Human Intelligence Is Greatly Overrated

“The flexibility we’ve seen [in dogs] is similar to the flexibility we’ve seen in human infants, [and] human infants are imputed to have an understanding of intentionality,” Hare said. “So if you use the standard applied to human infants, well then it seems like what [dogs] are doing is really quite sophisticated.”

Beyond pointing, dogs also appear to use the direction of human gaze and the placement of physical markers to find hidden food and objects, tasks that apes also struggle with. And earlier this year, Buttelmann and his colleague Michael Tomasello from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, found that dogs seemed to interpret human emotional expressions. In their study, an experimenter would open two boxes, looking at the dog after each with one of three expressions: smiling broadly, neutral face, or making a face of disgust. Though the dogs seemed to have trouble distinguishing happy or disgust expressions from the neutral one, when one box brought the person happiness and the other disgust, the dogs preferred the happy box.

The article quoted above also includes the comments of experts who belittle the mental ability of dogs. These advocates for human exceptionalism are overreaching in my opinion. Typically they refer to thought or some aspect of human thinking as uniquely human. No question, humans have the ability to manipulate words and language and abstract symbols far beyond any other animals. But when the denigrating experts try to define thought or reasoning or a corresponding single word in a way to exclude animals they invariably have to move the goalposts and change the definition when new data comes. What is the point anyway except to claim that humans are exceptional and we all accept that; it is the particular differences that are worth studying and defining with experiments and data, generally differences in degree and not in kind.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s