Man Vs. Beast
Thumb sailer
February 21, 2008, 07:07 PM
Print Friendly and PDF

Harvard`s Marc Hauser proposes four ways that human intelligence is qualitatively different from animal intelligence:

These four novel components of human thought are

- the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding;

- to apply the same "rule" or solution to one problem to a different and new situation;

- to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input;

- and to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.

Sounds like the abilities to abstract and to analogize are the keys.
Earlier scientists viewed the ability to use tools as a unique capacity of humans, but it has since been shown that many animals, such as chimpanzees, also use simple tools. Differences do arise, however, in how humans use tools as compared to other animals. While animal tools have one function, no other animals combine materials to create a tool with multiple functions. In fact, Hauser says, this ability to combine materials and thought processes is one of the key computations that distinguish human thought.

According to Hauser, animals have "laser beam" intelligence, in which a specific solution is used to solve a specific problem. But these solutions cannot be applied to new situations or to solve different kinds of problem. In contrast, humans have "floodlight" cognition, allowing us to use thought processes in new ways and to apply the solution of one problem to another situation. While animals can transfer across systems, this is only done in a limited way.

"For human beings, these key cognitive abilities may have opened up other avenues of evolution that other animals have not exploited, and this evolution of the brain is the foundation upon which cultural evolution has been built," says Hauser.

This reminds of how stupid it was for the SAT to drop the often-criticized analogy questions: "Bicameral is to legislation as hand-crafting is to ..." or whatever.

This reminds of how stupid it was for the SAT to drop its often-criticized analogy questions: "Bicameral is to legislation as handcrafted is to ..." or whatever. Analogies are absolutely central to human intelligence.