Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aesop Didn't Lie

About 2260 years ago, around the year 250 B.C., Archimedes yelled "Eureka!" after getting into his bath and realizing that the volume of his body displaced the same amount of water, making the tub overflow.

About 350 years before that, Aesop told the world the tale of the thirsty crow who, upon finding a pitcher with a low level of water in it, put stones into the pitcher to raise the water level up to where he could drink it.

This month, scientists got around to proving that crows would really do that.

Well, OK, the scientists looked at rooks, a close relative of the crow. (But if you think crows are any less smart, have a look at Recognizing the Intelligence of Crows.)

To prove that the rooks understood the concepts of displacement and volume, they offered a plastic tube in which there was a low level of water, on top of which was floating a worm. The rook could not reach the worm, but when the scientists made some stones available, the rook would drop them into the water one at a time, stopping when the water was just high enough for him to reach the worm. The rooks also would choose larger stones over smaller ones, to get the job done faster.

Seeing is believing:

Aesop used the story to teach the moral that you'll get a job done if you just keep at it. Our scientific community just now got around to recognizing that birds can really be that smart.

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