It might be argued that visual memory is hardly a measure of smart. But animals do all sorts of other things that humans can do barely or not at all. Hunt moths by echolocation like a bat, for example. What's more, animals do pretty well at solving problems: the New Caledonian crow, for example, being better at solving a variety of puzzles than the average seven-year-old human.
But whatever one may say about the intelligence of animals, none have been smart enough to build the bomb, or describe the motion of the planets. So what makes us effectively smarter than the animals, even if our IQ is not nearly so much higher than that of other animals as most people think?
|Evolution? Image source|
As I have previously discussed, the gift of language grants humanity a power almost equal to that of telepathy. For direct mind-to-mind communication, there is no need for everyone to have a chip in their head as some have supposed. All that's required is the ability to think in symbols, and to express those symbols by verbal utterance or other means. Then, to create the same thought in your head as in mine, I have simply to think out loud. Thus, if I say, "elephants never forget," what you'll hear is "elephants never forget," which is my thought exactly.
Language thus creates a group mind. Experience of one becomes the knowledge of all. Knowledge passes between the generations, and beyond the bounds of the tribe. Your solution to the problem of extracting honey from the bees' nest without being stung can become my solution too, without my ever seeing you perform the trick. With that one step, a dim-witted ape became master of a wealth of knowledge far beyond the experience of a single individual or a single generation.
The verbal sharing of knowledge meant improved human survival, larger populations, the development of urban civilization, the complexity of which gave rise to a need for record keeping, which led naturally to the invention of writing.
Writing provided the means to the next big step in the evolution of human "smartness." It led to the transmission of experience and ideas over both time and space. Knowledge now passed easily down the generations and between tribes, cities and nations. With the accumulation and dispersal of literary, historical and technical writings, the intelligence of a person of any accomplishment ceased to be a product chiefly of that individual's own experience and cerebration, but of the civilization in which that individual was raised.
And now there is the Internet, which makes civilizational distinctions obsolete. All human knowledge is available to everyone, everywhere at virtually no cost. Even a poorly financed terrorist organization has the potential to deploy weapons of mass destruction. The world is at the threshold of an era during which all kinds of freaks and crazies will be able to wreak havoc upon the world. In Washington, Moscow or Beijing, one of them may already have their finger on the button marked Armageddon. All that power in the hands of an animal with a mind comparable to that of a crow and in some ways inferior to the brain of a chimp.
Frans de Waal: Moral Behavior in Animals