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PEOPLE AND PIGEONS: are these birds really smarter and even more religious than us?

PEOPLE AND PIGEONS: are these birds really smarter and even more religious than us?
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The Huxleў Almanac has already written about emotions, intelligence, and thinking of animals numerous times. The humanity has called itself “reasonable”, believing that it is reason, that distinguishes us from the “minor brothers”. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, this question was no longer discussed exclusively from a philosophical standpoint.

The further science advances in the study of the cognitive characteristics of animals, the more it becomes convinced of the existence of some biological foundations of human consciousness and thinking.




It is known that “primitive” octopuses use stones almost as deftly as hominoids, and pigs are enthusiastic about playing computer games. So where is the line of “reasonableness” that separates us from them? Let’s try to determine this by reflecting on the behavior of pigeons — unremarkable, and seemingly not the smartest creatures that we encounter in our daily life.

Scientists have found that pigeons are capable of abstract arithmetic, they count objects without taking into account their individual properties — shape, color and size. During the experiments, pigeons learned to peck at randomly located objects in ascending order: first one, then two, and so on. As a result, they reached nine sets, each of which contained from one to nine objects. In fairness, a person also does not have such skills from birth, they are needed to be learned.




You, probably, know that some “highly developed” human individuals can hardly remember a rhyme from the school curriculum. An experiment was conducted at the University of Otago and Ruhr-University Bochum, where birds were introduced to some written words. It turned out that they are quite capable of understanding the language, distinguishing a set of letters from real words. And at the Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, showing pigeons paired “image-color” cards, they found out that pigeons are able to remember up to 1200 of such combinations. In general, their long-term memory is all right.

Their internal computer, sensitive to magnetic fields, is able not only to remember the way home, but their friends and enemies. The two experimenters specially dressed differently. The first one chased the pigeons, and the second, on the contrary, fed and showed friendliness to them. The second time they dressed and disguised the same — the pigeons accurately determined who is who, and avoided the offender. Even when their “enemy” dressed as a “friend,” they somehow recognized him as their malcontent. It looks like in the world of pigeons, classic plots like Tartuffe and Othello are simply impossible?




They have a highly developed collective intelligence, the consequence of which, in particular, is the difference in social hierarchy on the ground and in flight. Moreover, in order to change their elites and their structure, pigeons, unlike people, do not practice social revolutions, civil wars and popular riots. Oxford zoologists Takao Sasaki and Dora Biro studied the behavior of these birds for a long time and established their way of choosing a leader.

It appears, that pigeons are guided exclusively by the idea of ​​the competence of their leader: if, for example, he chooses the wrong direction, the flock ceases to obey him. This is happening quite peacefully, one might say, automatically, without calls from the members of the pack “to go to the Maidan”. And here the question arises: who actually acts more rationally — a person or a bird? Indeed, unlike the pigeon traditions, the history of humanity knows many examples when people blindly followed the leaders, not distinguishing the right path from the wrong, which led to the death of millions.




Zoologists characterize the behavior of pigeons as extremely plastic — they are not only innovative and open to receiving new knowledge, but also able to accumulate cultural experience. Moreover, they have excellent social lifts, which “advanced” human communities can not always boast of. The researchers equipped the birds with GPS sensors and, dividing them into three groups, released them into unfamiliar areas, watching them finding their way home.

The first group always returned home by themselves. The second one is with a permanent, experienced partner. And in the third group, every other time they introduced newcomer instead. All groups got home in one way or another, but the most effective way was the group, where the more experienced pigeon was regularly replaced by a newcomer. Efficiency was achieved due to the fact that each time the rookie did not just adopt someone else’s experience, but added his own “best practices” to it. Alternatively, the pigeons did not correct the already accumulated experience, but worked together on a new version of the route. You must admit, many companies would be the envy of such corporate culture.




Previously, it was believed that the areas of the cerebral cortex that are responsible for cognitive abilities in mammals, are absent in birds. German researchers at the Ruhr-University in Bochum have questioned this. They are concerned, that pigeons are able to solve the most complex cognitive tasks and switch attention from one task to another much faster than a person.

The reason for our cognitive “lag” is in the structure of the pigeon’s brain: the density of neurons is 1 mm³, which is 6 times greater than the human’s one, the distance between neurons is shorter, which means that they think faster. Scientists have even holden competitions between people and birds, and pigeons won, switching from solving one problem to another many times faster.




Perhaps, ancient civilizations knew something about pigeons that is inaccessible to us. We still remember that in Christianity the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But archaeologists have found a mention of it on the clay tablets of Mesopotamia, 5 thousand years old. The remains of pigeons were found along with the burials of the ancient Egyptians. However, pigeons are not only a very ancient religious symbol, but they themselves are prone to ritual, one might say, “superstitious” behavior.

Famous behavioral psychologist Burrhus Frederick Skinner discovered this way back in 1947. He fed the birds at regular intervals, regardless of their conduct. Nevertheless, the pigeons organized this process in their own way, in fact, creating their own ritual around the meal, which was performed in strictly defined places. For example, one bird put its head in the corner, while the other began to rotate counterclockwise. Perhaps it was a kind of analogue of the prayer The Our Father, something like “give us this day our daily bread ..”.


In general, the fundamental differences between pigeons and Homo sapiens are difficult to find. Is that one thing — even after invention of airplanes, people have not learned to fly like birds yet …

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