Intelligence as Obstacle

Given evolutionary theory, then all intelligence must have developed to deal with ‘real world situations’ and problems, and that these situations and problems include the exploratory capacities of bodies, the effects of interaction with other bodies and the range of sensory inputs available.

Such a position does not mean that intelligence is transparent or accurately perceives the world, just that it has been good enough to get its holders through previous evolutionary paths. It may not be good enough for current and future problem solving.

Some evolved intelligences may have built in ‘pitfalls’ which were useful in dealing with previous problems, but generate significant problems later on, which the intelligence is vulnerable to and incapable of recognising. The intelligence may not perceive the consequences until they accumulate and it is too late, or path dependence is too established for easy change.

I’m going to suggest that ‘intelligence’ is not primarily an essence or an ability, but a set of embodied tools, models and filters of information. The first step in any intelligence is to filter out the relevant features of the situation, out of the infinite things it is possible to notice.

The tools an organism can use, make up its capacity for intelligence, and may influence the ease with which the intelligence is used.

My argument is that established tools can get in the way of ‘functional intelligence’, and as a further obstacle for humans and probably for other creatures as well, tools are often cultural and bound into power relations, so certain tools can be hard to use, or communicate.

Tools, also, generally have bodily material results – which include things like wealth and power/status/respect – they become part of social conflicts and so on, and thus difficult to use effectively.

I suspect something like this is happening with ‘technological’ development/climate change at the moment. Perhaps, we were roughly competent up until steam engine time, but since then we have multiplied our destructiveness, and not improved our basic tool set/intelligence.

That plenty of people do see the problems, yet nothing effective is done, is one good reason for questioning our cultural intelligence. After all life is at stake here. If we know that a series of events spells ‘doom’ (of some sort) and we cannot do anything effective, then our intelligence, for dealing with the situation (in this case produced by our intelligence) seems limited.

Yes reality will hit people in the head eventually and disrupt them, but that still does not mean anything will be done, or anything effective will be done – or perhaps even noticed. The official intelligence may well prevent it.

It could be said that reality is hitting us back already, and its not having much effect. Feedback is still not entering the intelligence tool system…..

We can hope that the incompetency is cultural and organizational, and can be overcome, simply by fighting against current modes of organization and reward – but as powerful people benefit from the incompetence’s of those organisations, it will be hard.

The ideas of complexity and symbiosis, as described in previous posts, may provide some elements of that new set of tools.



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