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Monkey business and more: Proving intelligence in animals

Animals, or rather other animals’ cognitive abilities forms the crux of a major scientific debate. Humans, on the basis of their ability to make and use tools, and exhibit a sense of identity, and of time, have been long prone to believe themselves the planet’s preeminent – and only – thinking species.

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How Smart Animals Are

Pet lovers swear by the intelligence and empathy of their dogs, cats and other charges, many social media users spend much time chuckling over pictures of animal antics, an octopus forecast the 2010 Football World Cup result, a goat of Brexit and a monkey, a tiger and a polar bear of the Trump-Clinton presidential contest. Dumb animals still?

Animals, or rather other animals’ cognitive abilities forms the crux of a major scientific debate. Humans, on the basis of their ability to make and use tools, and exhibit a sense of identity, and of time, have been long prone to believe themselves the planet’s preeminent – and only – thinking species.

But, as this book shows, we cannot hope to retain this exclusive status, in light of increasing evidence that animals, beyond our other primate cousins, exhibit cognitive behaviour – but in their own way.

Dutch-American biologist de Waal uses a combination of zoological history, anecdotes, personal and otherwise, and scientific and philosophical challenges in the field and how they are being faced and examples – not only from apes, but also crows and parrots, dolphins, elephants, sheep, bats and even wasps to show how we have long underestimated our fellow living beings. Kafka and Wittgenstein also figure.

Beginning with his own experiences of watching a female chimpanzee transport her bedding outside and another one taught to raise an orphan – a time-consuming affair – say goodbye to the others before heading for her “duty”, he however notes that there are still those who would question the mental capability of animals, despite the experiences and experiments of scientists studying the matter.

“Are they making a reasonable assumption or are they blinkered as to what animals are capable of? And why is humanity so prone to downplay animal intelligence? We routinely deny them capacities that we take for granted in ourselves..,” he holds.

De Waal answers his own questions by holding the inherent human bias, and belief in their exclusive superiority, which stops many from even considering the possibility. This, he contends, is the primary obstacle to overcome- as the book’s title says.

For most of the 20th century, he says, science was overly cautious on the subject, with attributing intentions and emotions to animal seen as naive, with the two dominant schools either viewing animals as either “stimulus-response machines out to obtain rewards and avoid punishment” or “robots genetically endowed with useful instincts”.

And the reason, as he shows, was a skewed playing field with the scientists seeking replications of human skills and the animals’ earlier poor performance had more to do with the way they were tested than their intelligence, as the tests did not “fit an animal’s temperament, interests, anatomy, and sensory capacities”.

De Waal goes on to cite two experiments where a slight change in circumstances made gibbons and elephants use tools to achieve their goals, before going to prove his thesis, with a mixture of stories, experiments and observations but never overdoing non-human cognition.

He focusses on “umwelt” or an organism’s self-centered, subjective world, while showing that animals are capable of cognition, or basically information processing. But stressing while cognition is the mental transformation of sensory input into knowledge about the environment and its flexible application, while intelligence “refers more to the ability to do it successfully”, he shows animals do not lack either.

His examples include Ayumu, the ape in Japan, whose photographic memory allows him to quickly tap a series of quickly-disappearing numbers on a touchscreen in the right order, though the fact “that humans cannot keep up with this young ape has upset some psychologists”, bonobo Lisala, who can not only use tools but remember when they may be needed, elephants who can recognize themselves and others, and the chimpanzees who can discern parents from a series of photos they are shown.

Also dealing with the question whether animals can be said to have “culture”, considered an exclusive attributes among humans too, while giving unheralded scientists like German Wolfgang Kohler and Russian Nadia Ladygina-Kohts who set the stage for animal cognition research their due, De Waal makes a convincing case against “dumb animals””- which, he proves, is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Will we believe him? It may be a seminal test of human intelligence!

Title: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?; Author: Frans De Waal; Publisher: Granta Books; Pages: 352; Price: Rs 499

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])

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Lifestyle

Myntra taps 9,000 kirana stores in 50 cities to boost last-mile delivery

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New Delhi, Jan 22 : Flipkart-owned ecommerce platform Myntra that saw 80 per cent revenue fall in FY2018 has doubled down on last-mile delivery, tapping into over 9,000 kirana stores across 50 cities to fast deliver packages.

Today, nearly 60 per cent of all Myntra’s product pick-ups and deliveries happen through its “Kirana Delivery Programme” — helping the company reduce delivery costs, the company told IANS on Tuesday.

“Myntra’s ‘Kirana Delivery Programme’ is a successful model introduced by the company to accelerate order delivery in the most efficient way possible, while ensuring we provide a good partnership opportunity to our kirana partners,” a company spokesperson told IANS.

“We will continue to innovate, expand and hope to register more kirana partners in the future as well,” the spokesperson added.

The “Kirana Delivery Programme” is an ingenious model introduced by the company to accelerate order delivery, while creating a platform for kirana stores to have an additional source of income.

“A mutually beneficial model, it has helped Myntra achieve greater consumer satisfaction and is enhancing the standard of living of the owners of several ‘mom & pop’ stores across the country,” said the company.

Several tailors and beauty parlour owners, among others, have also signed up with Myntra for the programme.

The online fashion retailer narrowed its consolidated losses to Rs 178.7 crore for 2017-18, compared with a loss of Rs 655.8 crore in the previous fiscal.

According to business intelligence platform Tofler, the company saw its income growing nearly threefold to Rs 427.4 crore in 2017-18 as against Rs 155.6 crore in the previous financial year.

Ananth Narayanan, Chief Executive of e-tail portals Myntra and Jabong, stepped down from the post on January 14 “to pursue external opportunities”.

The 11-year-old Flipkart Group, owned by US retail giant Walmart, includes e-tail sites Flipkart, Myntra, Jabong and digital payment platform PhonePe.

In May last year, Walmart bought a 77 per cent equity stake in the company for a whopping $16 billion.

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Health

Natural ways to boost immunity in children

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New Delhi, Jan 21: It is natural for parents to protect their children from any harm, including the endless array of germs they are exposed to every day.

As children grow up, they are continuously exposed to various germs, especially in places such as daycare centres and preschool. Children with low immunity are highly susceptible to various types of infections. The high incidence of infections has led to an increased and inappropriate use of antibiotics, which has further resulted in antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance, a widespread problem, takes places when microbes build resistance against the medications intended to kill them due to overuse. It is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. The best way to tackle this is to build a strong immunity, which naturally protects your child from infections. Dr. Rajesh Kumawat, Head – Medical Services & Clinical Development, The Himalaya Drug Company, shares a few tips that can help boost your child’s immunity.

Healthy Diet

A healthy diet that comprises all fundamental components like proteins, minerals, vitamins, micronutrients and unsaturated fats in optimum quantity, helps build the immunity required to fight against various infections or diseases in children. Citrus fruits, carrots, green leafy vegetables, beans, strawberry, yogurt, garlic, and ginger help build immunity with their immunity-boosting properties.

Adequate Sleep

Sleep deprivation suppresses the functionality of the immune system, which makes children susceptible to infections. Adequate sleep is an absolute necessity to rejuvenate the body. Newborns need up to 18 hours of sleep a day, toddlers require 12 to 13 hours, and preschoolers need about 10 hours of sleep.

Hygiene

Maintaining hand hygiene before and after each meal, after playtime, handling pets, blowing the nose, using the restroom and arriving home from daycare helps prevent infections in children.

Herbal Solutions

Despite taking proper care, children’s immunity may be affected. Consumption of herbal dietary supplements like Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and Guggulu (Balsamodendron mukul) can help children stay healthier as they help build immunity.

“Naturally obtained supplements strengthen the immune system. Herbs like Guduchi, Yashti Madhu, and Guggulu are natural sources of antioxidants. The antiviral property of Yashtimadhu also helps manage asthma, bronchitis, and chronic cough. The anti-inflammatory property of Guggulu helps reduce inflammation,” Dr. Kumawat added.

“Naturally obtained supplements strengthen the immune system. Herbs like Guduchi, Yashti Madhu, and Guggulu are natural sources of antioxidants. The antiviral property of Yashtimadhu also helps manage asthma, bronchitis, and chronic cough. The anti-inflammatory property of Guggulu helps reduce inflammation,” Dr. Kumawat added.

A combination of herbs may be a safe and effective adjuvant to antimicrobials in the management of recurrent infections. When co-prescribed with antibiotics, herbs may
have a role in faster recovery, reduces the duration and cost of therapy, besides preventing reinfections.

IANS

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Lifestyle

Teasing your partner playfully can make lasting relationship

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Are you always in a mood to tease your better half? Then there is good news. A new study suggests that couples who poke fun at each other, indicating humour, are more likely to stay together.

The study showed that inside jokes are particularly important because they affirm ones relationship through laughter, the Daily Mail reported.

However, couples who share mean-spirited jokes with nasty jibes are unlikely to last, which indicates a problem in the relationship.

“Playfulness between romantic partners is a crucial component in bonding and establishing relational security,” said Jeffrey Hall, Associate Professor from the University of Kansas in the US.

“Particularly shared laughter is an important indicator of romantic attraction between potential mates,” Hall added.

The team examined more than 150,000 participants to determine how important humour is in a romantic relationship.

The results, published in the journal Personal Relationships, suggest that couples who create humour together — including inside jokes — are more likely to last.

But, this does not mean that people who are funny or can make a joke out of anything would be more lucky in love.

“If you share a sense of what’s funny, it affirms you and affirms your relationship through laughter,” Hall was quoted as saying by Daily Mail.

However, couples should not go too far, Hall warned.

Importantly, having an aggressive sense of humour is a bad sign for the relationship in general, but it is worse if this style of humour is used in the relationship, the study noted.

IANS

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