* 200 articles. Two years. Whelk. The best of Upsideclown. Might be reprinted.

Which is the cleverest animal?

18 October 2001
James poses the above question.

As humans, we are born into a natural arrogance that we, above all other creatures on God's Earth, are the end of evolution, the apex of natural development. This view has largely been created and reinforced by the teachings of most religions through time. While some may revere particular animals as holy, in general, the teachings of religions both ancient and modern say that man is greater than 'lower' beasts.

Science too is guilty of bias against non-human creatures. While biologists and animal anthropologists attempt to 'measure' other animal's 'intelligence' using their tried and tested scientific means, they all base their 'measures' on a human perspective. Many of these experiments are based on examining language, or symbol recognition. Another, almost stereotypical, one is to place some poor unsuspecting creature in a maze and see if it finds its way out. Be it language, the recognition of abstract symbols, or finding your way out of glass maze, all of these requirements are human requirements, irrelevant to all other creatures. What these experiments really question is how 'human' are other creatures, not how 'clever' they are.

So then, smart-arse, what is 'cleverness', and how are you going to decide which is the cleverest animal? This is central to the equation. If we say that 'cleverness' is the ability to compose a concerto for flugelhorn and full philharmonic, then few would argue that humans rule the roost. Most other animals couldn't even pick up the pen to draw the delicate opening quaver. That is, of course, an unfair test.

Upon closer examination, the question itself is already loaded. 'Clever' automatically seems to require some sort of intelligence test. It is not the cleverest kid in the class who can run the fastest or punch the hardest. David was cleverer than Goliath because he used his slingshot against the unarmed giant. If the giant was clever, he would have worn a helmet, thus deflecting the potentially lethal blow, and then proceeded to beat David into a throbbing bloody pulp.

Based on this example, a simple test of how clever an animal is would be to have a series of battles, creature against creature, and see how many Davids beat how many Goliaths. In order to make it fair, and somewhat natural, there could be home and away fixtures. Many of these would be pretty academic and would not pull many TV dollars. I doubt many would tune in to watch the return leg of Potbellied Pig vs. Great White Shark, not even to see a fucking big shark suffocating in shallow puddle of mud. Mind you, the first leg wasn't really much battle either, just a pig sinking, really, since the shark wasn't even hungry.

Simple one on one battle, therefore is not an adequate test of cleverness. For a start, herbivores are not likely to put up much of a fight. Most likely, if funds were raised for this type of experiment, the animals in question would probably refuse to fight. The often times debated question, which would win, a penguin or a chicken, would most likely not be much of a scene. If on land, they'd probably just mind each other's business. I wouldn't fancy the chicken's chances in a sea-borne fight, though.

So, if we are to devise a test that does not involve direct fighting, and is not polluted with man's inflated sense of superiority, we need a factor that is common to all animals. The most likely candidate for this factor is survival. This test is based on the process of evolution and adaptation, and the likely results of such a test indicate why these ideas are so distasteful to those of a religious inclination.

Again, picture these tests as a sort of league with home and away fixtures, comparing how different animals survive when placed in different surroundings. The test designers are immediately faced with the dilemma of whether to allow groups of animals to be placed in each environment, or just single ones. Foxes, squirrels, rats and pigeons have all already shown their ability to adapt to natural human surroundings, while TV shows such as Shipwrecked, Survivor and Castaways demonstrate just how badly human beings really do when displaced. And imagine an actual fair test. Those people on those TV shows were given guidance and had time to prepare for their ordeal, and knew that it would only last a short period of time, and really had no chance of not actually surviving. Imagine if, to make it a fair experiment, we just grabbed a bunch of unsuspecting people at random from the public, and thrust them onto an uninhabited island without cameramen supplying cans of beans.

Humans would not come out at all well in a proper test of evolution. The winners would probably be some sort of algae or bacteria, or maybe some kind of cockroach. Not exactly God's prettiest creatures.

So, in that kind of test, humans lose out quite badly. And being a human, I don't like being beaten by a cockroach. I hate cockroaches. But it is a fair test for the best survivor on the planet, which can be the only true test of which is the best animal. A harsh, but fair, test.

I therefore present a slightly different question, but one that could be tested in a much more lighthearted and amusing television series. The test of survival is a test of how adaptable a creature can be. A more fun test is to find out how specialised a creature can be. While humankind as a species is clearly generalist, individually we tend to specialise. The proposed test, therefore, is to find the best animal at a particular task, and the best human at the same, and see which is better. Some things humans aren't very good at in comparison to other animals, like flying or swimming fast. Not good viewing. But others would be much fairer.

Beast vs Man, episode one - Can a Sea Lion catch more fish in its mouth than Simon "Stinky" Jenkins of Number 7, Withmore Crescent, Clitheroe? Find out next Tuesday at 5:30. Don't miss it.


This is the fucking archive

Current clown:

18 December 2003. George writes: This List

Most recent ten:

15 December 2003. Jamie writes: Seven Songs
11 December 2003. Dan writes: Spinning Jenny
8 December 2003. Victor writes: Rock Opera
4 December 2003. Matt writes: The Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia
1 December 2003. George writes: Charm
27 November 2003. James writes: On Boxing
24 November 2003. Jamie writes: El Matador del Amor; Or, the Man who Killed Love
20 November 2003. Dan writes: Rights Management
17 November 2003. Victor writes: Walking on Yellow
13 November 2003. Matt writes: Disintermediation
(And alas we lost Neil, who last wrote Cockfosters)

Also by this clown:

27 November 2003. James writes: On Boxing
16 October 2003. James writes: Jakesy's School of Urban Driving
24 September 2003. James writes: Chapter One
4 September 2003. James writes: The Silicon Soul
14 August 2003. James writes: A Room With 100 Seats
24 July 2003. James writes: English For Beginners
3 July 2003. James writes: Coldplay are crap. Discuss.
9 June 2003. James writes: It Takes All Sorts
22 May 2003. James writes: Lesson 2: Buying his Gran for a tenner
1 May 2003. James writes: Rosencrantz and Leytonstone
10 April 2003. James writes: Character Building
20 March 2003. James writes: So This Is It. What Are We Going To Do About It?
27 February 2003. James writes: Street Level Zero
6 February 2003. James writes: Reference: James Noteworthy
16 January 2003. James writes: Kissing George Clooney for just £99!
26 December 2002. James writes: Hongkong In Four Tableaux
5 December 2002. James writes: We Are Your Idea
14 November 2002. James writes: The Knight Of Spring Fervent
24 October 2002. James writes: Go On, Be Honest
7 October 2002. James writes: Cold Comfort
12 September 2002. James writes: Peas In A Pod
22 August 2002. James writes: Seed Investment
1 August 2002. James writes: We Are QPR
11 July 2002. James writes: The Road to Ossuna
20 June 2002. James writes: Pret A Teleporter
27 May 2002. James writes: A Play On Words
2 May 2002. James writes: Labour Saving Device
8 April 2002. James writes: Beggaring Belief
14 March 2002. James writes: Small Things
18 February 2002. James writes: Drop Dead Letters
24 January 2002. James writes: High-Rise Rhapsody
27 December 2001. James writes: My drift's too hip to resist.
6 December 2001. James writes: My Lord Has No Nose
12 November 2001. James writes: A Job For Life
18 October 2001. James writes: Which is the cleverest animal?
24 September 2001. James writes: Interview With An Automatum
30 August 2001. James writes: Each To Their Own
6 August 2001. James writes: An Escape, In Sonata Form
12 July 2001. James writes: Truckloads Of Goodies
18 June 2001. James writes: There's No Such Thing As A Coincidence
24 May 2001. James writes: It's All True - The Paper Says So
30 April 2001. James writes: A Letter From Prisyn
16 April 2001. James writes: I Quit
15 March 2001. James writes: An Essay In Procrastination
15 February 2001. James writes: Confessions Of An English Sand-Eater
22 January 2001. James writes: The Future And The Pasta
28 December 2000. James writes: Never drink with men in red
4 December 2000. James writes: The Underground
9 November 2000. James writes: Right answer. Wrong answer
16 October 2000. James writes: The March of Proudfoot: Part I
21 September 2000. James writes: You haven't got a chance
28 August 2000. James writes: Bad, man. Wicked
24 July 2000. James writes: I play games with street lamps

Let meeeeeee entertain you

We are all Upsideclown: Dan, George, James, Jamie, Matt, Neil, Victor.

Material is (c) respective authors. For everything else, there's

Never come here again

And weeeeeee can entertain you by email too. Get fresh steaming Upsideclown in your inbox Mondays and Thursdays, and you'll never need to visit this website again. To subscribe, send the word subscribe in the body of your mail to (To unsubscribe, send the word unsubscribe instead.)


... On this page: ... Archive ... About ... Subscribe ... ... Upsideclone