Idealism, Intelligence, Meaning, Nature, Quality of Life, Thinking, Values, Village Idiots, War

Our Superior Intelligence

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.



Sherry (A Feather Adrift) has started a  good conversation on a related topic: The key differences between us and other animals.

6 thoughts on “Our Superior Intelligence”

  1. One of my beefs with atheists is their assumption that humans are the apex of everything, and that ultimately we will solve everything put to us. As you point out, we have been around a very short time in the grand scheme of things and we stand poised once again on the brink. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s I figured we would blow ourselves up. Now it appears we will make the planet uninhabitable with our “intelligent” use of resources.


    1. Indeed, Sherry, it seems we’re in a race with ourselves to come up with new and exciting ways of doing us harm.

      I think humans are essentially tragic — it seems unlikely to me will solve all our problems without creating more — and perhaps greater — problems in the process.


    1. I hope you’re right that the prophets are wrong. I used to hold the view there is always hope because we are such an ingenious species — we can figure out a way out of anything. I still have a bit of hope, but I have noticed that we often use our ingenuity to deny that problems exist.


  2. I am an atheist who does not assume that humans are the apex of everything.

    Wherever did you ever pick up such an unthinking assumption? Religionists, however, actually believe that humans are so wonderful they deserve to live forever in some sort of a pathetic afterlife.

    Religionists believe that humans are the most divine of all the critters on Earth, made manifestly in the image of God when it is quite obvious that religionists have fashioned God in the image of themselves.

    Many atheists are astounded at the miracle of evolution, that we have been fortunate to find ourselves in a world with enough oxygen and water and resources to sustain us. We are obliged to be stewards of this living organism, Earth, in order to enable our survival. We absolutely cannot rely on the loving care of an unseen God.

    Everything is before our eyes and we must hold all of it in respect. It is unfortunate that religionists have so little respect for the forces of nature … observe that it is the highly religious Red States which suffer the most from natural disasters. It could almost make one believe in God when one observes that the religious hypocrites so often find themselves in the midst of massive fires and unimaginably large dust storms that seem to summon the end of time. Almost as if there is a God who despises the mockery of those people.


    1. I’ve known both theists and nontheists who claim we the apex of all animal life on earth. And I’ve known both theists and nontheists who do not claim any such thing.


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