Arthropod Intelligence? The Case for Portia

Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2020)
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Abstract

Macphail’s ‘null hypothesis’, that there are no differences in intelligence, qualitative or quantitative, between non-human vertebrates has been controversial. This controversy can be useful if it encourages interest in acquiring a detailed understanding of how non-human animals express flexible problem-solving capacity (‘intelligence’), but limiting the discussion to vertebrates is too arbitrary. As an example, we focus here on Portia, a spider with an especially intricate predatory strategy and a preference for other spiders as prey. We review research on pre-planned detours, expectancy violation and a capacity to solve confinement problems where, in each of these three contexts, there is experimental evidence of innate cognitive capacities and reliance on internal representation. These cognitive capacities are related to, but not identical to, intelligence. When discussing intelligence, as when discussing cognition, it is more useful to envisage a continuum instead of something that is simply present or not; in other words, a continuum pertaining to flexible problem-solving capacity for ‘intelligence’ and a continuum pertaining to reliance on internal representation for ‘cognition’. When envisaging a continuum pertaining to intelligence, Daniel Dennett’s notion of four Creatures (Darwinian, Skinnerian, Popperian, Gregorian) is of interest, with the distinction between Skinnerian and Popperian Creatures being especially relevant when considering Portia. When we consider these distinctions, a case can be made for Portia being a Popperian Creature. Like Skinnerian Creatures, Popperian Creatures express flexible problem solving capacity, but the manner in which this capacity is expressed by Popperian Creatures is more distinctively cognitive.

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