Mental time-travel in birds

Oct 14, 2011
White Whiskered Puff bird Credit: Glenn M Duggan FZS

( -- Certain types of birds may track army ant swarms using sophisticated memory and the ability to plan for the future.

Some collect their at army ant raids, where massive swarms of ants sweep through the forest and drive out . The behaviour of interest is called bivouac checking; it allows these to track the cyclical raid activity of army .

Army ants have regular alternating periods of high and low raiding activity, and birds visit the ants’ temporary nest sites (bivouacs) to determine which colonies are raiding on a given day.

The new findings published today in the journal Behavioural Ecology, suggest that bivouac checking allows birds to keep track of multiple army ant colonies, keeping account of which colonies are in periods of high-raiding activity while avoiding colonies with low-raiding activity.

Recent research has discovered that birds check army ant bivouacs at the end of the day, after they have fed at the raid. They may use the information about the army ant nest location the next day to find the ants again, thus accessing a past (the nest location) to fulfil a future need (bird will be hungry tomorrow), also known as ‘mental time-travel’.

Two of the authors of the study Corina Logan of the University of Cambridge, and Sean O’Donnell of the University of Washington, observed bivouac checking behaviour in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Mental time-travel consists of two elements: the ability to remember past events and the ability to anticipate and plan for future events. It has traditionally been considered a quality unique to humans. However, ever since Nicola Clayton of the University of Cambridge discovered that scrub jays (a species of large-brained crow) can remember the past and plan for the future, there have been a suite of studies showing evidence of this ability in other species as well. We now know that corvids (birds in the crow family), some primates, and possibly rats have all shown the ability to remember the past and plan for the future.

Corina Logan, said: “We suspect that future planning could be involved in bivouac-checking bird behaviour because the birds were checking bivouacs when they were not hungry, a behaviour that does not make sense until the next morning upon return to the bivouac when the bird finds the ants raiding again and encounters its next meal – a delayed benefit.”

Until recently, it has been difficult to find model systems for studying mental time travel in an ecologically relevant way. “The fact that we might have happened on a whole new system for exploring these capacities is quite exciting,” added Corina Logan.

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User comments : 17

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1 / 5 (5) Oct 14, 2011
So you are calling knowing where to get a meal and going to eat, mental time travel? What a stupid article.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 14, 2011
you are making an orthogonal projection with your statement which only shows you did not get the article.
4.5 / 5 (8) Oct 14, 2011
So you are calling knowing where to get a meal and going to eat, mental time travel? What a stupid article.

No to both. The point is not that the birds know where food is normally available. The point is they can predict, based on what the ants do, where food is likely to be available the next day, and that they gather the information at a time when they are not hungry.

It is the same criterion developmental psychologists use to decide whether children are capable of mental time travel. For example, around age 4 a child who is asked "We're going for a walk in the woods this afternoon. What do you want to take with you?" may answer "some juice, in case I get thirsty". That child is not thirsty now, but plans to deal with future thirst. The claim is that the birds do the same, not that they remember where they normally feed. These are two very different things. That's why the article is not stupid.
2 / 5 (6) Oct 14, 2011
I agree with theknifeman: "Mental Time-Travel" is a misleading and sensational term for this phenomenom. It's a sorry reflection on Physorg that the editor used the term in the headline.
5 / 5 (2) Oct 14, 2011
It would have been better to use the proper term " Chronesthesia ".

Birds also listen to other bird species and animals for indicators.
2.3 / 5 (7) Oct 14, 2011
Prediction is not time travel, it's still a stupid article name.

Stop invoking "time travel" for dramatic effect please.
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 14, 2011
I agree with theknifeman: "Mental Time-Travel" is a misleading and sensational term for this phenomenom. It's a sorry reflection on Physorg that the editor used the term in the headline.

It is the term established in the scientific literature. The term was coined to make clear the relationship between episodic memory (remembering specific past events) and mental modelling (imagining possible futures). Studies with human amnesics have shown that the two use much of the same brain regions. The term mental time travel explicitly marks the theoretical and empirical links between thinking about the past and thinking about the future. Is the editor supposed to revise the terminology used in published papers?
1 / 5 (3) Oct 14, 2011
The value of this research?
5 / 5 (6) Oct 14, 2011
The value of this research?

Mental time travel is what distinguishes what Damasio calls core consciousness, the experience of a self to whom things are happening here and now, and extended consciousness, a self with an experience of past and future. The normal assumption, for lack of reason to think otherwise, is that it works the same in other species. Whether other species have core or extended consciousness, or no subjective experience at all, seems like a pretty fundamental question to me.

If you mean monetary value, like answers to other fundamental questions, such as whether the expansion of the universe accelerates or decelerates, I don't see how this can be turned into money.
1 / 5 (2) Oct 14, 2011
"It is the term established in the scientific literature."

What scientific literature? If you mean psychology journals, then it's a sad reflection on psychology that they can get away with mis-using the term "time-travel" for sensational purposes. As Isaacsname noted, there is a proper scientific term, "Chronesthesia", and psychologists should use it if they want to be taken seriously.

The term time-travel is well understood in physics, science fiction, and popular usage. Chronesthesia is a mental process that has nothing to do with time travel as understood by the vast majority of the population. Very few of us would have bothered to read this article if the editor had used the term Chronothesia instead of Mental Time-Travel, and we feel tricked.
5 / 5 (2) Oct 14, 2011
it's a sad reflection on psychology that they can get away with mis-using the term "time-travel" for sensational purposes.

I don't remember who first used "mental time travel", so I can't even guess at the motives. What is your source?

there is a proper scientific term, "Chronesthesia"

What makes it more scientific than "mental time travel"?

and psychologists should use it if they want to be taken seriously.

I have read a good deal of that literature. None of the people using "mental time travel" has been taken less seriously by other researchers in the field for that reason.

The function of adjectives is to modify the meaning of the following noun phrase. I had no trouble understanding that the papers are not discussing time travel as in physics, SF and popular usage. If you want researchers to replace a descriptive phrase by a neologism, go ahead, but you'll have to do it in the journals where that work is published.
1 / 5 (3) Oct 14, 2011
Well, while mental time travel sounds wrong, there's another term that is even worse: theory of mind. But what can I say, both terms are well established in the literature. Unfortunately.
3.5 / 5 (2) Oct 15, 2011
Ladies, gentlemen: ? Frankly I cannot understnad why so many are taking issue with the title of this subject. 'MENTAL time travel'?

It is quite correct if taken in the manner of it's intent and presentation by any interpretation.

Do not confuse it with physical time travel.

But I must admit, that I also find it in many other species

Don Jose de La Mancha
1 / 5 (1) Oct 15, 2011
Prediction is not time travel, it's still a stupid article name.

Why? Just because you say so?

Prediction is time travel and proof of FTL travel of information.

Not such a stupid article name but rather an ignorant comment from the opinionated and mostly brain dead CHollman.

not rated yet Oct 16, 2011
"Prediction is time travel and proof of FTL travel of information"

Very timely! Just as the faster-than-light neutrino theory seems to be debunked...we have a new theory of faster-than- light mental time-travel.
not rated yet Oct 17, 2011
You can "cloak" physical events. No one has a problem that the object becomes visually invisible with 'bend' light.

You can "cloak" physical events. Every one has a problem picturing the time component of light waves being 'bend' around an object with the same result that the object becomes temporal nonexistent (synonymous to invisibility) or becomes invisible with 'bend' time.

That is science manipulating the physical. (Although many adhere to the view time is nonphysical)

Brains can not manipulate this way. Instead brains give the visual physical aspects of objects the 'ability' to be place anywhere in settings already experienced.

The 'mental' picture (absent temporal aspects) can be placed mentally anywhere in settings past experiences dictates. This avoids time mentally.
The mental picture setting most likely to lead to food is the mental picture setting most often reinforced.
not rated yet Oct 17, 2011
So the correct definition of Chronesthesia is:
the ability to place objects remembered anywhere.

And the correct word for the definition is:

'Chron' becomes 'Topos'. Toposesthesia.

And time becomes a thing of the past. lol

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