The brainy cephalopods behaved about the same as lab rats under similar conditions, raising both neuroscience and ethical issues.
Neuroscientist Christof Koch was troubled as a child by the Catholic tradition that dogs like his beloved Purzel did not go to heaven. Ironically, human exceptionalism, which Koch decries, holds out the possibility that some beloved animals may indeed share immortality with humans.
Thinking about Jeff Hawkins’s new book, A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence (Basic Books 2021), championing the mammalian neocortex, for example, one might ask, what does the iconic mammalian neocortex do that equivalent systems in birds and octopuses can’t do? That’s not clear. And human intelligence is something different again.
Are certain brain structures are essential for high animal intelligence or will alternative structures work?
Where do they store memories? New thinking is, changes in the state of the life form, resulting in changed behavior — which amounts to learning — need not “be someplace” or weigh something, for the same reasons as a full USB stick doesn’t weigh any more than an empty one.
When we try to escape into being animals, all that happens is that we reason badly and become bad humans. And the moment we even bring reason into the discussion — well, that’s precisely what human exceptionalism is about!
Human exceptionalism is never more obvious than when humans are offering rational-sounding arguments against it.
There’s a way we can do that, provided the spider has anything to say. One of the presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2021 meeting featured an algorithm that makes music from the analysis of spiders’ webs.
The willingness of our pets to adopt other animals’ offspring — relative to that of the wild chimpanzees — is an argument for human exceptionalism. The real story is a reason that humans are not just animals.
Wait a minute. Many cephalopods (octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish) are considered very intelligent though it is unclear how they got to be so. So, not only is this another instance of stasis (complex life forms emerge early and remain complex) but there is a real possibility that a high level of intelligence emerged early. Assuming that any intelligence at all could originate via a Darwinian mechanism, early origin followed by stasis does not sound like a Darwinian program for intelligence.
Maybe the big question isn’t why are cuttlefish so smart but why are chimpanzees so dumb?
What about bacteria? If personality amounts to observed individual differences in behavior, the answer is yes.
Mammals, birds, and reptiles differ by ability but those that have been studied seem to have individual personalities within the frame of their intelligence. What they don’t have or make little use of is abstract reasoning.
One could simply say, “Evolving more intelligence helped the animal to survive.” The trouble with that explanation is, many free-roaming life forms would probably survive more readily if they were more intelligent. But they do not develop greater intelligence on that account. There must be more to the story.
Don’t blame Eduardo Mercado. In order to deal safely, if not rationally, with the demand that whales be seen to be nearly as smart as people, he is stuck with making these nonsense claims. The probable situation is that whales don’t vary their songs much because they can’t. One might say the same of many birds.