Maybe Squeak Isn’t as Stupid as I Say He Is

I have, as has been tediously pointed out in the motto above, a cinnamon cockatiel who named himself “Squeak”. He has all sorts of cutesy behaviors, and my theory was that some of his odder mannerisms came from having too much input and too little brain with which to process it. If you’ve ever seen a toddler get excited and suddenly stop, shiver, and then go on, you’ll know the idea. Just too much stimulation.

Now, however, science is dripping cold water over my cherished myth of birdie bétise. Apparently these little guys can do more than we give them credit for.

Certainly, for something with a brain scarcely larger than a green pea, my little guy can do some fairly adroit things. He understands the command “flap” and can do all sorts of mimicry. But smart? At what point does mimicry imply intelligence?

One of my problems with certain types of liberal arts student has been the language majors who think because they are fluent in a language, they are therefore experts on the politics and culture of the language’s home country. However, linguistic ability does not always correlate with analytic or empathetic ability, which are necessary traits. True, they have an easier time digesting materials in the home language, but there are plenty of people who can read a paper perfectly well in English who nonetheless have nothing valuable, or indeed apposite, to say about US politics. Parroting (if you’ll forgive the semipun) what you hear on NPR does not make you an intellectual.

However, it has been fairly well demonstrated that the larger parrots can develop fairly sophisticated ways of interacting with people that are, if not metaphysically intelligence, sufficiently indistinguishable from intelligence as to render the distinction moot. You never know–except for you, Skinner could be right and the rest of us are just incredibly sophisticated meat puppets that happen to pass the Turing test.

You were conditioned to believe you read it here first.

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