Animal Intelligence; Will Humans Ever be Surpassed?

Animal Intelligence history lesson

Research on animal intelligence began in the mid to late 1800’s. Cats, dogs, and monkeys were studied to test their ability to solve problems such as obtaining food in complex situations that were artificially set up by a researcher in a controlled environment.

Animal intelligence picked up momentum when Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was introduced to the public. It raised questions if animals could potentially be as smart as humans, were some animals smarter than others? How different or similar were humans and animals? Would they continue to get smarter over time, just as humans did?

In 1960, Jane Goodall pioneered studies of animals in their natural habitat. She discovered chimpanzees make and use tools and have a highly structured social environment. Prior to this, these traits were thought to be exclusive to humans. Current theories (Machiavellian and Natural Selection) suggest some animals will pass on their skills and beneficial intelligence genes to future generations, therefore getting smarter over time and adapting to new demands.



Most intelligent of the parrots; African Grey Parrot
Most intelligent of the parrots; African Grey Parrot

Who's the smarty pants of the animal kingdom?

While most of the early test subjects were cats, dogs, and monkeys, it has been determined the most intelligent animals are chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants, dolphins, and parrots. Some key factors that these animals share, contributing to their intelligence, are a lifespan of 30 or more years, an ability to learn through observation, and a social environment. These factors are not so much different from humans. Having a longer lifespan enables the young to be in a learning environment longer before becoming independent. It also increases their chance of learning and remembering new skills as well as practicing these skills. Having a social environment also enables them to learn through observation continuously and adapt to the complexities of a social life. Other animals such as dogs are smart, but because they don’t live long, they don’t quite measure up. Octopuses learn amazingly well from observing, but are not social creatures and only live a year or two.

These “intelligent” animals have the ability to communicate among their own kind as well as humans. They also share fascinating similarities to humans, especially in brain functions; memory and language. With all these factors, it is difficult to determine if animals are actually getting smarter and exactly how their intelligence can be gauged. An experimental lab setting is the best environment to test and measure increased intelligence. In nature, it is not likely these animals will become any smarter than they need to for survival in their environment. However, when their intelligence is developed and pushed to the limits in a lab, this could very well lead to a higher species of smart animals.

The smartest of the animals have similar brain function, chemical make-up, and organization to a human's brain. Research is limited to an observational approach because measuring intelligence is difficult at best and almost impossible to quantify. Also, with little facts known about early human intelligence, there is really nothing to compare it to. While several animals are smart, it is those that have all three key factors; long lifespan, social, and ability to learn, will likely continue to get smarter over time.

Comparing the smartest animals

ANIMALS 
LIFESPAN (30+ yrs) 
SOCIAL 
LEARN
Apes 
X
Dolphins 
X
Dogs 
 
X
Parrots
X
X
X
Elephants
X
X
Octopus
 
 
X
Pigs
 
X
X
Turtles
X
 
X
Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes

Soon to be surpassed

In my opinion, and various scientists thoughts and studies elude to this, that humans have hit a plateau in learning or surpassing any of the most intelligent people of the past. It seems we're not getting any smarter as time goes by and we've reached our peak intelligence for the most part.

As for animals, they are still evolving intelectually and socially so we have yet to see what they are fully capable of. Will they surpass us in technology anytime soon? I doubt it, however, we don't hold top rank in that anymore so who knows, right? Their abilities and experiences are different than ours so if they ever reach even remotely close to our intelligence level, there will be a new playing field- this could contribute more than we can imagine.

The caveat here is animals do not purposefully seek to increase their intelligence (like humans do)beyond what is necessary for their survival. Such as an ape constructing a tool to access food better or an elephant constructing a fan out of branches to keep insects away. This makes me wonder sometimes if humans are too intelligent for their own good or if this acutally meets the needs of our survival.

Is There a Planet of The Apes?

As a kid, I saw this movie and was fascinated with the subject for as long as I can remember. The original 1968 film was far beyond it's time, reaching into a scary, yet unrealized possible future. Our imaginations took us there and some of it was even believable while much of it was a brutal look into human society, a little backwards.
The premise of the movie was about astronauts who land on a planet, the Planet of The Apes and discover a primal planet with the concept of the future intertwined into it. The apes, who can talk, are in control and are divided into a strict caste system: the gorillas as police, military, and hunters; the orangutans as administrators, politicians, and lawyers; and the chimpanzees as intellectuals and scientists. Humans, who cannot talk, are considered feral vermin and are hunted and either killed outright, enslaved for manual labor, or used for scientific experimentation.

We are still very much interested in animal intelligence. Currently, a new version of this film is being introduced to theaters with an updated plot. This one, I believe, is quite convincing- something that could actually happen. The premise of this new one; Rise of The Planet of The Apes, is of a science experiment gone wrong. How could this happen? On the subject of intelligence, humans often seek intelligence without knowing the consequences. We invent things that later prove detrimental to us- this is proof, we have no restraint in a society where greed and intelligence rule. This new movie portrays the search for a new brain revitalizing drug, one tested on apes, and later comes back to bite humans in the butt. We know what humans' ultimate intelligence looks like, but we don't know what ultimate animal intelligence would be like.

Rise of the Planet of The Apes; Aug 5, 2011

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Comments 24 comments

TheManWithNoPants profile image

TheManWithNoPants 5 years ago from Tucson, Az.

So freakin true. We DO seek knowledge and achievement giving zero thought to to what may happen as a result. Nuclear bomb sound familiar?

I have trouble coming up with one good hub a week. You decide to dump two 4 stars on me in one day? You're sick sis .. :/

jim


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Well I told you I was going to the marriage counseling thing so I had to concentrate on my marriage lately and my writing brain shut off so now I'm back for a little while- let's see how easily I can balance the two- lol.

This topic has interested me forever. I had a lot of this in my brain because I did a presentation in history of psychology class on this.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 5 years ago from Rural Arizona

This is really interesting. You are so right about animals. They learn what they need to learn to survive, but have no great quest for knowledge like most humans. But, there are a great many humans who also learn just enough to survive, like where the welfare office is located, and have no further need or desire to learn new things. I would imagine the animal world has its' population of those who constantly seek knowledge and those who could care less. Seems to me we are not that far apart from the animal world. I rarely meet an animal I can't get along with, but can't say the same for people.


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Mike~ politically speaking, sorta, many illegals and foreigners who learn what they need to survive are thriving beyond American citizens. They've become better at the system than Americans. It takes certain attributes to work a system and they're coming out ahead on those. It's interesting to know what it takes to "survive" in our world now.

I AGREE about animals. In my youth before starting a family and getting married, I wanted to live my days on a remote ranch with a bunch of rescue animals. I've always loved animals, but people, sometimes not.

Thanks for stopping by and reading.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Hi Izettl; I sometimes wonder if humans aren't getting less intelligent, becoming too reliant on technology to do everything for us.

I'd always heard that dolphins have brains capable of equal intelligence to humans but I don't know if that's true or if it's just a myth.

I'm looking forward to the new Planet of the Apes movie.

Rob


FIS profile image

FIS 5 years ago

Great Hub Iz,

I think anyone who lives with animals can testify to their intelligence and that they have a range of emotional complexity similar to humans too... (well.. at least mammals do.) I think we can learn a lot from watching and living with animals. I was glad to see you mention Jane Goodall. I went to a lecture of hers once and she is absolutely enthralling and her keen insights into chimpanzees really do translate into keen insights into humanity.

I don't know if humans have really plateaued though.Old Poolman makes a good point about the number of people who don't strive to become more intelligent and on top of that, we only use about 20% of our brains, I wouldn't be surprised if eventually neuroscientists and meditators figure out how we can access more. Additionally, as we become more and more entwined with our technology we may find ourselves taking an evolutionary leap. Thought provoking stuff. Thanks.

Bob


paulfnorris 5 years ago

It's very true that animals are intelligent in all kinds of incredible ways, often surpassing humans with their abilities in specific areas! Social animals with long life spans do seem to have a "leg up" (assuming, of course, that they have legs... :)), but as noted above, animals such as the octopus, which are not social and which have short lives, also display remarkable intelligence.

I've started a blog called AnimalWise (http://animalwise.org/) that is dedicated to featuring the extraordinary of cognitive abilities of our fellow earth inhabitants, including not just mammals, but birds, fish, invertebrates and even insects. If you're interested, please take a look - I welcome any comments and/or suggestions about specific areas to cover.

Paul


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Rob- I was actually thinking of you when I was writing about the new Planet of the Apes. Hoping to get a review from you when it comes out. But I am looking forward to it. I love those types of movies but it's hard at the same time too because I have a soft place for animals. Even when they are at their worse, it usually because of influence from a human.

I completely agree with you about humans getting less intelligent and that's a great point. I was just thinking that we've reached our peak, but we could very well be going backwards. I'll have to look into the dolphin thing because out of the "intelligent" labeled animals I wonder if one of them is the smartest above all the others in that list. Thanks for the comment!


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

FIS Bob~ always wanted to see Jane in person or meet her. What a lady! That's cool you saw her and heard a lecture. In our society now, as Rob above pointed out, because of technology more is being done for us. We literally don't have to use our brains as much- we rely on technology. But technology could very well get us ahead in the future too- it's hard to say which way it will take us. Thanks for dropping by.

paulfnorris~ i'll take a look at that blog- sounds interesting.


Jeanine 5 years ago

Izeeti, such a nice read... and such an amazingly connected piece to the gender stuff you have written... it's your mind looking to intelligence now, opposite of your search into the emotional front... such an intelligent girl...very nice indeed... man had evolved emotionally into two spirits, but our intellectual brothers soon would have none of it, if we were to evolve it had to be intellectually, not emotionally, if those who were born more emotionally evolved then they may soon take over from the smart ones... that could not be allowed...man who held fire and anger must be the one who was appreciated as the strongest... and we all know, only the strong survive... enjoyed the read baby girl...


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Jeanine~ so right on what you just wrote there. And thank you for those added comments. This is the more scientific part of me. Oh how I miss being a research assistant in college- so much fun. I went into getting my psych degree a little worried about the extra science I had to take, but I breezed through it- may have missed my calling a little by not going further into it.Thanks for reading.


Jeanine 5 years ago

I actually believe the animal side of man won the fight for survival, the emotional side of us, is so pressed down that it will take another seven thousand years to fix it...lol..lol


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Now that one made me smile- so true though. My toddler is acting like some sort of animal right now so I better go tame the beast. Have a good one J.


Tranquilheart profile image

Tranquilheart 5 years ago from Canada

I dunno if humans are too smart for their own good. Or if their intelligence has plateaued. What baffles me is how we cannot learn from our mistakes ... too many mistakes to mention, we know they are wrong yet we can't correct ourselves. Nature made a mistake somewhere.


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Tranquilheart~ the best point I've heard in a long time. How can we not learn from our mistakes- how smart can we possibly be? Other things drive us to be intelligent- like money, greed, power, lust.I'd say that's part of where humans went wrong.


Tranquilheart profile image

Tranquilheart 5 years ago from Canada

Greed, power, ego, lust ...all those things are human illusions, they don't make an iota of difference to Nature. Doesn't make sense as to why they are driving forces in humans.


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Isn't it strange that these forces within humans have done so much destruction and yet many of the civilized human does nothing to control these forces or recognize the damage. Tranquilheart, you are a deep thinker- I like that and you've made me think a little harder on this subject. Thanks again for the comment.


Lizzabella profile image

Lizzabella 5 years ago from Where it's beautiful and green.

Amazing post! I have similar interests in animal intelligence as well and it's always so fascinating to read about the capabilities of animals.

In response to:

"The caveat here is animals do not purposefully seek to increase their intelligence (like humans do)beyond what is necessary for their survival. Such as an ape constructing a tool to access food better or an elephant constructing a fan out of branches to keep insects away. This makes me wonder sometimes if humans are too intelligent for their own good or if this acutally meets the needs of our survival."

I believe that we know very little in terms of animal intelligence. We are not able to fully observe their world, from their eyes, so we simply cannot know their complete capabilities as social or intelligent beings. Sometimes I wonder if they are looking at me thinking, "What a stupid human," much like the way some humans think of animals. To me, all animals have their own culture, much like many different groups of humans. Often, when different cultures come into contact with each other there is a lot of judgment and confusion about the other group. Each group wondering why they dress "that way", why they "talk like that", or maybe even getting angry over the way individuals are treated within the given culture. We look at groups of animals and think how unintelligent they can be, why they don't use the proper tools or means for survival, etc. However, to them it's just how they are living and we just need to re-evaluate our cultural lens.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

I agree with you that Humans may have reached their peak as far as intelligence goes. Intelligence may not be so obvious in other animals. But I think that humans are doomed for extinction sometime in the future, mainly because as we continue to evolve using our minds and our hands to manipulate our world and therefore we actually end up destroying our environment. And eventually we will make it uninhabitable.

Other animals will continue to evolve with their social skills and intellectually, as you mention in your Hub. So I expect that some day one or more other animals will take over as the prominent species on the Earth. This is probably not in the near future. But the world has a lot of time ahead for evolution to continue.

I found this to be a very interesting Hub. Voted up and interesting.


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Lizzabella~ wonderful insightful comment. i agree with you completely- we only get part of the picture when it comes to animal intelligence.

Glenn~ Humans may destruct themselves by wanting to know more than what is good for them and in search for knowledge it has become more of a search for power that will lead to inevitable destruction of our species. Most animals will evolve as needed. Sometimes I think humans' intelligence can lead to our stupdity. Thanks for stopping by.


wtaylorjr2001 profile image

wtaylorjr2001 3 years ago from Binghamton NY

This is a very interesting hub and I thank you for stimulating an intelligent conversation on a fascinating topic. From what I can tell the human neocortex is the seat of intelligence in our race. It is responsible for the representation and processing of experience. The sensors input information to the neocortex which in turn outputs commands to our motor appendages. In humans the neocortex is on average 60 percent of the entire size of our brain. What is the ratio in animals between the neocortex and the rest of the brain? I don't know. I do remember reading it to be much less than ours.

As to the human intellect not evolving, I think that depends on which definition you use. Aristotle said in Posterior Analysis that there are 4 ways to know a thing. One can know a thing by its constraints, its history, its form or its nature, a concept close to its evolutionary process. The nature of an acorn is to become a tree.

Let's look at what constrains intelligence, the brain. The brain as a substrate is evolving slowly. But what its doing is holding patterns about our reality. Now lets look at the nature of human intelligence. The number of patterns our mind can be aware of has increased exponentially. We can now be aware of patterns our senses cannot detect. The system composed of the number of patterns in our experience, and the ability to improve upon our sensors and motors is expanding exponentially. Our technology is an extension of us, a part of us.

So I would like to suggest that because of technologies like wikipedia and google for information processing, and the internet for communication, the human intelligence system is evolving.

Nevertheless I really enjoyed your hub and that is you I am voting it up.


izettl profile image

izettl 3 years ago from The Great Northwest Author

Thanks wtaylorjr2001~ I believe our technology is making us dumber. We rely on it for a lot of mental work that we used to do but no longer- such as not remembering phone numbers because our cell phones do it. I think we are more on autopilot than ever. And its been proven that doing more at once (multitasking) makes us worse at what we do. There is no question technology was designed to enable us to multi task which I don't think benefits us.

When you say number of patterns has increased- what studies or where have you gotten this info?

Because of google we no longer have to look up info the hard way, by figuring or deducing, we get it instantly. Hardly any mental power in that. I think I see some things opposite of you, but I enjoy the discussion. Thanks.


samowhamo profile image

samowhamo 3 years ago

Hey izettl if you are interested I have an article you might find quite fascinating. I changed the title to Dino People.

http://samowhamo.hubpages.com/hub/Why-I-Love-Dinos...


samowhamo profile image

samowhamo 3 years ago

Hi izettl if you are interested I just wrote an interesting article about dinosaurs and a connection they might have with dragons.

http://samowhamo.hubpages.com/hub/Dinosaur-And-Fea...

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