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What is a good cross-species measure of intelligence?

I want to use this information to decide which animals to eat, so preferably it would have been measured for most commonly eaten animals.

I read about the Encephalization Quotient. Would EQ be a good choice? Is there somewhere I can find a list of animals and their EQ?

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    $\begingroup$ The EQ is not a good measurement of animal intelligence. Note octopuses are highly intelligent but their nervous system is like an alien organism's. Also, note which animals are commonly eaten is country specific. Which country are you posting from? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse I live in the United States $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ This might be opinion-based to some degree depending on how one defines intelligence. To get a reasonably reliable answer, I think you first need to define intelligence in your question. For myself (who also struggles with that question), I cannot bring myself to eat pork (even bacon), because they are highly intelligent and self aware. To me, to me, it's murder. I won't eat octopus. I'm glad dogs aren't on the menu in the US. It's not an easy question, but it's an honest one, and important. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ We're getting a bit into philosophy, but you'd need to figure what counts as intelligence before that, and we're not yet sure what that is. There's no singular measure for intelligence that you could really apply.. $\endgroup$
    – techno156
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ Have you tried the wiki on it It has a lot pf helpful information en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encephalization_quotient $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 14:59

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There isn't really a good answer, since we don't have a singular quantifiable measure of intelligence for humans, let alone other species.

Any human measures of intelligence might not apply properly to an animal, because it's based on either human behaviours, or specific human cultures/context. An animal that does not confirm to either might not complete the test as expected, or not recognise it as one at all.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah intelligence is not a single thing so there is no single way to measure it. Even the most conservative definition of intelligence still has several separate aspects. Then you run into the sensory and manipulation limitations. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 14:49
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EQ or EZ can be helpful with several qualifiers.

  1. you should account for differences among groups, birds for instance have smaller brains than mammals for what most would consider similar intelligence, bird brains have higher synaptic density than mammals likely due to weight constraints during evolution. the brain has evolved along sperate paths with different mass efficiencies. EQ gets less and less useful the further you get from mammals and primates. invertebrates in particular become very problematic since the brain is not extremally centralized like it is in vertebrates, so even estimating what is and is not the brain runs into issues.

  2. Improvements have been done to EQ by using the only the parts of the brain responsible things we associate with intelligence, this helps account for drastic difference in sensory parts of the brain which affect overall brain size, but again this breaks down when you get away from mammals because the brains works differently in those groups. You also run into the issue that folding of the brain increases neuron density faster than mass so it can deflate EQ scores while making the animal more intelligent.

If you really want to estimate intelligence, then just like in humans, behavior is your best metric, but this is not going to be a easy to research number. I have a similar issue to your conundrum and I won't eat anything that appears to understand the concept of death : elephants, great apes and some other primates, dolphins including orca and, grey parrots. I generally iffy on eating anything that has complex problem solving and tool use. I won't eat any primate at all for other reasons (disease). But this requires knowledge of animal behavior. You will never get a nice easy number to look at, intelligence is just too complex a thing.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you lead a pig (pet or laboratory) to an area facing a mirror, if the pig sees an interesting object in the mirror, they will turn around and go to it without hesitation, i.e. they understand that a mirror is a trustworthy reflection of physical reality. Even dogs can't do that. I had a superintelligent dog that would watch TV with me, but he never figured out that it wasn't real. As he was a shepherd variety, if there were horses running, he'd try to nip at their fetlocks. I can't imagine eating dog, let alone pig. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 21:00
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There is no easy way to quantify intelligence because it's poorly defined. I would suggest narrowing your focus on measurable behaviour as a proxy for intelligence, and looking at the many behavioral research studies on commonly consumed animals.

  • Would you eat an animal that has social bonds?
  • Would you eat an animal that is able to be taught new skills?
  • Would you eat an animal that demonstrates problem solving?

There is good evidence that chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, fish, all form social bonds, can learn new skills, and solve novel problems. All of those things are a key part in survival and reproduction in many animal species.

You might find the mirror self-recognition test worth looking into, particularly as something that highlights the absurdity of trying to design a test across species.

Here's a list of animals by number of neurons which may help you on your quest - if you can find evidence that number of neurons is an adequate proxy to intelligence for your purposes. There is another on that page about number in the cerebrum. Not a lot of fish on there though.

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