A while back, I had a short discussion with a friend or two about the nature of intelligence. What exactly do we understand about the idea of being intelligent or a life form having intelligence? Where does intelligence start? Is a tiny ant intelligent if it can work with its fellow ants to build gigantic ant hills? Is a dog intelligent for understanding your commands and being able to execute them, or even just puff at you and turn its head away in disbelief of your arrogance? What about monkeys that can do basic math, or wild orangutans that have their own culture and technology?
We often attribute increasing levels of intelligence to increasing brain sizes and complexity. With such reasoning, would the enormous brains of whales and elephants not make them more intelligent than us puny little humans? Just because we can easily kill them doesn't mean that they are less intelligent, but only that we are more violent. Who is to say that whale intelligence is not simply beyond our comprehension? Maybe in their songs they are debating the stupidity of the human race or lamenting the havoc that we wreak to their once beautiful world.
And what about our own race? Even we humans have varying levels of intelligence. Since the same is true for other primates, you may even consider the possibility that some apes are smarter than some humans.
Thinking about all this prompted a fleeting synaptic commotion in my head about our never-ending search for extraterrestrial intelligence. And, I realised that it is really a misnomer to be searching for intelligent aliens. They may well be very plentiful, but like whales, might not give a moment's thought to building shelters and trade routes and communication satellites or even any technology at all. What we are actually seeking, are industrious aliens. Or rather industrious, intelligent aliens, since ants have also proven to be fairly industrious.
And, it seems that there might even be a better chance of finding them than our previous calculations suggested.
[What's that funny-looking language on the rest of this blog? See the explanation that I posted previously.]
[If you are interested in using the alien picture, please download it from the original website, since you will need to read the license agreement.]