Recent studies have shown that squirrels are smarter than dogs. Researchers suggest this may be due to the inner representation necessary to building the world as they live it. The 3d map in their heads includes not just horizontal territory but vertical space. Extra skills are necessary, like assessing whether a branch will support them or the best path to navigate among the tops of trees. The way they use their front paws to hold and manipulate things, how their tails can be a roof in the rain or a way of keeping balance, the huge range of positions they can take on trees, and remembering where they put nuts requires lots of neural space for such a big inner image of their reality. Their way of being in the world is far more complex and self-sufficient than the world of dogs. The brain grows in accommodation to the experience we live. Dogs have more social intelligence, are interactive and bond oriented. But that’s not what’s measured in problem solving oriented intelligence tests.
The neural benefits of adapting to such complex surroundings seen in squirrels makes me think of the skateboarders I see around monuments, like the one at Mt Royal Ave. and Cathedral St. with irregular steps that creates an interesting skateboard challenge. It’s experiential physics, cultivating deep understanding of speed and trajectory, angles, distance and gravity that’s rooted in the body. Not to mention physical agility and balance. It didn’t occur to me until recently that the perceptive intelligence of students who carried skateboards might not be coincidental. Even though their verbal smarts could be quite different from each other, reflecting the quality of their education, what they shared was insight, an ability to get to the heart of things, seeing the patterns that matter in a circumstance. One person I emailed about it said that every urban environment is seen as a different obstacle course. Like squirrels they have a broader range of physical assessments in how to interact with the world and so create a bigger inner representation of ways to move in their surroundings. They learn how to gauge possibilities and what’s the best fit for a given situation. Another mentioned the power of danger for sharpening focus. Like with acrobatics, the risk involved in skateboarding forces a level of attention not required in mental challenge. A current student described it as one of the most intensely meditative activities available, saying “Skateboarding is living in the moment”.
Skateboarding schools the body intelligence that George Lakoff describes as the underpinning of our conceptual structure, the basis of many metaphors. Using the body in novel ways gives us more patterns to structure ideas and analogies. Being aware of the importance of physical experience to thinking has been central to continuing my practice of T’ai Chi and Yoga. Anything involving balance and assessing the best path develops nuance in applying those metaphors. As David Bohm emphasized, “All of our concepts and explanations…have at their core the perception of a totality of ratios and proportions.” Perception is key to understanding. Like the arts, skateboarding extends the sensitivity of right brain knowing and the vast realm of non-verbal intelligence. With so much life being experienced through machines, it’s important to keep the body tuned and give dimension to our reasoning.