Are Apes Smarter than Humans?

I have argued often over the past 20 years that the central question of the 21st century is, What does it mean to be human?

This question is pressed from three sides:

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  • The emerging world of AI
  • Our growing understanding of other animals
  • Our emerging capacity to clone humans and bring them to life without a binary pair of parents

 

A recent article titled, Are Humans Definitely Smarter Than Apes?, Frans de Waal, author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are, is an example of the second — our growing understanding of other animals.

De Waal’s article has fascinating anecdotes that demonstrate how smart nonhuman animals can be.

Take the young male chimpanzee named Ayuma who surpasses human abilities in the memory recall of a series of numbers. De Waal tells us that the chimp almost doubled his own efforts at the same task.

The article is also an insightful look into the mind and worldview of our increasingly secular and materialistic age. De Waal discloses his bias as someone who is “actively trying not to make humanity the measure of all things.”  Additionally, the author writes that no modern scholar would dare suggest divine intervention as a theory for the emergence of the human species.

But he goes beyond this to challenge those scholars who continue to see a major difference between human intelligence and the intelligence of any and all other animals.

He calls this kind of thinking neo-creationism. Neo-creationism, according to de Waal, has as its central tenet the idea that humans evolved from apes in body but not in mind. De Waal believes this kind of thinking has an undeniably religious bent.

His thinking, perhaps due to the closed mindedness of his discipline, cannot tolerate those who think differently. He does not — or perhaps, cannot —  entertain the idea that perhaps there  are  major differences between human capacity and the capacity of other animals.

A central issue for de Waal is one of continuity versus discontinuity.

Discontinuity, the idea that there is an abrupt distinction between the human and the animal, is essentially a pre-evolutionary idea.

Continuity understands the human to be an animal alongside the other animals.

Discontinuity grants to humans an exceptional status. Continuity flattens the status of humans to a spectrum on which we are smarter than the other animals in some ways and less so in others.

This is the point in the article that most fascinates me about primates. The article is written by a primate who insists that he is not smarter than the other primates.

Well, ok, I guess. If that makes him feel better.

Still, there are many points of agreement:

  • I agree with the author that we are moving towards a less anthropocentric understanding of humankind and towards more of a systems view of the world. This is similar to the view expressed in the Genesis narrative.
  • I also agree with the author that humans are not superior to the other animals in every way.
  • I also agree that there is a continuity of the species.
  • I also agree with the author that we cannot divide body and mind. The mind is an emergent property of the body.

But the article comes across as someone trying too hard to reduce the differences between the primate called human and everything else. The anti-religious bent behind this is hard to deny.

The author is right to provoke us towards deeper thinking about our place in the world.

160415_sci_how-smart-animals-are-jpg-crop-article250-mediumBut let’s not stop at the question asked in the title of Franz de Waal’s book:  Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Let’s add the question, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart the Human Animal Is?

By de Waal’s own admission, in his world of scholarship, where the thinking is homogenous and conformity is expected, we’re getting less smart as we go.

As we move away from an anthropocentric view of the world, will we increasingly anthropomorphize the other animals and make them in our image? De Waal doesn’t go that far, and his main point is different.

But, the similarity of worldview is clear. They wish to remove Man from the pedestal.

But as they remove one idol from the pedestal, what will replace it?

Nature abhors a vacuum.

And there is where our question comes once again to the forefront: What does it mean to be human?

 

Emerging Realities: The VREE Economy

 

The Virtual Reality Experience Economy

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In my sessions on Human Capacity Optimization, I explore the progression from the Service Economy to-and-through >> the Experience Economy towards >> the Life Transformation Economy. As we continue this progression, we are seeing an interesting iteration of the Experience Economy, the Virtual Reality Experience Economy (VREE).

The VREE is emerging all around us. Here are a few of the sources.

  1. Star Trek fans: remember the holodeck? Check out THE VOID . The Void is a new form of immersive entertainment. A combination of a physical set, real-time interactive effects and virtual reality create an immersive “HYPR REALITY”  experience that melds digital and physical worlds together.
  2. Are you playing Pokémon Go? This location-based, augmented reality app allows you to turn your smart device into a Pokémon search-and-catch device. Where are these Pokémon? They’re all around you. You have to play it to get it, so I did. It’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to augmented reality, but it gives you a peek of where things are going.
  3. How about some augmented reality and art? In our last “dispatch from the future” we pointed to the use of augmented reality at the Seattle Art Museum to describe what climate change might look like in future Seattle. Just scroll down to the heading: Climate Change and Art
  4. For us, this emerging reality came into focus when we first experienced the Oculus Rift, a headset that creates a 360-degree immersion into a virtual world.

These four and more point to the emergence of the Virtual/Augmented Reality Economy.

Processing Questions:

  • Are you seeing this emerging reality around you? Where? What are your impressions
  • What does this emerging reality say about human development and culture?
  • What kinds of futures might this point to?

 

The Red Dragon__Mars By 2018? 

The Red Dragon missions are a collaboration between NASA and SpaceX. They aim “to land large payloads propulsively on Mars.” For now, the plan doesn’t include sending astronauts to the red planet. For now.

Our species may be the only intelligent life in the universe. If so, perhaps we will be the ones to colonize the universe with intelligence. Or,  the universe is home to other intelligent species. What encounters those would be! Either way, it’s hard to imagine not making a trip to the red planet. What do you think?

Source: Mars By 2018? SpaceX And NASA Announce A New Space Project : The Two-Way : NPR

What’s the Longest Humans Can Live? 115 Years, New Study Says – NYTimes.com

Do we as humans have a limit on our life spans?

The scriptures tell us:

“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10)

I’ve written several posts on Human Longevity. Now, a recent article in the science journal, Nature, suggests we may have reached out limit.

<blockquote>The study, in Nature, suggests that humans “will never get older than 115.” But critics think we can grow much older.</blockquote><p>Source: What’s the Longest Humans Can Live?

What do you think?

Source: What’s the Longest Humans Can Live? 115 Years, New Study Says – NYTimes.com

The Martian

Just yesterday I went with my fam to watch The Martian. Loved it. I’ve loved this kind of science fiction from a very young age. I suspect that the future of our species is to be multi-planetary and enjoy reflecting on this.

In this interactive interview, author Andy Weir talked to IEEE Spectrum Senior Editor Stephen Cass about his book The Martian and movie adaptation.

Enjoy.

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Building a Society with a Robot demographic

Imagine demographic studies of urban areas in the future. Might they one day include robot populations in their data?
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Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant is a novelty eatery populated by robots. And, Henn-na Hotel, the world’s first hotel staffed by robots is open for business.

And now, with the introduction of RoboCab, Japan is leading the world in creating an entire society that accommodates autonomous vehicles.

Here’s a link to a 59-second video:
http://video-api.wsj.com/api-video/player/iframe.html?guid=1C974481-6D77-40CD-9516-2EFF4F4BAB15

Earth 2.0

Scientist Declares the Discovery of Earth 2.0 is Bad News for God

We’ve recently discovered a planet that is very similar to Earth in orbit around a star very similar to our Sun. It’s truly exciting to imagine the possibility that somewhere in the universe there may be others who are both like and unlike us.

A recent Huffington Post piece titled, Earth 2.0: Bad News for God, attempts a preemptive strike against those believers who will try to “rewrite” history in order to accommodate the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. The author, Jeff Schweitzer, is a Ph.D. in marine biology and neurophysiology. Here, in his own words, is the reason he wrote this article:

“let me speculate what would happen should we ever find evidence of life beyond earth even if you think such discovery unlikely. I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world’s major religions. I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens. “

Makes you smile, doesn’t it?

The article is written as a “preemptive strike” against believers who will re-write history.

Not to get too basic here but “preemptive” means an action “taken as a measure against something possible, anticipated, or feared”.

It seems the Ph.D. in marine biology and neurophysiology came riding in to save the day, but the day had already passed.

Some religions, like Mormonism, will actually be reinforced by the discovery of Earth-like planets. Most Christians I know have world-views that easily accommodate life on Earth 2.0. They’re not waiting for some anticipated discovery to reassemble their beliefs. Their view of the cosmos is already big enough for other worlds. The worldview of many believers anticipates and expects life to flourish in the universe.

In fact, the articles cited in the piece itself (the Boston Globe and Live Science) point to the fact that extraterrestrial life and religion are often compatible.  Religion already accommodates the potentiality of extraterrestrial life.

Oops.

Ok, so the author didn’t know that religious people (and religions) are all over the map when it comes to belief in life elsewhere in the universe.

But he couldn’t leave it there.

He had to write the article with a narrow swath of fundamentalists in mind.

That’s why I wrote this response to the Huff Post article. My question has nothing to do with intelligent life on other planets and their impact on Earth’s religions. My question is, What would happen to religion if we discovered intelligent life on this planet? And what would happen to science too!

The reason this question comes (again) to my mind is that this article demonstrates that achieving a Ph.D. in marine biology doesn’t necessarily translate to reading and interpreting literature. Sadly, the author’s understanding of the Genesis poetry is as impoverished as the understanding of some fundamentalist believers. Perhaps even more so.

One of his main critiques is that the Genesis literature doesn’t make any reference whatsoever to the existence of life on other planets. Therefore, the Genesis literature cannot be true.

So sad.

Nothing ever written contains a menu of everything that exists.

In order to evaluate a written piece, we must attempt to uncover the purpose for which something was written. That goes for pieces in the New York Times. It goes for Genesis.

The purpose of what we write determines what we include and exclude.

That’s basic.

Both scientists, like the author of this piece, and fundamentalist believers should take a Humanities class. They would be enlightened by a course in comparative literature, or perhaps a class in poetry.

Scientists:

Genesis is not an inventory of the universe. It is a poetic peek into the meaning of the cosmos spoken in the words of people whose language did not contain the sounds needed to describe what they experienced in the wild.  I know you think that because you have a few new sounds which the ancients did not, you see more. But because of the way you approach this literature, you see even less.

Fundamentalist believers, same to you.

The Genesis community wrestled with the same questions that challenge us today. They hungered and thirsted for meaning. The discovery of Earth 2.o and the potential of life elsewhere in the universe doesn’t quench this thirst. It exacerbates it.

This is not bad news for God or religion because they’re not the issue here. It’s more basic than that.

The issue is us. The author of this piece sought to make a preemptive strike against religion and God, but it’s we who thirst to discover (or invent) meaning in the universe. We are the ones who interpret and reinterpret. We are the ones who are evolving and growing in our understanding of things. And as we invent new sounds (i.e. words) to describe what we see, it allows a little more light into the darkened lens through which we glimpse at God.