Archive for August, 2010

Are Humans Really Intelligent?

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

I was stumbling around the Internet when I came upon this article, with its provocative title. Aha! Maybe here is someone else who’s also figured out what I’ve figured out.

Alas, it was not. However, it did get me thinking and wanting to respond in two different directions. First, what’s wrong with this author’s assumptions, reasoning, and conclusions? Second, why is this really a good question to start getting at some really big issues that concern me deeply?

I’ll begin by pointing out some of the author’s statements that made me cringe:

“One of the proven observations by the naturalists is that life on the planet is being governed by an immaculate mechanism of Nature according to which no species of organism would grow so much in population that it wipes out any other species and no species of organism would shrink so much in numbers that it gets wiped out by some other.” WTF?!? All my observations show that this is the opposite of true. Sometimes entire populations go extinct, and no it’s not always because of the actions of people. Sometimes the environment changes and the organisms can’t adapt fast enough to survive. Sometimes this causes a chain reaction in which many species become extinct and a whole biosphere dies off. Oh well.

“It is evident from the process of natural selection in evolution that Nature takes due care that every species of organisms on this planet is best equipped to survive in its environment.” Another statement that is the opposite of true. If I were to rephrase this to make it correspond more with my view of Truth, it would say: “It is evident from the process of natural selection in evolution that Nature takes due care that every species of organisms on this planet that is not equipped to survive in its environment will be extinguished.”

It’s hard to keep this process going, but let me end part one by examining the author’s claim as to the purpose of intelligence. “the main function of intelligence is to make life better; to bring ease to life.” In this, I heartily disagree. This claim trivializes the purpose of intelligence. The purpose of intelligence is to allow an organism (or group of organisms) to adapt to a changing environment faster than would be possible if the only means of adaptation were via genetic evolution.

Still, we may reasonably ask “Are Humans Really Intelligent?” as did the original author. Well, I guess that depends on what time scale you use to look at it. At the timescale of riddles, word problems, and toy puzzles, we seem to be the benchmark for intelligence. We’re able to learn to see patterns in the world, and use them to predict outcomes and consequences. The better we are at this process, the more intelligent we are able to behave.

But then I read comments on YouTube, and they were like little windows allowing me to peer in on sadly crippled minds. So depressing.