Home » Animal minds » Are vertebrates really smarter than invertebrates?

Are vertebrates really smarter than invertebrates?

Put another way, is there any such thing as a “tree of intelligence”? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just assume that humans are far and away outliers?

From “Intelligence is today’s unknown country” (Salvo 23)

Some invertebrates, especially mollusks, are also unexpectedly intelligent. Underwater footage shows that, in the first known example of tool use among octopi, one species of octopus has learned to dig up and use discarded halved coconut shells as a shelter. Neatly halved coconuts are a human discard, so the behavior may actually have been learned in recent millennia. Researchers think that the octopi were using some less satisfactory material before, but they had the intelligence to just switch. According to researcher Mark Norman,

They probe their arms down to loosen the mud, then they rotate them out.

After turning the shells so the open side faces upwards, the octopuses blow jets of mud out of the bowl before extending their arms around the shell—or if they have two halves, stacking them first, one inside the other—before stiffening their legs and tip-toeing away.

But intelligence is very unevenly distributed among invertebrates. Clams and oysters are also mollusks, and they are as sharp as marbles.
More.

Too much effort is focused on trying to discover a continuum of intelligence leading all the way up to humans. Humans are just different, period. Octopuses are smarter than people think, but they do not build or program computers.

The reasons some animals have and others don’t have intelligence, in the same basic groups of life forms, pursued as a project in its own right, might yield more understanding of what intelligence is.

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15 Responses to Are vertebrates really smarter than invertebrates?

  1. Clams and oysters are also mollusks, and they are as sharp as marbles.

    Mmmmmmm, clams and oysters. Add scallops and give me two to go, please. Ooops, almost forgot the kid, do you have any squid? She loves calamari.

    :)

  2. One factor that I think separates human from animal intelligenceis that I don’t think that animal intelligence can think of something which does not exist.

    Animals can build, ( spider webs, honey bee hives, burrows, nests, beaver dams ), but it seems they are limited to what designs they instinctively produce either without any instruction or by direct observation.

    We know this because, although many advanced animals have discovered ways of using artifacts they discover ( sticks which need leaves pulled off, cans, coconuts ) they have never shown a capacity to imagine the undesigned. Otherwise they would have built some things.

    No Octupus sees a coconut shell, looks at the general shape and then says, “Hey I can build a mold that I can use to mass produce these things out of mud..”. The concept of “mass production” and “mold” just can’t be visualized because they don’t really exist.

    The ability to visualize what currently does not exist seems to be a singularly human trait.

    This also means:
    1. Animals can’t lie.
    2. Animals can’t have ethics.
    3. Animals can’t have morals.

    It also means:
    1. Animals can’t communicate abstract ideas like theories.
    2. Animals can’t propose a hypothesis.
    3. Animals can’t evaluate a hypothesis.
    4. Animals can’t practice science.

    So unless human intelligence is qualitatively different from all observed animal intelligence there is no morality, no ethics, and no science.

    Is there anything that is wrong in my reasoning?

  3. OT: Good news, Intelligent Design material is now available for homeschooling
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....72331.html

  4. JDH,

    Some other animals do study their surroundings. Some even practice deception- for example give a warning yelp and then steal what someone else dropped when they ran for safety.

    Then there are chimps who actively plan attacks on monkeys. And crows who make tools to solve problems.

  5. Why is inanimate matter so much smarter than us? You’d think that having managed to create a single cell out of nothing by a gazillion chance to the power of a gazillion to one – and then some – it might have rested on its laurels. But not a bit of it.

    It’s the gift that just keeps on giving, turning out ever more complex creatures of its own creation (we’re all Creationists. It’s just whose god is who?).

    How about that humming bird? Imagine making them so beautiful too! That Random Chance is some God, foreshore.

  6. 6

    the big error in investigating none human intelligence is missing the point memory does not equal intelligence.
    These creatures simply have a memory telling them what to do.
    they know to dig so whats the big deal about tools.
    Only people think, i think, because we are made in gOds image.
    anything a creature does is from simple memory computations.
    They are just computers.

  7. Joe,

    Your response has absolutely no use as counter examples.

    Studying your surroundings is not thinking of visualizing things which don’t exist.
    There is no evidence that an animal who gives the “warning yelp” is not just doing what he has observed in the past or was programmed to do. Yelping like that causes others to move away. The only one who labels it a “deceptive warning yelp” is us who study the behavior.
    If you want to claim that there are chimps who actively plan, you must show me the original research. If they meet at dawn, and draw an attack plan on the ground, and plan to attack at 0700 – this would be planning. If they just go out in mass and seem to coordinate, this is NOT thinking of what does not currently exist its just smart behavior.
    I have read the original research on crows. They are very smart but nothing indicates it is just not trial and error and observation. No thinking of things which do not exist.

    Were you arguing because you believe in materialism or just playing devil’s advocate. Either way your arguments are typical of someone who badly wants to believe something so he takes the most scant evidence and twists it to make it seem like something significant when all it is more of the same. Nothing you presented ( if you look at the original research ) presents any evidence that animals consider hypotheticals, and think about things which currently do not exist.

  8. JDH:

    If you want to claim that there are chimps who actively plan, you must show me the original research.

    There is a documentary called “Chimpanzee” in which you can observe them planning and carrying it out.

    And BTW I don’t know of any original research that demonstrates animals are incapable of lying, having ethics nor morals.

    And no, I’m just sick of humans thinking that we are all so high and mighty and all else is soooo beneath us.

  9. Also, beavers appear to able to plan. They can drop trees with the precision and accuracy of the best ax-men we have.

  10. 10
    Chance Ratcliff

    How do we interpret the activity of spiders building webs, nests, and decoys as something besides intelligent planning? When specific steps are taken toward a goal, and when contingencies can be dealt with along the way to assure advancement toward the goal, then planning is implicated, imo.

    I once observed a spider in the evening, which positioned itself above a lamp, anchoring itself to the wall by a thread of silk and then leaping off, in attempt to snag one of the fluttering insects attracted by the light. When he missed, the thread by which he harnessed himself kept him from falling more than a few inches; and then he would climb back up and reset his position for another attempt. He didn’t seem to leap at random, but waited for his opportunity. This is planning behavior as far as I can tell. I doubt he planned to meet his buddy for beers aftwerward, but this was still a form of planning behavior.

    I don’t believe that animals are intelligent in the same way humans are, or that they plan in the same ways or for the same myriad reasons that we might, but that does not imply that their behavior is somehow unintelligent, or that they don’t employ forms of planning. This bird goes fishing. It uses bread as bait to attract fish, and then catches the fish that come after the bait. This appears to be planning, even though he doesn’t first build a boat. ;)

  11. 11

    Joe
    This Canadian can tell you beavers miss as much as hit the right place to land a tree.
    I love ‘em but they miss too much and miscalculate when the trees to big to bite through.
    Everything they do is by memory and they don’t do much more then a bird in building its nest.
    They are dumb animals.

  12. Robert,

    Canadian beavers drink Molson so I have no doubt that they make mistakes. If Amercan beavers were also drunks I would expect to see more of the same.

    :) (that was in jest, Robert)

    And are you saying that we humans don’t do things by memory? It seems that school is nothing more than memorizing and repeating. Just sayin’…

  13. 13

    Joe.
    Yes. Our memory is a great deal of what we think.
    In fact I assert all problems with human thinking ability, like retardations, autisms, depressions, phobias, are exclusively the result of triggering problems in the use of memory.
    Yet we greatly think without the need for memory. tHis is unlike creatures who largely live by memory.
    Animals should have the same or close ability of memory as people.
    They seem too and this confuses the issue of animal intelligence.
    Researchers are not examining intelligence but only memory when testing chimps or birds or beavers.
    School is meant to teach us to think and gain knowledge. They always said this.
    Thinking does not equal memorizing. Computers memorize and so do apes.
    To test creatures the memorizing eliminated must be eliminated before conclusions about critters being as smart as us can be stated.
    Memory is of the material world but thinking by people is of the spirit world.
    We think in the afterlife without need of body parts.

  14. I think we are here having semantic arguments. Animals do plan and make changes about what is immediately happening around them. But their plans are about things that exist in real space time. They chew on a tree and it falls down. They lie down in the grass waiting for a gazelle to come by. They build an intricate web or nest, or burrow without even being taught how, because they have been programmed to do this. This is only planning from experience and instinct.

    They do not imagine hypotheticals and then change their plans based on immaterial considerations. They don’t think in terms of “should” or “should not”. This is the real qualitative difference between man and animal. Only man can think about that which is immaterial and hypothetical, only man adds a “should” to his thoughts.

    Planning immediate responses is a form of animal intelligence. Making plans influenced by moral imperatives (should or should not) is something only humans do.

  15. 15

    JDH
    Thats fine but still the issue, i say, is misunderstanding the difference between memory and thinking. memory is a part of the material world. it can be damaged.
    In man or beast.
    Thinking is not material or of the brain. Its in the soul or heart as the bible says.
    We think incredibly fast and deep about everything. Animals never think about much and mostly its about memorized details.
    Any ape can memorize as well as a young child or maybe a adult. Parrots memorize quickly anything. Yet they don’t have a thought in their bird brains.
    Testing must segregate between thinking and memory.

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