It turns out, ironically enough, that designing accurate and appropriate intelligence tests for animals, tests our intelligence. Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an article by Frans de Waal about animal intelligence and the difficulties in creating appropriate tests. Please take a few minutes to read de Waal’s article, it is quite interesting.
We seem to be an insecure species. Notice in de Waal’s article how often the tests are designed to find out if an animal is “smarter” than we are. Who is smarter, the chimp or the child? Why do you think that is important to us? One wonders if an elephant could ask us to take their intelligence test what the outcome would be? I don’t think I would do any better in the elephant world than the elephant does in mine. That elephants are intelligent in ways appropriate to elephant life doesn’t seem like something that ought to be threatening to me. Somehow, we seem to have a problem accepting that animals are intelligent. Or self-aware. Or empathetic. Or truly social.
Why do you think that bothers us so much?
In part, perhaps recognizing that animal intelligence exists and exists completely apart from me (elephants and whales live quite nicely without my help) might cause me to have to reconsider my relationship with other animals. If an animal doesn’t need me to take care of them or doesn’t exist for my direct benefit, what am I supposed to “do” about them? (Our relationship with domestic animals is even more complex.)
If we assume that animals are less smart, less self-aware, less able to feel pain, less able to understand their world, do we think that allows us to excuse poor- even brutal- behavior on our part? If we recognize their different awareness, different intelligence, different understanding of the world, perhaps then, we have to respect those differences.
We are told in Genesis that God has charged humankind to rule over the earth. But how are we to rule? For Christians, it seems we ought to rule like Jesus rules. When we read how the risen Christ acts in the gospels our idea about ruling should be changed. When we read what the prophets have to say about ruling, our idea about ruling should be changed. Can we rule in a way that doesn’t exploit? Can we rule in a way that gives life rather than death? What would that look like? What would we have to give up? What might we gain?
I’d like to know, what do you think?