8 – The Asymptote of Intelligence


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Little Dog: “Hi Big Dog! Look what I drew in school today! Isn’t it cool?” 

Big Dog: “Oh. Hi Little Dog. Interesting. What is it?”

Little Dog: “I call it The Asymptote of Intelligence.” 

Big Dog: “What’s the horizontal dotted line at the top?” 

Little Dog: “That’s the Asymptote.”

Big Dog: “I’m afraid that answer doesn’t help much.”

Little Dog: “Well, you see, the Asymptote is a limit. You see the curve below? The curve represents the trajectory of canine intelligence over time. See how the curve approaches the Asymptote, but never quite reaches it?” 

Big Dog: “I see. So, the curve goes on forever?” 

Little Dog: “Right.” 

Big Dog: “I see that it’s also going up.” 

Little Dog: “That’s the cool part. The curve increases forever, yet it still approaches a limit.” 

Big Dog: “So, our intelligence keeps increasing forever? I guess that makes sense. As canine civilization progresses, our scientists gain increasing knowledge of the Universe around us. But what does the limit mean?” 

Little Dog: “It’s the limit of canine intelligence.” 

Big Dog: “What? Little Dog, where do you get these ideas from? There is no limit to our intelligence! Our ancestors were mere beasts, running around in vicious packs. Completely uncivilized.”

Little Dog: “Yes, well that is why the curve is going up.” 

Big Dog: “But you’re missing my point. There is no dotted line above. Your Asymptote of Intelligence doesn’t exist. We canines are in charge of DogWorld for a reason. And that reason is our superior intelligence. To suggest that there’s some sort of limit to our intellectual capacity is nonsense. Is this the sort of rubbish your school is teaching you these days? Seems almost subversive.” 

Little Dog: “Haha. I like being subversive.” 

Big Dog: “Don’t I know it!” 

Little Dog: “The cool thing about the curve is that when you’re on it, all you see is progress. Things are always getting better. Intelligence is always increasing. Yet the limit is always there. It’s invisible. We have no knowledge of it. Yet, it looms above.” 

Big Dog: “This is ridiculous! I need to send a note to your teacher!” 

Little Dog: “Have you ever seen a flea?” 

Big Dog: “Ugh! Those blood-sucking little monsters? What do they have to do with this?” 

Little Dog: “Do you think that fleas are smart?”

Big Dog: “Well, they’re smart enough to figure out how to bite us! Makes me itchy just thinking about them. So, what’s your point?” 

Little Dog: “My point is that fleas are ‘flea smart’. They’re not ‘dog smart’. Fleas can’t ever be as smart as dogs. The very idea is ludicrous.”

Big Dog: “Ludicrous indeed. Fleas have no clue about the most important things in life: hunting squirrels, tracking rabbits, and figuring out where to leave pee marks on our territory. So, what’s your point?” 

Little Dog: “Well, there’s no reason to believe that fleas can’t progress in intelligence, at least by their definition, whatever it might be. Maybe some of them are better at adapting to changing circumstances. As you pointed out, dogs are smarter these days than our ancestors were. So, why not fleas?” 

Big Dog: “Seems like a stretch, but what’s your point?” 

Little Dog: “Well, the fleas might be getting smarter, but they’ll never be as smart as us dogs. After all, this is our world. The fleas are just an itchy annoyance. They have no hope of ever thinking like dogs. So, that means there is some limit to their intelligence. The Flea Asymptote.”

Big Dog: “Ah. Just like our Canine Asymptote. Got it. Not sure I believe it, but I get your point now. So, what’s a dog to do? Of what possible use is your amazing discovery?” 

Little Dog: “Well, for one, maybe it will make us a bit more humble. If we understand that there are limits to our intelligence, then maybe we’ll be more willing to accept our flaws and not think of ourselves as all-powerful Gods who rule the Universe.” 

Big Dog: “Maybe. But we do rule DogWorld. And I haven’t seen anyone smarter around, have you?” 

Little Dog: “No, but the Universe is a big place. Maybe somewhere there are beings far more intelligent than us.”

Big Dog: “Hmm. I wonder what they would be like? Maybe they’ll have figured out how to trap squirrels. I’m getting too old to chase those little buggers around anymore.” 

Little Dog: “Maybe they’ll have already figured out how to cure disease. Or solve the canine hunger crisis.”

Big Dog: “Not to mention canine strife. I wish we dogs could get along better. But, regarding your Asymptote. I’m still not convinced. There’s no evidence of superior lifeforms to our own.” 

Little Dog: “Maybe not, but as Grumpy Grampa is so fond of saying, a little dose of humility might go a long way to helping dogs understand the limits of our intelligence, and the importance of getting along with each other. To cherish what we have, and not always think that we have all of the answers.” 

Big Dog: “A dose of humility might do us all some good. Maybe if we appreciate the shared heritage of all creatures, we might treat each other with more respect. Worth a try, I guess. Maybe your Asymptote isn’t such a bad idea after all.”

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