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Humans Are Dumb At Figuring Out How Smart Animals Are

Animals are smart in the ways they need to be smart... And because environment and needs differ by animal, trying to rank them is futile.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: ‘The case for giving the chimps a human right like freedom from unlawful incarceration is based on their similarity to humans — they can think, feel and plan, argue the people bringing the case on behalf of the chimpanzees, so shouldn’t they have some guarantees of liberty?… So, does a chimpanzee deserve more rights than, say, a pigeon? The logic that leads to “yes” is clear enough, but putting it into practice would be tough, scientists say. Because when it comes to measuring intelligence, we’re actually a little dumb…

One of the problems: Animals don’t stack up the way you’d expect. “[Pigeons have] knocked our socks off in our own lab and other people’s labs in terms of what they can do,” said Edward Wasserman, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Iowa. “Pigeons can blow the doors off monkeys in some tasks.” Experts who study animal intelligence across species say we can’t rank animals by their smarts — scientists don’t even try anymore — which means there’s no objective way to determine which animals would deserve more human-like rights…

Scientists know animals are capable of demonstrating an array of cognitive skills, and there are some skills that some animals are better at than others. But the problem is that a hierarchy assumes all animals (including humans) evolved for the same environment. And that just isn’t true. Animals are smart in the ways they need to be smart, Andrews said. And because environment and needs differ by animal, trying to rank them is futile. If a polar bear has different skills than an octopus, does that mean one is smarter than other — or does it just mean the ocean is different from an iceberg?’ SOURCE…

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