Readers will recall “The Monty Hall Problem”:
Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?
Over the years, the problem has ensnared countless people, including professional mathematicians. But not, it seems, pigeons. Walter Hebranson and Julia Schroder showed that, after some training, the humble pigeon can learn the best tactic for the Monty Hall Problem, switching from their initial choice almost every time. Amazingly, humans who get similar extensive practice never develop the optimal strategies that the pigeons pick up.
The original paper “Are birds smarter than mathematicians? Pigeons (Columba livia) perform optimally on a version of the Monty Hall Dilemma” from the Journal of Comparative Psychology is here… but the Discover article is a good– and for the humans among us, chastening– summary.
As we retreat to our fingers for counting, we might recall that it was on this date in 1833 that the first tax-supported public library was founded, in Peterborough, NH. The original collection consisted of about 100 books and was kept in Smith & Thompson’s General Store, which also housed the Post Office.