Both Kary Mullis and Stephen Jay Gould err when they attribute disproportionate importance to levels of reality that humans don’t ordinarily deal with or are affected by.
Gould in Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin says bacteria are the dominant life forms on Earth due to the fact that they have the highest numbers and flourish in more varied environments than other types of life. Anyone who has a decent understanding of evolution understands that Gould is right in positing a non-hierarchical picture of the tree (not ladder) of evolution. It’s embarrassing that Gould has had to backlash against linear models of evolution climaxing at the pinnacle of humankind. But this is a purely biological issue. These criteria for “dominance” are ridiculous in any other realm. To equate one instance of a species of bacteria with another instance of the species of homo sapien is lunacy.
Mullis is a Nobel Prize winner. In Dancing Naked in the Mind Field he interestingly both makes the above mistake and grapples with the issue almost explicitly.
Mullis is a climate change sceptic. He correctly says that the Earth’s climate changes erratically and dramatically by itself. This is an attempt to show that the climate isn’t proximate to humans. Mullis tries to write off global warming as a theory requiring human hubris. How dare we think we’re capable of wreaking such colossal change? However, when something as proximate to carbon-based life (carbon) is raised by a proximate species (humans) on our planet by dramatic levels then the issue becomes proximate to humans. The Earth will continue, evolution will continue, etc if global warming destroys our habitat but that’s irrelevant to us. The world was once home to only one-celled organisms. This is irrelevant to us. Relevance being a matter of degree of proximity. What is relevant is whether intelligent human life exists on Earth or not. Carbon sits at 200 parts per million in the atmosphere in ice ages, was peaking at its normal non-ice age peak of 300 ppm in 1960, and is now at 380 ppm. This is a 27% increase on any level on record. The record stretches back 600,000 years. There is also ocean acidification, with increased carbon absorption resulting in a decrease in pH of 0.5 units by 2100 to the lowest level in hundreds of thousands of years. Marine ecosystems producing food for humans (a proximate phenomenon) will be destroyed. The end result of these changes on chaotic systems like the planet’s weather system are totally unpredictable. But there will be anthroproximate changes.
But then Mullis realises it’s important to recognise that humans with our five senses and limited range of devices that increase our range of perception (telescopes, microscopes etc) only get to tune into several of millions of channels that are happening around us. He also recognises that all channels might be equally important on some hypothetical cosmic level but they are not all equal to humans. This is what he means when he decries the amount of resources put into quantum physics (relatively non-proximate) when there are more pressing proximate issues for humans in physics, such as making sure Earth isn’t hit by a huge asteroid.
Even if eventually we find out dogs have bigger IQs than humans due to vastly superior spatial ability or the inclusion of other elements of intelligence, we will never say that dogs are more intelligent than humans. We will simply redefine intelligence again and include things like the ability to read a novel or manipulate the physical environment. And we would be right in doing so. Humans as observers can only ever measure the influence that other humans have in spheres in which they all interact. Extra channels such as levels for phenomena such as psychic activity that mainstream science currently has difficulty detecting, measuring and putting in theoretical context are proximate - but much less proximate - than those that science is currently adept at dealing with.