Friday, November 16, 2012

On The Peak of Intelligence - 2

R&D Intelligence
The first post in this series took some time to explain that intelligence and sanity are not the same concept.

A person can be quite intelligent and quite insane at the same time, and so can civilization.

Some recent research efforts have resulted in scientific data that further complicate our concept of "intelligence."

Especially the concept that intelligence exists only in the conscious mind of humanity.

In today's post we will take into consideration just a few examples to help us question the traditional, populist notions that still exist in ink form within a lot of our textbooks that we still use to educate ourselves.

Textbooks that were in large measure seemingly produced by believers of various sorts of exceptionalism.

Let's consider some behavior of species that our traditions would be hard put to explain, at least in the form of a valid and provable scientific hypothesis:
A professor was doing an experiment, moving a source of nectar 25% further away each day, testing their navigation skills.

His student charged with the duty of calculating and moving the nectar each day called in one morning reporting to the professor that he had car problems and could not do the task on that day. The professor opted to do it himself:
When the professor arrived at the nectar source there were no bees present. But when he arrived at the place where the nectar should have been for that day (but had not been moved there yet), there were all the bees waiting for him! Not only had the bees gotten the math correct (25% farther), but the implication is that they had demonstrated the imagination to be able to picture the future by picturing the nectar — not where it was — but where it was going to be! The professor wrote that he would never have done such an experiment on purpose since he never would have thought that the bees could have been so intelligent!
(ibid, Space, link above). Those of you who read the biomimicry posts know that one of the tenets of Ecocosmology urges us to remember that we can learn about how to bring about our own survival by watching and studying nature appropriately.

Learning such behavior from nature is called biomimicry.
(Will We Destroy Food - The Bees?). We should note that the 25% calculation derived a different mathematical value each day, because it was 25% of the prior distance from the day before, yet when they needed to the bees calculated exactly where that next 25% distance would end up.

There is a similar form of "intelligence" within our brains that is not controlled by our consciousness:
People can process short sentences and solve equations before they're aware of the words and numbers in front of their eyes, finds new research that suggests we might not actually need full consciousness to perform rule-based tasks such as reading and arithmetic.

The researchers say these results suggest that the sentences were fully read and comprehended subconsciously ...

In the second part of the study, the scientists examined how the unconscious brain processes math problems.

This suggests they subconsciously worked out the problem and had the answer on their lips.

Other recent studies have shown that humans might be able to unconsciously perform tasks that have typically been associated with consciousness, such as learning and forming intuitions. The new study adds complex, rule-based operations to that list.

Psychology researcher Ran Hassin, who was involved in the study, said the results suggest current theories about unconscious processes need to be revised.
(Unconscious Brain Reads, Does Math). We have previously quoted a professor and scientist who studies this phenomenon:
Probably 98 percent of your reasoning is unconscious - what your brain is doing behind the scenes. Reason is inherently emotional. You can't even choose a goal, much less form a plan and carry it out, without a sense that it will satisfy you, not dis­gust you. Fear and anxiety will affect your plans and your ac­tions. You act differently, and plan differently, out of hope and joy than out of fear and anxiety.

Thought is physical. Learning requires a physical brain change: Receptors for neurotransmitters change at the synapses, which changes neural circuitry. Since thinking is the activation of such circuitry, somewhat different thinking re­quires a somewhat different brain. Brains change as you use them-even unconsciously. It's as if your car changed as you drove it, say from a stick shift gradually to an automatic.
(The Toxic Bridge To Everywhere, quoting Dr. George Lakoff). The current definition of "intelligence" is also strained by previously unsuspected sources:
Biologists currently classify slime molds as protists, a taxonomic group reserved for "everything we don't really understand," says Chris Reid of the University of Sydney.

Something scientists have come to understand is that slime molds are much smarter than they look. One species in particular ... yellow Physarum polycephalum, can solve mazes, mimic the layout of man-made transportation networks and choose the healthiest food from a diverse menu—and all this without a brain or nervous system. "Slime molds are redefining what you need to have to qualify as intelligent," Reid says.
Inside laboratories slime molds have effectively re-created Tokyo's railway network in miniature as well as the highways of Canada, the U.K. and Spain. When researchers placed oat flakes or other bits of food in the same positions as big cities and urban areas, slime molds first engulfed the entirety of the edible maps. Within a matter of days, however, the protists thinned themselves away, leaving behind interconnected branches of slime that linked the pieces of food in almost exactly the same way that man-made roads and rail lines connect major hubs in Tokyo, Europe and Canada.

In other words, the single-celled brainless amoebae did not grow living branches between pieces of food in a random manner; rather, they behaved like a team of human engineers, growing the most efficient networks possible.
Just as engineers design railways to get people from one city to another as quickly as possible, given the terrain—only laying down the building materials that are needed—the slime molds hit upon the most economical routes from one morsel to another, conserving energy.

Andrew Adamatzky of the University of the West of England Bristol and other researchers were so impressed with the protists' behaviors that they have proposed using slime molds to help plan future roadway construction ...
(How Brainless Slime Molds Redefine Intelligence, Nature). It has also been discovered recently that microbes communicate and have a language all their own (Microbial Hermeneutics - 2).

It may take a long time to become well versed in some of these new dynamics taking place in the science of microbiology:
... some 90 percent of the protein-encoding cells in our body are microbes ... 99 percent of the functional genes in the body are microbial ... exchanging messages with genes inside human cells ... microbes cohabitating our body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10, making us actually “superorganisms” that use our own genetic repertoire as well as those of our microbial symbionts ... We just happen to look human because our human cells are much larger than bacterial cells ... no matter how you look at it, it’s high time we acknowledge that part of being human is being microbial ...

Microbes may indeed be subtly changing our brain early on — and for what purposes we cannot yet say ... the mere fact that microorganisms can shape our minds brings up many more questions about how humans develop their identity ... these findings call for a complete re-examination of human physiology and immunology. Attributes that were assumed to be human traits have been shown to result from human–microbe interactions.
(The Human Microbiome Congress). Intelligence is becoming more widely seen as being more than what our grandpas thought it was.

More than what they wrote of it in the dictionaries of their day.

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.

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