I don’t know why people think animals are generally stupid. Maybe because they don’t have language (although sperm whales have regional accents, so that must say something) and haven’t taken over the world (opposable thumbs really helped us with that one). Maybe it’s from the religious notion that animals don’t have souls. Either way, it’s left us with an undue pride of being the only truly cognizant species on the planet.
Recent years have shown that animals do think and reason—some researchers even go as far to say animals have rudimentary feelings, though in the scientific literature they are careful in their phrasing. Now, we’ve learned that elephants can understand what a human means when they point. The researchers pointed and the elephants found food. Apparently, they’re the first wild animal to do this. (Wolves are known to follow a human’s gaze, but don’t understand pointing.) Elephants already use their trunks to point so it makes sense that they understand what a little creature is doing when they wave their two tiny side trunks.
I’m reading Animal Wise by Virginia Morell and she really highlights the ability for animals, even insects, to think and learn. I think (I hope) that in the next few decades we’ll come to realize that how we see the world isn’t so different from how animals see the world. Rather than categorizing their actions under the broad topic of “animal instinct” we’ll realize that these creatures think and learn just like us. Sure, humans have the benefit of being able to mold the world around them, but maybe, just maybe, we’ll realize that we’re not so much better.