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Defining intelligence

  1. Mar 29, 2006 #1
    I know its tricky to define intelligence, but the issue* came up in another topic and i want to know what intelligence is in its most simple and abstract form. At what point does something intelligent become unintelligent, or vice versa.

    *the issue in the other topic was about whether all living organisms are intelligent in some sense.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2006 #2
    Is it Howard Gardner that has the Multiple Intellegences Theory? Intellegence is just a word. Quantifying intellegence assumes there exist some objective criterea for exactly what intellegnece is.

    He classifies seven (it might be eight now) main types. Here we go:


    1. Lingustic 2. Logical-mathematical 3. Musical 4. Bodily-Kinesthetic 5. Spatial 6. Interpersonal 7. Intrapersonal
  4. Apr 2, 2006 #3
    Thanks thats very interesting.
    I can see many of those types are only present in humans and a few other animals(dolphins, chimps, etc.), but perhaps the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence can be found in all lifeforms.

  5. Apr 3, 2006 #4


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    So, the Archerfish (Toxotes chatareus), which can shoot an insect off a leaf at a distance dozens of times its own body-length is one of the most intelligent creatures on the Earth?

    Go figure.
  6. Apr 3, 2006 #5


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    I think the definition of intelligence must be closely linked with an ability to adapt existing information to new circumstances. (In one fell swoop, this eliminates all instinctual skills).
  7. Apr 3, 2006 #6
    Hi Dave,

    It seems to me that the fundamental definition of intelligence is that it is a measure of one's ability to perform with new information. That is, if exactly the same information is available to two different people, the one who can make better use of that information is the more intelligent of the two. It is the difficulty of assuring that both parties are in possession of exactly the same information which makes intelligence so difficult to measure. In the early years of education, it is commonly presumed that all the students have the same education (and thus the same information available to everyone) that makes it reasonable to "measure intelligence". :rolleyes:

    On the other hand, for young people, the amount of understanding they have managed to pick up from their formal education is often presumed to be related to their intelligence. This is really just another justification behind what are ordinarily called "intelligence tests". Note that this is the argument behind IQ: i.e., intelligence quotient which is mental age divided by physical age. One rather strange consequence of that definition is that some one at the age of 80 with the mental acuity of a 20 year old has an IQ of 25, not too impressive. However, all this leads me to one of my favorite quotes:

    "Knowledge is Power

    and the most common abuse of that power is to use it to hide stupidity". :wink:

    Think about that while noting that almost all breakthroughs in science are made by youngsters. One would expect breakthroughs to be made by those with the most knowledge wouldn't one? o:) :biggrin:

    Have fun -- Dick
  8. Apr 4, 2006 #7
    Can u explain why it eliminates instinctual skills?
    Because they dont adapt to new circumstances?
  9. Apr 4, 2006 #8
    From the book Geniocracy:

  10. Apr 4, 2006 #9
    Instinctual skills are normally thought of as acquired by evolution: i.e. those who don't have the skills don't make it. The adaptation isn't a choice made by conscious analysis of the circumstance and I don't think the idea of "unconscious" intelligence holds any water. I think DaveC is referring to circumstances not seen before when he uses the phrase "new circumstance". :cool:

    From kmarinas86:
    So, I also ask, does that not make the Archerfish (Toxotes chatareus), which can shoot an insect off a leaf at a distance dozens of times its own body-length is one of the most intelligent creatures on the Earth? He certainly seems to have "the capacity to use given information in a relevant way to a particular situation." Don't you all think there is something missing here? :rofl:

    Have fun -- Dick

    "Knowledge is Power"

    and the most common abuse of that power is to use it to hide stupidity
  11. Apr 5, 2006 #10


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    No, the above definition could apply to instinct just as well.

    But look at the statement before (post #8 by kmarinas86):

    Note keywords.

    The key to intelligence is the application to new, unfamiliar circumstances.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2006
  12. Apr 8, 2006 #11
    I don't understand your "No". When I said, "Don't you all think there is something missing here?"; I was referring to the statement, "Intelligence is the capacity to use given information in a relevant way to a particular situation", which, as you say, "could apply to instinct just as well". I think you misunderstood what I was saying. It seems to me that you and I agree on all points. :biggrin:

    Have fun -- Dick
  13. Apr 13, 2006 #12
    I like this definition. I was to a conference in Almuñécar Spain headed by Juan Pérez Merceder last September. It had quite a large group of scientists there to talk on each of there areas of research. The theme was astrobiology, looking for life, outside of the Earth. There were several who hit on the subject of intelligence. As would be expected each has its own opinion depending on there line of work. There is a team of scientists that do research in Rio Tinto on gene studies to develop machinery to detect possible life forms on future missions to Mars. The machinery will scan soil samples to detect and compare gene sequences that we know here on Earth. The interesting thing that they found out during the studies and development is that, like bacteria modify there genes to survive in diverse soil conditions of acidity and alkalinity within a very small environment and timescale. So this simple means that they modify there internal structures to survive. Modification of internal structures are, then the genes themselves, which in turn, on a lower level is different combinations of bonding of atoms that form these molecules. Using your definition clearly marks what might be intelligent. What’s not clear is why application of new and unfamiliar circumstance would be intelligent. Why those choices?
  14. Apr 19, 2006 #13
    At least in principle, that should be simple. If we use the word 'intelligent' so often, we should know what it means, right?

    In its simplest form, I think intelligence is the ability to acquire and use a language. Notice how everything we label as the product of intelligent behavior is always expressed in language - things like scientific theories, poems, philosophical teatrises, and so on.

    Notice also that intelligence has nothing to do with skill at performing a task. We don't usually call great performers, great athletes, great artists "intelligent", unless we are referring to something they say.

    I think this is really an attempt to redefine intelligence so that it ceases to be restricted to linguistic ability. We would certainly not have trouble calling any animal "intelligent" if it could understand a few words in English. Also, scientists have a strong tendency to search for linguistic abilities in animals of extraordinary skills.
  15. Jun 26, 2006 #14
    Why language?
    And what constitutes as a language anyway?

    If people do not think in any language, but in imagery, and accomplish the same tasks as people who think in language, is that then not a form of intelligence?

    I wouldnt be so sure about that, some of these are often called geniuses. Besides i dont want to stop at what is called 'intelligence' in everyday popular speak, but go a little further into it.
  16. Jun 26, 2006 #15
    I would say that it does make the archerfish intelligent. However, not one of the most intelligent creatures. Exactly how we can determine which behaviours are more intelligent than other behaviours i dont know, but the versatility of the behaviour may be an indicator since it says something about the understanding the organism has of different situations.

    For example, how does the archerfish behave when it is not an insect on a leaf, but a rock on a leaf. And what if the insect is behind a piece of glass. Would the archerfish understand these situations?
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2006
  17. Jun 26, 2006 #16
    Dogs can learn english (or jibberish if you give it the chance), though parrots can learn it better. Parrots can learn colors and shapes. Dolphins and parrots can count. Infact, some dolphins can count in their head faster than most humans. Parrots can learn english, why not words from different languages as well? The parrot probably wouldn't notice the difference, however. Very few dogs can speak. On America's funniest home videos, I've this seen dog say "Hello", with a dog's accent of course. :rofl:
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2006
  18. Jun 26, 2006 #17


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    Parrots can learn to mimic English speech, but it remains to be shown that the understand any of it. Dogs can't mimic (normally, circus acts apart), but they do seem to grasp your meaning in some contexts.
  19. Jun 26, 2006 #18


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    Not only seem.
    They are highly perceptive of such essential features of the language like tone, rythm, and the manner in which words are spoken. (Along with certain word recognitions.
    Some would contend that these features rather belongs to PRE-languages, rather than languages, but however you view them, they should be regarded as crucial elements in how languages were constructed in the first place.
    As evidence of that, it suffices to point to the fact that the tone and manner are still sources of meaning for us (not to mention animals!) in daily communication. Since they usually provoke emotions or gut feelings in the listener rather than abstractly comprehended meanings, they should be regarded as a primitive and original means of communication.
  20. Jun 26, 2006 #19
    This phrase may uphold the idea that everything, all of nature holds a certain amount of intelligence because if nature didn't... how would anyone "gather intelligence" from her?

    Does "gathering intelligence" literally mean harvesting intelligence from nature........ or does it imply projecting our ideas and constructs of intelligence on nature then deciding (in error) that nature is intelligent. I would choose the former.
  21. Jun 27, 2006 #20
    Scanning the last few posts on this thread - learning languages, colours, shapes, counting, understanding English, perception of tone and rhythm, sources of meaning, communication…… does any of this entail intelligence? I think not.

    Intelligence, imho, is simply the ability to solve new problems.

    Best Regards
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