We live on a planet where spoken language sets us apart from other species, and the possibilities for perversion of that skill are infinite. That is a dangerous world in which it is the duty of all responsibly intelligent humans to highlight and condemn the counterfeit currency of propaganda in all its forms. Before it leaps headlong into the anarchic creation of Artificial Intelligence, Homo sapiens needs a far more discerning definition of what useful intelligence is….and how to encourage it.
Intelligence is a word that most people think they can define, but very few can agree about.
Views will differ about whether this or that policy displays intelligence, whether such and such a person has used the information available intelligently, and most of all about whose measurement system of an ‘intelligence quota’ (IQ) is more or less valid. An awful lot of such discussion reveals, more than anything else, that intelligence is more complex than most folk realise, and an awful lot of highly intelligent people obviously don’t know what real evidence of intelligence is.
The dictionary definition of it runs as follows:
- The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.
- The collection of information of military or political value.
Both forms of the noun are inadequately defined above, and there are more than two sorts of intelligence. One can have the ability to apply knowledge and skills, but still apply them in a way that demonstrates one’s interpretation is askew. And one can practice military intelligence, but be fooled by it (and/or undiscerning about its significance) thus producing something of no value at all.
I have long held that there is a form called emotional intelligence, which is about the ability to grasp how people might respond to a view you express, or information you give them. A massive proportion of ideologues, policymakers, politicians, bureaucrats, the politically “correct” and people on dating sites at times display a mind-boggling lack of emotional intelligence. Put simply, they just don’t get social human behaviour.
We are (predictably) starting another cyclically confusing round of redefining the word intelligence, most often for business and political ends. I have covered this linguistic manipulation in a previous essay: suffice to say here that today, it involves the attachment of ‘intelligent’ to other emotive words like “progressive” and “global” by spin doctors in various sectors; and that The Next Big Thing is clearly artificial intelligence (AI) – which is already being sold very hard as somehow “better”.
It is absolutely archetypical of our species that we are busily at work in the sorcerer’s laboratory tinkering with AI when we so obviously lack the proper means to judge what human intelligence is in the first place. I could opine, in fact, that the mere desire to develop artificial intelligence shows, in and of itself, a lack of real intelligence. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ours is far from being the only intelligence on Earth. There is a form of ESP (sometimes called “swarm”) intelligence demonstrated by ants, bees or wasps – and certain avian species while in flocks: it involves an ability to seemingly have shared priorities all at the same time…as if all members of the pack have an instant internet of intelligence they share. Clearly, there are no politics among these species; equally clearly, there are wannabe human dictators who’d love to find out how they react in such perfect harmony, and apply it to human populations.
By contrast, we humans have opinions. The more ideologically driven an opinion is, the more likely those holding it are to ascribe intelligence to it. But to hold on rigidly to an opinion is unintelligent: it is likely to create societies where freedoms are restricted (bad for creative development) and most efforts to try another way of doing something are discouraged, so knowledgeable experience stagnates. Political Correctness is the present generation’s attempt to present opinion as truth, and science as “settled”. The inability of pc adherents to see what a dead end this is, I would contend, a sign of severely limited intelligence.
The British politician Harriet Harman boasts an IQ of 146, and has used this in the past to show that “obviously I’m not stupid, as so many of my detractors insist”. But this exposes her belief that levels of intelligence are directly correlated to levels of stupidity. In fact, Ms Harman’s inability to move on from the behaviourism theories she took on board in her late teens would suggest the two are inversely correlated in her case.
Similarly, intellects like Tory politician William Hague continue to embrace monetarist Friedmanism despite having had nearly forty years to observe its socially dysfunctional elements – the neglect of infrastructural investment, falling standards in education, dangerous levels of wealth inequality, restricted social mobility and so forth.
Both Harman and Hague – along with other leaders like Netanyahu, Obama, Macron, Merkel and Modi – I think display a confusion between ‘clever’ and ‘intelligent’: they regard certain strategies and tactics as ‘smart’, but give far too little thought to the consequences of ‘a smart move’. Hitler’s decision to sign a pact with Stalin in 1939 was a smart move, but not an intelligent one.
Electorates across the world have long been able to discern the difference: they use phrases like “clever-clogs”, “smart Alec”, and “too clever by half” to describe the final comeuppance of such personality types. For myself, I have come to feel that there is indeed another subset called psychotic intelligence, in which the owners of such a curse are able to display a very accurate, cynical ability to exploit weakness, but always underestimate the ability of people to work out they’ve been had in the end. Again, this shows very low emotional intelligence. It is a feature that Theresa May and Donald Trump share.
So then: intelligence is both multivariate and multidimensional. Many people show signs of being intelligent – but very, very few people are what I call holistically intelligent. If we move away from the aridity of a dictionary, and look instead at those who have, in a variety of ways, added more than most to the sum of human information, then what they have to say about this ethereal intelligence thing is revealing.
Here for starters is Albrecht Einstein on the subject:
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”
This observation is a genuine insight in that it introduces the possibility of future applications of discovery – of open-minded investigation – to the description of what constitutes intelligence. It effectively says, “Reaching a conclusion about something is not the conclusion of developing knowledge about it”. It is a crucifix held up to diabolical, dead-end ideology.
The late Stephen Hawking is equally pithy on the subject:
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”
Note again the key element of Time for another scientist who worked harder than most to grasp the importance of that equally uncertain medium. This is in part a paraphrase of a Buddhist observation offered thousands of years earlier: ‘Everything is in transition, all things must pass, nothing lasts forever’. Here, intelligence is presented as the journey along an infinite path. Once again, the existence of an open mind is placed at the centre of what intelligence really is. Hawking demonstrated his acceptance of this in his later-life admission that he would not, in the end, finally explain the Universe.
Now for something completely different, but equally eloquent. The American comedian George Burns on the nature of what an opinion is worth:
“All those guys out there cutting hair and driving cabs….did yer ever notice how they always know better than the President?”
I include this famous quote because, whereas the first two illustrate what might change in the future, old George’s gag unconsciously shows us how the past is a different country. His remark about Eisenhower (a US President I wholeheartedly admire, despite having no Republican leanings) points up in Dayglo marker-colour just how every allegedly ‘eternal’ assumption will fail the test of time. It’s a restatement of the old adage, ‘The future makes fools of us all’. Burns spoke of an era within which there was a consensus of trust. Such has now disappeared.
I also find myself attracted to those leaders who offered insight about some of the physical practicalities involved in the maximisation of intelligence. This from Martin Luther King:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and critically. Intelligence plus character is the goal of true education”
Here we see a Black community leader from half a century ago arguing for precisely the same thing that Western contrarians seek today: empirical evidence used to question shibboleths, critique bigotry, and thus seek the triumph of civilised investigation over mob rule. King wanted all shades of American ethnicity to be brought up to know the importance of character to the development of social intelligence. It is my humble belief that, were he alive today, MLK would abhor identity politics as the narcissistic (and thus fundamentally unintelligent) triumph of sectarian ego over community good.
Henry Ford was and remains a controversial figure from recent history, but he heartily disliked investment bankers in general, and disapproved of the Federal Reserve in particular….so clearly, he can’t have been all bad. This was his positive view on intelligence in the context of endeavour:
“Failure is the opportunity to begin again, only this time more intelligently.”
The absolutely essential element of genuine progress introduced in this definition of failure is that intelligence is about learning from mistakes….not repeating them. Not for nothing did Aleksander Solzhynetsin give the title We Never make Mistakes to his most seditious novella about dysfunctional process in the USSR. And equally, Einstein once remarked, “A sure sign of insanity it to repeat the same experiment with the same constants over and over again in the expectation of a different result”.
It remains clear to those of rounded intelligence in 2018 that the two dominant socio-economic theories of our time – socialism and neoliberalism (plus the hegemony of belief in a globalist incarnation of both) represent failed experiments by Alchemists in search of a Settled Science whose idiosyncracies can be explained by the substance phlogiston.
The word “rounded” there is indistinguishable from the word “holistic”.
But finally – and perhaps most important of all – there is a seam running through some definitions which I think helps in a more profound understanding of intelligence. What follows is a selection of wit spanning 2,500 or more years. Here’s something from Socrates to kick things off:
“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing”
The big lesson here is the humility involved in genuine intellect, and the obvious fact that the philosopher sees the funny side of that reality. Next, the darkly humorous George Orwell:
“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the duty of all intelligent people”
Some things are natural….and to deny that is not very intelligent. Or to put it another way, “All things must pass, but until he evolves, Homo sapiens is Man with all his foibles, and always will be”.
And ultimately, something from the relatively obscure Bill Waterson, who quipped:
“The surest sign that intelligence exists elsewhere in the Universe is that is has never tried to contact us”.
What I see at the end of all this is something I’m going to dub The 4H Principle. Given my track record, the 4H thing will now rise without trace, but anyway here it is:
Intelligence is the triumph of informed HUMOUR and HUMILITY over the ignorant HUBRIS of mass HOMO SAPIENS
Until we realise this and adapt our thinking to deal with it, artificial intelligence will merely be counterfeit intelligence….because the input will have been from self-styled “Thinking Man” – aka, to my mind, the Clever-Dick Thug.
Time changes everything, and the future mocks those who think today is forever.
In the context of a federalist European Union, for example, the evidence from behaviour thus far by those in charge of it is that a sure sign of unintelligent fear is to raise from the Dead something that should be razed to the ground. This is not to recommend a Europe plunged into anarchy, but rather a Europe of rich cultural diversity that can benefit from that diversity…..rather than become the prisoner of it as a result of immigration from antithetical belief systems.
As we all get older – and trust me on this one, all of us will – the application of open-minded interpretation, positive learning; humility and humour to the gathering of information leads to a possession more valuable than gold, power, IQ, cunning or even (in the end) intelligence.
That, my friends, is the possession of wisdom.
Enjoy the rest of the weekend.