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Just what the title states--given an absurdly large number of assignments to perform in a limited time-frame we usually attempt to do the most important ones first. Is this ability to define and execute by priority a universal feature in all sentients, or is it a socially learnt behaviour of us Homo sapiens?

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I think this is a tough question - how could you tell? Many animals are seemingly capable of 'planning' their lives (for instance mating and rearing offspring at the right time, keeping them fed, safe from predators, etc, might seem to have taken some planning) but that is not to say they do any such thing. I would have thought it's all instinct, but I look forward to any answers! –  Luke Jun 26 '12 at 15:00
    
of course not - prioritization is necessary to survival. I think this is not apparent because most living things don't worry about so many things as we do. But social relationships vs mating relationships or the act of mating vs food vs avoiding danger have very clear priorities with most living things. –  shigeta Jun 27 '12 at 16:47
    
Both useful comments .. I also goofed in my question a little - the concept of time itself is probably not very well understood by other species. I wonder whether I should make that into a question, and ask too. –  Everyone Jun 27 '12 at 17:30
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Animal behavior is not my field but I think the answer is "no, animal feeding / foraging shows optimization of the cost / benefits of finding and capturing different foods / prey", an ecological 'paradigm' as explained here notes.utk.edu/bio/greenberg.nsf/… –  David Jul 2 '12 at 3:37

2 Answers 2

There is a very simple experiment you can do that will demonstrate that animals prioritize. Give a dog two bones. Preferably one which is more tasty than the other. Say one has more meat on it. The dog cannot eat both at once and you will observe it choosing one over the other. This is a clear example of prioritization.

Again with a dog, try observing one greeting two people it is fond of. If you and a friend stand a few meters apart when the dog comes up to you, the animal will choose to greet one of the humans first. Prioritization.

Any animal, or plant, fungus, bacterium or archaeon for that matter, that is ever presented with a choice between two actions during its lifetime, will have to be able to prioritize in order to chose between them. Clearly they can as our world is not strewn with, for example, panicked, confused looking squirrels trying desperately to chose which tree to climb.

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Good point! Sir Dumpty, when offered a second bone whilst he is already eating one, will invariably opt to snap up the new one first; perhaps knowing the one he eats at present will remain untouched by the rest of his 'human family'... I could be wrong about understanding what goes through his mind though –  Everyone Oct 5 '12 at 17:30
    
@Everyone, please tell me you also have a cat called Dame Humpty! –  terdon Oct 5 '12 at 17:38
    
Afraid not (+: Sir Dumpty is all by his lonesome. p.s. Did you realize you're on the 666 score? –  Everyone Oct 5 '12 at 17:41
    
@Everyone, shame, poor Sir Dumpty, and yes, I only just realized my rep and its all thanks to your upvote :) –  terdon Oct 5 '12 at 18:06

All species of the genus Homo were able to plan stone tool manufacture in a way that suggests the ability to prioritize and follow steps to an envisioned end form.

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Good point! too bad the other members of our genus are extinct. –  Michael Kuhn Oct 17 '12 at 7:22

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