From the Archive: 'Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?' by Aden Rolfe

Aden Rolfe’s essay ‘Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk’ has been developed into a radio play for Radio National’s Radiotonic. It’ll air this Sunday 1st at 3pm and Wednesday 4th at 9pm, but it’s already live over at RN, in case you want to check it out ahead of time. It’ll also be broadcast at the Emerging Writers’ Festival on Thursday 5th.

Once you’ve had a listen, come back here and read the original piece in full – and keep an eye out for our review next week.



Picture a room containing two things: a piece of wire, and a plastic tube with a small bucket of food at the bottom. The objective is to retrieve the food, but the tube can’t be upended, and it’s too narrow for you to reach down. So how do you get it?

If you said, Bend the wire into a hook to lift the bucket, you’d be right. Simple enough? Not quite. It mightn’t seem overly complex, but this answer demonstrates a high level of intelligence. To make a tool without instruction necessitates an understanding of cause and effect, along with the capacity to imagine the solution rather than stumble on it by persistence or chance. The ability to do this is something that’s long been used to separate us from all other animals — including our closest relatives, chimpanzees — except that, in 2002, a crow solved this very riddle.

So what does that say about humanity?

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