Bird brains are far from stupid. Feathered geniuses continue to surprise science
Aug 12 , 2021
That some birds seem “clever” has been noted for many years – talking parrots, tool-wielding crows, memory-storming jays. But what does clever mean? How can we apply what we understand as “brainy” to a bird? Let’s take a look into the avian mind.
“But who deems which knowledge, which skills?”
Einstein is considered to be one of the smartest people to have ever lived, yet he was not very good at school, suffering from speech problems from a young age. Seeing little potential in him, his professors declined references for employment. Struggling to find work as a result, he eventually got a job as an office clerk in Switzerland. This turned out to be perfect, as he could do the job quickly, and spend the rest of his time researching physics, his core passion. Maybe somewhat too modestly, Albert himself didn’t attribute his stunning insight into this field as “intelligence”, but simply perseverance – “Genius is 1% talent, 99% hard work”.
To determine the intelligence of someone or something requires the understanding of what intelligence actually is. Dictionary attempts offer the somewhat dismissive sentence “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”. But who deems which knowledge, which skills? Say there’s a boy who can’t perform simple arithmetic, or write a letter; is he stupid? He can, however, whittle a fully functional gearbox and drive shaft for a go-kart from a fallen tree; is he clever?
The definition of intelligence has been hotly debated over the years by many people; from a fifteen-page thesis to a terse handful of words: “the capacity to acquire capacity”, or the circular “intelligence is what is measured by intelligence tests”. Robert J. Sternberg, a leading light in this field of understanding, once uttered the aside, “there seem to be almost as many definitions of intelligence as there are experts asked to define it”.