Animals aren’t as smart as humans, are they?
Behaviorists try to tie animal intellect to a cognitive human age. This would be more helpful if we spoke dog or cat or horse as well as we expect our animal friends to speak human. We don’t. Animals clearly communicate what they want and what they are thinking through body language. We rarely even notice it. It seems to me that we are trying to ascertain human intelligence with a physical language barrier. That can’t be completely accurate.
I find that most animals have trouble with abstract cognitive concepts. For example, animals do not understand what money is. I have a hard time explaining the internet or what’s happening when someone is playing a video game. Many of them don’t realize that they are looking at themselves in a mirror (though some do).
But- Human intelligence is only one kind of intelligence.
We can’t smell a plant and tell what or who has been there. We can’t stalk and neatly kill an animal. Most of us would have trouble running down a field, triangulating where a ball is going to fall and then catching it. We can’t easily pick our way down a mountainside trail on high heels while carrying someone on our backs (like most horses do).
We don’t understand the sophisticated social hierarchies that pets know. We don’t understand the other side or other spiritual aspects of our world as much as pets do. We can’t always tell who is a good person and who isn’t. Pets can.
We aren’t present the way pets are present. We do not have the environmental awareness that pets have. We don’t pay attention the way pets pay attention.
All of these are signs of intelligence, aren’t they?
Sometimes, I feel like we humans are the chaotic dummies that our pets have to put up with. Our minds flit everywhere- the past, the present, the future, the what-if’s and the never-was. We don’t pick up on the very basic clues that they give us. A dog will stare at something that they are concerned about, or want, and then make eye contact with us, and then stare at it again. Most of us don’t notice. A cat will rub their face against a corner, and we will not realize that they are marking it with their smell. A horse’s ears tell us so much about what they are thinking. We aren’t present. We don’t take the time to learn. We don’t pay attention. We do weird things all of the time.
So who is smart? And who is dumb? And does intelligence matter so much, anyway?