# Not only that but … pigeons understand probabilities!

“Just like primates can.” From Colin Barras at New Scientist:

The skill could help the birds forage for food and avoid predators, suggesting that there are good evolutionary reasons why pigeons might instinctively understand percentages. (paywall) More.

This recalls the Monty Hall dilemma: From Charles Q. Choi at LiveScience:

Scientists tested six pigeons with an apparatus with three keys. The keys lit up white to show a prize was available. After the birds pecked a key, one of the keys the bird did not choose deactivated, showing it was a wrong choice, and the other two lit up green. The pigeons were rewarded with bird feed if they made the right choice.

In the experiments, the birds quickly reached the best strategy for the Monty Hall problem — going from switching roughly 36 percent of the time on day one to some 96 percent of the time on day 30.

On the other hand, 12 undergraduate student volunteers failed to adopt the best strategy with a similar apparatus, even after 200 trials of practice each. (2010)

Apparently more educated humans perform worse, and a researcher offers,

“The scientists propose the curious difference between pigeon and human behavior might be rooted in the difference between classical and empirical probability. In classical probability, one tries to figure out every possible outcome and make predictions without collecting data. In empirical probability, one makes predictions after tracking outcomes over time.

In short, the pigeon does not do any abstract thinking and therefore works only with remembered outcomes. This is one of those circumstances where greater intelligence can be a handicap. Quoi notes,

Indeed, the aforementioned mathematician Paul Erdos demonstrated the power of empirical probability nicely as well. According to his biography, Erdos refused to accept the explanations of colleagues for the correct solution, and was eventually convinced only after he was shown a simple computer simulation than ran the problem hundreds of times. In other words, “after Erdos approached the problem like a pigeon, he was able to embrace the right answer,” Herbranson said. More.

Here is the paper on pigeons and the Monty Hall dilemma. (public access)

So the question again: What exactly is the “intelligence” being measured? While we are here, why isn’t animal intelligence more closely tied to presumed evolutionary history? Also, why is the bar set where it (really and truly) is, at genuine abstract thought and the language that expresses it?

See also: Animals take turns when communicating? Who would have imagined that? That’s what “communication” *is.* Questions: What exactly is the “intelligence” being measured? And why is animal intelligence not more closely tied to presumed evolutionary history? Also, why is the bar set where it (really and truly) is, at genuine abstract thought and the language that expresses it?

… And bees understand the concept of zero too! If life forms needed to understand abstract thought, they probably wouldn’t be able to feed themselves. They must attend to practical matters or die. So why these impositions on the public except for a desire to move the dilemmas round human consciousness off the table by pretending that uniquely human intelligence is some kind of universal? One wonders whether panpsychism (everything is conscious) will continue to make converts in science for the same reason.

Pigeons much smarter than monkeys in some tests

and

Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds