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Perspective Masters: The Bowerbird

This post was adapted from A Literature Review of the Universal and Atomic Elements of Complex Cognition

Turn on a nature documentary and you might see extravagant bird mating rituals. It is clear that these displays are beautiful, but less clear that this beauty comes from the birds' ability to take Perspectives

Birds of Paradise have many unique ways of attracting their mates. All involve perspective.

Birds of Paradise (above) are the typical examples of this amazing Perspective-based behavior. However, Bowerbirds are Perspective masters. Endler 2012 [1] asked themselves the question: are Bowerbirds artists? This seemingly silly question is born of the male Bowerbirds' extraordinary ability to take multiple Perspectives in an effort to attract females.

To attract a female, the male Bowerbird prepares by first building a "bower." 

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Figure 1: Example of a bower. 

The Bowerbirds then decorate their bower with a series of uncolored and colored objects [2]. The birds are clearly taking the Perspective of color. Amazingly, they are continuously utilizing a Theory of Mind to take the Perspective of the female Bowerbirds, picking and choosing colors purposefully to attract them.

Great bowerbirds (a larger subspecies of Bowerbird) take an additional Perspective: size. The birds organize their colorless objects by increasing size further away from the bower, creating a geometric pattern. This can actually allow the male bird to create forced Perspective and entice females to their bower [1, 2]. Once again, they are taking the Perspective of the approaching female to create the forced Perspective. 

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Figure 2: Forced Perspective created by the Bowerbird. 

Other Bowerbirds take an even more complex Perspective. They are not sorting just between colored and not colored, but are dividing their colored objects by color and size. Although we focus herein on the Bowerbirds' unique perspective taking ability, these displays obviously require distinction making, part-whole grouping, as well as interrelating objects (See Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Color and size Perspective created by the Bowerbird. 

The Perspectives are taken by the Bowerbird to attract more mates, and it works. The birds who have better displays and take multiple Perspectives get more mates overall [1]. Bowerbirds have evolved their ability to take multiple Perspectives over time, resulting in birds that can create illusions and beautiful displays, just like an artist [2]. 

Learn more about the universal rules of cognition, including Perspective taking:

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1. Endler, John A. 2012. “Bowerbirds, Art and Aesthetics: Are Bowerbirds Artists and Do They Have an Aesthetic Sense?” Communicative & Integrative Biology 5 (3): 281–83.

2. Cabrera, Derek, Laura Cabrera, and Elena Cabrera. 2021. “A Literature Review of the Universal Patterns and Atomic Elements of Complex Cognition.” In Routledge Handbook of Systems Thinking, edited by Derek Cabrera, Laura Cabrera, and Gerald Midgley. Routledge.