Are Humans Biased To Thinking That Only Humanoids Are Intelligent?

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 27, 2010 in Science |

EinsteinI think an octopus is about as different as you can get from being a human — eight legs, lives underwater and a hard beak at the center. Yet this video shows clear evidence that they’re quite bright creatures who are quite capable of using tools. This makes me realize that as humans we might have a bias towards thinking that only humanoid creatures have intelligence — and often the worst offenders I see are science fiction films.


A good example of this is the recent hit Avatar: Yes the Na’vi are blue, don’t breathe oxygen and have tendrils which allow them to USB into everything from trees to pterodactyls — yet they’re really poorly disguised humans at the end of the day. The reality of an alien planet may be that giant whales who don’t have opposable thumbs are running the show.

The Whales from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Now some films do get around this, for example Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home actually had an entire plot revolving around whales — but honestly it was more of a comical subplot than anything else. In fact one thing you’ll notice in many science fiction films is that evil aliens are monsters who never look like humans, while with humanoid aliens you have a 50% chance that they are friendly. And even this observation that a humanoid creature may be good and evil is in itself a reflection on human nature. In fact with Star Trek you get a good example of this with the Vulcans and Romulans who look alike on the surface but can go either way.

Romulan Commander 2268  played by actress Joanne Linville.

Yet when we show a creature that looks nothing like a human there seems to be that assumption that they’re just up to no good — and not only are they evil, but they’re dumb as bricks. And even when they’re assigned an intelligence it’s always as the primeval hunter going after prey as if reading a good book would make them a bit too intellectual. In fact you’ll sooner find a non-humanoid creature that wants to have sex with us rather than enjoying some good conversation.

Astounding Stories

So not that I want to get too politically correct, but even the term monster shows our human bias to humanoid creatures. These biases of course pre-date science fiction as you’ll find them in our mythology: The Greek gods look like humans — and when you even kitbash the human form with snakes (ala Medusa) you’re literally looking for trouble. In fact even when we think of the devil it’s literally a human mixed with the physical traits of an animal which represents an immoral primitivism.

Weird Tales: Doctor Satan

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