Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Intelligence and Instinct - Part I

The controversy about how much animal behaviour is instinctive, and how much is rational, has endured for centuries. Biologists have made great progress in understanding how instinctive behaviours are inherited and in discovering how remarkably intelligent some animals can be. But far from resolving the argument, these discoveries have only served to intensify it. While much animal behaviour can be explained by reflexes and conditioning, there is increasing evidence to suggest that some animals are conscious and rational beings, with a clear sense of self and a subtle understanding of their relationships with others of their kind that are very similar to our own. Understanding the animal mind is one of the most difficult, challenging fields of modern biology.

The mind of the octopus

We are inclined to credit primates with the highest levels of intelligence, but there is proof that octopuses, too, are among the most intelligent of animals. Laboratory tests have shown that they are able to discern shapes, remember events and carry out certain techniques - one learned to pull the stopper out of a bottle in order to reach a shrimp. Other laboratory octopuses waited for nightfall to leave their tanks and steal fish from neighbouring tanks.

to be continued...

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