We have to ask ourselves what it truly means to be intelligent. Some people will say it is self-awareness. Some people tie it to our level of thinking, but there’s an animal called a Macaques that picks up rocks and throws it at it’s predators. Is that animal displaying intellect?
Guess what...that animal doesn’t even have a brain. If that life-form can display intellect without even being able to be self-aware, creative, etc. then we can’t base the general definition of intelligence on what I consider an egotistical human definition.
What is the commonality in the definition of human intelligence and the intelligence of that brain-less creature? I believe the overall definition of intelligence for life should be based on what's most important for the main goal of life itself—living. Thus the universal definition of intelligence should be the ability to survive.
And this checks off. Majority of human advancements have come as a result of survival such as the creation of language, the agriculture boom, the travel industry, space exploration, and medical advancements. Collectively, humans have figured out how prolong our species. But how did the collective human consciousness achieve such grand feats and does this level of intelligence apply to people as individuals?
It turns out that cultural evolution is much smarter than we are as individuals. Remove the people that raised you, what you were taught, and what customs were passed down and you would be a clueless specimen roaming the world. Albert Einstein wouldn't be “Albert Einstein” without the teachings of all the physicists from his past, the resources he surrounded himself with created from past humans, etc.
Joesph Henrich advances the argument that brain-power alone is not enough to explain why humans are such a successful species. Humans, he argues, are not nearly as intelligent as we think they are. Remove them from the culture and environment they have learned to operate in and they fail quickly. His favorite example of this are European explorers who die in the middle of deserts, jungles, or arctic wastes even though thousands of generations of hunter-gatherers were able to survive and thrive in these same environments.
Strip us down to our barebones and an individual human's survival—the measuring stick of the intellect of life—is simply fight or flight.
Now, let's take a look at the octopus as an individual. Octopus are masters at camouflage. They can become invisible in plane sight by matching themselves with sand, rocks, or coral. Also, like Batman’s smoke distraction, the octopus has the ability to release a cloud of ink temporarily concealing the octopus and disables the predators smell so it can’t be hunted after the ink disappears. Also, each of the octopus' arms has its own brain. While each arm is capable of acting independently—able to taste, touch and move without direction—the centralized brain is also able to exert top-down control. I'm not surprised that we based superheroes, aka super humans, around simply giving humans the abilities of other animals.
If we ran a simulation where we threw one of each species as a newborn on an island, I'm not sure I would confidently say that the human would survive the longest. This article's purpose isn't to say for sure that humans aren't the most intelligent species, but it's to simply say that we might not be. We have to empty our minds of the human ego and realize that we are all on the same playing field.