Several years ago, I recall watching a documentary that included some discussion of the perceived intelligence of cephalopods (octopus, squid, etc). I tried to search for the precise video to link it here but failed to find the exact one I was thinking about. I was reassured to find that there is a lot of scientific activity (and debate) about intelligence of these invertebrates.
This alternative video seems to capture the basic impression that I had. I applaud the narrator’s choice to substitute the word awesome for intelligence. Intelligence is awesome.
I wanted to make a note on this because that original documentary came to mind as I thought about how I (as an individual, not as a scientist) would define something as Intelligent.
As I mentioned before, I assume intelligence is everywhere. I do not believe intelligence requires a nervous system or even material. Intelligence may even be a property of empty space. Nervous systems are one means to give agency to intelligence by coordinating some responses to observations. But agency is also available to plants and single cell animals without nerves.
Although I don’t narrow the definition to exclude organisms with small or no nervous systems, I wanted to come to a way to test that would satisfy me (again, perhaps myself alone) that human-like intelligence is recognizable in other animals.
I came up with an idea I will write about later that involves the observations of two non-human individuals exchanging a concept. The linked video mentions the same idea at about the 6 minute point. It is the idea that a creature can tell the other creature some non-immediate concept. The idea of communicating “go away, or you’ll be sorry” doesn’t count. It has to be something more like “if you do this, then you’ll be more successful”. Again, a topic for another day.
As I was thinking of this idea I was bothered by the documentary of squids and octopuses. I am convinced that scientists studying these creatures are convinced these creatures are awesome. Adding to the fascination is the completely different kind brain than ours. Any common ancestor between us and them had virtually no brain. Cephalopods came up with their answer and are doing something that is awesome.
The problem for me is that my test would exclude them. Some of the smarter cephalopods are very solitary. If they encounter one of their own kind, they are more likely to eat them than to try to communicate with them. The communication skills seem mostly for trickery with prey, predators, and competitors. (I am avoiding the consideration of courtship and mating as being too hard to interpret, at least for me).
For my purposes, I’m posing an intermediate question about whether I can come up with a test that that would convince myself of at least one example of non-humans exhibiting something that I would respect as human-level intelligence or human level awesomeness but that awesomeness is obscured by their lack of human capacity for language and craft. What I find awesome is the idea of having a conversation.
Cephalopods for all their awesomeness do not appear to be very interested in conversation with anything. I am inclined to acknowledge their capacities even though my immediate focus on social behaviors may exclude them.
I am encouraged that many real scientists are studying them and trying to assess their intelligent capacities. It would please me very much if the scientists would come up with a convincing argument. If these creatures are intelligent, they’ve been intelligent for hundreds of millions of years.