Crabs attacking a bird

The concept of intelligence is one common element contributing political hazard of losing super-majority consent, education hazards of standardized testing, and the hazards of favoring teamwork over individual initiative to address large problems (such as health care reform).

The other day, after observing a YouTube video there was the usual teasers at the end of what they think I may also be interested in.  I suppose they guessed right because I clicked on a video of crabs attacking a bird.   The video starts off showing a bird with an injured wing catching the notice of one crab that moves toward the bird.  The image cuts to later times as the bird continues to try to flee from the continued approach of the crab.  The final cut is to a mound of crabs completely covering something that can not be determined but likely to be the fate of the bird.

That’s a common theme of nature.  Predators will take the opportunity of injury or distress to have an unlikely meal.  This can be observed for creatures ranging from micro-organisms to lions.

I thought of another scenario.  In a crowded urban area, someone notices an injured and frightened animal.  This person doesn’t recognize the animal except that it is not expected in an urban environment.  This person approaches the animal to see if he can help it, perhaps to capture it safely and deliver it to a veterinarian to see if they can help it.  The act of approaching the animal attracts the attention of others, and they join in.  No words are exchanged.  They manage to restrain the animal and one of the later joiners kills it.  This draws attention of others who proceed to discard the carcass.  We’re civilized.

How do we interpret the intentions of that first crab approaching the injured animal.  Certainly a meal has to be priority for him, but could there be at least some curiosity or even some wonder if he can help.   We may have no evidence that a crab has ever tried to help anything.  Its body is poorly equipped for doing anything beneficial.  At least in this scenario we don’t know what the single solitary crab would have done.  His actions were joined by his numerous neighbors.  The observed result was the accomplishment of the hoard instead of the individual.  We know the outcome.  Is it possible that the motivation of the first crab to pursue and approach the injured bird to assess what to do next?  If it had the option, could it have tried to help?  

If we were in that position, how could we have helped? We would need to restrain the bird.  We would need to set the broken bone causing even more distress.  Only after applying some kind of brace to secure the bone would it be apparent that we had good intentions.

The risk of observing the actions of a mob can mask the intelligence of the individuals within the mob.  

We don’t have a problem with recognizing intelligence of individual humans but grant that such individuals in a mob can behave without any apparent intelligence or rationale.  Mobs of humans often act in ways that are detrimental to their welfare.  We observe mobs destroying neighborhood markets that they rely on to get their future meal.  We observe mobs destroying whole cities or shutting down economies that they depend on for survival.  If we viewed humans only in the collective, we would see deficiency of intelligence.



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