Aliens to Humans as Humans to Chimpanzees

know what you're thinking: we're smarter than bacteria.

No doubt about it, we're smarter than every other living creature that ever walked, crawled, or slithered on Earth. But how smart is that? We cook our food. We compose poetry and music. We do art and science. We're good at math. Even if you're bad at math, you're probably much better at it than the smartest chimpanzee, whose genetic identity varies in only trifling ways from ours. Try as they might, primatologists will never get a chimpanzee to learn the multiplication table or do long division.

If small genetic differences between us and our fellow apes account for our vast difference in intelligence, maybe that difference in intelligence is not so vast after all.

Imagine a life-form whose brainpower is to ours as ours is to a chimpanzee's. To such a species, our highest mental achievements would be trivial. Their toddlers, instead of learning their ABCs on Sesame Street, would learn multivariable calculus on Boolean Boulevard. Our most complex theorems, our deepest philosophies, the cherished works of our most creative artists, would be projects their schoolkids bring home for Mom and Dad to display on the refrigerator door. These creatures would study Stephen Hawking (who occupies the same endowed professorship once held by Newton at the University of Cambridge) because he's slightly more clever than other humans, owing to his ability to do theoretical astrophysics and other rudimentary calculations in his head.

If a huge genetic gap separated us from our closest relative in the animal kingdom, we could justifiably celebrate our brilliance. We might be entitled to walk around thinking we're distant and distinct from our fellow creatures. But no such gap exists. Instead, we are one with the rest of nature, fitting neither above nor below, but within.


If small genetic differences separate us from our closest evolutionary relative, then alien brains could easily be vastly superior to ours

Folksonomies: intelligence alien extraterrestrial

/science/mathematics/algebra (0.613211)
/science (0.501988)
/technology and computing (0.500319)

small genetic differences (0.912928 (neutral:0.000000)), highest mental achievements (0.745512 (negative:-0.402968)), huge genetic gap (0.733989 (neutral:0.000000)), smartest chimpanzee (0.692018 (positive:0.331355)), alien brains (0.662062 (positive:0.620171)), endowed professorship (0.650870 (neutral:0.000000)), vast difference (0.649737 (neutral:0.000000)), fellow apes (0.646023 (neutral:0.000000)), multiplication table (0.644670 (negative:-0.246128)), deepest philosophies (0.642421 (positive:0.374545)), multivariable calculus (0.642108 (neutral:0.000000)), Boolean Boulevard (0.641862 (neutral:0.000000)), long division (0.638549 (negative:-0.246128)), complex theorems (0.637289 (positive:0.327966)), genetic identity (0.637256 (negative:-0.399465)), fellow creatures (0.635819 (negative:-0.224408)), rudimentary calculations (0.635809 (neutral:0.000000)), Sesame Street (0.635424 (negative:-0.439104)), Stephen Hawking (0.634404 (neutral:0.000000)), refrigerator door (0.633861 (positive:0.483001)), creative artists (0.630896 (positive:0.706142)), theoretical astrophysics (0.627008 (neutral:0.000000)), animal kingdom (0.626162 (neutral:0.000000)), humans (0.560270 (neutral:0.000000)), math (0.551601 (positive:0.093294)), life-form (0.542266 (positive:0.202735)), intelligence (0.542176 (negative:-0.354711)), brainpower (0.538006 (positive:0.202735)), primatologists (0.537782 (negative:-0.246128)), Chimpanzees (0.536554 (neutral:0.000000))

Newton:Person (0.897200 (neutral:0.000000)), Stephen Hawking:Person (0.862755 (neutral:0.000000)), primatologists:Person (0.862103 (negative:-0.246128)), University of Cambridge:Organization (0.772411 (neutral:0.000000))

Human (0.955202): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Chimpanzee (0.944081): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Hominidae (0.900457): dbpedia | freebase
Mathematics (0.890790): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
University of Cambridge (0.760771): geo | website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Common Chimpanzee (0.737670): dbpedia | yago
Primate (0.717112): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Gorilla (0.711761): website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 Space Chronicles
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Tyson, Neil deGrasse (2012-02-27), Space Chronicles, W. W. Norton & Company, Retrieved on 2012-05-07
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science