Instigator / Pro

Chimpanzees are smarter than humans


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 6 votes and with 26 points ahead, the winner is...

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Round 1
In order for the title of this debate to be technically correct, chimpanzees in general do not have to be smarter than humans in general. There just has to be a plural number of chimpanzees who are smarter than a plural number of humans. There are very smart chimpanzees relative to other chimps, they can solve problems that human children can solve. But there are mentally impaired humans, many of them are total vegetables who literally can't do or understand anything and are less intelligent and responsive than the average 3 year old. On top of that, human fetuses can still technically be called humans and they literally don't know anything because their brains have barely developed yet.

I look forward to seeing how you try to get out of this one, lol.
Thanks sparrow but if you’ll forgive the pun, I call fowl.

In order for the title of this debate to be technically correct, chimpanzees in general do not have to be smarter than humans in general.
I’m afraid they do.   Pro instigated using ordinary English language and this contender accepted the debate in good faith with the understanding that “Chimpanzees are smarter than humans" would be the subject of this debate.  I'm holding Pro to the agreement implicit in his offering & my acceptance of this debate.

There just has to be a plural number of chimpanzees who are smarter than a plural number of humans.
If the instigator was merely mistaken and sincerely intended to only argue that some exceptional chimpanzees are smarter than some disabled humans then the correct move from Pro at this time would be to apologize to readers for wasting time and concede this debate.  I doubt this is the case, because Pro failed to offer any evidence in support of such a resolution-- just a single assertion and out. 

Voters will have to make the call but this debater is presuming that Sparrow is proceeding in bad faith, with no genuine intention of arguing Human intelligence vs. Chimps.

Sentences that are written with  sincerely definitional intention are properly written in fairly general, abstract terms.  So, for example, when Wikipedia says:

Sparrows are a family of small passerine birds.
The intention is never “some sparrows are birds,” but only always “[collectively] sparrows are birds.”  

In Modern English, when comparing two species of animals the common name for the species is properly used to represent the characteristics of that species in abstract, not extraordinary individuals.  For example, it would be incorrect to say, “Sparrows are larger than crows” even though there are certainly some large sparrows who are presently larger than some baby crows because regular English defaults to the abstract of sparrow vs. crow, the average representation of sparrow vs the average representation of crow.  Obviously, Pro’s command of the English is apparently sufficient to understand this elementary usage, so I think we’re forced to assume a bad faith argument.

I look forward to seeing how you try to get out of this one, lol.
When we say, “Cheaters never prosper,” we mean cheaters in general, cheaters in the abstract.  When we say “Chimpanzees are smarter,” we mean chimpanzees in general, chimpanzees in the abstract.

If voters are convinced that Pro’s R1 is a bad faith attempt to redirect the terms of this debate to a question that’s easier to defend, Con would ask voters to consider rewarding a conduct point accordingly.


Let’s note that the debate instigator traditionally sets the definition of relevant terms as a part of establishing and explaining a claim.  Since Pro failed in this responsibility in both the debate description and R1 arguments, Con will take the liberty to define terms.

The Chimpanzee is a species of great ape native to the forests and savannahs of tropical Africa. Evidence from fossils and DNA sequencing shows that Pan is a sister taxon to the human lineage and are humans' closest living relatives.

Humans (Homo sapiens) are the only extant members of the subtribe Hominina. Together with chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, they are part of the family Hominidae (the great apes, or hominids). " A terrestrial animal, humans are characterized by their erect posture and bipedal locomotion; high manual dexterity and heavy tool use compared to other animals; open-ended and complex language use compared to other animal communications; larger, more complex brains than other animals; and highly advanced and organized societies."

Smarter is the comparative form of smart:


1.       Exhibiting social ability or cleverness.

2.       (informal) Exhibiting intellectual knowledge, such as that found in books.

If we go by the informal definition, then Con wins because no chimpanzee has ever exhibited something like literary intellectualism.

And the more formal sense is fairly problematic: to what extent can we compare society or cleverness across species?

THESIS: Chimpanzees are smarter than humans.

For Pro to win this debate, Pro must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that P. troglodytes exhibits superior social ability and cleverness when compared to H. sapiens.  Since Pro’s claim flies in the face of common sense and simple observation, the burden of proof lies entirely at Pro’s feet.  All Con has to do is show that Pro’s extraordinary claim is fairly dubious or at least  unproven.

To that end, let’s examine human vs. chimp sociality.  It is generally accepted that all primates have developed highly social brains compared to most other animals.  However, humans alone retain the capacity to infer the mental states of individuals in the group while reciprocally enabling others to read one’s own mental state.  Chimpanzee intelligence by contrast in overwhelmingly Machiavellian in the sense of self-interest and egocentric calculation.  Scientists have termed this evolutionary adaptation in humans the “deep social mind,” and ability normally achieved by humans by the first year of life and no other species.  Scientists hypothesize that human adaptations in eye color and eye shape specifically improve interhuman mind reading, which in turn enabled distinctly human social adaptations that increase mind capacity beyond the individual- self-awareness and symbolic language, for example. [1][2][3][4]


Like “smart” or “intelligent,” this adjective is hard to apply across species because every species’ brain is more or less adapted to survivability, which ultimately trumps any capacity to figure out puzzles or break into containers as the clever way to go.  Con posits that the key to defining one species as cleverer than another is flexibility:  to what degree can an animal generalize learned rules to solve new problems? Chimpanzees have famously been observed using sticks and honey to fish termites out of nests, for example, but have not been observed applying this adaptation to new situations (using berries instead of honey for example, or using the stick to spear a mouse or fish)   

In terms of adaptive flexibility, humans are without parallel:

“After discrimination learning between two stimuli that lie on a continuum, animals typically exhibit generalization on the basis of similarity to the physical features of the stimuli, often producing a peak-shifted gradient. However, post-discrimination generalization in humans usually resembles a monotonically increasing (e.g., linear) gradient that is better characterized as following a relational rule describing the difference between the stimuli….The conditions under which these studies have obtained peak shift are suggestive of a common feature-driven mechanism of generalization between humans and animals. For example, peak shift can be found when deriving a relational rule is difficult due to the complexity of the stimuli. Other demonstrations of peak shift in discrimination learning rely on using speeded responses during training with the stimuli presented as incidental cues, degrading the contingency between the training stimuli and the correct response, or interleaving two qualitatively distinct sets of stimuli to decrease the opportunity for stimulus comparison between trials. Taken together, these demonstrations suggest that when the training stimuli and procedures minimize the opportunity to form a relational rule, humans generalize on the basis of physical stimulus features, and in a manner that produces the peak shift phenomenon.” [5]
Another strong indicator for the relative cleverness of a species would be the rate of innovation.  That is, how often do chimps or humans come up with a new solution (like termite fishing) relative to other species? 

Humans are again superior to any other animal in this respect, so much so that examples are unnecessary except to say that some consequences of successful human innovation, overpopulation and climate change, for example, outstrip other animals capacity to innovatively respond up to and exceeding the point of extinction. [6]

Con expects that these brief objections ought to be sufficient to refute Pro’s case as presented so far.  As stated, I’m not yet convinced that Pro is seeking an actual debate in good faith but we can look to the quality of Pro’s response in R2 for improved discernability.
[1]Dunbar, R. I. M. 1998. The social brain hypothesis. Evolutionary Anthropology 6: 178-91
[2]Whiten, A. 1999. The evolution of deep social mind in humans. In M. Corballis and S. E. G. Lea (eds), The Descent of Mind. Psychological perspectives on hominid evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 173-193
[3]Whiten, A. and R. W. Byrne 1988. The manipulation of attention in primate tactical deception. In R. Byrne and A. Whiten (eds), Machiavellian Intelligence: Social expertise and the evolution of intellect in monkeys, apes, and humans. Oxford: Clarendon Press
[4] Knight, C. and C. Power (2012). Social conditions for the evolutionary emergence of language. In M. Tallerman and K. Gibson (eds), Handbook of Language Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 346-49.

Round 2
Chimpanzees are smarter than humans means there are any number of plural chimpanzees that are smarter than any number of plural humans. This was the intended meaning from the beginning and if you didn't see that coming that's on you. I may be a lying, deceptive scum bag but hey, nice guys finish last. Unless you can debunk this, you cannot debunk the intended resolution which semantically fits the debate title.

Chimpanzees are smarter than humans means there are any number of plural chimpanzees that are smarter than any number of plural humans.
This statement is even less true than previous attempts at thesis.  There are only about 300,000 chimpanzees left in the world.  So, any number is pretty simple to falsify:  for example, there are not one million chimpanzees that are smarter than humans because there are not one million chimpanzees.  Pro's intentions become less discernible as Pro attempts to find a misdirection that might be defensible.  I hope voters will agree that we've established that Pro has no serious intentions here.

When USA Today asks "Are dogs smarter than cats?" we know what USA Today means, don't we?  USA Today is NOT asking whether any number of plural dogs are smarter than any number of plural cats.  That would not be news. USA Today is speaking of the set of all dogs represented by some abstract or ideal median characteristics and the set of all cats represented by some abstract, stupider median characteristics.

Does the aphorism, "cheaters never prosper" refer to some small subset of cheaters or does it refer to cheaters in abstract, in general?

This was the intended meaning from the beginning and if you didn't see that coming that's on you.
Of course, the instigator of the debate has the responsibility to communicate intention clearly.  If Pro intended to say, "There are any number of plural chimpanzees that are smarter than any number of plural humans" and not "Chimpanzees are smarter than humans" than it was Pro's responsibility to write that statement clearly before the handshake of debate acceptance.  Re-editing the thesis multiple times after acceptance is simply poor conduct.  I'd encourage Pro to apologize to readers for conduct and concede this debate.

I may be a lying, deceptive scum bag but hey, nice guys finish last.
I'd point out that Pro's current ranking on the leaderboards is 137th out of 142 debaters.  If Pro's claim is true, then Pro must be one of the nicest debaters this site has ever seen.

Unless you can debunk this, you cannot debunk the intended resolution which semantically fits the debate title.

Can I debunk Mike Adams, the legendary charlatan from Natural News?  Well, OK.

Adam's headline reads:

"Genius female chimpanzee found to be smarter than U.S. high school students""

If Pro had read the scientific study itself rather than the fakest of fake news generated about the study, Pro would have discovered that the study quite clearly found that the intelligence of human children was far more sophisticated than chimpanzees:

"The appearance of the social cluster in children but not in chimpanzees was quite intriguing. Herrmann et al. argued that if the emergence of the spatial cluster reflected the existence of an ancient cognitive component present across many taxa, the existence of the social cognition cluster in humans may indicate just the opposite—as it may reflect one of the most recent cognitive developments in human evolution. Although some of the same abilities tested are also shared by chimpanzees, they appear neither as a bundle nor early in ontogeny as they appear in humans."
No high school students are ever mentioned or studied.  These are British scientists studying chimpanzees in Africa and so the United States is never mentioned in the article.  Adam's accounts of Natasha's skill set: avoiding traps, disabling electric fences, etc exists nowhere in the study and seem to be entirely fabricated.  In fact, the majority of the claims in the article seem to be entirely invented.

That's pretty typical behavior for this website.  Wikipedia states:

Natural News (formerly NewsTarget, which is now a separate sister site) is a conspiracy website that sells various dietary supplements, and promotes alternative medicine, controversial nutrition and health claims, fake news, and various conspiracy theories, such as "chemtrails", chemophobic claims (including the purported dangers of fluoride in drinking water, anti-perspirants, laundry detergent, monosodium glutamate, aspartame, and purported health problems caused by allegedly "toxic" ingredients in vaccines, including the now-discredited link to autism. It has also spread conspiracy theories about the Zika virus allegedly being spread by genetically modified mosquitoes and purported adverse effects of genetically modified crops, as well as the farming practices associated with and foods derived from them.  The site's founder, Michael Allen "Mike" Adams, was the subject of controversy after posting a blog entry implying a call for violence against proponents of GMO foods, and then allegedly creating another website with a list of names of alleged supporters. He has been accused of using "pseudoscience to sell his lies". Adams has described vaccines as "medical child abuse".
Natural News is occasionally banned from social media sites for encouraging acts of violence against scientists and science. 

So, boom.  Debunked.

To the extent that Pro's link to this source increases the viewership or legitimacy of Natural News or Mike Adams, Con suggests that Pro's R2 constitutes a potential act of harm in the real world (decreasing Measles vaccination rates, for example).  Con asks Pro to desist from linking to this site in future and to mitigate any present harm caused by apologizing for said conduct and conceding this debate.

Round 3
Chimpanzee beats humans at memory test:
Chimps better at solving problems than children

I have now president multiple examples of chimps being smarter than humans. Unless you want to argue that children and the mentally disabled aren't humans, I have won. You wouldn't do that would you? You don't HATE children and disabled people do you? Don't be racist, concede this debate right now.

Thanks, Sparrow.

Chimpanzee beats humans at memory test:
Chimps better at solving problems than children
Let's recall that Pro was so pleased at declaring his weak semantic trap at the top of R1 that Pro forgot to define and support any argument.  That left Con with the task of defining terms and laying out supports.  Let's also recall that Con used Wiktionary's first definition for "smart:"


1.       Exhibiting social ability or cleverness.

2.       (informal) Exhibiting intellectual knowledge, such as that found in books.
Pro did not object to this definition or offer another, therefore this definition stands.

Readers will note that neither memory nor problem-solving are factors in the determination of "smart" for the purposes of this debate.  The determinant factors are social ability and cleverness.  Therefore, neither of Pro's YouTube  videos serve as evidence in Pro's defense.

Pro again fails to actually go and read the studies that his YouTube links cite.

The first study soundly refutes Pro' argument in its second sentence:

"The general assumption is that, as with many other cognitive functions, it is inferior to that of humans; some data, however, suggest that, in some circumstances, chimpanzee memory may indeed be superior to human memory.
Even in the case of memory, irrelevant as it stands in relation to our definition of "smart", chimpanzees only demonstrate better memory in some rarefied circumstances and generally chimps are cognitively inferior, even in memory. 

We should note that the six chimpanzees studied had been regularly practicing this test for at least two years while human opportunities for practice were limited to the time of this study.

We should also note that only one chimpanzee outperformed human subjects.  Rather than finding evidence of superior intelligence,  S. Inoue et. al. hypothesized that this performance demonstrated possible evidence of eidetic imagery in chimps. 

"Eidetic imagery has been defined as the memory capability to retain an accurate, detailed image of a complex scene or pattern. It is known to be present in a relatively high percentage of normal children, and then the ability declines with age."
Which raises the question: if eidetic imagery is more present in primate children than adults, why weren't human children included in this study?

So- Pro's claim, "Chimpanzee beats humans at memory test" fails to reflect the study's findings which is more accurately stated as "One well-rehearsed young chimp with possible photographic memory beat some unrehearsed adult humans without photographic memory at one game designed to test for photographic memory."  Does that qualify as smarter?  Not by this debate's definition, it doesn't.

The second study refutes Pro's claim entirely.  The problem in this study is a fairly simple puzzle box.  The study found that as the trick to unlocking the box was made apparent, chimps tended to skip unnecessary steps and go right for the treat, whereas human children tended to carefully imitate the instructor's step, however apparently unnecessary.  The study found that this demonstrated superior human intelligence in that:

"chimpanzees are able to perform seemingly complex tool-use behaviours because they form useful rules about how the tools can be used, rather than a conceptual understudying of the causal principles involved.  Studies of human children suggest that they may have a more conceptual understanding of causality than chimpanzees, seeking causal explanations for observed effects, and that such a conceptual interpretation of causality may be unique to humans."
(emphasis mine)

Humans understood that they were in a learning dynamic and sought to understand both cause and effect while chimps were only interested in the most efficient path to reward.  Humans also preferred imitation to emulation in deference to the context of  the teacher/student relationship, demonstrating the superior social skills inherent to our present definition of "smart, smarter."

So Pro's claim,"Chimps better at solving problems than children" is Pro's faulty deduction from watching a 3 min YouTube video where again, actually reading the cited study comes to the opposite conclusion: chimps emulate tasks while humans learn principles.

In conclusion, Con makes the following voter recommendations:


Pro's opening argument "Chimpanzees are smarter than humans" was  manifestly false and abandoned by Pro from the get-go in favor of a semantic hail mary "some chimpanzees are smarter than some humans" which was then abandoned for "any number of chimpanzees are smarter than any number of humans" which is also manifestly false.  Pro objects to the late submission of Pro's second thesis but also notes that Pro fails to summon up a case for this thesis. Smart was never defined by Pro and Con's definition of smart excludes the one chimp with eidetic memory and the chimps who were merely emulating teachers for the treat rather than engaging in the principles being taught.  Therefore, even the cheap trick argument of Pro's stands as unsubstantiated by any evidence.  Voters will remember that Con placed the Burden of Proof on Pro entirely and Pro did not object to this rather obvious assignment.

Tangentially, Pro argued that "Chimpanzees are smarter than humans" can sometimes "technically" mean "Some excellent chimps are smarter than some deficient humans" but Con has argued in favor of the application of ordinary human understandings of Modern English when defining a debate's thesis: just as "Sparrows are birds," refers to the set of all sparrows; "Cheaters never prosper" refers to the set of all cheaters, "Chimps are smarter"  refers to the set of all chimpanzees.


Voters should remember that Pro has referenced three scientific studies in support of his case.  In all three cases, Pro failed to cite or read the actual study and in all three cases, Pro badly mis-characterized the scientists' findings. One source was pulled from a well-known conspiracy website, the other two were just YouTube TV clips.


Voters are asked to consider whether Pro's multiple re-directs of thesis constitute argument in bad faith and award conduct accordingly.

Voters are also asked to consider whether Pro's use of Natural News as a source, when that source has been famously, publicly sanctioned for societal harms such as advocating violence against scientists and accusing vaccinators of child abuse does not constitute a sufficiently egregious misuse of sources to merit deduction in conduct.

Thanks to voters in advance for their kind consideration.