Gregg’s book If Nietzsche Were A Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity makes some extraordinary and thought-provoking points...It is not only engagingly written, but its controversial thesis is worth taking seriously...Some of the cognitive concepts introduced in If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal are nothing less than brilliant...Take 'prognostic myopia,' which Mr. Gregg defines as 'the human capacity to think about and alter the future coupled with an inability to actually care all that much about what happens in the future. It’s caused by the human ability to make complex decisions availing of our unique cognitive skills that result in long-term consequences. But because our minds evolved primarily to deal with immediate—not future—outcomes, we rarely experience or even understand the consequences of these long-term decisions'...Think nuclear weapons, greenhouse gases, long-term pollution for short-term profit...Our 'shortsighted farsightedness,' argues Mr. Gregg, is 'an extinction-level threat to humanity'...It is startling to consider that our very intelligence may have made humans no better morally, even no better off physically, than other species...Indeed, by many measures of evolutionary success (number of individuals, persistence over time, likelihood of persisting into the future), Homo sapiens is doing poorly compared to many other species...And not benefiting the Earth, either...Mr. Gregg concludes, glumly but effectively, that 'there’s good reason to tone down our smugness. Because, depending on where we go from here, human intelligence may just be the stupidest thing that has ever happened.'
Gregg’s clever and provocative book is full of irreverent notions and funny anecdotes — the creative upside to being a human animal. But our ability to abstract from our immediate experience means we can take that creativity too far ... If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal is mostly fixated on the ill, or the way that humans insist they are improving things when they are ultimately mucking them up ... It’s worth thinking about how much trouble humans can create when our ambitions extend beyond our immediate needs. But Gregg, in his very human desire to dramatize the stakes, can be prone to overstatement — occasionally glossing over the animal experience while demonizing the human one ... He’s mostly writing in a more polemical vein than an exploratory one. He extols how much 'happier' and 'healthier' we would be if we followed the lead of nonhuman animals but he doesn’t touch on how, well, ableist nature can be ... Human existence isn’t inherently good or evil; despite Gregg’s comic distortions — which are undeniably entertaining — the more subtle suggestion that courses through his book is that, compared with nonhuman animals, our existence is more extreme.
Gregg, a senior research associate with the Dolphin Communication Project, examines the 'puzzling gulf between the way humans understand and experience the world, and the way all other animals do' in this entertaining work of pop science...He begins with a brief account of Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental health decline, arguing that superior intelligence might not always be a good thing, because if the philosopher’s mind had been more like that of a narwhal’s, he wouldn’t have suffered such despair...It’s a lighthearted conceit, and it leads to an enlightening tour of animal behavior: a chapter on deception contrasts the human tendency to lie with the 'tactical deception' of the male cuttlefish, which disguises itself as a female when rivals are nearby...Wonderfully accessible and charmingly narrated, this is a fascinating investigation of intellect and cognition.