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Adirondackwannabe's avatar

What distinguishes human intelligence, reasoning, and conceptualizing from animal intelligence?

Asked by Adirondackwannabe (36538points) September 29th, 2010

How far apart are animals and humans in intelligence? Do animals problem solve? Can they count? How abstract can the animals think?

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22 Answers

marinelife's avatar

I think they are more intelligent than we give them credit for. I have seen them problem solve. I don’t know if dogs can count, but theu can tell time to the minute,

I don’t think they spend a lot of time on abstract thinking, but I think some animals can. Border collies, African Grey Parrots, dolphins.

They are different from us in that they live in the present. But really I think it is a matter of degree of difference.

JilltheTooth's avatar

This seems to be appropriate here.

BoBo1946's avatar

Hope you enjoy this unbelievable story!

I’ve only had one dog that could solve problems. I had cooked some ribeyes, and after eating our steaks, we set the remains on a tray next to our dining room table. We were having our dessert, and all of a sudden, Putter (minature Dachshund) ran to the front door and started barking. Well, I got up and went to the door, and Putter ran down the hill next to our house (lived in a wooden area at the time). My ex. and I went outside and looked down the hill and saw nothing. We went back in the house and Putter had jumped up on a chair and was eating the remains of our steaks. I immediately picked Putter up and set her on the floor. My ex said, “are you thinking what I’m thinking?” So, we sit down at the table and started talking again. Putter ran to the door, started barking, and I opened the door and she ran down the hill. Sure enough, she sneaked back into the house and jump up on the chair started eating those steaks. Unreal..

As @marinelife said, they are lot smarter than we give them credit!

Cruiser's avatar

Pretty darn far apart and Planet of the Apes ain’t happening anytime soon.

MissA's avatar

My cat was posing as me the other
night on fluther. Does that count?

wundayatta's avatar

Two words: cars.

Woops. That was only one word. My bad.

Would any other animal be stupid enough to invent and manufacture cars?

CMaz's avatar

Animals lack “self Awareness” only living to follow an instinctual process.

Eat, procreate and survival of the species. They have no concept of conservation.

Anything else is projecting humanism on the animal. We all do it.

Blackberry's avatar

We have a larger cortex; that’s all I can remember right now lol.

Trillian's avatar

Since we have no common language to make the comparson and no way of confirming or disproving any theory, how can we know?

Cruiser's avatar

@Trillian Exactly! I still say animals have a capacity to reason and conceptualize albeit limited as I know my dog was much smarter than more than a few of the people I have met in my life.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Trillian I was thinking through your question, and I don’t think we need a common language to communicate with animals. I can read most of them pretty well. I agree with cruiser. I think there may be some capacity to reason. If you watch animals closely, they exhibit alot of traits small children exhibit.

Trillian's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I agree but we have no absolute method of confirmation. Conceptualizing requires language. I agree that animals have their own languages” but we cannot know how or if they reason or conceptualize or the degree as we have no method of verification.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Trillian I see your point. We can guess from what we can see, but it’s still a guess. ok good point.

crisw's avatar


The situation, however, is similar with other humans. We cannot know with certainty how anyone else thinks or feels; we can only make a reasoned judgment from observed behavior. The same is true with animals.

At least some animals have almost all the cognitive skills we attribute to humans. We can test the abilities of animals to possess such abstract concepts as object permanence- and they do. One fascinating book of how we can measure the mental abilities of animals is How Monkeys See the World by Cheney and Seyfarth.

tinyfaery's avatar

As far as I can know, the only difference I see is the human capability of imaging something that does not exist. Other than that, I’m fairly certain that, taken as a whole, non-human animals have all the capacity for experience that humans do.

CMaz's avatar

If they did, there would be dog and cat cities.

ETpro's avatar

As a number of other posters have noted, there are some remarkable examples of intelligence in the animal world. To brag for a moment about a fellow cephalopod’s, I saw a TV piece covering a scientific expedition to study squid. Divers had captured a few, and brought them back to the research ship where they were placed in deck-top salt water tanks with hinged lids to keep the animals from escaping.

The squids laid low for a while after being put in the tank. Then they used their tentacles to grab the tank wall and push on the hinged lid. You could see their giant eye come up to the crack produced, and peer out at the nearby deck to see if any of the crew were nearby. When they saw humans, they dropped the lid and waited a few minutes before repeating the exercise. Only when the coast was completely clear did the animals push the lid open, slither out across the deck and up over the railing to dive back into their welcome home in the ocean.

That said, there are some things where human intelligence obviously shines. We are able to conceive and manufacture incredibly sophisticated tools. Chimps use sticks to reach things, and straws to coax tasty termites out of their mounds. We build Large Hadron Colliders, Space Shuttles, Supertankers, Hubble Space Telescopes, and so forth. Human minds have an uncanny knack for language, both spoken and written. We have a powerful ability to form meaningful analogies. We have used that ability to observe the world around us, and move from a feeling that everything was magic to a growing understanding of the regularities within it, such as the motion of the celestial bodies, the changes of seasons, the way plants grow, what causes disease and so much more.

We can even share stories about how bright certain of our animal brethren are. I wonder how many animals share stories of how amazing human intelligence is.

Serevaetse's avatar

I find animals fascinating. I get so frustrated when people say that animals are stupid.

They are smart enough to run away from hunters, to burrow themselves for warmth so that they don’t freeze to death, and to stay away from poisonous mushrooms/berries/bugs out in the wild.

While a lot of this is due to instinct, that is no reason to think they are stupid or not as smart because of that. My boyfriend has a bird, and he is amazingly smart (nothing new, but still) and can say words and dance and everything like that. Dogs sit, and stay and know when you are sad/crying. As do some cats.

I also find it amazing that animals don’t spend their time and energy wondering “how do I look today?” “I wonder if they don’t like me” or “I am not good enough”
That’s the difference, I think. They have no self-perception. Other than for mating purposes, they don’t try to look a certain way or please others (accept for dogs seem to do this)

There are so many factors and I don’t wanna sit here and type up a ton of stuff, but here is a bit of what I think in a nutshell.

faye's avatar

Geese mate for life, elephants have what appears to be mourning ceremonies, dolphins are probably wondering if we have much intelligence, and I think my little dog knows things before I do.

CMaz's avatar

And, my dog can lick his own balls.

mattbrowne's avatar

Ability to make a plan for an event 5 years in the future.

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