Monday, September 19, 2011

Bird Brains

I've been knocking emails back and forth with Sy Montgomery,   She's kindly allowing me to release the conversation.  I hope you have as much fun with this as we are!

Here we go, with me contacting her:

"Love your bird experiences.  They got me to thinking about bird brains - or rather, dinosaur brains.

Dinosaurs got locked into a small brain because their jaw structures surrounded the brain with hard bone, right? So, they had to go for a different quality of "thinking."

We've always said we could get along with far fewer brain cells - which dinosaurs do.  But they do it in a way that's so different from us:

To put it in art terms, we have bitmap, they have vector.  They don't think - they LEARN.  Now. First time.  Pattern upload finished, complete, and stored for future use.

When one of my 3 hens, Red, was out in the cage (many predators) making like a rooster at 7:00 am again (and coming up to it in volume), my husband Dan muttered, "The poor neighbors."

I leaned out the door, saw she was just singing to hear her head rattle and yelled, "SHUT UP!"

She gave me that Chicken Look - and has stopped yelling herself.  First time. Done.

They build a file NOW, and keep it.  Or, to try to put a little scientific rigor into this email, they SEEM to.  Now my questions:

1.  Can they change the file?

2.  Or do they wipe and rebuild within seconds?

Thank you for letting me ask, if only to hear my own head rattle."

Sy Montgomery:

"Dear Donna,
What an interesting email! I've discussed this briefly with Irene Pepperberg and my paleontologist friend Gary Galbreath. They can't answer you questions either! But are thinking about it. If either get back to me with further thoughts I'll pass them on to you. 
What you describe sounds exactly like what my falconry instructor says about her hawks. They don't seem to think (as in to ponder or consider), but they learn incredibly fast and never forget.
I would expect--just from my own experience with my own, non-avian brain!-- that while it would be easy to add to a file, it might be very difficult to wipe it clean or replace it. I have a lot of trouble with this. Birds are credited with being greatly instinctual (as if instinct is stupidity instead of wisdom). Their kind of instant learning is similar to how we learn phobias, for instance--which are extremely difficult to unlearn.
I love it that Red figured out what you wanted right away. If only children learned so quickly."

And me again, after she gave me kind permission to post this on the blog, and asked for the address:

"Yeah, that's a blog -- it's how I pay about $15.00 bucks a year for a website.  You know us artists....

And THANK you.  I was thinking I was being a bit presumptuous, but knowing my gang, they'll enjoy seeing this develop.

Oh -- another note:  In "Birdology," a comparison was made between birds as PCs and mammals as Macs.

As a author and artist who uses both, may I differ and propose the reverse?  A Mac is hard-wired to use, with very fast, ready functions - a PC lets us get our sticky little fingers into the pathways.

It's like the difference between the ships of the two villains in "Despicable Me" -- Gru is PC, Vector is Mac.  One is clunky and obvious, with big blobs of sloppy parts to play with, like us.  One is incredibly sleek, hard and fast, and gets around the lack of "thought" by being open to instant learning and wiping, as with a Mac program and dinosaurs.

This is probably just more of my head rattling, but this has me wondering.

(I love saying "dinosaurs" instead of birds.  I wanted my own pet TRex when I was little -- mostly without thinking about the logistics of feeding the thing.  Or being swallowed by it ("No!  It will love only me!").  Now I have THREE - chickens)."


sledpress said...

OMG! I wanted a pet T-Rex too! His name was Dinosaurus (unimaginative, I know) and in my expectation, he would go everywhere with me. I had it all thought out.

Figures that I was eventually almost married to a guy whose trademark was a dinosaur puppet. Long story, oh well...

Donna Barr said...

Dinosaurs AND puppets? It's almost a comic book series!