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August 24, 2011



Response to incentives is no evidence of high intelligence.

In fact, it can indicate the opposite. If a job which is too good to be true comes into your inbox [current situation] then my instinct is not to respond. Whether this is a sign of intelligence or not is debatable.


It's not *very* unpredictable. On an individual level there's a degree of chaos that makes it difficult to chart out a lifespan, but if you know certain key facts about a person you can predict with some accuracy how they will respond to a certain immediate stimulus. Further, once we aggregate to populations it becomes even easier to model.

Harmonious Jim

Incentives are not the only thing that shapes behaviour, animal or human. I am about to get our puppy neutered, in large part to control his aggression. I'll bet that cutting off his 'nads does a better job in making him placid than trying to bribe him with treats.

Churm Rincewind

As far as I'm aware, there's only one activity which marks out mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom, and it happens to be an economic one - trading. All known human societies engage in trade, even if there's no benefit involved. There are no animals in the world of business, apart from (insert your own joke here).


@ Churm - chimpanzees trade services (eg grooming). Quite why they don't trade goods is, though, an interesting issue:

Churm Rincewind

@Chris - fascinating stuff. But I don't think that reciprocal grooming counts as trade, because there's no "debt" or "bargain" involved. If chimpanzee A grooms chimpanzee B, there's no forward obligation on chimpanzee B to return the favour, and experimental studies show this to be so. This may simply be because debts and bargains can only exist when they're enforceable, which is true of human societies but not of animal communities, which kind of makes my point self-fulfilling.

Oh, and incidentally, of course animals are conscious. But that doesn't strengthen the argument for animal rights, it simply complicates it. Another topic for another day...


Really interesting post, Chris.

Tom Addison

Got to say that I'm disappointed that you didn't name your cat after an Arsenal player. Thierry would be a great name for a cat!


@ Tom - he was named Lucius when I got him.
Given his stamina, speed and intelligence, he could be named Squillaci.


Complex language is what makes humans different from other animals. Language enables meme-based evolution.

Our commonality with other animals reflects our gene-based social behaviour - including morality.

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