Wonder and Awe – Man and Intelligence.


The saddest aspect of being a human being is that there is only one species of us. It has led us to believe we are something special, something that is above all other life. Many people struggle to think of us as animals.

We are animals. We are intelligent animals. We have fabulous brains that give us consciousness. We think that sets us apart. It doesn’t.

We are not the most intelligent animal that has ever lived on this planet, let alone what intelligences may exist on other worlds. We are not even the most intelligent organism on this planet now. We are not even the most intelligent species of human who has ever lived on this planet.

Brains operate like super-computers. It is the size that is important. Our brains contain 85 billion brain cells – neurons – which is about the same number of stars as in a small galaxy. However each of those cells is connected via dendrites to between 10,000 and a 100,000 other brain cells. That is a staggering number of connections.

The human brain is between 1300 grams (the racists) and 1400 grams (the rest of us).

By comparison the brain of a chimpanzee (our closest relative with whom we share 99% of our genes) is only 400 grams.

There was a rapid evolutionary change occurred around 1.8 million years ago (very recent in evolutionary terms). Our brains grew from 400 grams to 1400 grams.

I said earlier that we are not the most intelligent animal on the planet. That distinction falls to the cetaceans. Not all of us consider them super-intelligent because they do not build cities and weapons. That is how we judge intelligence.

Whales and dolphins do not have limbs to create tools. They live in the sea and do not need shelter. They have plentiful food and do not need to work.

They play, sing, spend time together and enjoy themselves. They do not pollute, overpopulate or destroy one another. They are not cruel, barbaric and vicious. They do not create religions.

That sounds like intelligence to me.

The size of a sperm whales brain  is a staggering 7800 grams. That is over five times that of a human.

The brain of a bottle-nose dolphin is between 1500-1700 grams – bigger than a human.

Of course you may like to suggest that intelligence is not all about brain size. The evidence from bird intelligence (with small brains) is that there are other factors though size is crucially important.

If you take into account body mass to brain ratio then we still do not come out too good. Even the tree shrew outdoes us.

The obvious intelligence of the cetaceans is extant in numerous ways and makes it even more disgusting when you consider the incredibly callous way we have treated them. We have deployed our technology to kill races of gentle, intelligent creatures. We have blown them up with explosive harpoons, stabbed and hacked them to death. In the Faroes they are still gaffing and sawing through their necks. The barbarity is appalling.

These creatures are probably more intelligent and sensitive than humans. Stop the slaughter!

It seems incredible to me that we spent billions trying to find even the most crudest form of life elsewhere in the galaxy while ignoring the obvious intelligent life under our own noses. Perhaps we should be trying harder to communicate?

Back to the subject.

I said earlier that we are not the most intelligent human that has lived on this planet. That accolade goes to the Neanderthals. We share a common ancestor and we even have some of their genes. There was some successful interbreeding. The Neanderthals, far from being the shambling cavemen of our cartoons, were more intelligent than us. Their brain size was 1500 grams to 1800 grams.

As more intelligent humans they were probably gentler. We – the moronic cousins – were more cynical and vicious. We lived side by side up until as recently as a mere 150,000 years ago. Then we destroyed them.

How I wish we hadn’t. Wouldn’t it be great if there were two intelligent species of human beings living on this planet now? It would blow all that religious superiority out of the water – particularly when we were clearly the lesser of the two in intelligence. The biblical stories would simply not hold water.

But that was not to be. We, the inferior intelligence, prevailed.

It goes to show that there is more to being human than intelligence.

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