Friday, October 06, 2006

Further Thoughts - Animal Intelligence

I must say, it's refreshing to see the presence of actual debates on the blog. Sometimes it's nice to know I have more than one reader.

Still, I thought I'd toss out my final thoughts on the subject and then move on. Well, I'll move on. Everyone else can feel free to discuss it as you please.

My own approach to animal intelligence is largely experiential. I don't know much about the scientific studies regarding the field (animal ethology, apparently). Still, this article from wikipedia on animal cognition was somewhat helpful. What did I take away from it?

1) The people who actually study this are, apparently, divided. They can't seem to decide whether animal intelligence is just an illusion of mechanical responses that simply seem intelligent, or actual reasoning skills. They don't know if the cognitive processes are similar to ours or not. They argue over the proper way to interpret experimental results.

2) They still don't compare to humans. Not that I needed the article to tell me this, but it's nice to know. The fact of the matter is, however much intelligence you want to attribute to an animal, it will never, ever compare to that of a human being. We can argue over whether that is a difference in degree or type, a distinction Ryan was right to make. But the difference is there and it can't be ignored without a degree of intellectual dishonesty.

3) The argument has gotten away from my initial point. The initial idea was, "Why is human life more valuable than animal life?" I defended it with a reference to intelligence based on the inifinite potential that human intelligence represents. Whatever animal intelligence may produce, it offers us no benefits. Animal intelligence tends to produce only further survival for the animals. Human intelligence, on the other hand, produces all those things I defended as products of man's intelligence: society, culture, music, art, technology, science, medicine.

Thus why human life has more value than animal life. As I see it, the only real way to discount this is to render all accomplishments of civilization meaningless, a resort to nihilism.

And unless this discussion takes a turn that sparks my interest, that's all I have to say.

8 comments:

steve the troll said...

Call it nihlism if you want, but I think humans are animals. I also think we will go extinct one day (perhaps not too far down the road). This extinction could be a direct result of our "intelligent" ways of killing each other and destroying our atmosphere, or from an unseen event. All this despite our intelligence.

Our fate will be the same as every other species'.

Anonymous said...

"And unless this discussion takes a turn that sparks my interest, that's all I have to say."

Well, if we very slowly and thoroughly concentrate on the differences in type rather than the differences in degree, then eventually it leads towards evidence (not proof) of the soul. But unfortunately the conversation has to move at a pace that I don't think is generally well suited to blogs, where more than a few short paragraphs is considered really wordy and will only be skimmed. -Ryan.

steve the troll said...

Isn't it just evidence of the frontal lobe?

If not, then do you believe in directed evolution?

If we are the most intelligent species, would abortion be one of the signs of that intelligence?

Anonymous said...

Steve, you haven't demonstrated to me the patience required for the necessary series of conversations that I would need in order to make my point. If you'd like to give it a shot, let me know.

The pervasiveness of religious thoughts, desires, and experiences throughout human history places a burden of proof on an honest, conscientious atheist to explain. Some atheists have taken up that project. Others atheists have at least done the work by proxy, by being well-read in the field. All I know of you is what I've seen on Hal's blog - based on that, you seem not to fall in either camp.

-Ryan.

steve the troll said...

The pervasiveness of religious thoughts, desires, and experiences throughout human history places a burden of proof on an honest, conscientious atheist to explain.

I'm sorry you feel that way. The pervasiveness throughout history is exactly why we should question religion. You're saying that despite all our advances since we started walking upright (scientific, technological, social, etc.), we should not advance beyond worshiping a god (which we coincidentally began doing when we started walking upright).

How can you say I'm not being patient? I actually feel like I'm a preschool teacher here.

Some atheists have taken up that project. I'm actually very busy working on my PhD in synthetic organic chemistry. It's ~80 hours per week, and I'm married, which also takes time. I don't have a lot of time left to devote to convincing you that believing in something that there is no evidence for is silly. This is a lesson your own parents and teachers should've communicated to you a long time ago.

Some atheists have taken up that project.

Yes, they have, and apparently you haven't read their stuff, either. I can give you some referrals if you want.

Anonymous said...

"I can give you some referrals if you want."

Please do.

-Ryan.

Anonymous said...

... worshiping a god (which we coincidentally began doing when we started walking upright).

You seem to be admitting (through inferrence, not directly) than man is the only animal that worships. Is that correct?

-Ryan.

steve the troll said...

Yes, we are the only animal that worships that I am aware of.

Read Sam Harris' "The End of Faith" or Richard Dawkins' "Unweaving the Rainbow."