Studies are increasingly showing just how far we have underestimated intelligence in fellow animals. Our denial over our common origins and our own animal status has prevented us from questioning what the requirements for moral consideration are and accepting the inevitable conclusion.
When judging the intelligence of other species, humans tend to view similar types of intelligence to our own as valuable, whereas less familiar types as less valuable. We are biased towards animals that see, react and manipulate objects in a way to similar to ourselves – animals that lack these skills we deem to be unintelligent.
Professor Maciej Henneberg, Professor of Anthropological and Comparative anatomy from the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide, argues that humans have misunderstood animal intelligence:
“Animals offer different kinds of intelligences which have been under-rated due to humans’ fixation on language and technology. These include social and kinaesthetic intelligence. Some mammals, like gibbons, can produce a large number of varied sounds – over 20 different sounds with clearly different meanings that allow these arboreal primates to communicate across tropical forest canopy. The fact that they do not build houses is irrelevant to the gibbons.”
Studies have shown that chimps have superior short term memory to ourselves. In an experiment where a chimp has to recall the location of numbers 1-9 that randomly flashed and quickly disappeared from the screen, researchers at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute found that chimpanzees had short term memory far greater than our own. In another experiment at Kyoto University it was shown that chimpanzees perform far closer to optimal game theory in strategic reasoning. This sort of humbling should prompt us to recognise the relative value of different kids of intelligence and therefore that thinking of ourselves as more intelligent that other animals is simply not true.
Fish, for example, may not be able to manipulate their environment like ourselves and other tool-making species, but they excel in other areas of intelligence. For example, juvenile European seabass can learn to push a lever in order to obtain food just by watching experienced individuals use the lever. The ability to learn from another individual requires basic theory of mind and the ability to reason. Fish are not only social learners, they are also aware of group hierarchies and show preference for the company of individuals they know over strangers.
Given that cognitive intelligence is a widely-shared trait in the animal kingdom, the foundation argument for asserting humans have greater moral value than other species is shattered. It has now been demonstrated that the qualities we believe are human-specific – those qualities that we use to elevate our moral superiority – are not exclusive human characteristics.
Cognitive intelligence is an incredibly valuable tool for battling life and enhancing an individual’s chance of survival. It is the ability to understand what is going on around you, interpreting stimuli, solving problems and avoiding danger. Nature has given these abilities to all animals to varying degrees. It is our fault we naively believed ourselves to be special – this mistake is forgivable; however, what is not is the immense harm caused to all other animals because of the false assertion of one arrogant species. How tragic that animals are exploited and abused in their billions, all because their tormentor fails to see the inherent similarities between itself and other species, in nature of the mind, in body and in the struggle for life.
Recognition of our shared nature with other animals has seriously called into question our self-given superiority which is the backbone of our refusal to recognise the rights of other animals. Now that we cannot deny that animals are as intelligent as we are, only in different ways, the call for granting basic rights to other species cannot be ignored. Rather than view animals as less intelligent, we now more accurately look upon them as differently intelligent.
See also: Emotional Intelligence In Fellow Animals