is one group classifies the animals is nothing more than robotic automatons and then the other group tries to prove them wrong by showing we are no different then those automatons

    One side is full of hubris and the other side has no common sense

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