Talk, talk…kill, kill!!!

Animal Wise has a post about the late, great parrot, Alex (not this parrot) and his incredible cognitive ability.

…it appears that Alex spontaneously used “none” in a zero-like manner to label a null set and designate an absence of objects.

Not impressed?

…the first rudimentary use of a zero-like notation didn’t appear until around 300 BC, when the Babylonians began using a special placeholder symbol to designate the absence of another value in their base-sixty number system…and another millennium passed before gifted Indian mathematicians and astronomers introduced a fully functional “true zero” as part of a formalized system of arithmetic operations.

Ravens might not understand zero (although they might, nevermore and all), but they have the ability to communicate by gesture (not unlike Italians everywhere).

“People think that this pointing forms the basis of language,” says Simone Pika at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. “It has also been linked with mental-state attribution – the idea that you understand what I am pointing out.”

Can plans for world domination be far behind?

Eric Michael Johnson has a lengthy and wholly worthwhile article about the evolution of collective violence. It ranges widely from Abyssinian monkeys to a riot in the 1960s Soviet Union. I’m not sure there’s good long term news for us…

“The timing of peaks in global food prices and social unrest implies that the 2011 unrest was precipitated by a food crisis that is threatening the security of vulnerable populations,” conclude the authors. “Deterioration in food security led to conditions in which random events trigger widespread violence.”

Just to end on an optimistic note, Steven Pinker has been buzzing around the interwebs recently with his theory that, despite the local news, we’re actually getting less violent:

Human violence started dropping thousands of years ago with the formation of the first states, Dr. Pinker argues. For evidence, he points to archaeological studies and observations of stateless societies today. With the birth of the first states, rates of violence began to fall, and they have dropped in fits and starts ever since.

Great…just as the birds are figuring out how to plot our demise, we’re getting all lovey dovey.

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