And even when there’s progress, it’s often discredited. Frans de Waal, a primatologist, explains in a Wall Street Journal essay, "The one historical constant in my field is that each time a claim of human uniqueness bites the dust, other claims quickly take its place." Members of the animal-intelligence community think non-humans are unfairly written-off as less smart because marks for mental fitness have been overly anthropomorphized.
With animals, there is an emphasis on disentangling intelligence from mechanization. Intelligence is the ability to process information and make inferences, whereas mechanization is an automatic response to a certain stimulus. An octopus, for example, can change colors to blend into surroundings, something a sniper does by design. Scientists are trying to find out whether octopuses choose to change colors or do so mechanically. But does it matter? Ascribing such importance to design, visualization, and inference is incredibly arbitrary. Within this context, "intelligence" is really an indicator of how similar an animal is to humans.
Another argument from the animal-intelligence community is that the idea of "convergent intelligence" is often overlooked. It is common to believe that the more recently an animal shared an ancestor with humans, the smarter it is. This hypothesis, however, does not always hold. Pigs are very distantly related to humans, as it was over 100 million years ago that the ancestors of hogs and humans diverged. But much of pig and human DNA is identical. Proponents of convergence theory believe that pig and human DNA took different routes to the same solution. True to form, pigs have proven to be astute in very human ways. They can even employ deception, a very advanced cognitive tactic. Pig A will almost instantly follow Pig B if Pig B shows signs of knowing where food is stored, and Pig B will try to throw Pig A off its trail.
Simply put, researchers studying animal cognition believe the concept of intelligence has become caricatured.
For those outside of the community, an important side effect of studying this field is that it offers another way of exploring the quagmire of defining and measuring general intelligence. The challenges that come with this research arise because intelligence in its broadest sense is not something that's comparative. This is true not just across species, but also within them. For humans, tests such as the SAT will always be under attack because it’s impossible to shrink intelligence to two dimensions. All that can be gleaned from these tests is that, due to whatever mix of circumstance and inherent ability, a person is currently better than a portion of population and worse than another at a particular type of reasoning.
Equally important, a person who exhibits or does not exhibit aptitude in one area can only be compared within the relevant frame. It’s impossible, for example, to compare Mozart’s musical talent to Einstein’s facility with physics. As with animal intelligence, measuring human intelligence runs into problems when extrapolation extends beyond its boundaries. That is to say, the SAT might be a good measure of preparedness for college coursework, but no test can put a number on a person’s innate intellectual ability across all domains.
So is Maebe a genius with her nose?
All that can be deduced is that, compared to humans, her ability to smell is spectacular. But "smart" and "dumb" are irrelevant in cross-species comparisons. Maebe occupies a different niche, and, for her, as with all animals, the main reason for testing 'intelligence' is to reveal the skills necessary for survival in her niche, not to examine how she would fair if she occupied the human one.