Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.
– Abraham Flexner, American educator (1866-1959)
If an alien from a planet unimaginably distant from here were to come to earth with the objective of studying life forms, what do you think he should do?
If he were to study the most abundant life on the planet he would have to look at microbes. We, for example, have more microbes in our own bodies than we have cells we can call our own–that is, that carry our unique DNA.
If he decided to look at life forms more advanced than a single cell he would likely look at algae or plankton in the oceans. If he looked for something more mobile, he would have to study insects. There he would find some well organized and advanced societies if he looked at ants or bees.
Maybe he would want to communicate with another being. For that he might choose a chimpanzee. Or a dolphin.
Dolphins can understand and speak back, especially if given the opportunity to learn a new language. Chimps can’t talk because they lack the physiology to form most sounds we consider essential to language.
Why doesn’t he study us, you may ask. We live in more parts of the land world than any other creature–at least more than any other large animal, maybe not more than the cockroach. We are certainly the most destructive, which makes us the most powerful.
Surely a being from another world who travelled may light years to reach earth would want to speak with the most powerful creature on the planet. Or would he?
What language would he use? Remember, most of us know only one or a few human languages. Not one of us can communicate more than a few hundred words with any living being on earth other than humans.
We, who seek extraterrestrial life on distant planets, do not have the ability to communicate well with any other species on earth other than ourselves. Our solution to that problem, it might seem to an impartial observer, is to render other intelligent life extinct.
Now that’s power.
But why would an intelligent space being admire the power we use to destroy each other and other beings on our own planet? Only 20th Century science fiction had space aliens invading earth to kill everyone or enslave us. It doesn’t take much thinking to see that the “destructive space alien” scenario simply doesn’t make sense.
Are we really the smartest creatures on the planet? Sure, just ask us.
I’m going to ask you something. Two things, but they’re related.
(1) Do you think that if you asked 1000 people you meet randomly on the street in the next few days any of them would admit that they are stupid? Even one?
(2) Have you considered the behaviour of people you have seen and thought they “must be stupid”?
The most intelligent minds among us evaluate how brilliant we humans are, using human testing methods (we haven’t a clue how to test otherwise) and human result standards (such as IQ) have decided that we humans are the most intelligent creatures on earth.
Isn’t that a bit like asking an Olympic athlete who he believes will win the gold medal in his event? Or like asking a religious person which religion he believes is the best? The results couldn’t be more biased.
Assuming we could be shrunk to the appropriate size, could you survive and thrive in a bee or ant colony? Assuming you can swim and even given diving equipment, could you live the life of a dolphin? Or, make it easier, could you fit into a colony of chimpanzees well?
Why not? If we are so smart we should be able to adapt to different living conditions. But we can’t. Because there are things–many things–that ants, bees, dolphins and chimps know that we will never know. That we can never know. That we have no way of finding out.
As our quote says, we are the species that borrows billions of dollars for war (trillions in the case of the USA at present), but seldom borrows much to fund our education systems. We borrow money to kill each other, but scrimp when it comes to educating ourselves.
How smart is that? Chimps only fight to see who dominates, not to kill each other. Dolphins squabble over mates. No, wait, we don’t even know that much about dolphins. They may be smarter than us, we would never know. No, they live in the water, so they can’t be as smart as us.
So we say.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what to teach children to aid their intellectual, social and emotional development and when to teach it.
Learn more at http://billallin.com