Finding the Real Meaning of Intelligence

Finding the real meaning of intelligence

On the surface of it, intelligence would seem to be a pretty simple and straight forward thing. Perhaps a measure of human mental capacity or aptitude, something we can measure with an IQ test, the product of an education. It is obvious the we humans are not the only intelligent creatures here on earth, but we unquestionably consider ourselves to be endowed with a greater quantity of it than any other species.

We have yet to find any evidence that intelligence or at least what we perceive intelligence is, to exist elsewhere in the universe. Are we then to presume that intelligence is a rare phenomenon, perhaps so rare that it exists only here on this small blue planet encircling a medium sized star, perched in a lonely sector of the galaxy we ourselves have named the Milky Way? And how and why, did intelligence show up here, and for that matter where is here? Is there some greater omnipotent force or deity, some superior intelligence that has ordained things to be what they are? Or is it just a matter of happenstance? These are indeed, perplexing enigmas we ponder.

You can take a small baby, lets say year or perhaps a little older, sit it in font of a mirror, and in a relatively short time the child will figure out that the reflection it sees is itself. We know who we are. It is an innately human sense; our perception and awareness of self. Chimpanzees can learn and have been taught to recognize their reflection, but we humans do it almost instinctively. It is part of our cognitive reality, it is what makes us human more than anything else. I have already pointed out, we are not the only life form on the planet which displays a degree of intellectual capacity. So where do we draw the line? Is all life intelligent or only animals that possess the anatomical structure we call a brain.

Just what is intelligence then? Its a great question, but I’m not sure that I or anyone around today for that matter, is intelligent enough to offer a concise or implicit definition for it. There is a degree of ambiguity involved in intelligence. It is an amorphous entity. For instance, if we were to define intelligence as a process of memory and coherent rational thought we would pretty much be limiting it to being a purely human facet, and there might even be some question of degree within the species which would suggest that not all humans are intelligent. I don’t think such a notion would go over well with some folks, so we better just drop it. Another way we could define intelligence is as perception, stimulus and response, the ability to react to the environment. Well, that includes just about every living thing you can think of and maybe some non living things too. For instance, there are plenty of machines which can sense things and then take some responsive action, computers being the most obvious. There are certainly some people who like to think of computers and computer applications in terms of artificial intelligence but what is that? The fact is, computers cannot do anything they have not been programmed to do.

It would seem logical to me to consider that there are different dimensions of intelligence. Just about all animals display an instinctive form of intelligence and even plants and trees which we would normally think of as pretty docile, react to environmental changes. What kind of intelligence is that? Even DNA and RNA molecules which are no more then a collection of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms strung together, can make copies of themselves, and are the stuff that all life forms we know of are made from. Yes, even these macromolecules represent a form of intelligence. Could we then say that life and intelligence are one in the same thing?

It would appear that there are a lot of things that figure into intelligence and I have illuminated some such factors in this article, but if I had to come up with just one element that seems to be common to all aspects of intelligence it would be spontaneity. RNA and DNA spontaneously perform their magical chemical dance to an intelligent protocol encoded in their nucleotide arrangement. Single celled organisms spontaneously excrete and absorb chemicals through their outer membranes for sustenance. Larger multi-celled critters have evolved appendages and other faculties which the spontaneously deploy to catch prey and further the existence of their own kind. As bigger and more complex creatures have evolved, neural structures have evolved to coordinate activities of a multiplexity of systems that promote the survival of the whole being. Human beings may well represent the most advanced form of spontaneity that has evolved yet on this Earth. Our intellectual prowess has afforded us a perspective that no other animal has. We are aware of our own mortality, we can anticipate and spontaneously choose a course in life to ensure the survival of our species or bring about its’ destruction. This is a dimension of intelligence that is absolutely awesome, and holds in the balance the most profound consequences. That we can contemplate such consequences and make such choices and not be able to define the vary intellectual process that has provided us this capability, is truly a paradox. Maybe someday, some human brain will figure it all out, but what then?