A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Intelligent Way to Be Intelligent

Are dolphins better at it than we are?

By Michael Mountain

I was talking about dolphins on Animal Wise Radio with Mike Fry and Beth Nelson. We were discussing the intelligence of dolphins, and whether they might even be more advanced than we humans.

I’d been referring to a remark that Tom White, author of In Defense of Dolphins, had made in our interview with him here on Zoe. Tom notes that the modern bottlenose dolphin has been around for 15 million years, while we modern humans are only about 100,000 years old. And our modern human civilization is barely 5,000 years old.

“We’re at a very early stage in our learning curve. You look at whales and dolphins, and you see big brains, and they don’t overpopulate, they don’t overfish, they seem to have found a way to manage long term survivability of the species, and they don’t go around killing one another. The jury is still out on whether or not humans are going to be around over the long haul. There’s the sad but real possibility that we fall into the ‘too stupid to live’ category.”

Mike Fry picked up on this notion on the radio and commented on the different ways humans and dolphins tend to use our intelligence.

We humans have become very good at using our intelligence to create tools and manipulate our environment, he said. We’re good at technology – that kind of thing.

Dolphins, on the other hand, have used their intelligence to figure out how to survive successfully as a species.

Like us, dolphins can be aggressive, jealous, competitive, hierarchical and political. Like us, they have complex relationships with each other. But they’ve learned not to be self-destructive. They don’t make war on each other, and when they fight among themselves, they never let it get out of hand. They’ve also adjusted to their environment, and they fit into it harmoniously.

We humans have a different way of measuring intelligence. We judge it by the ability to do the things that we’re particularly good at. That’s primarily our use of tools. So that’s how we compare ourselves to other species. When we see another animal using a tool, for example, we note that they’re mildly intelligent. But because we’re so hopelessly bad at creating a peaceful society, we totally miss the fact that there’s another species out there that’s done this enormously successfully and intelligently.

We think we’re really smart. But in reality we’re not smart enough to know that, in what is probably the most important way, we’re kind of dumb!

I thought Mike summed it up very well.

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