Bird Brain!

I went to a school that had transom windows – openable windows above the larger non-opening windows. They were hinged at their bottom and opened inward. On a warm day the teacher would ask a student to open the windows and the honored student would get a wood pole with a metal hook, and pull the latch. The window would open, held in place by chains. At the end of the day the windows were closed by pushing on the latch with the pole. The windows did not have screens and occasionally something would come in. Quite literally ‘coming in over the transom.’

Interesting things show up in my email inbox, coming in over the transom as it were. Yesterday a link to a most amazing short video appeared, a video that showed a crow solving a difficult problem using tools.1

At one time we held tool making and using to be solely a human ability but this has been shown to be wrong. Tools are a behavioral possibility for some other species. Maybe complex problem solving separates us from them. That old dualism of animal and human persists.

With this video it gets harder if not impossible to hold onto that pride of place. A crow solves an unfamiliar difficult problem with only one misstep. For millennia we thought ourselves sui generis. Now we must think ourselves as on a continuum. And not even at the end point of that continuum. We are not as sui generis as we thought, not even has we hoped to be, would like to be. We are something else and just beginning to explore and understand this new relationship, the commonality of life.

Once ‘bird brain’ was a taunt tossed at another kid who didn’t get things quite as rapidly or got them wrong. Now bird brain takes on a different meaning. Take a look.

1 If this link has expired, search on Inside the Animal Mind: Episode Two – BBC Two. I think this video will be available somewhere for a long time.