After hearing about Alex the African Gray Parrot, and knowing how intelligent ravens are, just how smart could a brain of that size become?

I would like to limit the responses to current known or theoretical science in order to have as much realism as possible, despite the fact that this would be for a decidedly non-human race (about the size and dimensions of a pygmy gibbon). I'm also referring to biological brains only, naturally evolved.

By max capacity I mean intelligence we could expect. It might be easiest to make educated guesses in the form of "IQ". If you have a better understanding of cell structure of the brain, number of cells that could exist in what density, etc. then I'd love to hear about that too.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean "how smart could it evolve to be?" or "how smart could it be constructed?" because those two questions have very, very different answers. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 2 '17 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ I added the science-based tag as that describes the kind of answers you want. $\endgroup$ – SRM Feb 2 '17 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not going to type up a full answer right now, but this article seems extremely relevant to your question: scientificamerican.com/article/… $\endgroup$ – Salda007 Feb 2 '17 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ Unhelpfully, here's a fish that can calculate water jet velocities without any of the higher brain hunks we use to brain stuff out. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Feb 2 '17 at 6:38

Conscious access to unconscious processes:

The human brain is actually really good at very fast differential calculations. We do it all the time, catching a ball, driving a car etc. We're just slow at doing it on paper, because we use a different mechanism for that. What if we (or the birds) could access the same ball-catching part of the brain to calculate abstract differentials? We would suddenly appear very clever.

Giving up some abilities to gain others:

The human brain uses quite a lot of its capacity in sorting out visual input. It's possible that if you give up some visual processing, you could gain higher cognitive functions.


My own bird gives the impression of having to stop and go into a slow think-it-through mode. If the brain trades sequential processing for parallelism, you could be arbitrarily smart at the cost of taking a long time.

Since it’s the connections (wiring) that takes most of the room in a human brain, suppose you instead use small cells of addressable memory, to store state. The amount of storage could be greater than a human brain.

Does intelligence require copious memory? Great reasoning skills and the ability to run hypothetical situations could be quite smart, even if he can’t learn everything needed for an advanced PhD.

Can't measure it on a human IQ. It’s not a single scalar number. Test human subjects on ability to memorize and recite huge amounts of music, remember perfectly several hundred seed cache locations, and they will do poorly. The bird doesn't have the language hardware so testing the linguistics is unfair. problem solving using geometrical relationships, cause-and-effect sequences, and objects in the environment: it’s perfectly plausible to build a bird-sized brain that exceeds a human’s skill at that.


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