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Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence

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Animal behavior has long been a battleground between the competing claims of nature and nurture, with the possible role of cognition in behavior as a recent addition to this debate. There is an untapped trove of behavioral data that can tell us a great deal about how the animals draw from these neural strategies: The structures animals build provide a superb window on the Animal behavior has long been a battleground between the competing claims of nature and nurture, with the possible role of cognition in behavior as a recent addition to this debate. There is an untapped trove of behavioral data that can tell us a great deal about how the animals draw from these neural strategies: The structures animals build provide a superb window on the workings of the animal mind. Animal Architects examines animal architecture across a range of species, from those whose blueprints are largely innate (such as spiders and their webs) to those whose challenging structures seem to require intellectual insight, planning, and even aesthetics (such as bowerbirds’ nests, or beavers’ dams). Beginning with instinct and the simple homes of solitary insects, James and Carol Gould move on to conditioning; the “cognitive map” and how it evolved; and the role of planning and insight. Finally, they reflect on what animal building tells us about the nature of human intelligence-showing why humans, unlike many animals, need to build castles in the air.


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Animal behavior has long been a battleground between the competing claims of nature and nurture, with the possible role of cognition in behavior as a recent addition to this debate. There is an untapped trove of behavioral data that can tell us a great deal about how the animals draw from these neural strategies: The structures animals build provide a superb window on the Animal behavior has long been a battleground between the competing claims of nature and nurture, with the possible role of cognition in behavior as a recent addition to this debate. There is an untapped trove of behavioral data that can tell us a great deal about how the animals draw from these neural strategies: The structures animals build provide a superb window on the workings of the animal mind. Animal Architects examines animal architecture across a range of species, from those whose blueprints are largely innate (such as spiders and their webs) to those whose challenging structures seem to require intellectual insight, planning, and even aesthetics (such as bowerbirds’ nests, or beavers’ dams). Beginning with instinct and the simple homes of solitary insects, James and Carol Gould move on to conditioning; the “cognitive map” and how it evolved; and the role of planning and insight. Finally, they reflect on what animal building tells us about the nature of human intelligence-showing why humans, unlike many animals, need to build castles in the air.

30 review for Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ogi Ogas

    My ratings of books on Goodreads are solely a crude ranking of their utility to me, and not an evaluation of literary merit, entertainment value, social importance, humor, insightfulness, scientific accuracy, creative vigor, suspensefulness of plot, depth of characters, vitality of theme, excitement of climax, satisfaction of ending, or any other combination of dimensions of value which we are expected to boil down through some fabulous alchemy into a single digit.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    When writing a book on the evolution of intelligence, insects might not be the obvious topic to start with, except perhaps as a counterexample. However, I think Gould and Gould (who I'll refer to as G2 from now on) might be onto a good idea here. Because really, it's kind of like any other complex topic, where you would do well to thoroughly examine the simplest cases first before you try to explain the more complicated ones. We see the different levels of intellect required for spiders, bees, an When writing a book on the evolution of intelligence, insects might not be the obvious topic to start with, except perhaps as a counterexample. However, I think Gould and Gould (who I'll refer to as G2 from now on) might be onto a good idea here. Because really, it's kind of like any other complex topic, where you would do well to thoroughly examine the simplest cases first before you try to explain the more complicated ones. We see the different levels of intellect required for spiders, bees, ants, wasps, and other arthropods to build nests, webs, burrows, and so forth. G2 spend over a hundred pages on this, and I was struck with two points: 1)the intelligence level varies more than I knew between different species of wasp, different species of spider, different species of bee, etc. Some are far more goal-directed than others. 2)for every one of these species, there was at least one, and often several, OCD researchers who spent several years of their life messing with the minds of their chosen species, just to see how it worked We see how wasps react if you interrupt their nest building by turning around part of it to face the wrong way when it's still wet. We find out about the palisade moth, which after laying her eggs disassembles her own wings to use the scales to build a three-picket-deep fence around them; we find out that researchers have tried messing with the leaf surface on which she is building the palisade, and what the results were. We find out how to decode honeybee dances to know where the best flower nectar is to be found, and also what researchers did to test their ability to triangulate (hint: it's better than that of humans without maps or calculators). Once done with arthropods, G2 move on to birds' nests, and there again the range of intelligence shown (from nearly none to advanced planning and ability to respond to setbacks) is considerable. The most bizarre have to be the bower birds. There are many species, and they share a...custom? trait? instinct? wherein the male creates elaborate bowers to attract females. The oddness of this is twofold: the female is in many species not allowed to present herself too close to the bower (or the male may attack), and the bower itself is never used for shelter, rearing of young, or any other apparent purpose. It's kind of like if human males all did abstract art to impress the women, especially if you threw in some covert trashing of the other males' canvases, since it is easier to have the most impressive bower if you are stealing the best materials (shells, moss, flowers, shiny stones, etc.) from your competitors. In the end, G2 build up a fairly advanced theory on what's going on inside of the arthropod and avian brains that they introduce us to, along with a host of good questions that we can only hope have some impact on further research.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I am so tempted to give this book four stars, based on the the fascinating facts, the strength of its concepts and the obvious breadth of knowledge of Dr. Gould and his wife. The only thing that kept that fourth star at bay was the writing, which too often was needlessly academic and hampered by some choppy transitions. Oh, for a better editor on this book. Nevertheless, it's full of fascinating information as it makes an argument that the evolution of intelligence has been closely tied to the ab I am so tempted to give this book four stars, based on the the fascinating facts, the strength of its concepts and the obvious breadth of knowledge of Dr. Gould and his wife. The only thing that kept that fourth star at bay was the writing, which too often was needlessly academic and hampered by some choppy transitions. Oh, for a better editor on this book. Nevertheless, it's full of fascinating information as it makes an argument that the evolution of intelligence has been closely tied to the ability of animals to build and eventually to use objects as tools in innovative ways. And the wonderful factoids. Here are just three. Honeybee foragers, upon returning to the nest, can show other bees where food is located by dancing -- the direction they point is directly correlated with the food source's position relative to the sun; the distance is correlated with how many times the bee wags its body; Some seabirds fly constantly and never land, because half their brain can go to sleep while the other half handles feeding and flying!; and on the more advanced end, beavers are so clever and creative at building that when a pond they have created with a dam is iced over in the winter, they make a hole in the dam just big enough to let out the precise amount of water that will create a layer of breathable air between the ice and the water underneath. This is well worth the exploration and can make you question pat assumptions you might have had about which animals are able to "think," and what intelligence really means.

  4. 5 out of 5

    ann

    This is a good book, I think it's interesting and thought provoking, but in comparison to a novel or other non-fiction it is not a fun or easy read. This book is probably used as a text book somewhere and as text books go, it is well written, but unless you like animals, care about architecture, and social behaviors, it won't be entertaining. The book is divided by general animals and then subdivided by techniques. It starts with the simplest animals, insects and then moves up the food chain. For This is a good book, I think it's interesting and thought provoking, but in comparison to a novel or other non-fiction it is not a fun or easy read. This book is probably used as a text book somewhere and as text books go, it is well written, but unless you like animals, care about architecture, and social behaviors, it won't be entertaining. The book is divided by general animals and then subdivided by techniques. It starts with the simplest animals, insects and then moves up the food chain. For instance, nests built by silk worm cocoons and later weaving birds or birds that steal silk to build nests. It builds on itself very nicely. This book perhaps asks a lot more questions than it answers, but I suppose that's what makes it interesting...you can't really help, but really help by anthropromorphize some building behaviors or relate to them through your own experience. For instance, it seems most solitary insects, what seems to be the simplest instects build by complusion. They can't edit, fix, or repair a construction, if they find a mistake, they start over. What might this say about someone with OCD? The comparisons that arise between modern democracies and successful beehives are also interesting... Or sign stimulus...some animals decisively prefer a specific color or shape in their constructions...so much so that a bird would prefer an artifically painted green nest to the natural item...I can't help but think that we are much the same way when seduced by advertisements. Anyway...not an easy, but a very interesting read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tippy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Awesome. Pretty interesting hypothesis, well supported by detailed examples from scientific studies. Interesting tidbits about animal life are sprinkled about. Very well organized; follows central thesis all the way through. The main message for me-animals began to be social to build better structures and social animals have to have a higher level of intelligence. Great example about a (solitary) wasp who is "preprogramed" to pull an insect into its burrow a specific way and when the situation i Awesome. Pretty interesting hypothesis, well supported by detailed examples from scientific studies. Interesting tidbits about animal life are sprinkled about. Very well organized; follows central thesis all the way through. The main message for me-animals began to be social to build better structures and social animals have to have a higher level of intelligence. Great example about a (solitary) wasp who is "preprogramed" to pull an insect into its burrow a specific way and when the situation is altered, it can't (or doesn't) adapt its behavior. Compare this to many social hymenoptera, which can repair their homes when damaged or otherwise adapt their behavior when something unexpected happens (like a pesky human messing in their affairs). Interesting to think of the evolution of intelligence as being a result of social interaction, but it makes a lot of sense and I do believe this is the prevailing idea on the topic today. BTW, for some shameless self-promotion, if you like reading about animals, check out my blog on wildlife at http://backyardzoologist.wordpress.com/

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Heine

    The science of fly fishing

  7. 4 out of 5

    Roy

    The content of the book was fascinating in every aspect, but not at all "highly readable" as the reviews state. The content of the book was fascinating in every aspect, but not at all "highly readable" as the reviews state.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meg

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrei Barbu

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

  11. 5 out of 5

    Veronica Whipple

  12. 4 out of 5

    Wenise

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert Stewart-Rogers

  14. 4 out of 5

    Malin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Stephens

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy Benson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ernie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Angelo Alfatzis

  19. 5 out of 5

    5333Taylor

  20. 4 out of 5

    ne

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dia

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pierre

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anna Craig

  24. 5 out of 5

    Henrik Hagtvedt

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex S

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jason Sailing

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  28. 4 out of 5

    Timm

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  30. 5 out of 5

    Maria

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