In everyday terms, intelligence isn't actually as easy to define as you might think. It can be seen as the capacity for learning. When we talk about artificial intelligence what we mean is a computer/robot/machine that can make decisions. But making decisions is really only the end result. Before that there has to be an understanding of the options. And before that, there has to be an awareness that a choice is possible.
When young children first realise they have choices, they are really only at that first stage. They don't yet have any capacity to choose well, and frequently they don't. Most of their choices are instinctive and appear random. On the face of it there appears to be no choice going on at all.
How intelligent is a chicken? I've watched them for hours, I confess, and their level of intelligence seems to be extremely low indeed. Having found a hole in the fence and escaped their run, they then wander about a bit, pecking at the ground for tasty morsels, and then when the sun starts going down they head for their shed in the run but don't remember how they got out. They walk up and down the fence repeatedly trying to find a way though, missing the hole many times, driven only by a vague sense of direction towards home. Many, many times, they've had to be rescued - cornered somewhere, grabbed and tossed back over the fence, only for the same thing to happen the next day, and the next, and the next.......
It would appear then, that memory plays an important role in learning, and consequently in decision making, but is memory all there is to intelligence?
The animal handlers who trained the owls on the Harry Potter movies explained in an interview how it took them all day to teach an owl the simplest "trick", and by the next day they had completely forgotten it, so they just used new owls, because it made no difference. Reputation for the wise old bird, TRASHED. In fact, they suggested, owls are incredibly stupid. Are they? Or are they just forgetful? Just like chickens, they can find their way home, but is that a different type of memory, for a different purpose?
It's not so hard, but still not exactly easy, to train cats. It's very easy to train dogs. Yet with some exceptions we tend to think of cats as smarter than dogs, and sometimes we even suggest it's because they are free-thinkers - unwilling to bend to our demands. We seem to have decided that cats are not like owls. It's not that they can't learn to do tricks, it's that they don't want to. We have defined rebellion as intelligence.
And in fact, we do the same with children. We say "oh, he's testing his limits!" and we smile happily at the mischief, seeing it as a good sign, despite the problems caused by bad behaviour. "He's too smart for his own good!". Experts tell us this is all part of the learning process, as it develops a good sense of cause and effect, and consequences.
But when a young adult makes bad choices, that is to say he rebels against society and gets himself into trouble with the law, we tell him not to be so stupid.
Indeed it has been proven that crime does not pay. Lifetime incomes of career criminals have been studied, and most of them work for less than minimum wage, and that's assuming they never get caught. If they spend any length of time in jail it's reduced further. To choose that lifestyle is to make a very bad choice indeed.
Of course there are other ways to opt out of mainstream society, and how that is looked upon depends on one's own perspective. If you come across squatters, travellers, hippy communes, or whatever, you may or may not approve or understand, but is their decision to live apart from "mainstream" society considered to be a deliberate lifestyle choice? Sometimes it is, other times it simply seems to be a solution.
It seems to me that we tend to assume that people whose decisions are radically different to ours, must be lacking somewhere. I'm not referring to matters of taste, but to decisions that affect relationships, employment status, safety, health or wealth.
If they make decisions that appear to us to be poor in these areas, we assume they either:
1) Lack information required to make good decisions, or
2) Lack the intellect to make use of that information.
We may not analyse it quite like that, but it's what we do. In everyday speech, what actually happens is conversations like this:
"Well, that was bloody stupid!"
"Oh, but maybe he doesn't know any better....."
The idea behind it is that everyone is just doing the best they know how. The chicken really isn't able to remember where the hole in the fence is, and you can't blame him for being a chicken. The child has yet to learn about consequences, and you really can't blame him for being young. The young man may not have the intellect to really grasp the idea that crime is a bad option - but we blame him anyway. He's been told enough, wasn't he listening?
We may say to people "Are you really that stupid?" when they just don't seem to be able to take in a concept we are explaining to them. Sometimes the honest answer is yes. At this point I'd like to remind you that half of the population of the world are below average intelligence.
I live with a young man whose IQ is between 160 and 180 depending on which test he takes, and he's taken a few. He regularly makes incredibly stupid decisions. I could easily dismiss this as being to do with his Asperger's diagnosis, but it doesn't really explain it. He has the capacity to learn, and he has had 21 years of learning. Clearly there is more to decision making than intellect.
Perhaps you are already thinking of wisdom. It is not the same as intellect. It's an end product of it, certainly, but it requires something else. Some of it is experience, but that's not the whole of it either.
Experts do not agree on precisely what wisdom is. But it seems to involve decision making. It would appear to be dependent on at least some level of intellect, but used in conjunction with perception, and perhaps even ethics. It certainly requires the ability to see things from more than one point of view.
Not only is intellect alone not enough, but high intellect does not guarantee wisdom. So what does?
I am increasingly convinced that it is a choice. That often when we use the word stupid (and certainly when I use it) we are not referring to intellect, but to wisdom. Therefore, as an insult it is reasonable and fair because the person does know better, and is not doing their best. But why would anyone do that?
That's a good question, isn't it? Is wisdom optional?
As I've said, all of these words - information, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, and others too like nous etc, are not always clearly defined and some seem to be used interchangeably. There's a matter of opinion involved in a lot of it.
Well, it is my opinion that at some point in everyone's life they decide what they value, and if it's wisdom they seek it. They aim for it. They want to be wise in order to "do the right thing". But it has been suggested to me by others that it's the other way around, that innate wisdom is what drives us to make good choices.
As I was halfway through this blog I stumbled across a series of images that seemed to have been drawn by somebody exploring the same thoughts.
The original was this:
But people got hold of this and altered it. Some of them are really interesting. Firstly another way to look at it completely.
Then one person changed that to this.
But this is perhaps more on the lines I'm thinking along here:
Finally, there was one that made me smile, because I live with Tom.
I don't think there's anything that actually fascinates me as much as the human brain.
Well, is wisdom passed on? Can it be taught? Over the centuries we have amassed quite a collection, as a species, of the wisdom of the ages, as it were. Wise words of wise people. Recorded directly and quotable, or just passed into our culture as tradition and lore.
I can't fail to mention holy books, which are considered to be divine wisdom by some, and certainly have a few good ideas within them here and there.
Some of this is handed down in the form of doctrine. No matter how you personally feel about that, you are aware, I'm sure, that it is an attempt, an intent, to teach, and for at least some of those pushing the doctrine there is a belief that this is wisdom, that it will work if taught, that it applies to everyone, and that it is wholly a good thing.
And on that note................I'll save the concept of belief for another day.