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Breaking: Common sense statements about human vs animal intelligence

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In a respectable venue. That’s so rare now. Noticing actual differences is radical in an age when politically correct nonsense is a form of virtue:

Consider language. Chimps need to be taught by dedicated human experts for years before they can learn ten hand signs. The claim that they know American Sign Language (ASL) is false—as people who know ASL have always known it to be. Like all natural human languages, ASL has a complex grammar, which allows phrases to be embedded within other phrases; permits various sentence structures (e.g. subject–object–verb); allows for the coining of new compound words; and permits puns, poetry and all the prodigious opportunities for communicating complex ideas that human language affords. By contrast, chimps are able to join only two words—or sometimes three—to form phrases like banana eat give—and this is a charitable interpretation of their grammar …

There is a parallel irony in those studies of animals that aim to disprove human exceptionalism. Take the wonderful videos of the Caledonian crow combining two twigs to make a compound tool, in order to extract some food from an enclosure. But note that the more effort researchers go to prove animal skill the more they undermine their case. The cameras, the detection devices, the experimental set-up to entrap the crow into using tools in a certain way, the peer-reviewed journals that report on its behavior, the scientific method, the internet via which you watch the video—all of this is necessary to Homo sapiens’ investigation of Corvus moneduloides. But the crow cannot develop any of those things and is unable to investigate Homo sapiens or any other species in the same way. The point is not that only we can use tools: clearly some other species can too. The point is what we do with those tools. This is not a metaphysical question, but simply an empirical fact: we use exceptional tools in exceptional ways. Jamie Milton Freestone, “Human Exceptionalism with a Human Face” at Areo

Of course, Freestone goes on to insulate himself from the Virtuous by claiming that

Humans are particularly exceptional. This is not a spiritual fact, merely a historical one. Indeed, I couldn’t have made this claim 50,000 years ago. Back then, there were not only chimps around to remind us of our evolutionary heritage, but Neanderthals, Homo floresiensis (the hobbit) and Homo erectus. All three of these hominid species were tool-using, fire-using, language-using (probably), clothes-wearing and perhaps even had their own cultural myths about their own species’ exceptional status. But because those branches on the tree of life have been pruned, we are somewhat more exceptional today, simply because our closest relatives are extinct. Jamie Milton Freestone, “Human Exceptionalism with a Human Face” at Areo

He has to know he is talking nonsense here, of course. Any creature that could think like current humans would be classed by us as like us – if octopuses could do so, they would have a special status. They would have special seating at Law of the Sea meetings. But they can’t and don’t. And that is a spiritual – and metaphysical – fact, whether the Virtuous or the raging Woke like it or not.

But if he needs to take cover by emitting rubbish in order to have a career, he also needs to think about what that means.

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See also: At Inference Review: Human language is much more than a system of signals U Maryland linguist: There is an incommensurability between theories of the brain and theories of the mind…

and

Is the octopus a “second genesis” of intelligence?

10 Replies to “Breaking: Common sense statements about human vs animal intelligence

  1. 1
    Brother Brian says:

    Nobody knows how other animals think. We don’t even know how other people think. But I would postulate that our belief in exceptionalism is something that most animals with brains share. I think that it goes hand-in-hand with our survival instinct.

  2. 2
    ET says:

    Our belief in exceptionalism is directly linked to the fact that we are the only animals that are categorizing other animals. That and the fact that we use technology and science to our advantage.

  3. 3
    chris haynes says:

    Dear BB
    You wrote:
    “I would POSTULATE that our belief in exceptionalism is something that blah blah blah ………..”

    Postulate
    That’s a big word for “suppose” or “stated without evidence”.
    Is it not?

    Anyhow, back to facts.
    Humans use sophisticated language. Animals don’t. That makes humans exceptional.
    Do you have evidence to the contrary?

  4. 4
    Brother Brian says:

    CH

    Postulate? That is a big word for “suppose” or “stated without evidence”. Is it not?

    No. I meant postulate as in propose or suggest.
    <blockquote<Anyhow, animals cant do sophisticated language while humans can. That shows that humans are exceptional. Can you give us some evidence that refutes that?
    I agree, animals don’t use sophisticated language in the exact Sam way we do. But that doesn’t mean that some don’t use a sophisticated language that meets their needs.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    Animals communicate in the way they were intelligently designed to. And no, other animals are not the rubes some people make them out to be. But that doesn’t mean they are on the same level as we are.

  6. 6
    chris haynes says:

    Dear BB

    You were asked whether you had any evidence that animals have a sophisticated language.
    You wouldn’t answer. Instead you tried to dodge the question with that smokescreen.

    Respectfully, next time you get asked if you got evidence for a claim, and you got none, just say so.
    Don’t worry, nobody will be surprised.
    And its what many peer reviewed scientists say you should do.

  7. 7
    Brother Brian says:

    CH@6, sorry, but I have never found it necessary to provide evidence for something I didn’t make a claim about.

  8. 8
    AaronS1978 says:

    I’m just going to chime in here right now after reading all of this and in BB defense, He really honestly didn’t say anything that made any immediate claims or needed any real justification, they where just opinions and a view point.

    It’s was just that animals probably all think that they are superior too, and it doesn’t mean that they are, or if they actually do think that, as he also says we don’t know what they honestly think and empathizes that

    Sir Thomas Nagel does a very good job breaking this perspective down in my personal opinion

    Now I am a proponent of human exceptionalism for many reasons but I’m not gonna really get into that here, so don’t get me wrong, but BB wasn’t saying anything That honestly need to be backed up in fact what he said was pretty neutral. Really nothing wrong

    And imho I attribute our apex natural to our acute and incredibly flexible cognitive capabilities. We have shown time and time again we are capable of overriding instinct and changing our behavior immediately to our environment. Not much can really claim that.

  9. 9
    Brother Brian says:

    AS1978, thank you for your fair comment.

    I wasn’t claiming that we weren’t exceptional, although we could certainly debate that. What I am suggesting is that for most people our belief in exceptionalism is based more on emotion and instinct that on rational reasoning. I further suggest that many other animals share this same feeling of exceptionalism, at least at an instinctual level.

  10. 10
    ET says:

    Instinct is just an organism’s built-in response system. Our “belief” in exceptionalism is based on the evidence- at least on this planet. I doubt any other organism even contemplates such a thing.

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