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Discriminating human intelligence from animal intelligence

By Nanook - Posted on 07 November 2010

[ This information is summarized from Scout to the Pole Chapter 18. Nanook is talking to George.]

“A typical reply to the old question, ‘how are humans different from animals’ is: building arches and using tools. This answer does describe different behaviors. But it doesn’t explain how human and animal consciousness are different. The behaviors are essentially measurements showing that the difference exists. What the book explains is how humans are distinguished from animals by a new mental ability, due to the presence of a new THIRD BRAIN ( thinker brain ) that is not found in animals. The key to understanding how that brain works is its ability to process recursively. More specifically, in humans, the third physical brain is connected and acts as an observer of the other two brains. It makes its observations of those brains in summary form. These summaries we call SYMBOLS. And this brain, with an additional subdivision, which creates the A3 awareness level, is also able to monitor its own string of symbols.

This view actually draws on a classical model described in a book called Man in the Modern World: The Uniqueness of Man by Julian Huxley:”

"Man’s opinion of his own position in relation to the rest of the animals has swung pendulum wise between too great and too little a conceit of himself… Primitive and savage man, the world over, not only accepts his obvious kinship with animals but also projects into them many of his own attributes… he has very little pride in his own humanity. With the advent of settled civilization, [and] economic stratification … man saw himself as a being set apart, with the rest of the animal kingdom created to serve his needs and pleasure, with no share in salvation, no position in eternity. Gods became anthropomorphic and human psychological qualities pre-eminent.
Unique human characteristics:
1. Verbal and written signs for objects and concepts. The ability to record experiences in tangible form that other humans can understand.
2. Cumulative tradition ( tools and machines )
3. Biological dominance
4. Reticulate evolution – evolving as one species group ( so far ). Animals evolved as divergent branches. "

"Verbal and written signs mean symbols – abstracts. The written form allows us to create records and pass them on to others and the next generation – cumulative tradition as he says. Biological dominance comes from being able to form symbols, or mental images, of a collection of objects, like animal herds, or forests. This distinguishes human animals from NON-HUMAN animals. It is critical to keep remembering that humans are still animals.”

Animals using tools - A-squared continuum

“But some animals do use tools. Monkeys and birds, for example, are known to use sticks to get ants out of holes in trees. The point of this observation is not to dispute the previous statements but to put them in context. While maintaining that the “A” levels are distinct, simple observations will appear as a continuum. This is because: lower level brain structures can develop behavioral tricks that mimic higher level structures; and there is a large range of variation inside each of the levels. So, while monkeys and birds do use sticks as tools to hunt for ants, they clearly don’t build automobiles or airplanes. The difference in scale between designing automobiles and poking sticks in logs is huge. Monkeys and birds have learned behaviors that mimic some primitive things humans do with tools. But the behaviors are very limited. To be able to apply tools in new ways that have never been done before, which humans do all the time, they need A2 and A3 mental abilities.

Also, when we talk about animals, and particularly great apes, i.e. primates, it’s not clear where the A2 brain function turns on. While the A-squared concept suggests discrete jumps in brain function, the large range of variation at each level makes it look like a continuum. We have to apply this large variation in ability to understand A2 and A3 in humans as well. Many humans do not have A3 brain structures. That is, they don’t have the ability to understand planning and organization. But this can be greatly masked by exceptional use of the A2 abilities at pattern identification and learning complex behaviors. The point is, no amount of teaching can get a person without Thinker-1 to be self-aware. No amount of teaching can get a person without Thinker-2 to understand planning or organizing or higher math or logic. This is hinted at in an observation from Carl Sagan, in his book, The Demon-Haunted World. Page 309:”

“Why should so many people find science hard to learn and hard to teach? I've tried to suggest some of the reasons - its precision, its counterintuitive and disquieting aspects, its prospects of misuse, its independence of authority, and so on. But is there something deeper? Alan Cromer is a physics professor at Northeastern University in Boston who was surprised to find so many students unable to grasp the most elementary concepts in his physics class. In Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science . . . Cromer proposes that science is difficult because it's new. We, a species that's a few hundred thousand years old, discovered the method of science only a few centuries ago, he says. Like writing, which is only a few millennia old, we haven't gotten the hang of it yet - or at least not without very serious and attentive study.
Except for an unlikely concatenation of historical events, he suggests, we would never have invented science. . . This hostility to science, in the face of its obvious triumphs and benefits, is . . . evidence that it is something outside the mainstream of human development, perhaps a fluke.
Chinese civilization invented movable type, gunpowder, the rocket, the magnetic compass, the seismograph, and systematic observations and chronicles of the heavens. Indian mathematicians invented the zero, the key to comfortable arithmetic and therefore to quantitative science. Aztec civilization developed a far better calendar than that of the European civilization that inundated and destroyed it; they were better able, and for longer periods into the future, to predict where the planets would be. But none of these civilizations, Cromer argues, had developed the skeptical, inquiring, experimental method of science. All of that came out of ancient Greece . . .”

[The point made in Scout to the Pole is that there is a much more fundamental reason than Sagan or Cromer imagined. The inability to do science and math is deeper than not just paying attention in class. It’s an inherited brain function.]