An excerpt from Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide, where two aliens of different species are conversing.

< You spoke a moment ago as if you believed that human beings had actually acheived intelligence.>

< Clearly they have.>

< Self-delusion. Even at their best, they never, as individuals, rise above the level of manual laborers. Who among them has the time to become intelligent?>

< Not one.>

< They never know anything. They don’t have enough years in their little lives to come to an understanding of anything at all. And yet they think they understand. From earliest childhood, they delude themselves into thinking they comprehend the world, while all that’s really going on is that they’ve got some primitive assumptions and prejudices. As they get older they learn a more elevated vocabulary in which to express their mindless pseudo-knowledge and bully other people into accepting their prejudices as if they were truth, but it all amounts to the same thing. Individually, human beings are all dolts.>

< While collectively…>

< Collectively, they’re a collection of dolts. But in all their scurrying around and pretending to be wise, throwing out idiotic half-understood theories about this and that, one or two of them will come up with some idea that is just a little bit closer to the truth than what was already known. And in a sort of fumbling trial and error, about half the time the truth actually rises to the top and becomes accepted by people who still don’t understand it, who simply adopt it as a new prejudice to be trusted blindly until the next dolt accidentally comes up with an improvement.>

< So you’re saying that no one is ever individually intelligent, and groups are even stupider than individuals - and yet by keeping so many fools engaged in pretending to be intelligent, they still come up with some of the same results that an intelligent species would come up with.>

< Exactly.>

< If they’re so stupid and we’re so intelligent, why do we only have one hive, which thrives here because a human being carried us? And why have you been so utterly dependent on them for every technical and scientific advance you make?>

< Maybe intelligence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.>

< Maybe we’re the fools, for thinking we know things. Maybe humans are the only ones who can deal with the fact that nothing can ever be known at all.>

(If you liked this, you might like Travels in Japan.)

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Feross Aboukhadijeh Hey, thanks for reading! I'm Feross Aboukhadijeh, a programmer, designer, teacher, and mad scientist. I am currently building WebTorrent, a streaming BitTorrent client for the browser, powered by WebRTC. In my free time, I work on StudyNotes, a website to help students study better and get into college.

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