Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Conversations: Albert Einstein vs. a Crow

Note: I’ll be taking over “conversations” during Peter’s travels -- Cardozo

How smart are we humans? The answer obviously depends on how one wants to define the word “smart.” For example:

1) Peter’s Oxford English Dictionary suggests “clever, capable, and adept…quick at learning.”
2) The OED has an alternative definition as well: “To be a source of sharp pain; to be acutely painful.” As in, “That whip sure is smart!”

These competing definitions nicely encapsulate the conundrum of assessing human intelligence. The daily news offers up countless examples of apparent human brilliance, yet these examples nearly always go hand-in-hand with some measure of suffering. The inventors of the automobile were surely “smart,” were they not? Yet when I add into the equation the numbers of mangled bodies and decapitated families resulting from the invention over the years, I begin to question its ultimate wisdom. Ditto with airplanes, computers, and even less tangible innovations such as have emerged through psychology, archeology, etc. Are we, in fact, more successful as a species as a result of our brain power? Or, by letting our brains run amok (causing seemingly endless cycles of war, destitution, and environmental devastation) have we proven to be rather weak-minded, in the end?

I’m not saying that cars, plans, computers, psychoanalysis, and other examples of human achievement are bad, or reflective of a sub-par intelligence relative to the rest of the animal kingdom. I’m only throwing out the question. Please follow the links to other relevant conversations happening around the web, and leave your thoughts about this question in the "comments" section. "Conversations" doesn't work without your input.

Integral Options Café – The success of the crow
A link to some remarkable video about the ability of crows to adapt to the presence of humans.

Dharma Bums & This is This
If we’re so smart, why do we put so much weird stuff in our food, some of which apparently causes cancer?

Albert Einstein
One of our species’ brightest stars, widely respected for his imposition of a globally-relevant moral ethic onto the practical application of science.

After perusing the above, I conclude that human beings have the potential to be the smartest animals on Earth, but we’ve got some more evolving to do first. For now, I’m voting for the crow.

4 comments:

Eli said...

This is another example of what can happen when you add the human element into the animal kingdom:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=EHa5cc1aaNU

Just kidding! Seriously though, it's amazing to see how adaptive and intelligent those birds can be, especially when their brains are probably smaller than the walnuts they were cracking!

Here's another resource on Albert Einstein, filled with quote by him. I especially enjoy his quotes about the integration of science and religion.

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

Mark said...

This topic reminds me of the book Peter told me to read, "Ishmael." The knowledge of good and evil has kind of taken our foot out of the natural world and stopped our evolution since we are no longer competing, but subjugating and subduing. We get egotistical with our knowledge, too. Since we're smarter than animals, we're better than them and they are thus commodities, not life. It's a little disappointing to watch sometimes, especially when animals really aren't stupid like the crow videos show. Kinda makes one think.

Carly said...

Slightly related, Youtube video of Carl Jung, on "Self" fantasy, reality, etc.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbicsiUkz2s

Richard said...

We're certainly smart, we can also process a lot of information very quickly, unfortunately we're not so good at actually giving it any meaning or taking a balanced view beyond our own immediate needs and wants.

We need to get from the Information age to the Wisdom age, then maybe we'll deserve the name "Homo Sapiens".