In the comments section of this article: Humans can recognize and understand chimpanzee and bonobo gestures, a few philosophical questions came up which have redirected me here. Could you please shed some light on these points:

  1. How can an animal be characterized as intelligent, maybe by presence of the thought?
  2. Do feelings and emotions originate in the brain or the heart?
  3. Can we visually see intelligence or luck of thereof in animal's or human's face/eyes?
  4. Can or should we be trying to flip the switch to make an animal intelligent, legal?

Thanks in advance

  • 3
    Whether in animals or not, there is no established consensus on what "intelligence" actually is.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 0:23
  • 1
    Thanks. Can it be established and if so how?
    – estinamir
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 0:25
  • 1
    Well, look up in e.g. Wikipedia/intelligence, you'll see a great many different definitions right away. I am not aware of a single definition of "intelligence" that's universally accepted.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 0:37
  • 2
    One can probably write entire books on the topic of #1. Some people probably already have. #2 and #3 seem more like biology 101 questions. #4 If you mean "make it legal to make animals intelligence", then... we've been working on that for decades already (by e.g. teaching chimps sign language). It is legal. One could ask whether it's ethical, but this will probably depend on which measures exactly you mean, whether you consider human-level intelligence to be more fulfilling than a lack of it, and what rights you think lower-intelligence animals should have.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 10:04
  • 1
    Re #3: when I used to watch tv news with my father and it showed a photo of someone convicted of a crime, he would always gesture at the tv and exclaim, "Just look at his face!" As if everyone could have predicted criminal intent right there. It is still one of my favorite jokes when the Gnus comes on.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 11:23

7 Answers 7

  1. For the first you need to define what is intellect (intelligence) is it term, or concept or what? I like the meaning that intellect is communicative learning skill, or it can be defined when it solves an atypical problem. Second skill is much more phenomenological and singular. So the second one is hard to prove, but first one is possible.
  2. There are 2 usually separated systems: brain with blood-brain barrier and other body. Usually hormones and other for brain and for other body parts are different. But internal organs can also send signals to brain, when you get pain at skin it sends signal to the brain and you feel this as pain. So, in the senses are engage both - brain and body (heart). The heart is one of the main organs, when organism feels distress or relax heart is controlling the blood move. Blood needed to feed and to breath all body and brain cells. When it is distress, it needs more energy, when it is relax - less. So heart feels all the emotions as blood pump. Same the stomach So, where has a signal of reaction started? Maybe in brain (emotion) maybe in finger (sense). Emotions usually calls mental feelings - brain one. But the feeling is complex of senses+emotions+or other reflex.
  3. If you say about face view - nope. You can't so intelligence potential by photo. But it is possible to detect in behavior, speak, or quest-asking skill. Animals can't quest-asking, and can't speak - so for animals is remain only behavior method.
  4. Some animals are trainable, socials and domestic types, wild one hard to train. But wild animals much more intelligence in second type - atypical puzzles. Are life of chimpanzees easy then people? Definitely not, many people have life ballance level as the vegetable, or the flower, or the baker... Chimpanzees in wild groups never can be flowers, chimpanzees being only. When an animal is trained it can be legal behavior view, look at dogs. Should you try to flip? Ow, some other trying to find, but not get yet. Also it is much easier to get animal from human - only intelligence function and no imagination, and this transhumanism conception is also exiting.
  • 1
    Max Tegmark said, "Intelligence is the ability to accomplish goals." I think that satisfies #1. For #2, the heart has more nerve cells than muscle cells (and the two have a lot in common), the gut has more nerve cells and produces more neurotransmitters than the brain. For #3, animals such as dogs and horses can know what we are thinking before we do.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 11:27
  • yes, but difference between 1 and 2 intelligence, that #1 goal(or point chain to goal) is already known, to the observer and to the actor. So train actor can go from one point to next step by step to goal at end. but second one goal is unknown to both. So, actor should go for it will, and act by self not by observer will. 1# - communicative skill, depends on dopamine reward usually. 2# - self will. when you reference to the quote - it is 1# well learning skill. Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 11:45
  • 1
    Yes. I think perhaps Max Tegmark was considering AI in the context of the quote, and the ability to not only refine a goal and method of achieving it, but in choosing its own goals. Animals are pretty much compelled to do those things. Animals qualify as agents. They create, not just follow a script.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 11:51
  • 1
    Yes, something like this. Creating or making is little better than choosing, but for AI it ll be a great goal. About animal intuition, they not know you are thinking about, but if it is emotion, feeling, or reflex, they can guess body language. Thinking is not same as a reflex. But thinking can ended some reflex, and it starts early then several seconds before brain understands it. So, this several seconds can be crucial for animal "intuition". some people can have self will too - Nietzsche said, inaccurate quote=) Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 12:02
  • A user has questioned the acceptability of άνθρωπος's avatar. Your thoughts, please, users. GT - Moderator.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 17:58

How can an animal be characterized as intelligent, maybe by presence of the thought?

As has been mentioned we're pretty damn lost on what intelligence is in the first place. Like abstract thinking, improving motoric skills, improving sensual perception, communication, self-expression and whatnot are all facets of intelligence and there are probably a lot more that are not necessarily in the same ball park and measurable with the same tests. So given that most animals are super skilled in a domain and able to survive autonomously in their environment at least should hint at some level of intelligence.

Now we can test some versions of intelligence by playing games with them and give them problems and see if and how they would solve them. However if you're asked instructions in languages you don't understand and watched to perform silly games in an unfamiliar environment you'd probably also perform poorly or not even know what you're supposed to do. So a failure might not relate to a lack of intelligence on their end but could also be miscommunication.

Do feelings and emotions originate in the brain or the heart?

When people speak of going with their heart they usually refer to listening to their feelings or sometimes names a "gut reaction", rather than analytically thinking it through. So it's the other way around feelings ARE what we mean by when we say we think with our heart.

Can we visually see intelligence or luck of thereof in animal's or human's face/eyes?

Yes, no, maybe. Like our own faces are able to express a lot of emotions in voluntary and involuntary ways and so we are highly trained to look for faces. So much so that if we see 2 dots and a semicircle we assume a face :) That being said this also means that we are very likely to be wrong with that as well. Like cars don't have faces, clouds don't have faces, rough surfaces don't have faces, yet it's possible that we can see them there too.

So when it comes to judging intelligence at face value humans are pretty bad, like racists even screwed up with judging intelligence in human shaped animals like themselves. Which prompts the question who are we to judge intelligence and are we even that intelligent to begin with? Is the "intelligence" that we look for just being "human like" and what makes us think we're doing a good job at that to begin with?

Can or should we be trying to flip the switch to make an animal intelligent, legal?

I mean there are already animals rights in several countries and the more we look the more we find signs of intelligence in animals so it's not really that we would give them intelligence but rather that we would acknowledge that they have it and we probably need to do that at some point legally or are already working to do it.

Also as others have mentioned in terms of the legality it wouldn't just be about "intelligence" but about whether or not the living entity is able to have feelings and can suffer, at that point it would already be immoral to inflict unnecessary harm, regardless of the level of intelligence.

  • I guess if we were really smart, we would be able to figure out what intelligence is! When people say, "Oh, it's undefined" I want to say, lock people in a room and don't let them out until they define it, then let's move on and get some work done. But... I don't say that. Really, your list of facets is good. So, it has been defined. Done!
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 12:13

Usually we check which problems an animal can solve. A simple one: You have an impenetrable fence, and food on the other side. You also have an open gate. To get the food, the animal must walk away from the food first, to the gate. Some animals can do that, some can't, and stay stuck near the food.

We can check what commands and how many commands they can learn, how much emotional intelligence towards humans, and so on.

One that made me laugh: “Intelligence is the ability to accomplish goals”. I saw a video of a large Dogue Bordeaux who wanted to get on the other side of a fence because there was something interesting there. He didn’t look for a gate. He took one look at the fence and took it right out :-) Goal accomplished.

  • 2
    Yes, those are good tests, but we should consider things that are natural to that animal as well. The old joke says that you shouldn't fault a fish for not being able to climb a tree, or a chimpanzee for being a bad swimmer. How many of us could splice RNA as well as a virus does? Pretty intelligent in a sense. We could expand our own thinking about these things. Being less rigid and less black/white thought is a big sign of intelligence, and a lot of it goes on in animals and insects without us even seeing it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 11:47
  • +1 Children are often great at short-circuiting adult logic. I have a chapter where a consultant asked some businessman what to do about a surface that was sinusoidal shaped. Lot's of adult answers about how to straighten it out. He then showed a little girls creative solution was just to use an oval shaped wheel so the major axis was vertical in the troughs and horizontal on the peaks.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 19:44
  • @JD yeah, there is a similar thing with a bicycle with square wheels on a rumply floor. Science 'museums' sometimes have those.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:38
  1. Using the free-energy principle in computational neuroscience, an organism contains sensory models of itself and its environment. The difference between what the model expects to happen and what actually happens is 'prediction error.' Action is acting upon the environment to change incoming sensations to match the model. Perception is changing the model to match the incoming sensations. You can imagine quantifying intelligence by understanding the degree an organism can perceive the environment, act upon the environment, thus minimizing prediction error and maximizing model evidence of its surroundings.

  2. Brain, duh. All other organs are silly pumps, sacks, and filters.

  3. If so, then it'd be based on a spectrum societal factors that curve an individual's usage of their facial muscles. This wouldn't be universal across human cultures. However, ultimately I'd say this is negligible, so no.

  4. There exists no simple flip of switch; it'd require a complete reconstruction of an organism's genome.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 16:40
  • Thank you Geoff. I was going to do so myself but hadn't quite hit 100 rep :) Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 20:03

The question is misguided - it isn't intelligence that matters in the universe - if the intent is to explore and zero in on that which is of incommensurable value. What is it that makes the candle worth/not worth the game? The ability to suffer and enjoy. I don't wanna know if something is intelligent or no, I wanna know can it suffer?


Animal intelligence can be assessed by administering an IQ test which is simply a list of problems to be solved. Chimps are said to possess the intelligence of the average human toddler based on such tests. The core skill being evaluated is logical thinking. That is to say intelligence in animals can be defined in the same way as intelligence in humans, in terms of problem solving skills


  • 1
    Have you read the book Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut? That is basically his conclusion also. But, more intelligence improves your ability to play the game and stay in it longer. Ironically, it can also mitigate suffering, at least in the Buddhist sense, which also improves success in the game.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 12:54
  • What do you think of? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility_monster Don't you have a recipe for a society on soma, that never takes risks in order to avoid the chance of pain?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 12:59
  • 1
    @ScottRowe, suffering bears an inversely proportional relationship to intelligence. The more intelligent, less the suffering and the less intelligent, more the suffering. However, in philosoohy suffering has been correlated to intelligence - a deep thinker suffers (fool's paradise).
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 2:37
  • @CriglCragl, that's a trivial solution (a whole people on soma) in hrdonism. As for risk, I don't think one should tske unnecessary risks although I'm all for trying even if failure is guaranteed. Like a good friend of mine once told me - take calculated risks.
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 2:51
  • 1
    Yeah, I thought of that, but it doesn't seem to lie in the direction I was going. But, as Ecclesiastes said, "With much knowledge comes much vexation. He who increases knowledge increases suffering." And Sir Walter Raleigh: "Tell Wisdom she entangles herself in over-wiseness."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 12:51

Playfulness and curiosity seem to indicate creative learning, many animals have it when young, the most adaptable and creative species have it as adults. Octopuses demonstrate it, solving puzzles even when there is no reward, they are solitary and don't learn from each other usually, although using scattered shells as armour against predators may be a learned behaviour. Dolphins play a lot, making bubble rings, and passing and dropping seaweed, and recent work suggests they can 'speak' images to each other using ultrasound. Sea otters, are very playful when young, and they bring up rock-anvils to crack sea urchins. Corvids and parrots show a great deal of playfulness, and great problem solving, though our insights on how much they can communicate are limited. Bees have been evidenced to exhibit playfulness, adding to cephalopods evudence it is a convergently evolved trait, in these very different branches of life long after they split.

The Mirror Test is thought to indicate self-awareness, although there are puzzles like pigs which by other measures are among the most intelligent mammals and show some tool use (sticks as 'spades' to dig out nests for litters), fail this test and it may reflect how they sense (smell as primary) or other factors than cognition.

Delayed gratification seems to provide evidence of impulse control. In humans it usually manifests around age three, and looking at the Dunbar Number we see evidence our neocortex evolved mainly to navigate socially problems, with wider problem solving a side-effect, and we can interpret this as it being for impulse control, with the neocortex only finishing it's structure age 25 or so in response to social pressures, and relating to emotional maturity from around that age. Delayed gratification has been studied in various animals.

Reciprical altruism relates to social intelligence, and supports social learning. As a social species we have cognitive biases towards valuing this which it important to correct for. Cooperative hunting, in wolves and orcas for instance, seems to be linked to advanced cognitive faculties. Human language, and especially written culture, seem to have given us a unique advantage, with each individual able to access the memesphere/noosphere/alayavijnana, which preserves innovations allowing the cumulative compounding of knowledge. Pointing seems a basic method of communication to us, but no other animals use it. The whites of human eyes help us follow where others are looking, and pointing may be an extension of gaze directing. Monkeys and apes that creche-rear young seem to share innovations more rapidly between same age individuals instead of between generations, for instance capuchins have as or more advanced tool use than chimpanzees, despite far smaller brains. Capuchins clearly have a very strong concept of fairness. I think Haidt et al's Moral Foundations Theory could be giving insight into essential intuitions that facilitate social cooperation and learning.

Problem solving is probably the most widely accepted measure of intelligence, but it poses issues for fair comparison. Crows will quite quickly solve a problem requiring raising water level by adding stones from about 3 months old (equivalent relative to their lifespan to 1 year old human), but humans can't solve it until age 7 or so.

In summary, there are many measures of animal intelligence, and a great deal of dispute what they mean. I don't know what you mean by 'the presence of thought', there is very little we can do to explore that. Observation of active brains, specifically neural oxygen use, can be done with PET scans, but it requires being inside a big scanner currently, posing problems for observing normal cognitive functions. Otherwise, it's indicators, as above.

On the origins of emotions, you should read about embodied cognition, eg the SEP article on it. When we undergo a fight-or-flight response, blood is withdrawn from our intestines and digestion, and made ready for use by our muscles. This results in a 'gut feeling'. We can pick up non-conscious feelings of danger, and experience them through such a gut feeling. Similarly, our heart can react with preperations for expected circulatory demands, and we experience the hearts behaviour as the trigger for conscious emotional states. Feeling love is linked to dilated pupils (see ancient use of belladona for simulating this), which relates to a change in blood flow that facilitates arousal, and can be linked to the heart feeling like it is fluttering. The idea emotion happens only in the brain, is a very old-fashioned idea, thoroughly dismissed by extensive evidence. Our bodies feature evolved intelligent responses, like the fight-or-flight reaction, or blinking when things are near our eyes, which can involve no brain processing. The heart is just one locus of responses, the gut-brain axis is at least as significant, and increasingly related to mood disorders and stress responses.

Gaze-following is very important to human intelligence, and the game we have of pointing. We are extremely aware of when other humans look at us, so much so that there's a widespread superstition that we know someone is looking at us even when we can't see them (it's provably the result of confirmation bias). So it's not surprising we say 'eyes are the window into the soul'. We can have strong experiences that 'someone is looking back' when we make eye contact with an animal, and see it studying it and assessing us as we do it. But, it can also be misleading, for instance in many animals like apes and digs, direct eye contact is a claim for dominance, and will be experienced as a threat, compelling a less dominant animal to look down or away. We have a cognitive bias to overinterpret gaze, because with other humans we can get a lot of information from it, about mood and intentions, maybe even about curiosity and intelligence. Animals have different embodiments of their intelligence, and gaze can give valid clues, but can also mislead.

You say

Can or should we be trying to flip the switch to make an animal intelligent, legal?

And I'm not totally sure what you mean. Perhaps you have in mind an experiment like in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where an experiment makes a group of apes and their offspring dramatically more intelligent. This is highly unlikely. Intelligence is not simply about brain mass, but like a muscle involves response to use. And structurally, it has to be supporting solving specific problems that lead to reproductive benefits.

But, can we support animal species to become fully intelligent tool users like humans, what from science fiction especially David Brin's is called animal uplift, yes, and I would argue we have a moral duty at least not to prevent animals doing this, based on the reasoning of philosopher Peter Singer and his idea that the direction of moral progress is characterised by expanding the circle of our moral concerns. Just as we have moral duties to other species around preventing extinctions, we have duties to support them becoming what they can, and want, to be. We could enrich animal surroundings, and extend our interactions and study of animals like corvids and dolphins, in ways that support intelligent behaviours.

For more on embodied intelligence: Are levels of intelligence different levels of consciousness?

Moral progress: Why is it okay to eat meat but not to be cruel to animals?


The issue about the term intelligence is that it will always depend on a goal. Intelligence is not a trait per se, but according to a goal.

For example, for some, the goal of intelligence is "accomplishing goals". So, Hitler, having all political powers that allowed him to accomplish all his goals, would be extremely intelligent. Clearly, he's not, he was compelled to commit suicide.

Other definitions depend on similar goals: ability to solve problems (not enough, many world-class mathematicians show extremely low potentials in other domains, they can even be autistic), ability to communicate (e.g. Fidel Castro or Nicolas Maduro, great orators, extremely silly in regards to economics, etc.), etc.

So, the definition I like the most is the one I use in my writings: Intelligence is the potential to survive.

Let me explain. This is not just about survival, but mainly about logical consistency, and in deep, to absolute applied science, technology and art.

Logic, because you cannot be extremely intelligent in one domain and be weak in others: that's common, autistics or dictators are good on some domains, but their rational structure of truth is twisted. An autistic will not survive alone. Dictators are executed. The Theranos girl, Elizabeth Holmes, will be imprisoned. Etc. Having all ideas, concepts and judgements systemicly organized, in a coherent whole, without contradictions is possible -that's what philosophy is essentially about-, and that the most eminent trace of intelligence.

Science, because all such rationality must not be purely metaphysical. Knowing nature and adapting to it is essential. Knowing, its science. Adaptation, is technology. And art (not in its aesthetic dimension, but as a whole of applied technology for well-being, as in "state of the arts"), because its not only using science and technology to survive, but to live, in full realization, plenty of experiences and reaching the most elevated goals, as in Maslow's top level of the pyramid.

So, when we say that monkeys are intelligent because they solve some riddles or communicate with using sign language, they are not being smart. They are just adapting to the current environment, whil they don't save such knowledge, because they don't need it out there. They will continue to survive by their own means, not using sign language.

The fact that they can easily adapt to us, and even use one of our language, that is what makes monkeys intelligent. Not the fact of using sign language.

What makes monkeys intelligent TO US is their potential to survive along with us. But their real intelligence is proven not to us, but to nature, to survive in the natural environment.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .