Are We Really the Smartest Species?

Homo sapiens are regarded as far and away the smartest species on the planet. So much so, that religious people have thought for centuries that man’s place in the universe is something special. Even, that the universe must in some way be created for us. No other species has the control over nature that we do, the tools we use, or our scientific understanding. We are a complete outlier when it comes to intelligence.

Or are we?

How do scientists compare intelligence across species? One way to do this is brain size. While obviously not a perfect correlation, intelligence does correlate to the size of your brain, even between humans. So who has the biggest brains in the world? Whales. Ok, just looking at brain size is not such a great way to measure intelligence, because the larger your body the more brain power needed to control it.  A better measure is what scientists call the encephalization quotient, which is roughly a measure of brain size relative to what you would expect for an animal that size.

Here are the rankings of extant animals species..

Species     EQ
Human             7.44
Dolphin             5.31
Chimpanzee     2.49
Raven             2.49
Rhesus monkey     2.09
Elephant             1.87
Baleen whale     1.76
Dog                     1.17
Cat                     1.00
Horse             0.86
Sheep             0.81
Mouse             0.50
Rat                0.40
Rabbit             0.40

Seems like a fairly accurate measure of intelligence right? Now, what jumps out at you when looking at this chart? Dolphins. Woah.

Here is a good TED video on how smart dolphins are.  Research shows that dolphins can problem solve novel tasks, have metacognition- meaning they are aware of their own thoughts – For instance in one study dolphins were able to tell researchers whether they knew something was correct or wrong (“Are these two sounds the same or different”?),  or if they weren’t sure if they were right. Dolphins also have complex emotions, senses of empathy, altruism, and attachment. They mourn their dead. Each dolphin has it’s own individual name.

They also come up with ingenious ways to hunt fish. See here..this is truly incredible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzfqPQm-ThU

Q:But Jevan, if dolphins are so smart, how come they don’t have iPhones?

A: Would you have an iPhone if you lived underwater and had no hands? No matter how smart dolphins are, how can they invent complex tools with only fins?

But still, homo sapiens EQ is higher than dolphins, so we still must be the smartest species right? Not so fast, we have the highest EQ of existing animals. But perhaps not of all time. That prize may go to the neanderthals.

The average neanderthal brain weighed 1600g
The average modern human brain weighs between 1250-1400g

Neanderthals were bigger than us back then, which brings down their relative brain-to-weight ratio, but we have gotten so fat that North American males, on average, weigh more than the 77kg neanderthal. So who has the highest EQ of all time depends on how fat the sample of modern humans we take.

The good news for homo sapiens is that neanderthals devoted much of their brain space to their enhanced visual and physical abilities. Modern humans have more brain space devoted to higher cognition and social networking.

We may be the smartest species after all, but it’s not by much. Our vastly superior abilities in tool making and technology come down not just to our intelligence, but to our opposable thumbs (sorry dolphins) and our greater social abilities combined with the large social networks we formed after the invention of agriculture.

The collective human intelligence has sent people to the moon and made iPhones, but no single person knows how to make even a computer mouse. If I threw you in the woods alone and naked, how long before you are sending a text message? Every human is capable of rudimentary tool building, 7 billion people putting their brains together gives us the iPhone. The great difference between us and neanderthals was that they organized in small societies of dozens of people, while we benefit from the collective genius of billions.

Ben Franklin on the Superior Quality of Life of the Indians

Here are some more quotes from Ben Franklin in the happiness, ease and tranquility of Indian life.

 

 

” To those who remained behind, it was often rumored that those who had gone over to the Indians had been “captured.” While some captives were taken, more often the whites took up Indian life without compulsion. As Franklin wrote to Peter Collinson May 9, 1753:

The proneness of human Nature to a life of ease, of freedom from care and labour appear strongly in the heretofore little success that has attended every attempt to civilize our American Indians. . . . They visit us frequently and see the advantages that Arts, Science and compact Society procure us; they are not deficient in natural understanding and yet they have never strewn any inclination to change their manner of life for ours, or to learn any of our Arts.
While Indians did not seem to have much inclination to exchange their culture for the Euro-American, many Euro-Americans appeared more than willing to become Indians at this time:

When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And that this is not natural [only to Indians], but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.
Franklin followed with an example. He had heard of a person who had been “reclaimed” from the Indians and returned to a sizable estate. Tired of the care needed to maintain such a style of life, he had turned it over to his younger brother and, taking only a rifle and a matchcoat, “took his way again to the Wilderness.” Franklin used this story to illustrate his point that “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.” Such societies, wrote Franklin, provided their members with greater opportunities for happiness than European cultures. Continuing, he said:

The Care and Labour of providing for Artificial and fashionable Wants, the sight of so many Rich wallowing in superfluous plenty, whereby so many are kept poor and distress’d for Want, the Insolence of Office . . . the restraints of Custom, all contrive to disgust them with what we call civil Society.”—-http://www.ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/FFchp5.html