Sunday, April 22, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

How smart are ravens? We don't know. But (and this seems to be the case everywhere in the animal kingdom when we take the trouble to patiently watch) they're a lot smarter than we once thought.

One of the trickiest challenges consists in making the raven sit on a bar with a piece of meat suspended vertically below it by a long string. What can the raven do to get at the dangling meal? There is only one solution: The raven has to use its beak to carefully pull the string a short way up. It then has to shape the string into a loop and place one talon on that loop. Then it has to pull the string up a little further and repeat the process. Done properly, the procedure allows the raven to gradually move the meat upward.

Too much trouble for a bird? The smartest ravens examined in Grünau patiently considered the challenge and then pulled the meat up. They discovered the right procedure right away. It seems they mentally rehearsed the problem before getting started.

[with reverential apologies to Eisner]