The Mismeasure of Man

chess players


The Cleverness of Mankind

The standard procedure of those who argue that humans are the most intelligent animal, and who believe the reason so simple it could be written on the back of a postage stamp goes as follows… Man is the only animal, who produces technology, the internet, puts its kind on the moon etc. Nothing else comes close. Its as simple as that. End of case.

The Stupidity of Mankind

The standard procedure of those who argue that humans are the most stupid animal, and who believe the reason so simple it could be transcribed on that postage stamp goes as follows… Man is the only animal that allows his kind to grow beyond sustainable limits, such that we are constantly endangering our own species with sudden extinction. No other animal is so stupid!

The Real Measure

Both groups are right about one aspect of mankind, but are hopelessly amiss in their measure of man. Mankind has a intelligence that is inherent only in the collective, and this is greater than any other intelligence we know of on Earth. Furthermore, modern humans didn’t display this external intelligence when their brains were first as big as they are today, but only after they had help being lifted into the starting blocks by dogs, and perhaps, with the aid of further animal helpers. When agriculture began we raced towards civilisation. Only then could we could tap this external intelligence, and our individual brains actually began to shrink. That’s prima facie evidence that this external intelligence of ours has, so far, had an inverse relationship with our actual intelligence.

Against this, mankind has a stupidity, inherent only in the collective. This stupidity exists irrespective of the brilliance of the individuals who make up such collectives, and is driven by such devices as the prisoner’s dilemma, and the tragedy of the commons. The magnitude of this stupidity goes far beyond anything else of its sort that we know of on Earth.

Obviously, neither of these opposing effects can be used as measures of individual human intelligence, but if we could find how to balance them against each other we could measure the external intelligence of our species. The only way I can see to calculate the balance is if our species survives to a time when it stabilises. If that ever happens, then we can take our sustainable ecological footprint and give it a fair comparison against other animals. Here is the page where I extrapolate back to the most recent such time in which we can do just that. Our ecology was reasonably stable just before the industrial revolution. Back then the species with the biggest ecological impact was, once more, the sperm whale. The data is currently insufficient to give an exact figure, but it is sufficient to put the collective intelligence of their society, as measured by the size of their footprint, at somewhere between on par with humanity, to an order of magnitude in advance of us. Even in the collective, somehow, the sperm whale still manage to outdo us.

Maldives 00147 my foot print in sand

Our impact circa 1800

Maldives 00147 my foot print in sand

Their impact circa 1800

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