Thoughts on the book: Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are – Frans de Waal

Main takeaways

1. Humans don’t seem to be particularly good at anything, if I had to say something, it’s that our intelligence in most domains is average, but it seems to be significantly more flexible than the intelligence of various animals. We can apply our average skills across a wide variety of interactions.

2. Nature makes no waste, it seems to give each species exactly what they need and in abundance.

3. Our way perceiving the world is so vastly different than the perceptions of others. Whether it’s through smells, sounds, or purpose – it’s clear that the world is so much more than we can see or comprehend.

4. We are limited by our ability to ask good questions. And there is no merit in strong belief, because those things that we believe to be fundamentally true, can easily change as soon as we discover a new way of looking.

5. We should be thankful to skeptics. More on that below.

Expanded Notes

The opening of this book will stick with me for a long time –

What we see is not nature, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

Werner Heisenberg

The book drives home the point that there is so much about the world and every living being that inhabits it, that we simply do not yet understand. Moreover, we don’t seem to have the questions to begin to seek such an understanding.

As a species we are arrogant, believing we have all the answers and that we are the pinnacle of everything. Both in our beliefs about our superiority, or in our assertions of how well we understand the capability of the species we share a planet with, the book demonstrates consistently that we should be more humble in our beliefs.

Nature does not seem to believe in waste, and it has gifted animals with specialized intelligences, capabilities, and talents that are often beyond our cognitive understanding or technological know how. There is so much that we can learn about ourselves, about others, and about how else we can and should interact with the world, we just have to be humble and ask better questions.

It was a bit concerning to me to read about how biased certain scientists are, how silly their assertions and positions are, and how progress seems to slowly fumble forward.

But the final note in the book helped me to be a bit more understanding. We should be thankful to the skeptics, and perhaps even to the misinformed – because they fuel the other side to hone their arguments, they incite them to discover more evidence, to better understand their own positions.

We should thank the skeptics, because they seem to be like a whetstone that sharpens a blade. The blade improves – and if it breaks, then it wasn’t a very good blade to begin with.

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