Animal Cognition by Brandon Aust

I found the lecture given on Thursday to be very thought provoking. I’m sure that we have all wondered how animals think and what they are fully aware of. Those of us with pets surely do. I, myself, have an African grey parrot, and I know it is said to have the cognitive mind of a six year old and that it can say a large amount of phrases, but sometimes I wonder which phrases the bird actually gives a meaning to. I believe that it gives some sort of meaning to certain phrases. For instance, my bird has always eaten dinner with my family at the dinner table and it always gets excited when it smells food and starts saying, “Dinner! Dinner!” I find it very intriguing that the bird is capable of having a high sense of smell to be aware that food is cooking, and then connect the word dinner with this realization. Irene Pepperberg, a scientist who researches in the field of animal cognition, believes that African greys are indeed capable of somewhat understanding the meaning behind human words. Although, this may be disputed by some, it is indeed very interesting. I don’t know whether or not they do understand the exact meaning behind these words, but they can at least have some sort of association with the words. So with the example given above, the bird may not know that dinner is when we eat food together as a family at night, but it may be aware that when we say dinner it means it will be getting food. Here is a video of an African grey on a television show. The bird is very intelligent and entertaining since it can respond to a wide variety of words so quickly. Hopefully, with further research we will be more capable of understanding if the bird knows the actual meaning behind these words, or if it is just intelligent enough to be trained to give a reaction.

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I also found the topic of octopus cognition interesting in class because I have personal experience with understanding the intelligence of an octopus. I used to volunteer at a site called the Sea Lab in my home town. The site was created because the power plant in my town used the ocean water in order to cool its systems, and when they realized sea life was being sucked in by the machines they used in the cooling, they built the center in order to help injured animals and to inform the community about various forms of sea life. The site had an octopus, and when cleaning the tank, I had to be very careful about how I placed the objects located it the tank because the octopus could potentially use these objects as a way of escaping. I also viewed its movement, and the way in which it changed its color to its surroundings. The way in which it even looked at me reminded me of a wise old man. I think it was a sort of eye opening experience for me. As human beings, it is very easy to get caught up in ourselves as a species and not recognize the world around us. And at the times we do take a look around us it is just to get a feel of the beauty of nature, but I think it Is very rare that we really think about the intelligence of the nature around us. Since we are so advanced in our technologies and the way in which we live, it is sometimes hard to notice the grand intelligence and efficiency that other life forms have and the way in which they use these gifts in their journey of survival.
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-Brandon Aust

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