The Amazing Brain of Birds (Brain-Psycho Comment 120)

Birds have amazing cognitive abilities. The manufacture of simple tools by crows in New Caledonia is close to the skills of primitive humans about 300,000 years ago. Yet the crow's brain weighs only 14g, compared to 1,300g for the human brain. How does the raven reach this level of intelligence?

The author, Onur Gont-rkon, explains the bird's brain is much denser than that of humans and other animals. Pallium (part of the brain dedicated to high-level cognitive abilities) contains 1.2 billion neurons in ravens compared to 16.3 billion in humans. The difference is no longer 1 to 100 but from 1 to 10.

Then, however, he made a big mistake. He claims that the compensation also comes from the increase in the speed of neural information circulation, which is very accelerated in the bird due to the proximity of neurons. Most of you will intuitively understand that this is a mistake. The speed of neural processing influences that of behavioral reactions, but not their cognitive level. Just because you think faster doesn't mean you think smarter.

If connection speed influenced cognitive performance, making our neurons faster would make us smarter. It's the opposite! The spirit would become chaos. Indeed, the respective delays of connections and synchronization are part of the neural coding of the information. Changing them would immediately destroy the structural memory.

The proximity of neurons has only provided birds with a miniature brain that is easy to fly, and does not demerit cognitive performance. Intelligence is built on the richness of the connectome (the network of connections between neurons) and the ease of its reconfiguration.

Birds benefit from an excellent connectome, proportional to the abundance of neurons. Thus they develop remarkable signs of intelligence, concepts that they unfortunately cannot transmit socially like humans, for lack of such elaborate language.


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