Pharyngula

I get it, I know I’m inferior

So stop rubbing it in. Here’s an article about the superiority of the bird visual system: it doesn’t just have better acuity, it can process information faster. We’re adapted to a sedate stroll, they’re adapted to high speed aerobatics…and guess which one of us is crazy enough to pilot multi-ton vehicles at frightening speeds?

Comments

  1. #1 B.Ruhsam
    November 9, 2006

    It’s time to start wiring birds into the nations jet fighters and save pilot lives!

  2. #2 B.Ruhsam
    November 9, 2006

    Time to wire little birds into the nation’s jet fighters…

  3. #3 MG
    November 9, 2006

    sure they see great, but their gastrointestinal manners are awful!

  4. #4 thwaite
    November 9, 2006

    During WW2 B. F. Skinner trained pigeons to guide missiles in flight via visual feedback given by optics in the nose-cone. Too bad the military thought the idea was too wacky and unreliable (even though the guidance systems each involved several trained pigeons and majority decisions).

  5. #5 Warren
    November 9, 2006

    thwaite:

    Too bad the military thought the idea was too wacky and unreliable (even though the guidance systems each involved several trained pigeons and majority decisions).

    Ahh — now I understand the source of the concept of caucusing!

  6. #6 Fastlane
    November 9, 2006

    As improved as they are, though birds still fall prey to many natural (and unnatural) hazards.

    One bird of prey rehab outfit I was doing some volunter work with had a harris hawk that was just days from being released, out hunting rabbits, that had a collision with a post (bordering a cattle grating, IIRC) and re-broke its wing.

    I’m hoping she had better luck once she was patched up and released the second time…

    It does seem that birds of prey are better at seeing and evading natural objects like trees than the man made objects for some reason.

    Cheers.

  7. #7 TomMil
    November 9, 2006

    Geez…I may not be smarter, but I feel smarter reading this blog. BTW, Go Rutgers!!!!

  8. #8 The Ridger
    November 9, 2006

    At least one of the released peregrine males in Baltimore (several died before the male who lasted showed up – wild-born) was killed when he hit the guy-wire (guy-cable?) of the Francis Scott Key Bridge…

  9. #9 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 9, 2006

    …We’re adapted to a sedate stroll, they’re adapted to high speed aerobatics…and guess which one of us is crazy enough to pilot multi-ton vehicles at frightening speeds?

    …and which one of us is smart enough to design and build multi-ton vehicles which we can pilot at frightening speeds?

  10. #10 Azkyroth
    November 9, 2006

    And we don’t even have a real mammalian sense of smell either… x.x

    It does seem that birds of prey are better at seeing and evading natural objects like trees than the man made objects for some reason.

    Probably the dearth of extremely strong and rigid (as opposed to, say, grass stalks) slender linear objects without sideways protrusions in their natural environment; I doubt they’d do as well with trees if it weren’t for the branches. Any thoughts on this hypothesis, and anyone interested in testing it (first place to start: how many hit light posts)? If I’m right we could help birds quite a bit by spending a few dozen more dollars on decoration for these structures…

  11. #11 MikeM
    November 9, 2006

    We have a hummingbird feeder in our yard, and those little things just amaze me. Not only do they handle a lot better than the Porsche mentioned in this article, but they accelerate a lot better, too. While cornering hard. And singing at the same time.

    Well, they don’t sing that well, but they’re singing while cornering and hitting the throttle hard. It has occurred to me that those things must have impossibly good eyesight.

    Like everyone else here, I’ve seen other birds mate. How long does hummingbird sex last? Or is it so fast, no one’s ever witnessed it?

  12. #12 Bob ryuu
    November 9, 2006

    Don’t forget the color vision. I remember reading in the SciAm early this summer about the four color vision of birds. I spent far too long thinking about about what the Color Theory (as in painting) birds would have had they our kind of intelligence (like having as many non-spectral colors as spectral colors).

  13. #13 TheBrummell
    November 9, 2006

    Bob ryuu: I know of a couple of avian-colour-vision researchers (in Sweden) who are running an informal contest to name the colours that (some) birds can see. They need names for the colour yellow-ultraviolet, which is what birds presumably see when looking at an object that reflects strongly in both the yellow (~570 nm) and UV (~380 nm) bands. We already have a name for (for example) the colour seen when something reflects both red and yellow (we call it “orange”).

    Raven males have been observed flying inverted during courtship (this apparently impresses females. It impresses me, and I’m male). Sooner or later somebody has to hook up a raven to a jet, just to see what happens. I’m adding that to my list of “mad-science-just-for-the-hell-of-it-research-projects”.

  14. #14 Ichthyic
    November 9, 2006

    During WW2 B. F. Skinner trained pigeons to guide missiles in flight via visual feedback given by optics in the nose-cone. Too bad the military thought the idea was too wacky and unreliable (even though the guidance systems each involved several trained pigeons and majority decisions).

    they thought that was whacky, but funded the work to produce a “bat bomb”?

    yes, this is documented, and a completed prototype was produced and tested.

    bats flying around with little incendiary bombs attached.

    It was intended for use towards the end of the war in the Pacific, but they decided not to proceed with further development and deployment after the A bomb was finished.

    they had a special on it on the history channel last week.

  15. #15 RavenT
    November 9, 2006

    So stop rubbing it in.

    I’d even be willing to spot you the visual systems if your testes can increase in size by 400% in the spring [1].

    [1] Bauchinger U, Wohlmann A, Biebach H. Flexible remodeling of organ size during spring migration of the garden warbler (Sylvia borin). Zoology (Jena). 2005;108(2):97-106.

  16. #16 llewelly
    November 9, 2006

    How long does hummingbird sex last? Or is it so fast, no one’s ever witnessed it?

    Don’t know, but google image search turned up this pic.

  17. #17 PZ Myers
    November 9, 2006

    Actually, RavenT, I prefer to think of it as having testes that don’t shrink by 400% in the fall.

  18. #18 Loren Petrich
    November 10, 2006

    Our three-color vision can be pictured as a cube of colors with these vertices:

    000 black
    001 blue
    010 green
    011 cyan
    100 red
    101 magenta
    110 yellow
    111 white

    Four-color vision features a 4-hypercube of colors, with 16 vertices. Subtracting out black, white, and the four primary colors yields 10 remaining vertex colors. Which is a lot to keep track of.

  19. #19 lo
    November 10, 2006

    PZ, that is certainly not true, but i am sure you know that as well and rather mentioned this in a sarcastic, ludicrous way.

    A more responsive visual system would require additional processing power, which would involve more oxidative stress, and so on and on and on. In an such a complex system as our human body (or any other lifeform sharing at least 70% of our genes), the slightest action can have a drastic effect. E.g. more energy consumption means that in severe blood loss, you are even sooner clinically dead, aside from the fact that over 90% of the energy is dissipated into heat which has to be transferred as well so there would have to be an even more complex cooling system, which could be achieved by a change in the molecular constituents of the CSF as well as a change of the ventricular channels, but then again the head would have to be bigger, which also means it is harder to navigate, more prone to bang and so on yada yada. One could talk a year of all the possible implications.

    I am fine with my visual cortex, besides the accuracy and resolution is controlled by neurotransmitters, which has been shown in studies with fighter pilots as well as several neuobiologically related ones. Since the brain has an recognition center, what we really see is an isolation of all the recognized objects. In fact our true visual image is horrific!! – it is all about the visual center and the enormous processing power and “biological algorithms” that make our world so high-res and clear.

    In an altered state of mind, under extreme stress in potentially life threatening situation the brain no longer processes color information, no longer invokes emotional associations and bypasses the rational faculties. Thus the response timing of the neural pathways is cut to over a fourth and we perceive time much faster and can act instinctivly setting in motions appropriate stimuli down our spine. And for all other constantly reoccuring potentially leathal situations we have evolved reflexes, which is the major reason we all are still alive – just mentioning this to those who ever wondered how it is possible to have survived that long despite navigating everyday in such a lethal modern environment, down to the action of mere food consumption.

    The day before yesterday i stumbled and was saved by the reflex system from severe head trauma, and yesterday choked on something again saved by reflexes – without our numerous reflex systems the majority of us would be blind or visually impaired by the age of 30.

    But i think being a bird certainly has it perks, especially in times where air travel is becoming increasingly more expensive and uncomfortable. And none of `em birds believes in some god growing fat in heaven, coz they actually have seen that the clouds are nothing more than uncomfortable and perilous flying routes.

  20. #20 pluky
    November 10, 2006

    As someone who has been legally blind (extreme myopia) without corrective lenses since childhood, I have no problem with accepting the superior visual acuity of birds. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves. We do have our advantages. Pace the linked page comment that we are “superbly” adapted to walking and running, superb is not hyperbole. I recall my freshman biology teacher commenting that in long-distance broken field running, only wolves are better than people.

  21. #21 Chris
    November 10, 2006

    Is there any scientific means to improve our vision in ourselves? I know their isn’t an existing one, but can biologists see a possible path to eventual improvment? Me and my brother talk often about how if we could choose one major physiological improvement it would be to have eyesight comparable to hawks or eagles. I know that they have come up with electronic devices that give blind people there vision, so it seems to me that it would just be an engineering problem to improve these devices to where we could equal or exceed birds or hawks. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

  22. #22 arensb
    November 10, 2006

    The next time a creationist asks, “what good is half an eye?”, remind them that if an eagle has 100% of an eye, then clearly we humans have about half an eye, and what good are our eyes?

  23. #23 smith
    August 5, 2008

    it’s all true about the birds but it’s not about humans
    f1 drivers and f16 pilots show in tests much higher frequencies of flicker fusion factor
    humans are one of the most adaptable creatures and our abilities are somewhat magical if one examines them close enough
    do not be afraid humans – speed up and adapt
    if anything kills it is fear not speed :)

  24. #24 John Morales
    August 5, 2008

    @23: Yeah, because we’re “made in God’s image”.
    We’re a miracle of perfection.

    We get to have Godly eyes, even if they’re inferior.

    Bah.

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