Humans and Chimps: To Measure the Gap

Long ago, and before my interest in animal intelligence, I proposed ending every post I made with the phrase ‘death to the paradigm approach to science’. My friends soon talked me out of it, since most equate such a challenge to orthodoxy with an ancient aliens type mindset. What I was attempting was very different. Even among our most logical communities the tendency to demand ‘give us the answers’ trumps over ‘give us the questions and evidence that evokes them’.

By way of example, the proper answer for the ancient alien quest should be ‘yes, there is fragmentary evidence in favour of unusual and alien looking technologies used by ancient humans’, and ‘yes, we should be aware that we could create a prehistoric aliens on Earth story that would support that narrative, but if we went beyond acknowledging the possibility we would begin building a castle in sky’. That castle would, itself, be built over a paradigm – except it would be even less likely to reflect the truth than the conventional narrative. What I wish every scientist to utilise is the Socratic fact that the only thing we can know is that we know nothing. To genuinely follow science is to live in the certainty of perpetual doubt.

Unfortunately, the human description of science does not merely rest on such rationality. It is as susceptible to fads as any other human enterprise. I don’t imagine that psychometrists are fundamentally resistant to the idea that sperm whales are our equals, so much as they think it unlikely simply because most others in the field are non-believers. One current leader of a herd of scientists is Frans de Waal. Those who have faith in this leader are not placing it blindly, as  Frans has had some productive ideas, and has displayed diligence, yet he wishes to push another popular paradigm. I would be almost as guilty of this sin (saved only by the unpopularity of my idea), should I ever believe without proof that sperm whales were our equals. What I actually believe is that there is sufficient evidence that we should test the hypothesis. Furthermore, it is very hard to load the risk-reward equation such that the data doesn’t scream just do it!

This, finally, this brings me to a paper whose objective findings reflect a different aspect of the problems I presented in THIS previous post. Unfortunately, their study is wrapped up in the framework and language such that its subjective tone nullifies its importance to this website. For that reason, I recommend that you first read a popular commentary on the paper, HERE, that doesn’t share that weakness.

The actual paper itself, presents these results interspersed with ‘a lion is a genius at being a lion’ ideology, and attacks on the psychometric g.  Were there no g factor, we would still have native rights to hunt a group of whales, even in a future where other members of their species constituted most of our best selling authors. We could just say ‘sure they can dictate a book, but, just like many other animals, part of their genius of being is the way the traditional way they attempt to escape our predation’.

Anyhow, enough negativity! I endorse their efforts. My objections are confined to having so many scientists follow in the narrow space of their paradigm. Enjoy, read, and learn.