02 April, 2011

Understanding Intelligence?

If I was going there, I wouldn't have started from here!

Photograph by Mick Schofield

The expression "You can't see the Wood for the Trees!" is ever resonant in the ways that we usually consider the World. I never realised it before, but it relates to our profound belief (our assumption) that Plurality is the way of the World; that the essence of all phenomena is contained within their "constituent Parts", and the converse of this - that properties of the Whole can be totally reproduced by means of the mere provision and juxtaposition of all these Parts.

Indeed, the major criticism of Plurality is that it exactly equates the Parts revealed, isolated and extracted by artificial erection of Domains, with its "brother" relation, as it exists, in the coherent real World Whole.

But, of course, that is NOT the case! It is merely a "useful" simplification used by scientists.
No matter how much we learn about the specimen forms of trees, grown in splendid and perfectly arranged isolation, such knowledge can never reveal, from that alone, the full full qualities of the Wood or Forest.

Yet, this assumption is ubiquitous (hence the saying above to counter it), and once you realise it, clear cases of it appear absolutely everywhere, and then stick out like sore thumbs, where previously they were "invisible". In a recent New Scientist (2784) there is an article entitled The 12 Pillars of Wisdom which is introduced in the very first sentence with:
    "Can we ever understand intelligence? Only by building it up from its component parts"

The point is proven, is it not?
Now I could belabour the point throughout the whole length of that contribution, but I won't. The key point necessary has been made! Clearly the writer believes he is going to bring together as many aspects of "intelligence" extracted by various pluralist means, in order to deliver the nature of intelligence. But that is impossible. Many new things may be there, and the article will be worth reading for those things alone, but they will not, and indeed cannot deliver the secret of intelligence!

That would certainly involve a very different approach grounded soundly upon some understanding of the episodes of revolutionary qualitative change known as Emergences. For only when we begin to grasp how all such changes emerge, NOT as the consequence of the mere juxtaposition and summation of only small incremental changes, but as the reality-changing result of dramatic revolution.

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