(Hu)man’s best friend

Recently, I saw an episode of the science show “NOVA” which showcased an interesting research question in the field of biology right now: are the animals that we choose to live with, smarter than we think they are?

The program showcased several cases of extreme intelligence in animals where, if trained, dogs, birds, and dolphins could do amazing things and even think creatively on a toddler’s level. A New Zealand shepherd dog was showcased with over 300 words in his vocabulary, with the ability to learn new ones. Several dolphins were shown on the show that had the ability to create and develop ingenious new maneuvers with each other, all marks of “animal intelligence.”

Normally, some simple thing I see on television would not inspire me to write a whole blog post, at least until this morning.

What if we're just underestimating the true intelligence of animals around us? (Photo by Per Harald Olsen)

Last night, I spent the night at a friend’s house whose parents are currently pet-sitting a bird and a dog both of which have the same owner.

I watched this morning, as the bird and dog seemed to almost talk and communicate with each other. In one instance, the dog was in dire need to go outside and was clearly troubled. The bird was actually the one that let people know since his screeching alerted the household. In another, when the dog was trying to sleep, the bird screeched a little at her, and then was quiet for the rest of the morning.

Now, most of you will think this a stupid, silly post. I mean, these are two instances, totally unrelated, and probably coincidental. And for all of you, I say, YEAH! I know, I even felt silly writing the very words I just wrote above. But what if…just what if, we may be underestimating man’s best friends. And what about animals communicating not within the same species, but cross species?

ARE animals really more intelligent than we give them credit for? We’ve spent our whole civilization automatically assuming that we’re the ones on top, we’re the ones who’ve mastered nature, cultivated fire, and dominated the top of the food chain. But honestly, are we really just taking for granted the intelligence of other animals around us?

Until we can decode how they talk and what they do, that question might never be answered in full. But in my opinion, never underestimate that which we do not know.

And it makes me wonder. What about animals not of our world. I believe it was Steven Hawking who contemplated whether or not humankind could take it if we ever encountered life more intelligent than our own. So long, we’ve come to believe that our ingenuity and resourcefulness and our ability to adapt to the environment and climate at hand is what sets us apart and makes us the ultimate race.

What happens when humankind looks around one day at the groundbreaking realization that we’re not number one? That we’re really not as big and great as we say we are. What a sad day that might be.

But in the meantime, enough about aliens and extraterrestrials. As for man’s best friends, I’m genuinely convinced there’s much much more than meets the eye.

Categories: Alumni Blogs, Other

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