Reflection: Non-Human Animal Perception and Cognition
Lecture Response By Natalie Croak (04/23/13 15:08:22) Related animal: Kea
The video on birdsong was interesting because both the scientists and the philosopher seemed unable to admit that there might be validity in both arguments. Even though there is scientific evidence that birds do use their song for attracting mates and scaring enemies, the scientists seemed to think that birds do not have the mental capacity to do things for enjoyment or self-expression. I believe that animals are capable of much more than we think they are. This belief was influenced by my experiences traveling New Zealand for three months learning about the country’s bird species. By far my favorites were the extremely intelligent carnivorous alpine parrots called keas, which I was lucky enough to have a few interactions with. The first time that I saw keas was while I was in a parking lot of one of New Zealand’s national parks. One kea was walking around the cars and seemed to be posing for pictures as all the tourists crowded to get a better look. In the background I noticed that another kea was busy stripping all of the rubber off of the tourists’ car windows while they were distracted (for some reason keas love rubber). I realized that these keas were working as a team in order to get as much rubber as possible. After talking to New Zealanders about what I saw I learned that keas often work in teams to get food. A mountaineering guide told me that they have been known to drop ice on hikers’ heads in order to distract them while other keas unzip their backpacks and fly off with the contents. I believe that extremely intelligent animals like keas would be able to sing or partake in other forms of self-expression solely for their own enjoyment.
The philosopher in the video was unable to convince the scientists that his argument was correct because he hinged his argument on the question of why birdsong is beautiful if it is only for utilitarian purposes. This argument is not valid in the scientific community because beauty is a subjective concept that is difficult to quantify. The philosopher believed that art and science are not completely distinct disciplines and seemed to be frustrated that when art or appreciation for the beauty of nature were brought into the conversation it made his argument appear weaker to the scientific community. This reminded me of a quote by Aldo Leopold in “The Sand County Almanac.”---“There are men charged with the duty of examining the construction of plants, animals, and soils which are the instruments of a great orchestra. These men are called professors. Each selects one instrument and spends his life taking it apart and describing its strings and sounding boards. This process of dismemberment is called research. The place for dismemberment is called a university. A professor may pluck the strings of his own instrument, but never that of another, and if he listens for music he must never admit it to his fellows or to his students. For all are restrained by an ironbound taboo which decrees that the construction of instruments is the domain of science, while the detection of harmony is the domain of poets.”