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Are We Really Smarter?


Tilikum trapped in Seaworld

What does it mean to be human? Are we really the most intelligent beings on this planet? As humans, we seem to think so. Throughout human history, and up until very recently, we as humans believed we were the only living beings on Earth with a conscience. We thought we were the most intelligent, highest living organisms on the planet. However, we may be wrong. After watching Nova’s “Inside Animal Minds: Smartest“, I realized even more that I previously believed that being “intelligent” (as we define it) and having a conscience is no longer something unique just to humans. Animals such as dolphins and elephants recognize themselves as an individual when they look in a mirror. They have an awareness of self, something humans do not even achieve until they are about two years old! How do we know that animals such as dolphins and whales don’t think the same way we do? Dolphins live in social groups, raise their young until they are old enough to survive on their own, and have lifelong friends. These characteristics could be used interchangeably with humans.

Human vs Dolphin Brain

Human vs Dolphin Brain

Scientists even believe that animals such as killer whales may feel emotions in more depth than we do. Even when comparing the brain of a dolphin and a human, there are amazing similarities. Like a human brain, the cortex of a dolphin’s is folded to increase surface area. They also have considerably large brains in comparison to their body, as do humans. There is even more evidence to back up questions about other animals having great intelligence.

I think that in 50 years, we’ll look back and go ‘My God, what a barbaric time.’

-From “Blackfish”, the 2013 documentary

A lot of research is being done on this topic (and in the past an unethical experiment when a dolphin named Peter was “taught English” in the 1960’s) and there has been a media boom as well with the release of “Blackfish“, a documentary about Tilikum and other animals involved with Seaworld. (I definitely recommend anyone to watch it, especially to open their eyes to how Seaworld is really just a prison where intelligent mammals are mistreated and denied the life they deserve.) Considering all this, why do we mistreat these animals, if they may be of equal or even greater intelligence of us?

To conclude, we have now discovered that having a conscience and being intelligent is no longer uniquely human. Other animals, such as dolphins and whales, share these traits with us. So what really makes us humans? Is the only difference between us and them is that dolphins don’t keep “lower life forms” in living spaces the equivalent to a bathtub  like we do to them? Are dolphins and whales maybe even better than us because they do not display the cruelty and disgusting mistreatment of helpless animals like we are? Food for thought.


2 Responses to Are We Really Smarter?

  1. Pingback: Peter Singer, Liberation, and Animal Intelligence | Talons Philosophy

  2. Liam St Louis says:

    It’s been a while since this post, and there seem to be other related posts, so hopefully you haven’t discussed this topic in too much depth. I’m always rather interested in discussions of relative intelligence, because the definition of intelligence is inevitably wrapped up in varying questions of morality vs capacity(as you did in your post, implying that moral failures have bearing on the intelligence of a species), and usually used to serve some sort of political or intellectual end..

    Probably the best example here is the charge often leveled at humanity by environmentalists, that humanity’s intelligence deserves to be questioned and criticized if its actions damage the environment in the way that they do. There are nuances to this discussion – we can all probably agree that humanity is possibly not too bright if it continues heating the earth until it catches on fire (and if you don’t believe in that phenomena, well, maybe we should put you in a bathtub too). But the more subtle charged leveled is that humanity’s very dominance of nature, irrespective of whether it eventually leads to civilizational collapse, is itself immoral and thus a sign of a lack of intelligence. Humanity is selfish and destroys other living things and ecosystems in pursuit of its own gain and glory; therefore humanity is dumb and stupid and malevolent.

    The difference, I suppose, is the distinction between the capacity of intelligence and moral/intellectual/judgement intelligence, perhaps best exemplified by that lovely poster that reads “Science students can figure out how to clone dinosaurs. Humanities students can explain why that’s a bad idea.” Humanity can certainly do just about anything – perhaps real intelligence lies in determining what we should and should not do.

    (It also occurs to me that there’s a distinction to be made between physical and intellectual intelligence – we don’t know if dolphins could invent the wheel, because it’s made rather more challenging when you live in the ocean and only have fins. But that’s a discussion for another day.)


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