Monday, 5 May 2014

Relating Events Without Language

Language enables humans to construe two events as causally related.  Lorikeets are able to remember sequences of events, which is tantamount to establishing temporal if-then relations — temporal conditionals — but it is not clear whether they are capable of construing one event as caused by another.

For example, their behaviour shows that they know that food appears in dishes soon after they see me arriving on the back patio, and once a daily routine is established, on seeing me, they anticipate the arrival of food by flying to the dishes before they are filled.

But when this temporal continuity is broken, they do not necessarily link me to the provision of food.  For example, if I stand near their feeding dishes outside of this ritual, as many as 40 birds in the tree above will co-ordinate a very loud threatening call in an attempt to drive me away, thus treating me either as a ground predator or as a rival for their food source, rather than as the cause of its provision.

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