BIOL-19701: BIRD BRAINS AND MIND GAMES: Animal Consciousness


                                                                                                    Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10:00 to 10:50 am in Williams 221

Instructor:   Kit (Katherine) Muma

Office:         Center for Natural Sciences Rm. 158

Contact:     (607) 274-3610,

Office Hours: M, W 11:00 am or by appointment


Required textbook: none – readings will be posted on Sakai




Specific questions we will address in this class:


Ø  What is consciousness?  Are animals conscious?

Ø  What is the theory of mind (ToM)?

Ø  What is mental time travel?

Ø  Do birds have a sense of self and can they be deceptive?

Ø  Is tool-use and the construction of artifacts a sign of intelligence?

Ø  Can birds learn to count?

Ø  What is the difference between communication and language?

Ø  What is the ethical significance of animal consciousness?


This course is designated under the Natural Sciences perspective and therefore you will come to:


1.      understand basic scientific principles and facts as well as the methods that natural scientists use to study the physical world;

2.      recognize the impact of natural science on self and society; and

3.      explain how humans interact with and understand the natural and physical world.


These objectives will be evaluated through weekly assignments, quizzes, a midterm and a final exam


This course also meets the criteria outlined in the “Mind, Body, Spirit” Theme ( ).  The exploration of the mind, the body, and the spirit is a lifelong endeavor in understanding ourselves, and others, including the animals with which we share this planet. Learning, becoming aware of, and understanding the interaction of these phenomena is a process that continues throughout life.


At the completion of a Theme, through a multi-perspective approach (HU, SS, NS, CA), students are able to:

·         Identify, formulate and/or evaluate significant questions for exploration within a Theme;

·         Communicate and advocate for their positions or conclusions; and

·         Propose new ideas, positions, solutions, or techniques in response to significant questions within a Theme


A final project which involves an individual paper for your ePortfolio and a group presentation will addess these goals.




On-line Sakai assessments will be due on a weekly basis to test knowledge of scientific vocabulary and examples presented in class.  In class “pop” quizzes and short assignments will be administered on a regular basis and will require in-class participation.  A take-home midterm exam will be due prior to Fall Break and a final exam will be administered during the final exam period.  A group project relating to “Animal Minds” will be presented to the rest of the class during a lecture period scheduled after midterm.  Each student will also hand in a written component relating to a specific aspect of the group project.   A proposal will be approved by the instructor prior to working on the assignment and there will be regular group meetings after which progress reports will be submitted.  The project must incorporate a scientific aspect and scientific references.






Final gradeTake-home Midterm               20%

                        Lecture final                            20%

                        Sakai quizzes                           10%

                        Project                                     30%  (20% individual, 10% group presentation)

                        Class participation                   10%

                        Total                                      100 %


            *There are NO “extra credit” assignments.



Grade Scale: A = 93-100,  A- = 90-92, B+ = 87-89, B = 83-86,  B- = 80-82,  C+  = 77-79,  C = 73-76,  C- = 70-72, D+ = 67-69,  D = 63-66,  D- = 60-62,  F < 60







The Undergraduate Handbook states the general policy that students are expected to attend classes and that they are responsible for all material even when absent.   Attendance will be taken in every class.  You are allowed 3 absences during the term after which you will receive a lower score on the “class participation” grade.  If you are ill, have an unexpected emergency or are attending a College sanctioned event you must contact me via email or phone message within 24 hours of the class to inform me of your excused absence.  I will expect a follow-up when you return to class to discuss any work you missed.


Standards of Academic Conduct:

These are outlined clearly in the student handbook.  “Academic honesty is a cornerstone of the mission of the College.  Unless it is otherwise stipulated, students may submit for evaluation only that work which is their own and that is submitted originally for a specific course”.  Please familiarize yourself with the definition of plagiarism.  Academic dishonesty can lead to a zero grade on that assignment, a failing grade in the course, academic code probation, suspension or expulsion from the College depending on the gravity of the violation and the decision of the judicial board.


Students with Disabilities: 

“In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation will be provided to students with documented disabilities on a case-by-case basis. Students must register with Student Disability Services and provide appropriate documentation to Ithaca College before any academic adjustment will be provided.”  Students must also schedule an appointment with the course instructor as soon as possible to discuss their individual needs.

Missed Quiz or Test: 

A quiz or test missed during an un-excused absence will result in a zero grade.  For an unexpected absence (illness, death in the immediate family, accident), you must inform me before the test if at all possible.  You can phone me (607-274-3610) or the Biology Department (607-274‑3161) to leave a message or inform me via email (  Such notification does not guarantee my accepting your reason for absence, but failing to notify me guarantees you will not be excused.  You must follow up notification by coming to see me during office hours to discuss your circumstances.  Please make an appointment as soon as possible upon your return to classes after your absence.  Oversleeping, not being prepared or having assignments in other courses do not constitute valid excuses.  Tests may not be written earlier than scheduled on the syllabus.

Mental Health:

Diminished mental health (stress, depression) can interfere with academic performance.  Academic studies, family, friends, romantic relationships and poor health can contribute to difficulties.  Through the office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), cost-free support can be obtained when personal issues threaten your well-being. In the event I suspect you might benefit from support, I will express my concerns and remind you of resources (e.g., CAPS, Health Center, Chaplains) that might be of help to you.  It is not my intention to know the details of what you might be experiencing, but simply to let you know I am concerned and that help, if needed, is available. Getting help is a smart and healthy thing to do.


Bird Brains and Mind Games: Tentative Schedule for Fall 2013:


Lecture Topics


Readings (posted on Sakai) include but are not limited to:

Wed. Aug 28

Welcome and Introduction to the Course



Fri. Aug. 30

Unit 1: What is science?

Mon. Sept. 2

Labor Day: No class J



Wed. Sept. 4

Unit 2: Historical viewpoint

Assignment 1: What is science?

 Inside Animal Minds: Nat. Geo

Fri. Sept. 6

Theory of Consciousness: how do we know what animals know?


Christof Koch 2009: Scientific American Mind

Mon. Sept. 9

Anthropomorphism: What’s it like to be a bat?


Frans de Waal: The Ape and The Sushi Master p. 74-84

Wed. Sept. 11

Evolution and the Functional Anatomy of the Brain

What’s it like to be a bird?

Dicke and Roth: Intelligence Evolved: Sci. Amer. Mind

Fri. Sept. 13

Bird Brains



Marzluff and Angell: Gifts of the Crow: Chapter 1

Mon. Sept. 16

Theory of Mind


On-line Quiz Brain Anatomy

Wed. Sept. 18

Abstract dimensions, object permanence, concept learning

Fri. Sept. 20

Categorization, same/different


On-line Quiz Theory of mind

Alex and Me: Irene Pepperberg

Mon. Sept. 23

Mental time travel



Suddendorf and Busby:  Trends in Cognitive Sciences

Wed. Sept. 25

Animal Art: Architecture



Lecture Topics


Web Links and Readings (posted on Sakai)


Fri. Sept. 27




Watanabe et al: Pigeons’ discrimination of paintings by Monet and Picasso J. Exp.A.Behav.


Mon. Sept. 30


Intro. to “Animal Minds” Project: library resourses


Wed. Oct. 2


Choosing a topic for Animal Minds Project

Peer discussion due at end of class

“Animal Minds Project”


Fri. Oct. 4


Foraging and deception

Sakai Quiz on library resources

Chapter 22 in “The Mind of the Raven” Bernd Heinrich


Mon. Oct. 7




Healy, SD and TA Hurly 2004 Spatial learning and memory in birds. in Brain Behav Evol. 63(4):211-20.


*Wed. Oct. 9


*Contemplating Self – Meditative Awareness


*Meet in Muller Chapel*



Fri. Oct. 11


Reasoning and tool use

Project description on Sakai Forum

Video: New Caledonian Crows


Mon. Oct. 14


Review for Midterm


Review questions posted on Sakai



Wed. Oct. 16


No Class Session

Midterm Exam due 5:00 pm



Fri. Oct. 18

No Class Session





Mon. Oct. 21


Can birds count?


Science Times: 2011/12/23 “How Smart is this Bird?"



Lecture Topics


Web Links and Readings (posted on Sakai)

Wed. Oct. 23


Communication as evidence of thinking

Meditation Journal due 10:00 am

Corballis 2002 – Origin of Language

Fri. Oct. 25


Learning to sing and the FOXP2 gene NOVA -birdbrains

Mon. Oct. 28


Do birds have a concept of death?

Wed. Oct. 30


Grief in Animals

On-line quiz - communication

Fri. Nov. 1


Final Group Meetings


Animal Minds Project

Mon. Nov. 4


Group 1 & 2


Presentations of 20 minutes per group with 5 minutes Q&A

Wed. Nov. 6


Group 3 & 4



Fri. Nov. 8


Group 5 & 6

On-line quiz from Groups 1-4


Mon. Nov. 11


Group 7 & 8



Wed. Nov. 13


Group 9 & 10

On-line quiz from Groups 5-8


Friday Nov. 15


Group 11 & 12



Mon. Nov. 18

Group 13 & 14


On-line quiz from Groups 9-12



Lecture Topics


Web Links and Readings (posted on Sakai)

Wed. Nov. 20


Group 15 & 16



Fri. Nov. 22


No Class Session

“Animal Minds” written report due 5:00 pm


Sat. Nov. 23-Sun. Dec. 1




Mon. Dec. 2


Birds Behaving Badly


Chapter 12 “Apparently Stupid Behavior” – The minds of birds A. Skutch

Wed. Dec. 4


Ethical significance of Animal Consciousness


pp. 264-269 Animal Minds by Donald R. Griffin

Fri. Dec. 6


Recognizing Pain in Animals

In class discussion and assignment

Mon. Dec. 9


Francis Crick Memorial Conference – Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals

Wed. Dec. 11


What makes us so special?


“The Human Spark” PBS

Fri. Dec. 13


Review for Final Exam


Review questions posted

Thurs. Dec. 19th 7:30 am

Final Exam





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Page maintained and updated by Nancy Pierce.
Last updated 9/2013.