Finding the Real Meaning of Intelligence

Perhaps intelligence exists in all life forms in ways we cannot define. We consider insects as non-feeling bugs following some kind of instinctive pattern that is characteristic to species yet what about a hive of bees? Hive intelligence is a concept that came to the attention of scientists after noticing complex patterns of movement that suggested a form of communication for the purpose of directing workers to pollen sources. We have no way of knowing whether or not bees can reason, or even think as individuals yet their complicated behaviour in constructing hives, navigating to pollen sources and a structured organisation within the hive suggest a group intelligence at work.

Hive, colony and herd behaviour in general does not suggest reason. Some higher life forms exhibit behaviour under specific circumstances that suggest a rudimentary ability to reason or even learn. Mice in a maze quickly learn from mistakes when a specific set of conditions to reach a food source requires an elementary decision-making process. Cattle learn not to contact an electric fence after one or two unpleasant experiences and horses always seem to know when they are on the home stretch. We can conclude from this that intelligence displayed in such cases is at a significantly higher level than what we observe in the insect world.

Predators in the animal world require highly specialised skills in order to survive. How is it possible to acquire such skills without first having some ability to absorb and process information? The adults teach the young but only to a point. Much of the learning is achieved through failures and so we clearly have a more advanced thought process at work as well as a memory.

Dogs, dolphins, horses, elephants along with many other domesticated animals that interact with humans are considered among the most intelligent of the animal world. We can train and observe sophisticated behaviour depending on training and environment as well as clear ability to recognise individuals, display individuality at a more obvious level than what we observe in wild animals and there is evidence of conscious choosing. Conceivably we might look at the concept of ability to choose or discern as the underlying factor that determines true intelligence.

Humans consider intelligence in a range of ways that vary depending on how we choose to quantify or compare our individual skill sets. Intelligence Quotient testing (IQ) ranks us in accordance with standard parameters to produce a number falling within a Gaussian distribution. This test is considered as predictive of later achievement yet scientists are beginning to discover a relatively low IQ is not necessarily indicative of low intelligence. Some people struggle to respond academically yet practically and intuitively they can often leave the so-called intellectual elite looking quite ordinary.

We can describe intelligence as capability to reason or solve problems, learn and comprehend new experiences as well as an ability to learn from failures. In the animal kingdom we can observe many of these characteristics yet it is only humans that consider themselves above and beyond all other forms of life. This in no way proves definitively that we fully understand the real meaning of intelligence.