Who's the smartest in the Animal Kingdom?
I found myself asking this question after seeing an article argue over which species was more intelligent, cats or dogs. There are conflicting reports on that issue and the article I just linked has a misnomer title, but all of that aside, my first query was how do researchers look for intelligence in the first place? You can, of course, monitor the life of an animal and give it different tasks to test its problem solving abilities or you can dig deeper and look at the numbers.
It seems to the Vanderbilt University and others that intelligence can be measured in relation to the amount of cortical neurons a brain has. I read this and thought, like in life, dry numbers don't always equal a solid conclusion when it comes to emotions, habits, general thought processes, and creativity. It seems that you must consider evolutionary history and environment as well.
Going off neurons in the cerebral cortex alone, which is where most information processing occurs, science tells us that the Pilot Whale is almost twice as smart as we are.
So why do we rule the world and they don't? Environmental advantages.
1. We Live on Land
Living on land has given us a lot of advantages. We're privy to more materials. We can spark fires here. We can skateboard. (That applies to everyone right?)
There were, of course, land issues at first:
But then, WE WENT ALL BEAR GRYLLS ON EVOLUTION.
2. We Have Hands
Mainly I'm referring to our thumb and index finger, but the rest of the hand is great too (just not AS great. Fight me, other fingers.) We can grab anything we want! Just don't go the Kevin Spacey route.
3. We've Written Down Our Knowledge
Even though the Pilot Whale may be able to process more information than we can, it is not evident that they have passed their knowledge in an overarching way to their descendants; no more so than other animals have. Once we discovered/invented writing, we changed the game.
It doesn't appear as if our brains have changed in a drastic way from 10,000 years ago in relation to how big our brains are or how many neurons we as humans have. This seems to point in the direction of environmental pressures, adaptability, and communication over long periods of time.
Humans are smarter, but only because we have evolutionary advantages that extend past an adherence to a certain amount of neurons in a specific place within our brain, though neuron counts are a large component.
According to Marc Hauser, director of the cognitive evolution lab at Harvard University, there are four main cognitive factors that distinguish us from all other life on Earth, (that we know of). I've given you my "why/what", now here's Hauser's "what":