Sunday, March 23, 2008


Homo Saps

Edwin Way Teale, Days Without Time: Adventures of a Naturalist (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1948), pp. 69-70:
When the subject of the intelligence of the so-called dumb animals comes up, I always remember Bertrand Russell's observation that we have only our own word for it that Man is smarter than the Amoeba. We make the rules. We decide what is smart and what isn't. A scientist plumps a cat down in a laboratory maze and gets out his stop watch and sees how long it takes the creature to find its way out. The cat thinks it is all silly. It doesn't try. Our tests, we say, have shown that a cat has a lamentably low I.Q.


But to get back to the owls. Of course they are wise—in their way. So are rats and bats and puppy-dogs and mud-daubers and swallows and starfish. Some creatures look wiser than others. There the owls excel. But anything that has brains enough to work with nature instead of against her, anything that can keep going in a changing world for millions of years, is intelligent enough for all its needs. And this kind of intelligence most of the creatures of the wild world, including the owls, have demonstrated.

The truth is: it is man that is on trial. In comparison with the long endurance of the opossum and the dragonfly, Homo sapiens has been on earth but a short while. He has yet to demonstrate he has the kind of intelligence that will permit him to endure. He has yet to demonstrate that he is not the counterpart of some erratic genius who commits suicide at thirty-five. Nature's I.Q. tests are different from the ones of our devising. They are long and laborious, extending over vast stretches of time and through many successive generations. They, and they alone, will tell whether the wisdom of the dumb, the wisdom that permits a species to endure, is also man's.
Related post: Homo sapiens.

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