Episode #23 – “Monkeying Around”

“If an animal does something, we call it instinct; if we do the same thing for the same reason, we call it intelligence.”

Will Cuppy, literary critic

Date Published


Main Topic

Animal Intelligence


1hr 34min

In this episode of Druid’s Exchange podcast, this pair of advanced talking monkeys enter into a topic on ‘animal intelligence’. Starting off, how do us humans define intelligence and how do we compare to the rest of the animal kingdom? Between psychological and scientific based hypotheses from Dr. Howard Gardner and his ‘multiple (8) intelligences’ to Dr. Rupert Sheldrake a Biochemist from Britain and his hypothesis known as ‘Morphogenic Resonance’, it appears no intelligent human has yet come to explain the peculiarities of intelligence and the complexity of animal conscious thought and behaviour, and that’s what is so intriguing and elusive about such a conversation. 

Listeners will be treated to fascinating discussions about the crazy abilities of the Octopus and the mad and wonderful life of Raccoons. The more the episode goes on, it seems like humans drop further down the ladder of impressive animal traits when compared to most highly specialised critters. This feeds all the way into the fascinating subject of ‘swarm (group) intelligence’ as seen in shoaling fish, flocking birds, stampeding Bison or complexity of an ant colony. The awareness, kinesthetic and sometimes telepathic nature of events in the animal world like these do little more than astound you, and then some. We hope you enjoy this episode and it’s a chance to put your Vagus nerves to the test.

Main Topic Of This Episode​​

Some animals are smarter than other animals, and humans are smarter than all animals. We can all agree on this for the most part. However, our egos often make this difference, the difference between ‘human smart’ and ‘animal smart’, much larger than it might actually be. After some consideration, we can clearly see that some animals are very intelligent, and in some aspects much more intelligent than humans.

Check out this great panel discussion where a professor of psychology, a professor of biological sciences, a neuroscientist and a biologist discuss animal intelligence, starting from tiny ‘bird brain’ neurons right up to 100,000 strong animal swarms and flocks.

Check Out Some Further Reading​

Found something interesting discussed in this episode? Chances are, we found it interesting too and we went off and did a bunch of reading online about it.

So why not dive further into the topic! Here are some handy links we think you might like.

Professor and psychologist Howard Gardner developed the theory of ‘multiple intelligences’, whereby you can subdivide intelligence into 8 intelligences: (1) Visual Spatial, (2) Logical Mathematical, (3) Linguistic Verbal, (4) Musical, (5) Interpersonal or group, (6) Kinesthetic, (7) Intrapersonal and (8) Naturalistic.

The theory posits that while a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.

This theory has gotten a lot of criticism from both psychologists and educators. These critics argue that Gardner’s definition of intelligence is too broad and that his eight different “intelligences” simply represent talents, personality traits, and abilities, also there is little empirical evidence to show this.

If you look at how psychologists define intelligence, these talents, traits or abilities would be classified as different ‘intelligences’. This shows the incredible complexity of this subject and a field of study that is getting more sophisticated in analysing and forming general explanations through observation of humans. For more information on this theory, visit simplypsychology.org.

The idea of morphic resonance, proposed by Rupert Sheldrake in 1982, forms some ideas around the quantum nature of how the entire biosphere interacts citing Lovelock’s Gaia theory.

“The idea of mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species” and accounts for phantom limbs, how dogs know when their owners are coming home, and how people know when someone is staring at them.

Morphic resonance is not accepted by the scientific community and Sheldrake’s proposals relating to it have been widely criticised. Critics cite a lack of evidence for morphic resonance and inconsistencies between its tenets and data from genetics, embryology, neuroscience, and biochemistry. What is very interesting about this is that it draws on fields of science outside of these mentioned above, and is trying to bridge the gap in the same way as Einstein and Hawking spent their life’s work on a unifying theory between Newtonian and Quantum physics disciplines.

For more information on Morphic Resonance and Rupert Sheldrake, check out his website.

Swarm intelligence is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial.

Swarm Intelligence systems consist typically of a population of simple agents interacting locally with one another and with their environment. The inspiration often comes from nature, especially biological systems. The agents follow very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of “intelligent” global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. 

Examples of swarm intelligence in natural systems include ant colonies, bee colonies, bird flocking, hawks hunting, animal herding, bacterial growth, fish schooling and microbial intelligence. For more information on swarm intelligence, go read this great article by The New York Times.

Octopuses are soft-bodied, eight-limbed molluscs of the order Octopoda. The order consists of some 300 species and is grouped within the class Cephalopoda with squids, cuttlefish, and nautiloids. Like other cephalopods, an octopus is bilaterally symmetric with two eyes and a beaked mouth at the center point of the eight limbs. The soft body can radically alter its shape, enabling octopuses to squeeze through small gaps (as small as their eyeballs). 

Octopuses have a complex nervous system and excellent sight, and are among the most intelligent and behaviourally diverse of all invertebrates. Almost alien in nature, they split from humans on the evolutionary path around 500 million years ago, but continued to evolve all this time. For a fascinating video on the biology of the octopus, check out this video on YouTube.

The vagus nerve is correlated with capacity to regulate stress responses and can be influenced by breathing, its increase through meditation and yoga likely contribute to resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms. In reptiles and insects the vagus nerve has minimal shielding or lipid protection which is believed to have a net negative effect for the nervous system to radiative forcing. 

Humans and other advanced organisms possess this lipid shield which protects the Vagus nerve which allows a more heightened/stable emotional response which feeds into a species group/herd mentality and ultimately a collaborative community focused intelligence.

For more information on the vagus nerve, check out this article on the US NIH website.

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