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What if Humans Aren’t the Most Intelligent Creatures on the Planet?

By Jacob Devaney on Wednesday May 13th, 2015

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What if Humans Aren't the Most Intelligent Creatures on the Planet?

Paul Watson Asks us to Redefine Intelligence

Cetologists observe, document, and decipher evidence that points to a profound intelligence dwelling in the oceans. It is an intelligence that predates our own evolution as intelligent primates by millions of years. – Paul Watson

I had a life-changing experience while kayaking in Hawaii this past winter with friends when we were visited by a whale. There is no doubt that this majestic being was coherent, aware of us, and enjoying our company as much as we were enjoying his. We put our snorkeling masks on and jumped in the water and could easily see the whale gently make eye contact with each of us. With one thrust of his tail he could have left in an instant but he stayed with us for over an hour.  A mammal with a brain bigger than ours and complex migration songs that change every year, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of thoughts could be going through his mind. So I did a little research…

The recent piece by  Dawn Agnos on UPLIFT about a conversation with a horse shows that emotional intelligence and empathy are a language that many animals understand. It was only recently that terms like emotional intelligence emerged and it is interesting to consider that there are many different kinds of intelligence.  Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd makes a good argument in a recent Facebook post that perhaps humans concept of intelligence is anthropocentric and lacking in breadth.

Does brain size matter?Does brain size matter?

Watson starts early in his essay with the bold assertion that, “Biological science is provoking us to shatter our image of human superiority.” Though indigenous wisdom has always considered humans a part of the circle of life rather than above it, that sentiment has almost been completely destroyed by generations of colonial indoctrination. The very roots of colonial indoctrination not only conclude that humans are superior to all other life forms, it also considers some humans as superior to others.

Social Darwinism, a myth, was an effort to use science to validate the behavior of employing superior weaponry to oppress other humans. Though we owe much respect to western science we must also understand the cultural and religious backdrop from which this discipline emerged. We must also be willing to explore the assumptions within science if we are to evolve it.


Rupert Sheldrake attempted to do this during a TED Talk entitled, The Science Delusion and his presentation was banned. This is not to say that Sheldrake is right and all of science is wrong, that is too simplistic. It is merely an opportunity to open a dialogue about assumptions within science that the scientific community may or may not be willing to consider. I mention it in the context of considering the humble notion that humans may not posses the highest form of intelligence on the planet. If for no other reason than amusement, just open your mind and consider…

It is fascinating to reflect on mammals like us who have been on the planet a whole lot longer than us who also have larger brains than us. We humans pride ourselves on technology, on creating tools, gadgets and machines. Of course it is easy to consider that intelligence is based on technology. Then there is the idea of emotional intelligence which acknowledges a form of intelligence which is internal, can not be easily measured empirically but plays a major role in the success of an individual. Intuition, compassion, empathy are usually considered feelings, but these are skills, non-physical tools that we can use to ascend the social ladder. Meditation could also be considered a non-physical tool that changes our biology, reduces stress and opens the mind. We may be at the very beginning of understanding that tools do not need to be physical or easily measurable by traditional science in order to be valuable.

We willingly accept the idea of intelligence in a life-form only if the intelligence displayed is on the same evolutionary wavelength as our own. Technology automatically indicates intelligence. An absence of technology translates into an absence of intelligence.

Dolphins and whales do not display intelligence in a fashion recognizable to this conditioned perception of what intelligence is, and thus for the most part, we are blind to a broader definition of what intelligence can be.

Evolution molds our projection of intelligence. Humans evolved as tool-makers, obsessed with danger and group aggression. This makes it very difficult for us to comprehend intelligent non-manipulative beings whose evolutionary history featured ample food supplies and an absence of fear from external dangers.  – Paul Watson

Again it is important to recognize how this attitude has not only been applied to animals, but also to indigenous people historically. How we define intelligence is restricted to our definition of intelligence. Are we willing to broaden our definition of intelligence?

Intelligence can also be measured by the ability to live within the bounds of the laws of ecology — to live in harmony with one’s own ecology and to recognize the limitations placed on each species by the needs of an ecosystem. Is the species that dwells peacefully within its habitat with respect for the rights of other species the one that is inferior? Or is it the species that wages a holy war against its habitat, destroying all species that irritate it? What can be said of a species that reproduces beyond the ability of its habitat to support it? What do we make of a species that destroys the diversity that sustains the ecosystem that nourishes it? How is a species to be judged that fouls its water and poisons its own food? On the other hand, how is a species that has lived harmoniously within the boundaries of its ecology to be judged?  – Paul Watson

Watson gets very in-depth and cites the research which compares cranial capacity, and brain complexity between humans and sea mammals. At the very least this information is humbling. Paul Watson has given us a lot to think about, but probably the greatest gift in his essay can be summarized by this quote:

It’s not enough to understand the natural world, the point is to defend and preserve it. – Edward Abbey

Watson is not merely a philosopher, he puts his words and beliefs into action. For 35 years, Captain Paul Watson has been at the helm of the world’s most active marine non-profit organization – the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. I highly recommend reading the entire essay which is available here.

To even consider that we are not superior to other species is delightfully humbling. It can restore a child-like sense of awe for life which also inspires a desire to preserve our environment. Our tools are wonderful, our science is also wonderful, but it should be used to celebrate and elevate all of life.  We must consider that the unconscious, disrespectful use of our tools and science can create unimaginable destruction for ourselves and other species. A healthy future includes humans who are aware of this and who live within the bounds of their ecosystem. We have the ability to create worlds or destroy ourselves. How do you want to live your life?

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Jacob Devaney

Founder and director of Culture Collective, creative activist, musician, and producer.

 

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  • kotelnaya-ustanovka http://promgazenergo.su/

  • David Bastyr

    A well written article on intelligence and the perceptual constructs that limit our willingness to perceive a world of the prismatic qualities or branches which intelligence holds within all sentient life forms. And I must say, those were great quotes by Paul Watson. So thanks for the insightful read Jacob, well done! It’s ironic because I asked these two primary questions stated and examined in this article during the past several days in regard to the translation of what intelligence actually is and I came upon that primal question— How do you want to live your life?

    • Rigel54

      Not quite sure what you said in that first sentence. Was that deliberate?

      • David Bastyr

        It sounds counterintuitive or falsely put but if you evaluate it properly, I was merely referring to the perceptual constructs of our culture and the patterns of conditioning that persistently limit our mind and the potential for creative growth and insight for implementing multiple qualities or methods of intelligence that are commonly withheld from us simply because of the way we are trained to think and conform.

        • Rigel54

          OK, so it was intentional. Let me know when you actually have something to say.

  • Brenda Miller Georgiadis

    How about the question of consciousness vs intelligence? It seems a conscious species would look down the road or see the bigger picture of their actions. Would a conscious species be driven by greed? It would appear our ability to create technology is at the expense of a healthy ecology. Are we conscious or just intelligent? But how intelligent is it to ruin our own environment? Thank goodness we are intelligent since we will have to use all our technology to create an environment to live in after we’ve ruined the one we have.

    • incredibleman

      “create an environment to live in after we’ve ruined the one we have.”?
      Maybe. Or maybe we become extinct. We wouldn’t be the first species to disappear forever.

    • Rigel54

      Would an intelligent species allow itself to be exterminated without ANY organized attempt to stop it?

    • Rigel54

      I think you are loading the word conscious up with too many other characteristics. Consciousness is basically self-awareness. It in no way rules out greed, indeed, it encourages it. It is intelligence that should limit greed, but much depends upon the perspective of the subject. If one only cares about oneself, the fate of offspring, nation, humanity, intelligent life is all subordinate to whatever maximal pleasures can be achieved in one lifetime. A lot depends upon the evolutionary characteristics of the organism in question. Mankind is social, and clearly has some hard wired altruisms, including and beyond benefiting progeny (a likely evolutionary characteristic of all species). Some have argued that all intelligent, technical civilizations become extinct, for the same basic reasons.

    • Intelligence is one quality of consciousness. Do you see now?

    • Gary Youree

      Humanity has a big problem in their belief that we are but one species, that we as a whole are responsible for our path towards destruction. The fact is that their is a sub-species within our species, the sociopath, that preys upon the rest of humanity.
      Sociopaths are the only true division within mankind as a whole. They are a dead end mutation who could not survive without the renewable commodity of mankind, as a medium of exchange, to compete among each other. Capitalism is their tool. Without humanity they would soon compete with each other until there was but one man standing.
      The most successful psychopaths took leadership over humanity early on – at the dawn of the agricultural revolution. Hunter-gatherer groups likely shunned the psychopath.
      They have no balancing equal. Those with equal intelligence and ability are unable and unwilling to compete in a global economic system that rewards the lack of compassion, empathy, and conscience.
      Those at the very top; the owners of the world’s corporations, whom i call the psychopathic elite, have corrupted the majority of the 1%. These are both lessor psychopaths themselves or those who worship psychopaths. They are a huge buffer between mankind and the .01%. These sub-humans, and the global economic system, capitalism they thrive within, have but one desire – power.
      IMO their agenda is to remain behind the scenes while they allow and manipulate us to destroy ourselves while they loot the markets for a final time in conjunction with an apocalyptic war. While they wait out the “natural” depopulation of our species, while reducing much of their own – and the majority of the 1%, they will arise with all the technology – reset history in their best interests – then compete over who will become god.
      Mankind’s only hope to see the potential of our species, which has never had the opportunity to come together for the common good, is to hope for an early destruction to bring us together.

  • Rigel54

    OMG! This bit gives itself away pretty quickly as a non-science piece. “Colonial indoctrination?” Worship of the word “indigenous?” “Social Darwinsim?” Really? Much of the volume of the porpoise brain is dedicated to process of sound, so you can drop volume or relative volume based comparisons right away. I don’t doubt the definition of intelligence can be further refined, but this post seems more emotional than scientific.

  • Michael Powell

    Thank you for the article. As you summerize, it is humbling to consider that we might not be the apex of life. Another delight is your posit’s cascade effect. Changes the whole ball game, the block, the city, the nation, the world view. Much for reflection. Personally I have long cuncurred with the cetaceans that the nomadic is the only viable long-term behaviour.

  • John Andrew Schmanek

    So this whole article is an advert for the SSCS.

    I think some viruses might be the dominant species. But humans still have it over on the Dolphins, sorry. When they get cages and make us jump through hoops give me a call.

    • Zoidbort

      We destroy ourselves out of difference of opinions and greed.
      Our cities, antidepressants, religions, social worries, etc are our own created cages and are far worse than jumping through hoops.

      • John Andrew Schmanek

        Speak for yourself and lose the “we” and “our”.

        Not everybody feels trapped in a cage like you do. There are far more free ones then you know about. They just don’t advertise their freedom because it would do no good.

        Cities, countries, universities, corporations, and a myriad of other institutions and groups and organizations are super intelligent living organisms that humans have spawned. The greatness of humans escapes you.

        Humans are the universe’s crowning achievement ( as far as we know of at this time).

        • Zoidbort

          Says the guy who said “When they get cages and make us jump through hoops give me a call.”
          Lose the “us” and speak for yourself as well.
          I do not feel trapped in a cage, you brought up the simile not I.
          Universities and corporations are the whole problem with the human species and what is happening to the planet…they are all at the core fo greed and perpetuate a species that are trained to be docile consumers.
          You call a species that takes and takes, removes themselves from the cycle of nature out of fear and kills for enjoyment and out of differening of opinions on almost anything the “universe’s crowning achievement”?
          Yikes…I suspect you are one of those types that think the planet and everything on it is “ours” to do with that we wish.
          So the universe as a whole is sentient?

          • John Andrew Schmanek

            Umm no, you failed. When I use “us” it is a hypothetical situation ( and one which i infer is not even a possibility). I speak about something else doing something to “us” and not what “us” is doing. And the doing is hypothetical and for purposes of rhetoric only. I am not even stating that doing is an actual thing.

            When you use we and our you are the only one speaking for others by stating what “our” and “we” are doing as a fact. You are, the only one speaking for others here.

            Fail.

          • Zoidbort

            Well if you wish to dissect what I am saying as speaking for all when clearly I am the one speaking and thus must be speaking from my own opinion then it would seem you are just here to troll.
            Which is now obvious via your childish “fail” retort.
            Ah well

          • John Andrew Schmanek

            Yes I am a troll that wrote my opinion because I predict your inane response so that I would be able to actually troll you.

            You are just failing continually here.

          • Zoidbort

            Humans have it over the dolphins however…since your opinion clearly states thus it must be true for all humans and since you were a dolphin once you can luckily speak for them as well to give us all the holistic view.

          • John Andrew Schmanek

            But humans do not speak for the dolphins?
            In reality yes they do.

          • Haramabes ghost

            Yep you a troll getting trolled. You still masterbatin?

          • Haramabes ghost

            And you are pedantic masterdebater

          • John Andrew Schmanek

            The universe includes us. Our we sentient or not?

            Do you believe in the imaginary thing called nature that is separate from humans?

          • Haramabes ghost

            Ah aint you being sweet. No you are not a senitent being, just an egotistical masterbater

        • Haramabes ghost

          Man you going all high brow. To bad you are azzhole in da gutter

  • Glena Sims Wright

    Science is continually changing as it progresses. The real life described by Paul Watson has always been the true one. Intelligence, consumerism, hate, killing, war, the health care INDUSTRY, and more all brought to you by Highly Intelligent humans who believe in money ( an illusion), who also lack humility and compassion.

  • last1sleft

    no consciousness _ being aware of self- the true needs of self within
    the world it exists- does not promote greed. if you are truly aware of
    your needs and the needs ofd all arounf you- greed need not exist within
    such a reality- hence the world we live in filled with those
    unconscious to their conditioned psychology and biology – leading to the
    multitude of negative effects on all that come in to contact with such
    beings.

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