What Is Intelligence? Where Does it Begin? - Deepstash
What Intelligence Is

Intelligence is a mechanism to solve problems (especially the ones related to survival). It includes the ability to gather knowledge, to learn, to be creative, to form strategies, or think critically.

It manifests itself in a huge variety of behaviors.

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  • Not all scientists agree on what counts as intelligence.
  • We think of intelligence as a trait (like height or strength) but we find it difficult to define it.

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We can think of intelligence as a flexible set of skills: a toolbox. And the most basic tools in the intelligence toolbox are:

  • The ability to gather information through senses, to navigate and react to the external world in the right way.
  • The ability to save information and to use it
  • The ability to learn.

These tools enable creatures that appear to be stupid to act in surprisingly intelligent ways.

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Information is the basis of action for all living things.

Without it, we are not able to control and predict our surroundings, or to react appropriately and flexibly to them.

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Information is much more powerful if we can keep it and save it. This is where memory enters.

Memory is the ability to save and recall information so we don't have to go back to square one every time we perceive something as important.

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Learning is the process of putting together a sequence of thoughts and actions.

It is a series of repeatable behaviors that can be diversified and adapted.

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  • Building on the basic tools, more complex living creatures have a wider range of problems they can solve: They can memorize different associations, connections, and mechanical moves and stratagems.
  • The more complex the problem, the more tools are needed in combination to solve it. The more tools there are, the more flexibility there is to solve the new challenges.
  • Even for complex problems, each living being's individual situation and circumstances are important.

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Being creative translates into building something new and valuable from apparently unrelated things. In the context of intelligence, this means making new and unusual connections: pairing input with memories and skills, to come up with a unique solution to a problem.

Another aspect of creativity is applying a new tool/resource to a task.

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Gathering materials for later use is connected to an advanced dimension of problem-solving: planning.

Planning means considering activities required for the desired goal and putting them together in a plan. When unexpected conditions and new possibilities arise, they need to be evaluated according to whether they match the plan or not.

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Because we as humans are able to work together and share knowledge across generations, we can overcome challenges beyond any single individual's ability. This allowed us to shape the planet on our liking.

We also created new problems in the process: tax forms, but also climate change and antibiotic resistance, for example. To solve these, we need to look past short-term survival and think about the distant future.

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