February 20, 2008

Man v. Beast

Harvard's Marc Hauser proposes four ways that human intelligence is qualitatively different from animal intelligence:

These four novel components of human thought are

- the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding;

- to apply the same "rule" or solution to one problem to a different and new situation;

- to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input;

- and to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.

Sounds like the abilities to abstract and to analogize are the keys.

Earlier scientists viewed the ability to use tools as a unique capacity of humans, but it has since been shown that many animals, such as chimpanzees, also use simple tools. Differences do arise, however, in how humans use tools as compared to other animals. While animal tools have one function, no other animals combine materials to create a tool with multiple functions. In fact, Hauser says, this ability to combine materials and thought processes is one of the key computations that distinguish human thought.

According to Hauser, animals have "laser beam" intelligence, in which a specific solution is used to solve a specific problem. But these solutions cannot be applied to new situations or to solve different kinds of problem. In contrast, humans have "floodlight" cognition, allowing us to use thought processes in new ways and to apply the solution of one problem to another situation. While animals can transfer across systems, this is only done in a limited way.

"For human beings, these key cognitive abilities may have opened up other avenues of evolution that other animals have not exploited, and this evolution of the brain is the foundation upon which cultural evolution has been built," says Hauser.

This reminds of how stupid it was for the SAT to drop the often-criticized analogy questions: "Bicameral is to legislation as hand-crafting is to ..." or whatever.

This reminds of how stupid it was for the SAT to drop its often-criticized analogy questions: "Bicameral is to legislation as handcrafted is to ..." or whatever. Analogies are absolutely central to human intelligence.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Reg C├Žsar said...

I give up... as "handcrafted" is to what?

And at what time of life do these four things show up? That is, when do we cease to be mere animals in our capacity to think? (Can we eat babies before that point?)

Inquiring fathers of two-month-olds want to know...

DYork said...

"Bicameral is to legislation as handcrafted is to ..."

Ceramic birds? Wicker baskets? Useless junk made by chunky women in a church basement?

robert said...

I think the bicameral/handcrafted parallel was a joke. It made my brain hurt, too, though.

Anonymous said...

... to "manufacturing" ? :P

wilberforce said...

what about the new caledonian crow? http://users.ox.ac.uk/~kgroup/tools/introduction.shtml

you can watch a video of it using a stick to retrieve another stick, which it in turn uses to retrieve a morsel of food (as far as i understand, this is the only case of so-called 'meta-tool', or tool on tool, use seen in animals other than humans). it ain't building ziggurats, but it's still pretty impressive for a bird.

Johnson said...

But there are probably millions of humans who lack the ability to apply old solutions to new problems.

And have you checked out the videos of brilliant birds? here or here ?

Check this out.

Anyway, like I've always been saying: HBD proves that human intelligence in on a spectrum, just like all animal intelligence. As a species, we get less and less unique as we learn more about animals and ourselves.

HBD - animal rights= prescription for genocide

Gore Me Again said...

Oh, Steve, they got rid of SAT analogies precisely because analogical thinking is a key quality of human intelligence. The last thing modern colleges want is an objective test of intelligence to contradict their "diversity" cant.

Anonymous said...

This reminds of how stupid it was for the SAT to drop the often-criticized analogy questions: "Bicameral is to legislation as hand-crafting is to ..." or whatever.

The SAT Analogy Section was removed because it was biased by "socio-economic" factors (e.g. in favor of Whites and Asians).

The analogies required not only raw intelligence to derive the analogy itself, but also basic command of vocabulary to divine shades of meaning.

The SAT organization itself claims that they still measure analogy skills in the short and long reading passages. Based upon the old SAT reading comprehension sections, I don't know how they do this without reintroducing the same problem with the vocabularies purportedly limited by lower SES (smart Asian immigrants I knew did fine even if English was a 2nd language).

michael farris said...

"Bicameral is to legislation as handcrafted is to ..."

I was going to say 'production' but anonymous beat me to it.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Bicameral is to legislation as {handcrafted is to hands} inverted.

Michael said...

I don't think *any* of those four ways human intelligence beats animal intelligence are in my range. From what other commenters are saying here, it sounds like some birds may be a little swifter than I am too.