But thinking is what makes us human, and thinking means we'll always be the ruling species on this planet, because the rest of those guys are really stupid.
Well ... not all of them. So, in our latest attempt to make all of our readers afraid of Mother Nature, we give you ...
#6. Alex the Genius Parrot
When a parrot says something like "hi", "I love you" or "f@#% off", you obviously assume that it doesn't really know what it's saying -- they're just mimicking human words in the same way that they'd copy the sound of a barking dog, or even (as some parrot owners know) a cell phone ringing. They're just like shitty tape recorders.
Alex the Parrot was different, though: he could correctly identify 50 different shapes, recognize numbers up to six, distinguish seven colors, and understand qualities such as bigger, smaller, same, and different. By the end of his life, he was getting closer to grasping the concept of nothingness.
He also inspired the cover art of a mid-70s prog rock album, judging by this image.
Alex didn't just associate a word with a specific object: he could generalize, which is usually something only humans can do. For example, when shown various keys, he could recognize that they were the same thing and even point out differences in size and color. If you still don't think that's impressive, take a look at this video of Alex interacting with his trainer, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, and try not to freak out when he asks her for some water:
Holy shit, that bird behaves more like a human than half the people we saw on the subway this morning. It's almost like he stepped out of a Pixar movie. One day, as Dr. Irene was closing up the lab, Alex said goodbye by telling her to "be good." Irene replied by saying "I love you," to which Alex answered, "I love you too." He then asked: "You'll be in tomorrow?" Irene assured him that, yes, he'd see her tomorrow.The next morning, Alex was dead.
There appears to be something in our eyes.
They actually had conversations like that all the time (you can see a similar one here, at around 7:55). You can say that he was just faking his banter and emotions through years and years of social repetition, but at what point can't you say the same thing about humans? You only know to jokingly tell someone to "be good" when they head out for the night because you heard somebody else say it and remembered it.
Dr. Pepperbeg has taught some of Alex's tricks to other parrots, but so far none of them has displayed anything close to his freakish level of intelligence. So far, it looks like he was one of a kind. Maybe the specific circumstances of Alex's upbringing turned him into the only parrot capable of higher cognitive thought processes... or maybe he was a member of some sort of parrot-like alien race, who came to Earth seeking refuge and friendship. Ask yourself: which explanation is simpler and less creepy?
We're going with "alien".
#5. Bees That Solve Complex Math Problems Better than Humans
The traveling salesman problem is all about finding the shortest route between various points, like a salesman who has to visit several houses and doesn't want to spend more gas than he has to. The problem is a lot harder than it sounds: depending on the number of locations and the distance between them, it can take a supercomputer several days to figure it out, since they have to go through and verify every single possibility.
Just like they have to "verify" the fantasies of every lonely suburban housefrau.
Bees, however, can solve it in a heartbeat.
How? No idea, they just can. When researchers showed them a bunch of artificially controlled flowers, the foraging bees took one look at the place and were instantly able to figure out the shortest route between them.
Even with the big red circle we can't understand what the answer is.
Yes, their tiny, almost nonexistent brains were able to calculate all the variables and solve the problem faster than a computer would. Apparently, it's just a matter of instinct: foraging bees have to visit lots of flowers every day, and since flying is a pretty energy-consuming task for them, they need to be able to know the shortest route in order to survive. So if a salesman can't do the same thing, it's obviously because he doesn't want it hard enough.
What's disturbing is that the exact method bees are using to accomplish this is still a complete mystery to us. Really, we have no idea how they do it, and perhaps it's time we started asking ourselves: What else do they know?
Why are there hairs on its eye?
#4. Willow the Literate Dog
In 2009 viewers of shows like Tyra or The Today Show were introduced to Willow, a dog who can read, an ability which puts her at a superior intellectual level than most people watching the shows she appeared in. Willow can understand the cards her owner holds up and obey the commands written on them.
But that's an obvious parlor trick, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out, training a dog how to read is not as hard as you might imagine. Some experts point out that what Willow does isn't technically reading (in the way that humans read), but she can still recognize the shapes of words and understand what they mean (wait -- if that's not reading, then apparently we've been doing it wrong).
Also, if you watch the videos we linked to before, you'll notice that the typeset printed on the cards is completely different on each occasion ...
... meaning that Willow is responding to the words themselves, not the cards.
She's not the only one who can do that: this website offers complete instructions on how to teach your dog to read. The article points out that dogs who are learning to read sometimes mix up similar words like "TUG" and "TURN" (so they can recognize individual letters), and that there's no known limit for the amount of words the canine brain can remember. Some dogs are up to 30 words, meaning they could memorize the entire lyrics to "You Should Be Dancing" by the Bee-Gees.
And this is where it gets scary: the author of that article says that after she's taught her dog enough words, she plans to "place multiple words on the wall and teach him to focus on a single card through use of a laser pointer or similar device. Then, I would see if he could match words into simple sentences to tell me what he was thinking or feeling." So giving dogs access to the power of the written word isn't enough; we also have to equip them with lasers so they can express themselves.
No way this can backfire.