There is no particular relationship between brain size and intelligence, and even if there is a story about animal cognition in reality is not really a story about meat consumption or humane meat consumption. It is more complicated than that.
Human adults have around 3 pounds of brain weight, dolphins have 3.5 pounds, an elephant is around 10.5, and sperm whales around 17.2 pounds. Predators as a general rule tend to have a relatively larger brain than the animals they prey upon. Placental mammals also tend to have larger brains than marsupials such as the opossum. There is a formula known as encephalization quotient for measuring the species brain size related to expectations based on its expected body size. Through the entire evolution of Homo sapiens, the prevailing trait was a steady increase in brain size. It is the truth that much of that size can be attributed to the corresponding increases in body size. Neanderthals, for instance, and many people do not know this used to have larger brains than modern Homo sapiens. What is more important than just the size is how the brain is wired and neuron count.
What is unique for the human brain is that neuron count in one specific part of the brain called the cerebral cortex is much higher than in any other animal on the Earth. The human brain has 86 billion neurons if we count them all; 69 billion in the cerebellum; 16 billion in the cerebral cortex and 1 billion in the brain stem and its extensions into the core of the brain. The cerebellum orchestrates essential bodily functions and movement and is a primitive part of the brain, or let’s say essential part. The cerebral cortex is the brain’s thick corona, the real deal. It is responsible for self-awareness, language, problem-solving, sophisticated mental talents, and abstract thought. If we want to measure the intelligence of the species, then we need to count neurons in the cerebral cortex. That is it. It is that simple. For example, the elephant brain is three times the size of our own, has 251 billion neurons in its cerebellum, which is needed to manage its massive trunk, but only 5.6 billion in its cortex. Also to be clear an elephant is considered to be a highly intelligent species. If we look at the great apes, we are the winner. We have 16 billion neurons in our cortex, but I only was referring to great apes. Homo sapiens appear to have the most significant number of cortical neurons from all species on Earth.
Oh, wait. I just lied. We are not the smartest ones. The long-finned pilot whale is. His neocortical brain part contains substantially more neurons and glial cells than the neocortex of other large-brained species including humans (1).
We are the species that are more intelligent than any other if we only count land-based animal species, and we have arms and legs and speech so that we can build technology, but guess what, by these measurements, we are not the most intelligent species on Earth. The long-finned pilot whale is.
The highest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex is what makes species intelligent. Primates evolved a way to pack far more neurons into that area than other mammals did. The great apes are tiny compared to elephants and whales, yet their cortices are far denser. Orangutans and gorillas have 9 billion cortical neurons, and chimps have 6 billion. So by these measures, humans are 44% more intelligent than orangutans for example because we have 16 billion neurons and they have 9. So if the average IQ in humans is 100, the IQ of orangutans would be 56. Chimpanzees fall within the 35-50 range usually. Not bad at all. Even the small monkeys are very intelligent and more intelligent than their counterpart in size. When we need to think every time we need to eat, it forces the brain to develop foraging strategies. Let me give an example. In places like South Africa or India, there are a large number of urban monkeys. These wild animals came by their own will to the cities in search of food. In their view, we are just another monkey species. They are not afraid of us at all. They consider us to be non-frightening because we are slower than them and in no small extent weaker, and we have all those food laying around everywhere. For wild monkeys, it is easier to forage for food in the human environment. Stray dogs do it by sniffing food out, they use their noses, but monkeys use their brains to do the same. Because of the movies and culture average, North American is likely to think that monkeys are sweet and cute animals with whom they can have fun with and are super cute when wearing human clothes. In real life, they are everything except cute. For example, they are known to roam neighborhoods in gangs. Baboon gangs run wild in parts of the world like Suburban South Africa. They travel in a flock of around 30, and all of them move following the leader but are so vast apart that it is difficult to stop them from sliding into built-up areas. They can cross walls and roofs at speed. Gangs always have the leader, and they go into foraging for your stuff. Breaking and entering, aggressive behavior, and stealing. Regular thug life and it is not funny at all. They break into people’s houses to steal food, break into cars, they know how to open the doors or anything else for that manner. If they see you do it, they can do it too. They are very intelligent.
Let’s think about this. Small brain monkeys can see you use technology and then they can start to use it also for themselves. They learn by themselves how to open windows, how to open doors of cars and fridges and apartments, they can sneak behind your back and steal, and they can unzip zippers and so on.
They are not just self-conscious they are conscious of your way of thinking so they can put themselves in your position and predict how you are going to react so that they can manipulate you. I am not kidding. They are known to sneak behind your back and steal stuff, and they are known to lure you out.
One of them will steal in front of you and will start to run and when you go outside to chase him off other monkeys that you did not see will go in and steal stuff while you are chasing that one-off. And if that is not enough, they are just going to take it out of your hands physically. If you have a problem with that, then they are going to slap you right in the face. They are not afraid of us. And we can say that that is bad enough, but there is more. When they are bored, they are just going to hang out around people and pleasure themselves. The deputy mayor of New Delhi died from a monkey attack. Not directly, they did not attack him, but he tripped off his balcony while trying to fight them off from his apartment. They are aggressive, and they are intelligent. According to one study (2), baboons have no known language or anything similar but were able to separate real English words from nonsense sequences of letters accurately. If baboons have a physical capability to speak, they will have a real written language because they have adequate intelligence for it because the ability to distinguish real words from non-real ones is the first step in the reading process.
Let’s compare for example species of herbivorous monkeys with carnivorous species of the approximately same size. In the documentary “Animals Like Us” filmmakers documented the kidnapping of wild dog puppies by baboons and raising them in their own baboon tribe as members or pets. Baboons and dogs have similar sizes. The clip of the series which was filmed in a garbage dump near Ta’if, Saudi Arabia, shows a male baboon dragging a puppy away from its den as it screams for its mother. Stolen dogs grow up with the baboon species, like a family member or a member of a group. They were eating with them, sleeping and moving together. The baboons will groom and play with them, and that is important. Baboons only play with family members. The relationship seems to benefit both dog and baboon. The domesticated feral dogs do the same job that they have in human society, and that is to guard the territory. They keep wild dog packs away from monkeys at night while they sleep and in return, they are treated with love and care just like humans would a family pet. Note that in this situation it is important to understand that dogs had more of the equal status in the tribe, they were not pets as monkeys did not feed them. Dogs are carnivores and would eat dump rats and other small animals and meat that they can find. They would not eat fruits and vegetables and other grains and other food on the dump yard of plant origins that baboons would eat. There was no direct competition for food thus they have the common tribe in a symbiotic relationship. Now, this video made a lot of controversies. People have a hard time accepting human-like behavior in animals because of our self-image. Was there an actual familiar bond happening between the baboons and dogs, again, we will not know until there’s real and scientific research done. There is one more video featuring a baboon manhandling a puppy that popped up. A Cornell student named Luke Seitz filmed it. He was on the bird research trip in Ethiopia when he recorded a similar situation of a baboon carrying a dog around “like a pet.” He also seemingly observed this behavior over a period of days, so it was not just a fluke.
In another case in Guassa Plateau, Ethiopia primatologist Vivek Venkataraman observed a remarkable scene: wolves and monkeys casually commingling. In normal circumstances, monkeys are prey, but in this situation, wolves did not seem to have an interest in eating baboons. Baboons and especially young ones are easy prey for the wolves. In fact, they appeared to do everything they could to evade any confrontation. They were ignoring each other and spending hours wandering around through the large gelada herds foraging for rodents. Because they do not compete for a primary food source and attacking the large monkey colony would result in war and bad things happening to both of them they cohabitate. Humans and wild cats had this kind of arrangement. Domestication of wild cats happened at the same time in the Middle East and Egypt. Wild cats started to spend a lot of time in human villages. There were many rats present because of the grain store accumulation after the domestication of wild plants. It was the same symbiotic relationship. We used wild cats to lower the rats count; it was beneficial to us to tolerate them. We didn’t feed them directly. Also, rats can attract other predators like snakes, and that can be deadly. Thus we tolerated wild cats, and wild cats tolerated us because we are the source of their new food abundance and in time domestication happened. Monkeys are known for adopting people too.
As a young child of just five years old, Marina Chapman was abducted. A possible reason was to ask for ransom, but when criminals did not get any, they just abandoned her in the Columbian jungle. For some five years as a child, she lived out in the wild. She says that she was taken in by a group of capuchin monkeys. These types of monkeys are known to accept young children into their fold. She learned how to forage for food by copying them. She says monkeys taught her how to do it but in any case, she survived. She returned to human civilization when she was picked up by hunters and sold to a brothel (at that point she was not able to speak the human language). She eventually managed to escape from the brothel, lived on the streets, and in the end became a slave of the mafia family.
Humane meat is a just humane myth. No matter if we are talking about chickens or pigs or any other animal. Pigs are at least as intelligent as a three-year-old human child, cows develop deep and lasting bonds with their family and friends, chickens are able to distinguish more than 100 different faces of the members of their species and have 30 different calls to signal different frets. Animal cognition is a vast topic.
From Kanzi the bonobo to Akeakamai the dolphin. Kenzi, for example, learned more than 500 lexigrams. Even more importantly he was able to connect these lexigrams to represent a form of small sentences. In a study done back in 1993, he performed better than a human 2-year-old at responding to verbal requests.
Akeakamai and Phoenix (Wikipedia), his tank mate dolphin, were taught how to recognize words. Akeakamai was taught words that were represented by different gestures made by the hands of a human trainer. Phoenix learned by listening to words through computer-generated electronic sounds. These sounds were reproduced through an underwater speaker. Both dolphins have successfully learned individual words and eventually strings of words or sentences. Impressively, the dolphins could understand the instructions given with different grammatical structures and different word orders. They understood the difference between instructions like “Take the hoop to the ball” and “Take the ball to the hoop.” When they performed the required actions correctly, the dolphins showed that they understood the elements of the language. This is intelligence at the level of humans. Even more remarkably, the dolphins seemed to be able to collaborate creatively. Human managers asked the dolphins to come up with their own trick together, using the tandem and create commands. The dolphins responded with a synchronized behavior of their choice, such as diving backward or squirming their tails. Militaries of the world even trained and experimented with dolphins with the idea to create soldiers out of them. Dolphins are at the level of cognition vary closely matching to humans. However, this fact is irrelevant to us.
Cognition has nothing to do with it
We are not the only intelligent species and when we look at baboons and dogs one herbivore, another carnivore the baboons are smarter by far. Moreover, the dog itself is a very smart animal. It is a great dogma in science that somehow the newly incorporated meat source equal to a couple of percent of total calories consumed in the form of bone marrow in early hominin diet developed our big brain and that meat is essential to our intelligence and has to be an integral part of the modern diet. At the same time, we don’t want to recognize any form of animal cognition.
Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]
- Quantitative relationships in delphinid neocortex doi: 10.3389/fnana.2014.00132
- Orthographic processing in baboons, Science, 336:245-8, 2012.
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