For some time now, I have suspected human beings of making far too big of deal regarding their position on this planet, and of placing way too much stock in their own abilities. There’s no doubt we can kill things better than any other animal, and this more than anything else explains our huge numbers on the earth (although ants far outnumber humans). But just how intellectually or emotionally superior are we?
Along these lines, today I noticed another interesting blog entry from the good people at Freakonomics describing the mosquitofish’s ability to count—almost as well as some humans. You can read the post by clicking here. Not surprisingly, there have been previous studies that show how monkeys can perform math, but seeing a study demonstrating such ability in stupid fish is downright hysterical. What I like about this is that—in my mind anyway—it kind of deflates the whole notion that many people have about human intelligence and how beautifully unique it is.
Math is such a sacred field. For much of history, men in funny jackets have pointed to math and said, “See?” And we have said, “Oooooo…” And then we head off for home, slip off our shoes, grab a beer, and watch Wheel of Fortune. But why do we hold math in such esteem? A fucking fish can do it. Sure, it’s important to learn, and everyone should at least know the basics before being allowed to perform even the most menial of labor, but does it really make us special? Yes, we delve into it much more deeply than a monkey can be bothered to do, but then again, it isn’t the monkeys who are in danger of blowing up the whole goddamn world on a daily basis. Here is a great example of what we do with math:
In another article from the New York Times website, I read about a monkey’s ability to become wrapped up in rationalizations.
Before discovering this article, if a person would have asked me what—in my humble opinion—defined the human mind, I would have said it was the ability to lie to oneself about nearly everything that goes on around them, and how this makes our existence on this miserable rock tolerable. But in reality, even the monkeys are quite capable of ruining their own delusional lives. Ah, the mind’s ability to turn its every disastrous decision into the inevitable, ineffable, gravitational pull of fate: isn’t that what makes us human? Apparently not.
I think in the long run, we’re going to find out that many of the things we thought were distinctive to humans—emotionally and intellectually—are actually shared to some extent by nearly every other being in the universe—even the ability to screw everything up.