Thursday, September 06, 2012

Are We Really the Most Intelligent Species?

Are We Really the Most Intelligent Species?
Intelligence is not only difficult to define, some people claim that it is a construct with no validity in nature. Albert Einstein himself claimed that all babies are born geniuses, then we overcome that potential in the following years of childhood.
- Bill Allin, Intelligence and Unhappiness: Likely, But Not Inevitably Linked

Depending on the literature you read or the media sources you use, you may find yourself assaulted a few times each week by statements claiming that humans are the most intelligent species on the planet. I say "assaulted" because they happen so frequently.

We are brainwashed into believing that we are the most intelligent species. But are we?

The sources of this information are ourselves. Our sources never give evidence because none actually exists. It’s a tautology: we are the most intelligent species because we are the only species that can say we are.

Speaking of saying, we partly determine the intelligence of other animals according to the number of human words they can understand or speak or otherwise communicate. How many words (or other method of communication) of another species of animal do you speak (or concepts can you communicate)?

For that matter, what can you do better than any other animal does as part of its regular life habits? Pick an animal, any animal, think about something it does, then consider if you could do it better. The answer inevitably is "No." We can’t do anything that any other animal does that is not part of regular human experience.

Science generally agrees that dolphins are very intelligent. But not quite as intelligent as us, most say. They can’t carry on a conversation with us. But then, we can’t carry on a conversation or any other form of extended communication with dolphins either. But we claim we are smarter.

Dolphins live in a water environment, yet breathe air as we do. We can swim under water, but only briefly. At this point, we are incapable of living in any environment that lacks air, or even lasting for more than a few minutes. [NOTE: It is technically possible for our lungs to take oxygen from water, but it’s not something you should attempt.]

We understand that ants and bees have their own forms of intelligence. But we excuse them from the intelligence competition because they are exclusively a social species--their collective intelligence is shared among all members of the hive or nest. According to science, shared intelligence is different from individual intelligence. Why? Because it’s convenient for us.

Now, about individual intelligence. Are humans intelligent as a species, or is it true that just a limited few are as intelligent as we claim our species is as a whole? Remember, it’s only the most highly educated and (likely) those with the highest IQ among us who claim our superiority.

Next time you go to a supermarket, stop for a few minutes and observe people shopping in the aisles. Or looking for a parking space in the lot. Or trying to find their car in the lot after they have finished shopping. Did any of those people have anything at all to do with the organization or the technologies they use in those situations? Some need to use their remote devices to make their car horn sound just so they can find their vehicle.

When it comes to IQ (Intelligence Quotient, the most common measure for human intelligence), does it seem right for us to claim intelligence as a species because a few of us excel at taking IQ tests, or at publishing university study papers?

Though we still hear about IQ once in a while, the concept has little recognized value these days (unless you happen to be a member of or qualify for membership in Mensa). The Stanford-Binet test of IQ was written by educated white men of the middle class, where questions that applied best to the lives and experiences of educated white men of the middle class could best answer them.

Lo and behold, when the test was administered to everyone else, including those from different cultures and with different forms of education and people whose first language was not one in which the test was created, they performed at lower levels on the scale. This served the racial prejudice of educated white middle class Europeans in the early 20th century well.

In general, the form of intelligence evaluation preferred by any one person tends to be one composed by the same language and cultural group as that person. And they stick to it as if were religious gospel or political idealism. In other words, my way is best; other ways are not as good way is best.

Those who perform well on IQ tests give little credit to EQ (Emotional Quotient intelligence) or any of dozens of other forms of tests of personal knowledge, talents or skills because the test which gives them the highest scores is their favourite. That includes tests for happiness, on which highly intelligent people tend to score lower than some other groups (who often have lower IQ scores).

In conclusion, those with the highest scores on any test of intelligence will be among the group into which fall those who composed the test.

[Side note: I just asked my cat about which is the most intelligent species. She told me to get back to work cleaning her litter box and vacuuming up the fur she left on the furniture where she slept. Of course I obeyed, isn’t that what the most intelligent species would do?]

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers, parents, anyone who wants kids to grow up without experiencing anti-social problems.
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