As the story goes, Carl Linnaeus had a clever reason for naming our exciting species of super ape, Homo sapiens. His original choice for us was Homo diurnus, which is Latin for, “man of the day”. But he soon realized folks needed to be persuaded their species should have a new name. After all, why not just stick with calling us “humans”, or “man”, or “mankind”? So Linnaeus decided a bit of flattery could do no harm to his cause, and he named us, “man the wise”.
Whether that story is true or just a folk tale, I have no idea. But I think in either case it speaks volumes about how we Homo sapiens flatter ourselves. For it is quite typical for us to think our most remarkable characteristic as a species is our superior intelligence, wisdom, or understanding.
I do not mean our greater intelligence; I mean our superior intelligence.
For it seems to me we typically assume “the more, the better” when it comes to intelligence. We are certainly not prone to assume “the more, the worse”, “the more, the more ridiculous”, “the more, the more tragic”. Nope. The more, the better.
Of course, we’re free to place whatever value we want to place on our intelligence. We can think ourselves superior. We can even think ourselves inferior. It’s all the same to nature. But consider this: We have been on this planet for at most 260,000 years. According to Bob Bakker, that’s roughly 10% of the average life-span of a warm-blooded species, and 1% of the average life-span of a cold-blooded species.
Yet, we are already in at least some danger of going extinct due to several things that might soon combine into a lethal series of punches: Thermonuclear war, resource exhaustion, global climate change, overpopulation, environmental degradation — to name perhaps the most threatening punches. And what do all those things have in common?
It appears they were all to one extent or another made real or possible by our superior intelligence.