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Are You More Intelligent Than a Dog?
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None of my coursework so far has dealt directly with the radioactive controversy of intelligence yet, but there have been a few implications tossed around here and there.

It seems more than a few people hold the view that intelligence is such an elusive, obscure concept that it is not measurable or even really definable to any significant degree. Honestly, if I held that viewpoint, I'd just stop using the word.

But I'm of the opinion that words are important, and especially so for scientific or academic communities, where 3-dollar words fly left and right, and confusion is par for the course. When we're talking about phenomenon that are poorly understood, we need to have as much overlap in meaning in the words we're using so that we can communicate as clearly as possible.


I'd take a stab at defining it as a multi-dimensional cognitive feature that involves the facets of learning, adaptability, memory, planning, analysis, association, and problem solving. Each of these facets is multi-faceted itself, but I do believe there are observable and testable ways to quantify the dimensions of intelligence.

I was in the library yesterday reading about animal intelligence. The book talked about a study with pigeons in which 2d figures were presented to the bird, and then rotated variants were shown to the bird. It had to learn to correctly identify the shape, even when it was rotated. Generally the amount of rotation increased the time to identify the object. When the same exact stimuli in the same exact test was performed on humans, it turned out we weren't nearly as good as the birds were at this particular cognitive task.

The author seemed to be implying that this exposed an Achilles heel of intelligence testing, and that testing was then worthless in assessing intelligence and differences in intelligence between animals and humans. Which seems really stupid to me. It makes the case for testing and observation on a wide range of cognitive skills, rather than just one. Pigeons happen to be better at mentally rotating variant 2d shapes than humans. Well, that's interesting. How do we compare with pigeons on other cognitive tasks? Are they as good at summing quantities mentally? Could we find that out? Are they as good at recalling stimuli over extended periods of time? All this stuff is testable.

What the people who hold the view that intelligence is this unquantifiable entity seem to be saying is that it is really nonsensical to talk about a human being more intelligent than a pigeon. Or a dog. Or a tree. They prefer splitting intelligence into something like mulitiple intelligences. Well, they'd say, everything is intelligent in its own way, in its own specialized niche. A beaver is intelligent in building dams, and a bee is intelligent at making honey. Extrapolated to human populations, they want to say that some humans are intelligent when it comes to relationships, others are musically intelligent, and so on.

If you use the word in this way, then yes, it makes absolutely no sense to say that you are more intelligent than a dog. You can't use the term in both ways. Personally I'd prefer to use another term when talking about innate, specialized, evolved behavior like nest-building or web-spinning. I'd also prefer to use other terms for cognitive capacities such as empathy and musical talent. None of these seems to belong under the concept of intelligence.

But hey, I'm flexible. If as a community we want to use the word that way, fine. But then it will still be useful to have another word that describes the concept of a multi-faceted cognitive feature that relates to the lay concepts associated with being smart.

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