Video: Deer Attacks Mall Windows + Self-Aware Ants

Nebraska animal experts say a deer that smashed several windows at an Omaha strip mall was likely trying to fight its own reflection. Video here:

The deer was caught on video Tuesday morning running the length of the strip mall and attacking several windows, completely shattering some. The deer was seen breaking windows at stores including Beauty First and Tuesday Morning. Kelli Brown of the Omaha Humane Society said the deer apparently confused its reflection in the windows for a rival male.

“This is the time of year we have what is called a rut, and that’s when a lot of the males are seeking mates and that’s when they become very competitive with each other. They will see that reflection and just go to town on it,” Brown told WOWT-TV.

Via Arcamax

Can you blame the deer for the mistake? Some animals (nine different species so far, says one site) do figure out mirrors. A clever mirror test (mark test) was developed by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr in 1970. It is still used to determine if a non-human animal has self-recognition and there have been some surprising and entertaining results.

When conducting the mirror test, scientists place a visual marking on an animal’s body, usually with scentless paints, dyes, or stickers. They then observe what happens when the marked animal is placed in front of a mirror. The researchers compare the animal’s reaction to other times when the animal saw itself in the mirror without any markings on its body. Animals that pass the mirror test will typically adjust their positions so that they can get a better look at the new mark on their body, and may even touch it or try to remove it. They usually pay much more attention to the part of their body that bears a new marking.

Humans can pass the mirror test at around 18 months old. Nine non-human animal species can pass. Asian elephants, Great apes, bottlenose dolphins, orca whales, eurasian magpies and ants.

Not all individuals of each species pass, but many do. This list of animals that have passed the mirror test examines how each species responded during testing.

Wait, ants? Really? How do they test that?

The ants were next given a classic mirror test. The team of researchers would use blue dots to mark the clypeus of some of the ants, which is a part of their face near their mouths.

When in an environment without mirrors, these ants would behave normally, and wouldn’t touch the markings. But this changed when they could see their reflections in a mirror. The ants with blue dots on their face would groom and appear to try to remove the markings.

More at AnimalCognition

It is a bit surprising, even disturbing. By this test, ants are more self-aware than deer. How can this be? It may show us that our model of intelligence is wrong.

One way to make sense of it is to consider intelligence not as one thing, but as a collection of different discernment abilities. You don’t get all possible abilities just by having more brain cells. Different animals, human cultures and individuals evolve the kind of intelligences that they need.

We can speculate that deer survival seldom required distinguishing “self from reflection” in anything like a vertical ice wall shined to a mirror polish by the wind. Ants, however, travel routinely at all angles over natiral mirror-like surfaces, bits of frozen ice, little pools of water and natural reflective rocks. There would be a high survival disadvantage to the ant that released “enemy here!” chemical signals in response to its own reflection.

Using a mirror to check and clean its ant body still seems surprisingly advanced, as does their ability to “use math” (not literally) to find fastest routes on complicated terrain, but again, you can see how these would be directly tied to ant survival.

Ants are estimated to have only 250,000 neurons compared to our 86 billion. Put another way, we humans have 344,000 times as many brain cells as an ant, and yet … most humans believe that consciousness is uniquely human and that self-recognition is a measure of other forms of intelligence.

A nice consequence of this “modular components” model of intelligence is that you personally, due to neural plasticity and your unique genes and environment, probably have some super intelligences in certain areas compared to the rest of us.

Imagine the advantage of harvesting those unique abilities across ten billion unique human brains.

Now imagine that this is already going on and you have an explanation for a simulated universe. This may be why we are here. Each of us is given a unique set of problems and we naturally develop the best solutions we can. If we are running in a simulation, all of our solutions are known, all of our brain wiring, not by us, but by the architect of the experiment.

Is the meta level just imagination? If not, what does this change of any of us? My equation may be to see if any of the individual components of the system (us) care much about the big picture.

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