The Web of Life (126) Intelligence


The more we look at the behavior of insects, birds, and mammals, including man, the more we see a continuum of complexity rather than any dramatic difference in kind that might separate the intellectual Valhalla of our species from the apparently mindless computations of insects. We see the same biochemical processes, the same use of sign stimuli and programmed learning (even in language acquisition), identical strategies of information processing and storage, the same potential for well-defined cognitive thinking, but very different storage and sorting capacities and, most of all, very different intellectual needs imposed by each species’ niche. ~ American ethologists James & Carol Gould

Every responsive molecule – anything that can take a decisive action – necessarily possesses intelligence. The unified field of Ĉonsciousness populates all animate matter with individualized consciousness, which is energetically embodied in a mind-body. A body may be a macromolecule, virus, cell, organ, or organism. The body includes cohesive energy pathways and centers. A mind is organized in a way appropriate to its body. This is the miracle of life.

Perception is the mental comprehension of sensation from bodily stimuli. Everything animate experiences perception, which necessarily involves abstracting the inputs of sensation and construing some meaning from them. Perception is a constant preoccupation of a mind while in an alert state of consciousness.

Sense of self is essential to survival, both as an individual and as a member of a group. All unicellular organisms possess proprioception: a sense of physical self. So too single cells in a eukaryote.

Recognition requires conceptual comparison to memory. New experiences which cannot be comprehended are remembered, providing the basis for later categorization when similar sensations are perceived.

The mind categorizes by comparing to past experiences, a procedure which requires memory. This basic learning process is universal. Researchers have confirmed learning in slime molds. Worms learn via trial and error like people do, which requires contextual memory of similar situations.

Goal-oriented behavior exists in all life: from viruses on up. Achieving goals requires intelligence, which necessitates the cognition of abstractions that appear as symbolic representations of situations.

In infecting a host, a virus employs mental templates of the chemical signatures that are the target of their goal-directed behavior. Comparison necessarily involves abstraction.

Every thought is necessarily symbolic, with objectified tokens that signify something that naturally evokes emotive qualities: either attraction (desire) or repulsion (fear). These 2 poles define the spectrum of developing goals from which behaviors emerge.

As mentation is of patterns directed at goals, the mechanics of analysis are selfsame, whether of molecular structures or social organization. Flies remember their destination even when distracted. Social wasps and honeybees recognize faces the same way as humans. Sea lions possess the same facility for symbolic logic processing as people. These are but a few known examples from research, which should be considered indicative of a ubiquity of acumen.

Language is symbolic representation codified. The relations between symbols is the basis of syntax.

The mind of every organism is a symbolic processor, capable of situational recognition in light of survival goals. This capability – employing languages for living – is innate in all life.

The root of intelligence is knowledge, which has 2 sources: inborn (precocious) and learned. The ability to learn is grounded in the way the mind works: symbolic processing structured with inclinations, aptitudes, and deficiencies which are innate. Hence, all knowledge has a native foundation. Learning – the accumulation of facts into actionable knowledge – is icing on the cake of intellect: perhaps sweeter in having been hard-won but no less essential than the basic batter of precocious knowledge. Just as tool use is only exemplary of acumen, not indicative of superiority, so too learning is merely a means of knowledge acquisition, no better than just knowing.

On the beach of Fernandina, a Galápagos island, a marine iguana hatches from its egg which had been buried in the sand. Instant death awaits. The newborn lizard must sprint up the beach to the safety of rocks. On the beach in-between are a bevy of racer snakes that know tasty hatchlings are on the menu this time of year.

The iguana instinctively stays still, hoping to elude detection. Once spotted by a snake, or once a path looks possible, the newborn bolts for the rocky ridge. With innate evasive maneuvers, daring, and more than a dash of luck, the hatchling iguana reaches the boulders and begins what it hopes is a less harrowing life.

Some ants can’t build their own nests, so they try to invade another colony. Once mated and ready to lay, a parasitic queen will look for a host nest to sneak into and kill the queen there.

Cheated by Nature in building skills, the parasites have the compensation of innate wiles. Once established, a parasitic queen mimics the scent of the host species to trick the native worker ants into taking care of her eggs. As parasitic ants hatch they too mimic the colony’s scent, hoping to go unnoticed until their numbers can overwhelm the indigenes.

The ruse isn’t foolproof. Savvier host workers aren’t hoodwinked and kill the masquerading outsiders. And the parasites are not only ants with inborn wits. Little host larvae help the cause by eating parasite eggs. The grubs innately know how to tell the bad eggs from siblings to be.

All life forms are more intelligent than they need to be to survive, albeit with deficiencies that make living a challenge.

The fact that they may not understand us while we do not understand them does not mean our ‘intelligences’ are at different levels. They are just of different kinds. When a foreigner tries to communicate with us using an imperfect, broken, version of our language, our impression is that they are not very intelligent. The reality is quite different. ~ Australian biologist Maciej Henneberg

There is no uniqueness, nor superiority, to human intelligence. Quite the contrary. Abstraction absent perception – philosophic concepts – are divorced from actuality. Beliefs based upon such ideas are the source of mental illness, not intelligence. The human world is rife with self-destruction and social dysfunction from faiths and ideologies with do not correspond with how the natural world works – stupidity with grave consequences.

◊ ◊ ◊

All organisms have acumen adapted to their habitats. Before surveying animal intelligence, a brief review of other life.