How do you define intelligence?

Do you define intelligence by using tools, problem solving methods, And are we intelligent or are we just bragging about it. I recently read some articles about porpoises and their unique way of communication, it said that communication of porpoise is just as complex as ours, And I wonder why do these animals or just every animal make tools and just use it are they not intelligent enough to make tools , are their brain not capable of solving this task, Then I come to the conclusion that they never needed to become intelligent because they have unique skills like bats can fly at night using ultra sound waves and are capable of hunting down insects, I think its a unique use of intelligence. Not just bats but some birds like baya make unique nests which are strong and water proof also, Some snakes can sense thermal radiation of rats and hunt them down. Why do we not call them intelligent ? I think we should broader the field of intelligence in these animals and its possible they are just as intelligent as ours and we are not seeing their intelligence.


Take IQ for example, it means intelligence = ability to solve problems in new environment, so snakes doing snake thing or birds making complex nests aren’t solving new problems, so it’s not intelligence. Plus for most of animals their is no “I”, so you may think about how can you be intelligent and not be phsycologically divided from environment around you as if you’re a newborn.
Most complicated tasks are either instincts or behaviour learned from adults while brain is capable to learn how to do such things, so there’s predermination, e.g. birds mostly learn their songs and need to hear them since they’re basically an egg, but when they learn sounds it’s not an incredible action done by them. Same with tools, if life of animal is diverse there’s more chance it can learn how to use tools, take as example rodents, rats and guiea pigs, latter feeding on grass don’t really have a complicated life, while rats are omnivorous and live in three dimensions, so their brain is capable of more and with ease. Same goes for most vegetarian/carnivore/omnivore comparison, to eat grass that doesn’t run away from you doesn’t require big intelligenceintelligence and not require tools at all, they have own teeth to eat it. Omnivores use wide range of food sources thus can benefit from using tools and if they life in social groups using tools can become a norm.


Well IQ is sure a great thing, but do you still think IQ as a great measure of intelligence. As said by Wikipedia
“While IQ tests are generally considered to measure some forms of intelligence , they may fail to serve as an accurate measure of broader definitions of human intelligence inclusive of creativity and social intelligence .”

And we cannot give standardized IQ tests to animals but we observe. And even if we give them tests then what, we tell the animal is intelligent or not by giving a situation that is in our perspective a measure intelligence of that organism, which is basically judging them without considering the conditions to that organism.

It means these tests are not adequate for measuring intelligence,

I don’t think herbivores are dumb as they have to do migrations when drought comes, Then they know where exactly they should go in order to survive the drought. They do know their migration route and they never lost in that migration, They have mating rituals in which females choose their mate in order to get a better offspring then herself. And elephants are one of them. I will agree on the your point that farm animals are are dumb but I think they don’t need to be intelligent as their is no selective pressure and vulnerability from external environment, they are not being hunted , we are giving them space and we care for them .I think a chicken would be dumb if it becomes intelligent because that makes no difference because it will be served in our dinner table one day or another.

I think we are narrowing our perspectives just because we are in better situation then them, we are safe and have time to think, just that’s all make difference. I think that we can not compare the intelligence, it should always be on same grounds.


Scientists have been studying non-human animal intelligence for many decades…so it’s probably not up to us amateurs to define intelligence. If every behavioral attribute was deemed a sign of intelligence, then there wouldn’t be a need to have the word “intelligence”. A standard computer (excluding AI) can solve complex mathematically problems, but it’s not intelligent in the sense of how that word has been defined. A bacteria can swim toward light, but is that intelligence? Dictionary definition: “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”. We start with the definition, and then test to determine if the organism possesses it rather than changing the definition so that the organism possess it. Intelligence is complex in that it is expressed differently in different organisms–and to different degrees. It’s not a “you have it or you don’t phenomena”. Wikipedia has a fairly decent page on “animal cognition”.


“Intelligence” is somewhat of a nebulous idea, and it’s a gradient. There is no hard line of, “this species is intelligent and this species is not intelligent.”

At its most basic level it’s the propensity of an organism to respond to its environment in novel ways, and that’s about it. Obviously, this can be expanded on in various ways, but each time we try to make a rule about what constitutes “intelligence” we find that some species breaks it one way or another.

Take tool use, for example. For centuries that was heralded as uniquely human and one of the defining aspects of “intelligence”. Now we know that specific species of primates, other mammals, a wide range of birds, molluscs, fish, insects, and possibly reptiles all use tools.

What about something more “complex”, like agriculture? Surely that is uniquely human and a good indicator of intelligence. Well, ants and termites are masters of agriculture, and they have specific and distinct biocontamination protocols as well.

What about learned behavior? That seems like a good proxy for intelligence as it seems to require some level of memory and analysis. Well, plants can learn and adjust their behavior, as studies with Sensitive Plants (Mimosa pudica) indicate.

Even microbes show indications of “intelligence”, which is often called bacterial intelligence, and has to do with a suite of behaviors that appear to go beyond mere genetic programming.

All this indicates that “intelligence” is widespread, extremely variable, and exists on a gradient, or that it is a nearly meaningless term too caught up in its own baggage and preconceptions to be usefully disambiguated, or that we are thinking about “intelligence” in utterly the wrong way and need to deeply reevaluate our fundamental ideas of what constitutes “intelligence”.


I can only think of one form of intellectual behavior humans exhibit that does not (seem) to be expressed by other organisms: record keeping. I sometimes amuse myself by imagining forms of animal record keeping that exist, but we do not recognize. Perhaps those arrangements of holes in a tree trunks is some intriguing messaging systems left by sapsuckers and woodpeckers. Perhaps ants have a chemical signaling system that records generations and populations, or food stocks, in the colony? Who knows? Perhaps the songs of whales are oral chronologies going back generations?


Very true. I believe that humans conflate consciousness with intelligence. As a conscious being, I can think I need x screwdriver for a specific job, remember where I put it last, and go and get it. Or I can consciously decide to go and buy one. My dog can remember where a snow covered path is, where I cannot. I suspect he is not consciously doing that, but knows where we want to go and recalls the way. Innate responses may or may not be intelligent - often I bang a part of my body against something, and say ‘Ow’ even though it did not hurt. I suspect that is an innate response that I can consciously modify by thinking about it. Many non-vertebrate life forms have innate behaviour that may or may not be called intelligence. Is a liver fluke that finds it’s way to the target organ displaying intelligence or an innate behaviour? Or is it a mix of both? I seriously doubt that it is conscious behaviour.
It’s a difficult thing to define, as the further we go from humans, the less we can imagine how they exist. So as you say, ‘intelligence’ is both nebulous and exists in a gradient.


Again, what you describe is not intelligence, but insticts based on day length and earth magnetic field, nothing in migration of hooved animals is a product of intelligence, they’re moving based on common routes or memory in some species like elephants, again used because they have brains capable of using and passing it and they’re living in real social families unlike most other herbivores where groups are not static.


Decades ago I read a New Scientist article. Sheep can recognise human faces (individuals). And they can see what sort of mood you are in.

IQ tests are controversial as they are skewed to fit what the testers judge as ‘normal’


Elephant migration routes use memory and knowledge. Which is lost when older animals are killed by trophy hunters.


Maybe there should be a separate term for this, but I always thought intelligence should be measured based on how expertly a species is able to persist/survive. After all, isn’t that why animals have developed complex brains in the first place?

You do not necessarily need to be intelligent (whatever that exactly is) to good at surviving. So I do not think this would be a good measure.


Cockroaches and tardigrades are excellent survivors, but I wouldn’t call them intelligent.


This is always a fascinating topic to discuss. Consciousness has been mentioned - I want to make a point concerning that.

I believe there is a clear difference between consciousness and intelligence (for example, some people I have met and heard of are clearly conscious, but whether they are truly intelligent is debatable! :wink:), and that much of this has to do with the brain. Neuroscience is a fast-developing field of research and we have made huge strides in this field over the past couple of decades.

I think there is a distinction to be made between consciousness/sentience and sapience. Animals such as our dogs and cats are clearly conscious - they will interact in a very clear way to your presence, and make deliberate choices in doing so, that is indicative they are normally aware of what is happening. These animals and others such as birds will behave in ways that are indicative of the fact that they are conscious and some degree of sentience - .e.g they will act on their formative experiences and knowledge that may override instinct. Elephants, chimps, dolphins, big cats, parrots and even certain birds of prey will pass down knowledge to their offspring that is actually cultural in a sense - if you were to remove the young from the wild that have not learnt these skills, they will not pass down those skills to their own offspring. Clearly such animals operate beyond instinct. Pure instinct can only take them so far (which is why reintroductions into the wild from a captive population often fail).

However, they are also not on the same level as humans.What makes humans unique is our combination of attributes: the ability to communicate in abstract ways (language), the ability to copy others and build on their successes, and the ability to manipulate and use tools to change the environment around us.

In my view, consciousness depends on the existence of the brain and its ability to parse the information it receives from its inputs (sight, hearing, touch, and other senses). Hence, a sea squirt will not be conscious in the same way as a person is, because it has no brain to interpret signals and have the processing power to deliberate on that information before turning it into calculated and intended actions.

We as humans are not immune to instinctual behaviour either, but I hope no one is suggesting that we are not sentient because of that. So likewise, I believe, it is so with many animals.

Humans share spindle neurons with other species known to be highly intelligent: other great apes, whales and dolphins, and elephants.

Many creatures also have complex forms of communication: prairie dogs, vervet monkeys, and meerkats have different calls for different types of creatures that pose a threat: birds of prey, large carnivores, snakes, and even people.

One could even call humans very blind and stupid in our inability to communicate using chemicals - for example, animals such as dogs can assess, with a sniff, the health, age, sex, and emotional state of the other creature. Now that’s quick and efficient use of information!

The difference between humans and other animals is therefore only one of degree, not type.

Intelligence forms a continuum, from highly social animals with complex brains and spindle neurons, down to creatures with simple nervous systems such as insects, to organisms with no brains at all (microorganisms, sea squirts and corals, algae and plants).


One of the underlying problems here in applying a broad definition of intelligence across species is the inevitable ‘apples to oranges’ comparison you get into. The question of whether they are truly representative of intelligence as a whole aside, an IQ test relies on the assumption that there is a specific type of statistical distribution to each of the individual metrics it uses. This assumption falls apart when comparing different species, and so the numerical results and any interpretation thereof would not be valid. You would have to come up with a test that does not rely on these types of assumptions to be able to compare across different species. It might be more productive just to identify similarities in intelligence and group species that way (e.g. which species rely on their spatial awareness, which ones rely on auditory information, etc.) without really trying to establish a numerical scale.

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That’s exactly what I said.

The earliest scientific attempts to define and describe the range of animal intelligence were in the 1880s, unless there are earlier works I’m not aware of. Romanes, G. J. (1882) Animal intelligence. Kegan Paul, Trench.

So only 140 years of work on the question.

The best I can sum up is that intelligence is the ability to acquire, process, and use information, there are many forms of intelligence, and the more human-like an entity’s use of information the more intelligent people tend to say it is.


I love that idea, but yes, it needs additions as a specimen should adapt to new environment by their actions not their body ability to do so, still it’s not an ideal one as we have to define which actions we have in mind, something like new-level actions that mean those that wasn’t used by specimen before and wasn’t expected to be done by it.

I agree

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Humans aren’t just clever animals. Much of what we’re capable of doesn’t really have any equivalents elsewhere (as far as we know). It’s not just a question of degree. There really is an enormous qualitative difference.

Take a look at the evolution of tool-making in our ancestors. The most typical stone-age hand-axe was developed around 1.75 mya, but then remained almost unchanged until about 200-300 mya. Think about that for a moment. That’s 1.5 million years spent making essentially the same stone tool! Now think about all the technological changes that have happened in just the last 2 thousand years.

Cultural evolution is an enormously potent accelerator of change, compared with biological evolution. Some other organisms may exhibit human-like intelligence, but, at best, they’re still stuck making the equivalent of stone hand-axes - whilst we’re sending robotic exploration vehicles to Mars.

Mere intelligence is not enough. What really counts is the ability to readily create, share and appreciate ideas. In an important sense, all organisms literally embody meaning just by being alive. But humans also have the power to rapidly generate new meanings and make them manifest in wholly new forms. My cat might sometimes watch TV along with me - but she’s about equally fascinated by a running tap, or a shadow on the wall. We don’t really inhabit the same world, because I have lived my entire life immersed in culture, and she has never even sensed that it’s there.