Monday, March 25, 2013

Animal Cognition and General Intelligence

There is a long tradition of attributing linguistic facility in humans to our greater general intelligence. This has always been a hard sell to anyone who has had a pet (a humbling experience; thanks Sampson) but it persists.  The conceit has been to substitute greater general intelligence for dedicated species specific capacities.  However, this tack has become harder the more we learn about animal cognition, given the increasing evidence that animals are pretty damn smart.  Here is another popular review from the front. Chimps, elephants and octopi have proven themselves to be very very clever. Nonetheless, not a word from any of them (though I have been trying to get Sampson to guest blog).  Smart as they are, anything remotely like our linguistic capacity is still unattested in even the smartest animals.  Think that maybe being smart and being linguistically facile are unrelated?


  1. Yes, we're not the only ones who have sets in their heads. We are unique, however, in being able to deny it.

  2. The book, Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals has a number of examples of animals either having language or something that approaches language. It also presents a novel Discourse System theory that seeks to redefine language from a consideration of just the signals that we and animals make, to a consideration of all of the physiological and anatomical structures that are involved in the production of those signals, showing a biological similarity between us and other animals.