I am not intelligent enough to understand what intelligence is and what amounts to be called as intelligent. I am still a foolish person that way. What is intelligence is quite a debatable topic with no clear cut and agreed upon definition. The Cambridge dictionary describes intelligence as
the ability to learn, understand,
and make judgments
or have opinions that are based on reason
Every animal is intelligent in its own way because they have the ability to cater for their food, shelter and protection. They know what to eat, how to create a shelter for themselves and how to assess a threat and take evasive action. This ability comes from the ability to gather information from and of the surroundings, keep it in memory and teach itself to use that to its own benefit without repeating the whole process. An animal will find the way to go from place A to place B based on the information it gathers from the surrounding. It will then keep it in memory to repeat this journey while learning to take the shortest route also keeping in mind of any predators it might encounter on the way. It will find out areas where it can get food with least of effort. This ability cannot be just said to be instinct because it is processing the information in an intelligent way.
Some might say that it is animal instinct. Yes a part of it is instinct like the ability of a bird to fly is instinct but its selection of place to lay eggs so that they are protected from predators' is the use of intelligence. Just as our ability to walk is instinct but our ancient ancestors selecting shelters in cave to protect themselves was the use of intelligence.
These animals don’t understand Calculus or quantum mechanics or Beethoven or Shakespeare but still they are intelligent in their own way and as per their own requirement. When we talk about ants and see their work in creating shelter, arranging for food and storing it, there division of work and their social behavior it amazes us.
The latest theory on intelligence which has been given by Howard Gardner in 1983 is that of multiple intelligences, instead of a single intelligence quotient. Gardner says there are 8 types of intelligence, so let’s see them one by one.
First – verbal linguistic intelligence which deals with our ability to analyze information and share it, both verbally and written language. Here comes our ability to create oral communication, though this process started from making mere sounds in the beginning to giving meaning to those sounds and then creating script out of those sounds. All basic verbal communication is a creation of evolution both for animals, birds and humans. But only humans have created a written language that too multiple languages, whereas animals and birds of same types have a uniform method of verbal communication between them across the globe.
Second- logical mathematical intelligence which deals with our ability to solve abstract problems by using equations and formulas. Here comes our unique development in the field of science and technology. But when it comes to animals we know that hunting requires using logic and crude mathematics. A tiger knows till what distance it has to crouch and approach a prey, when to sprint and from what distance it should pounce. Otherwise it would fail every time. Those hunting in packs know how to cover all the escape tracts, how to approach the prey and from which direction will yield the best results. Same is the case with making shelters; animals and birds use logic so that it is able to protect its offspring’s.
Third- Visual spatial intelligence which deals with our ability to read maps and find directions and read graphical information. Humans have developed quite a mastery over it with our globetrotting and space exploration. But we also know of birds and animals making long distance movement every year across the globe or across hundreds of kms in search of breeding ground and pastures for food. There natural ability to process magnetic fields or a sense of direction and also the timing of such movement is indeed intriguing. Fishes in sea understand the tides and currents and how to use it. Humans lacking this natural sense rely on the ability to read maps and GPS.
Fourth- Musical intelligence deals with our ability to create various types of sounds using our vocal cord. This is an offshoot of our verbal intelligence. We can play with the sound in various tones and rhythms to create music. Music is in the nature too, in the form of crickets making a collective sound or frogs making a collective sound after rainfall. Some animals also make a collective sound to alert in case of danger. Now some species are monkeys known to be able to understand a danger call coming from other species of monkeys. Sounds of birds are particularly musical in nature. But in this field humans have a distinct advantage.
Fifth- naturalistic intelligence which deals with our ability to distinguish between different types of plants and animals, weather conditions. We have noted and classified different plants and animals based on their types, utility, life period etc. Also we have studied atmospheric weather conditions, oceans and tides and aquatic life forms. We have learnt how to use this information for our own requirement and good. But do animals lack in this field, I have never heard of an animal eating a wrong plant or animal and suffering food poisoning. All other life forms also understand the weather cycle around the year. A bear knows when to hibernate; a bird knows when to fly back to home. Birds and animals are particularly sensitive to understanding an impending storm or natural disasters.
Sixth- bodily kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to use the body like dancing or sports or even acting. Humans have used the body to create dance forms or fitness beyond the normal requirements of physical action though these skills are not related to our survival. Animals and birds work on opposite principle because there primary goals is survival that is getting food and protection from prey. So animals don’t waste energy on anything that does not serve these two purposes. As humans have gone beyond the level of requiring making effort for food and protection therefore they have the time and inclination for this type of intelligence. But when it boils doing to strength, agility and acrobatic ability most animals are equally adept when it comes to meeting its basic requirement.
Seventh- Interpersonal intelligence deals with the ability to deal with emotions, feelings and mental state of others. Humans have this ability to recognize these conditions in others. But animals are no less in this field also. Doesn’t your pet dog or cat understand you; it also shows its emotions to you which you understand and vice versa. Animals also have the ability to identify basic emotions among its species and react accordingly. Even interspecies relations are understood by some animals like dolphins. Don’t animals which live in some form of social structure like elephants and ants have a very good understanding of these things among the group? They also understand the feeling of a variety of emotions like love and sorrow.
Eighth- Intrapersonal intelligence deals with the ability to deal with the above mentioned feelings within themselves. It helps in understanding our mental state better and react accordingly. Though animals may not enjoy the variety of emotional states as humans, may be because they don’t need them but the basic instincts are still there in them. They also go through anger pain love and deal with them in their own way but our understanding of animal world in this field is quite limited.
So this was all about the latest idea of intelligence. No doubt humans have excelled in some of the fields like logic and mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, linguistic intelligence and visual spatial intelligence to some extent. But we still have very less understanding about the finer details of the animal world. These intelligences have taken us beyond the realms of nature and evolution.
But when it is a clash between human nature and human intelligence, humans are still at the mercy of human nature. Our human nature as an individual and as a social entity more often than not overshadows what we call intelligence. Almost every scientific invention and discovery which takes us beyond the realms of nature has been used as a double edged sword. Our knowledge of atoms have given us a treasure house of knowledge about how nature works but also unleashed the power of it. Our knowledge about biology and chemistry has given us life saving medicines but also biological and chemical killing agents not only as weapons but even daily use products. Our over exploitation of natural resources have given us a high carbon print.
Are these the signs of intelligence, the creation of ability to harm and destroy ourselves? Which other life form on earth is hell bent on fighting and killing its own type-none. Does intelligence require common sense? I guess not because if that was the case then common sense would prevail over intelligence. What does it teach us? I think it teaches us that as long as you are living as a part of nature you can live co existentially but when you try to decipher the laws of nature without the common sense of using it, it will become detrimental to your own existence. Sometimes it is important to look at other life forms which we consider inferior and learn from them rather than consider ourselves superior and start destroying ourselves. There is no doubt that we are the most superior intelligent race on this planet, its just that we need to do better than what we are doing now.
Religion is not a part of nature and we kill each other for it. Money is not the part of nature but we again kill each other for it. Country is not the part of nature but be kill each other for it. On the other hand we are ready to kill each other for water, oil, land and natural resources. Nothing escapes our human nature.
I am not implying that we stop what we are doing or regress back to the living of animal kingdom or the cave man; I only impress the fact that we should use some intelligence in what we are doing, the type of intelligence that Gardner did not mention. We are still not intelligent enough to control our human nature.