The Bold and the Hardy

In 1921, birds described as tits (Paridae) were first seen
to open milk bottles in the small, southern English town of
Swaythling. Over the next 25 years, observations of birds
opening milk bottles were reported from hundreds of
other sites all over Great Britain, Ireland, and continental
Europe. The first scientific article on the phenomenon
was published in 1949. A short discussion of bottle open-
ing by birds is a good introduction to the topic of avian
social learning because the questions asked about milk-
bottle opening are indicative of those that have governed
almost all subsequent research on avian social learning:
How did this behavior originate? Did its appearance in
blue tits (Parus caeruleus) have anything to do with the
cleverness or boldness of this species? Was the rapid
spread of bottle-opening over many areas of Great Britain
and Ireland due to cultural transmission? If so, were the
birds imitating one another or was something simpler
going on? Given that eleven species of birds were found
to open bottles, did we see transmission between as well as
within species?
Social learning in other species is something I am just starting to look at. I immediately start to speculate and contrast what I learn with other things, in this case, cleverness or boldness contrasted with the timorous and the hardy.
The sight is of noe long duration, only continueing so long as they can keep their eyes steady without twinkling. The hardy therefore fix their look, that they may see the longer, But the timorous see only glances always twinkling at the first sight of the object.
That then raises the question, do we have a history of asking such questions?
Avian Social Learning, L. Lefebvre and N.J. Boogart
A Succint Account of My Lord Talbots relationes in a letter to the Honorable Robert Boyle

Sunday Afternoon Reading

Foraging Cognition: Reviving the Ecological Intelligence Hypothesis

What are the origins of intelligent behavior? The demands associated with living in complex social groups have been the favored explanation for the evolution of primate cognition in general and human cognition in particular. However, recent comparative research indicates that ecological variation can also shape cognitive abilities. I synthesize the emerging evidence that ‘foraging cognition’ – skills used to exploit food resources, including spatial memory, decision-making, and inhibitory control – varies adaptively across primates. These findings provide a new framework for the evolution of human cognition, given our species’ dependence on costly, high-value food resources. Understanding the origins of the human mind will require an integrative theory accounting for how humans are unique in both our sociality and our ecology.


Recent work comparing the cognitive abilities of multiple primate species has revealed adaptive ecological variation in several core processes essential for foraging: spatial memory, value-based decision-making, and executive control of responses.

While social and ecological explanations for the emergence of complex cognition are often treated as rival hypotheses, they are better construed as complementary.

Current evidence supports a mosaic view of primate cognitive evolution, such that social and ecological factors may have different effects across distinct cognitive domains.

The ecological intelligence hypothesis predicts that humans will exhibit specializations in foraging cognition due to unique aspects of the human hunter–gatherer ecological niche, such as high-quality diets, central-place foraging, and costly processing behaviors.


Alexandra G. Risati, Forging Cognition: Reviving the Ecological Intelligence Hypothesis, Trends in Cognative Sciences, Vol.21, issue 9, Sep. 2017


Question I Can’t Answer

History of

The History of Ethnology

The history of Social Psychology


Second sight, as it unfolds on the ground

History of



That an empirical investigation of second sight places religion and the existence of God within the orbit of empirical investigation and experiment (a late 17th century Question).

To contemporary historians of science the relationship between science and religion is a central question here (1).

History of



The mass consumption  of cheap printed material, relating to prophetic vision.

What relationship does the mass consumption (it is read by all social classes)  of cheap prophetic literature have with the rest of these subjects?


Give some examples from source, without much in the way of description. If we look at how the subject unfolds on the ground, what is being reported can be described in simple terms.

An unknown visual phenomena, that is wide-spread within a population group.

A subject which should be investigated empirical to determine the nature of this phenomena.

The decision-making processes surrounding the investigation of second sight in the late 17th century are extremely messy.

Range of cultural factors in the mix, which are ultimately going to lead to the rejection of the subject in the short-term as one suited for empirical experimentation and thought.

The study of occult phenomena has a longer- term relationship with the development of psychology as a science in the 19th century.

(1) I am not a historian of science, it is a question and issue, but one of many.

Serve and Return

That Men, Women and Children indistinctlie were subject to it, and Children where parents were not: some times people cam to age who had it not when young, nor could any tell by what means produced. It is a trouble to most of them subject to it, and they would be rid of it at any rate, if they could; The sight is of noe long duration, only continueing so long as they can keep their eyes steady without twinkling. The hardy therefore fix their look, that they may see the longer, But the timorous see only glances always twinkling at the first sight of the object.


A Succint Account of My Lord Talbots relationes in a letter to the Honorable Robert Boyle


Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.


Serve and Return, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.


Tracing the description of someone watching the great eclipse within a matter of days and few hours of reading I find myself confronting significant cultural complextity.

With that thought I can return to the late 17th century and examine a visual example of this processes.

United States Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

Formed by the War department in 1865 and charged with administering the relief effort and social reconstruction in the aftermath of the civil war.

The bureau was led by General Howard. It was also a significant administrative enterprise generating a massive archive.

For many Black Americans this is the historical horizon of American history. Where family members first appear in administrative records.

Without an archive we have no history. History is not simply re-written in the aftermath of the civil war, it becomes written for the first time.

It can be nothing other than altered from this point.

It allows people to have a history and the start of that history retrospectively forms its horizon.

Chasing the eclipse leads to a significant slice of American social history, its origin and foundation.


The Freedmen’s Bureau,  By A.R. Waud, Harper’s Weekly, July 1868, wiki