What If Dogs Had Human Intelligence?

I’ve recently read a fascinating book called Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis. In this fanciful, rather sobering tale, two Greek gods make a bet with each other about what dogs would experience if they were given human intelligence.

Although this story doesn’t focus on the issues I’ve addressed in this blog, it does highlight the fact that every mind shapes reality in its own way. Their new brain power radically alters their world-view, and this is quite disturbing to some of these canines. In fact one dominant dog named Atticus insists that those in his pack mostly suppress their new intellectual gifts.

“Atticus, however, having demanded that the pack return to the old ways, now constantly judged how Benjy and Dougie were performing ‘as dogs.’ This made everything stranger still. Benjy and Dougie were dogs forced to perform a version of dogness convincing enough to please other dogs who had, to an extent, forgotten what dogness was. Were any of them actually barking or growling in the old ways? Neither Benjy nor Dougie ever knew. Nor, of course, could they ask. They would have been bitten – or worse – if they had. Far from becoming more doglike, Benjy could feel himself becoming less so: more self-conscious, more thoughtful, more dependent on a language that he kept to himself” (p. 63).

Like the fifteen canines in Alexis’ tale, we humans were born with an awareness specific to our species. But the world that we inhabit reshapes our consciousness in many ways, some obvious and some so subtle we will never even guess their existence.

Incidently, Alexis also illustrates the great difficulty of evaluating another species in terms of one’s own criteria. He writes about a dog called Majnoun: “Whereas previously, he had thought them stunted, clumsy and unwilling to grasp the obvious, Majnoun now realized humans were almost as deep as dogs, though in their own particular way” (p. 124).

Roger Christan Schriner

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