12 Jul 2010

Clash of the Animal Prophets

From my friend's status:
Q. Compare the smartness of an octopus versus a parakeet. Explain your answer, giving relevant examples to justify your choice. Your answer will be marked using the LORMS. [20]
Sounds like an interesting challenge. Okay, I usually suck at writing essays. I won't answer in essay form, but I'm still intrigued by this question anyway. Is this even worth 20 marks???

For the clueless, recently two animals have emerged as having the ability to predict the outcome of the matches in the FIFA World Cup this year. Paul(or Paolo as some argue that he was found in Italian waters) is an octopus kept in an aquarium in Germany, and has successfully predicted all the matches that Germany participated in, even those which were lost. Mani is a parakeet kept by an Indian fortune-teller in Serangoon right here in Singapore, who has also displayed a similar uncanny ability. Mani has failed rarely, but at least he isn't completely focused on one country's matches only.

Paul's method of prediction: 2 boxes filled with mussels are placed into the aquarium, each one with a flag of one of the teams in the match. Paul then floats?/swims?/glides? to one of the boxes, and whichever country who's represented on the box would be the winning team. Usually Paul takes about an hour to decide, but recently he took only 3 MINUTES before picking Spain to win in the finals!

Mani's method of prediction: the fortune-teller puts 2 rolled-up pieces of paper with a country's name and flag printed on each one. Then Mani simply picks up one of them with his beak, and whichever one he picked would be the winner. Quite a simple method, but a very expensive one(I think $50 per soccer prediction!). However, Mani picked Netherlands to win the finals, and both animals can't be right at the same time(or maybe it'll end in a tie???), so one of them has to be wrong. I think some people are hoping it's Paul, because that would be more shocking than the other way around...

Anyway, back to the intelligence thingy. Actually, it's very hard to compare intelligence levels of an octopus and a parakeet quantitatively, because right now nobody's figured out a way to measure the intelligence of an animal! But maybe we can still get a rough idea of how smart they are...

Many experiments have shown that octopuses(octopi? octopedes?) have shown an ability to solve mazes and other problems. They also have an ability to use tools; Paul's species, Octopus vulgaris or the common octopus, are smart enough to learn how to unscrew jars and trap lobsters. Also, they can also distinguish objects by brightness, size + shape, and orientation. Because of their high intelligence, they were put on the list of animals not to be operate on without anesthesia.

Psittacula krameri, or the rose-ringed parakeet(which is what Mani is), is also pretty intelligent too. They are popular as pets because they can learn very quickly and get accustomed to their environment easily, although their social behaviour stemming from their intelligence may cause problems(e.g. shyness, jealousy over other parrots). Definitely they can learn to pick up human speech(something an octopus definitely can't do) along with many other tricks.

So perhaps the common octopus and the rose-ringed parakeet are evenly matched in brains, which may indicate similar levels of physic ability, if any. It's still quite vague in this area, but we can conclude that both species are awfully smart.

Nonetheless, thousands of people are going to watch tonight's match, not only to see who will win the World Cup, but also which animal will fail in predicting the outcome. Note that the match result would NOT indicate which species is smarter, since they are only one sample from each species. But maybe it would be cool if Mani got it right, then Singapore would get international media attention for quite a while! :D

P.S. Just so you know, when Paul predicted that Germany would win Spain in the Euro 2008 finals, he got it WRONG!(Spain won 1-0) Would he mess up for this final match???