About 20 years ago, Terry Bisson wrote one of the greatest science fiction short stories of all time: "Bears Discover Fire." New cognitive research suggests that Bisson's vision of mentally advanced bears may not have been as far-fetched as it initially seems.
SEE VIDEO OF BEAR USING TOOL HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WL6G3DvuHw
In a recent study from Washington State University, researchers dangled donuts on strings, suspended at a height just out of the reach of bears. The bears realized that they had to push stumps and buckets over to just beneath the string so that they could stand on the object and reach higher. This is a kind of basic tool use, where objects are manipulated but not created. The time it took bears to pass this cognitive test rivaled that of primates.
The researchers did first place stumps beneath the donut-strings to allow the bears to get the reward; however, the cognitive leap necessary for the bears to actually move objects to the right location indicates problem-solving and suggests causal understanding.
So what next? Will bears, as Bisson predicts, discover fire? Will they fashion clubs and sticks, establishing a proletariat class? Will bear leaders murmur about rights, privileges, and the corrupt human overlords? Will we, one day, have to decide whether or not we have the right to arm bears?
In the just-completed study, bear experts at Washington State University in Pullman dangled doughnuts from a string, out of reach of grizzly bears. Six out of eight bears pushed stumps or plastic boxes across their play yard and placed these objects under the tasty treats, then boosted themselves up and pawed their prize.