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Medical The Power of Association

  1. Mar 22, 2006 #1
    Is it the ability to apply information from past situations to future situations the main if not only sign of intelligence? For example if a baby touches a hot stove, it burns its hand. It will then think to not touch a stove again even in a different house and even if the stove looks different.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 22, 2006 #2


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    So some would say, yes.

    I think a more accurate description would be the ability to abstract. A baby is abstracting the pain caused by a hot stove to recognize that it is not the home, or the big white box, or the round spirally thing in and of themselves - but the interpretation of these things in the correct context - that is the cause of the pain.
  4. Mar 22, 2006 #3
    No, because there is nothing that prevents us from making erroneous associations. Superstitions, for example, are the erroneous association of one thing with another. Science, the discipline of testing associations to try to find the objectively accurate and important ones, arose in order to obviate our tendency to make erroneous associations.

    It's safe to say most animals make associations easily, so I don't think this is the place to look to find the essence of intelligence.
  5. Mar 22, 2006 #4


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    Uh, OK zooby...

    What prevents us from making erroneous associations is the level of our intelligence.

    The ability to which someone/thing can successfully make meaningful associations correlates directly with a positive level of intelligence. Those who do poorly at making meaningful assocations would be proportionately less intelligent.
  6. Mar 22, 2006 #5
    I think that you will find there are and have been plenty of very intelligent people with superstitous ideas. I've been inclined to believe at times that intelligence may breed such notions since more intelligent people are more likely to perceive the more subtle and complex associations. I don't think this is at all accurate as a generalization anymore but I think it may attribute to the severity of psychological afflictions of such a nature in more intelligent people.
  7. Mar 22, 2006 #6
    But what seperates us from animals is that we can make such complex associations, since our brains are essentially just larger (though that is a bit of a broad generalization). It's just when I think about it, what makes us better than a computer? We have the abilty to apply past knowledge to future situations. A computer has to be told what to do down to the letter. Unless equiped with complex or revolutionary software, it cannot determine what a dog is, by just watching us. It is the ability of the brain, or just a clump of brain cells to make qualitative associations rather than quantative associations that makes any brain intelligent. What I meant by the stove is that, even if the child learns the first time not to touch the stove in its own house, what is keeping it from making the same mistake with a slightly different looking stove? A computer would have to be told every specific situation. However humans can make a jump in intution that says, "That looks like the other thing," or more so, "This is a similar situation."

    PS: Lets not refer just to human brains anymore, but essentially just to a variable pile of brain cells.
  8. Mar 22, 2006 #7
    By the way do scientists have any idea how brain cells store information and if so, how much information?
  9. Mar 23, 2006 #8
    I think the quality you're talking about isn't intelligence but something that would better be called sensitivity. This is a double-edged sword, because while it causes people to pay much closer attention to things that others don't notice, it also causes them to be bothered, annoyed, irritated, and even frightened by things that don't affect others this way. Hence you get your Teslas and Newtons, who are excessively observant people, but who are also psychologically unstable since everyday life is often oppressive to them.

    The question I have is whether or not this extreme sensitivity should be called "intelligence"? I don't think so, because there are lots of people who are both super-observant and not emotionally compromised by it.
  10. Mar 23, 2006 #9
    The greater complexity of our associative powers just enables us to make more complex erroneous associations. Aristotle, with all his gross errors, reigned supreme in Physics for 2000 years, unchallenged. Yet each Aristotelian Philosopher, I'm sure, felt himself to be vastly more intelligent than any animal.

    Dogs and many animals can make the same stove associations you speak of, extrapolating an experience in one place to similar objects in another. For a dog it may be because all stoves have a roughly similar smell, rather than the appearance, but it's still an association of sensory information.
  11. Mar 23, 2006 #10
    Yes, as Hypnagogue might say: the ability to make associations is necessary, but not sufficient for intelligence. You have to have that ability, but you need something else also on top of it.
  12. Mar 23, 2006 #11
    It is my mistake for not making myself clear that I am refering just to brain cells, rather than the human mind. My point is at the base of the brain cells success is its ability to make associations with past situations to different future situations. Its called learning.
  13. Mar 23, 2006 #12
    At the level you're talking about, not touching things that closely enough resemble the thing that burned you, it's more to the point to call it conditioning, and, as I pointed out, it can be done to dogs, and even birds. Recall the poisonous butterflies with the bright markings. Once a bird has tried to eat one and gotten a mouthfull of its bitter taste it won't try to eat another with the same markings. Humans are somewhat more sophisticated. We can inform each other,through language, about what foods are poisonous, allowing us, for instance, to spread the erroneous information that tomatos are poisonous, which is a reputation that food had for a long time in many places.

    http://www.siu.edu/~ebl/leaflets/tomato.htm [Broken]

    And, so, our ability to make associations lead to the not very intelligent conclusion that tomatoes were poisonous. I'm not seeing where the ability to apply information from past situations to future ones is necessarily the main component of intelligence.

    I don't really know what you're trying to say with your distinction between brain cells and mind because I don't know that anyone is aware of what any individual brain cell is up to as far as how it uses information from the past and applies it to the future. That kind of processing involves huge populations of neurons in many different parts of the brain all working in concert.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  14. Mar 24, 2006 #13
    I am not just talking about the human mind, I am just talking about the abilities of brain cells. The basis ability that makes brain cells great, and the brain a successful evolutionary trait is its ability to learn, by applying information from past situations to future situations. And could you please quit making reference to incorrect associations. For every one that is wrong several more are right. You need to understand that I am not talking about intelligence in just terms of a person, but in terms of intelligent creatures such as cats. Advanced communication is the sign of high intelligence in humans, but I am looking at the basic characteristic that makes a cat better than a sponge.
  15. Mar 24, 2006 #14
    No, the really remarkable thing about brain cells as opposed to other kinds of cells is that the activity of brain cells somehow adds up to consciousness.
    You want me to simply stop disagreeing with you even though I know your thinking is muddy and off the mark? Good luck with that.
    I don't know that this one to several proportion is correct, but stipulating that it is, does being right more often than not constitute intelligence? That is valuing quantity over quality. Intelligence, it seems to me, is much more a matter of being accurate about things that are important. Misplacing a dollar bill on one day while carefully holding onto a penny for several days in a row, is hardly an advantage despite the fact that the quantity of times you got it right exceeds the quantity of times you didn't.
    Neurons are remarkable cells, to be sure. But is a cat "better" than a sponge? It's safe to say it's alot more sophisticated than a sponge but I'm not sure it follows that makes it somehow "better".
  16. Mar 24, 2006 #15
    I should have used more intelligent instead of better. A cat can better react to its enviorment than a sponge because a sponge only has a simple nerve net. It is not capable of doing much of anything. Let me rephrase my query. What makes the brain cell successful? Once more I have to say, it's its ability to learn and to apply information from past situations to future ones. To me this is as basic as you can get as to why neurons are successful. Once more your definition of intelligence is different than mine. I believe intelligence in something is just when it is able to do enough to get around problems and obstacles in its enviorment and survive. It (my definition of intelligence) is not to understand everything superiorly well or to be able to be self-aware, but just to survive.

    Thank you,
  17. Mar 24, 2006 #16
    I think you have to do alot more pondering about how to define "intelligence". It turns out to be a controversial word, and there have been a large number of discussions and arguments around here as to what it means. If you want to do a search, just punch in "I.Q." and see how people disagree about, and have a hard time defining, the concept.

    As far as cats and sponges go, sponges make better sponges than cats do: they seems to have everything necessary to live life as a sponge, and for the species to survive. Neurons might be a burden to them.

    Thank you.

  18. Mar 24, 2006 #17
    The purpose of this thread was really to discuss how the brain is able to make associations that computers can never hope to get close to. I mean even if things make incorrect associations the ability of the mind to make the connection from a past situation to a current one is very interesting.

    Thank you for your time,
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 23, 2008
  19. Mar 25, 2006 #18


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    Hm, this opens a whole cans of worms that you probably didn't intend to open. Let me digress for a moment - I'll come back.

    Surviving in one's environment has nothing to do with intelligence. Intelligence is one very recent experiment that nature is trying out (forgive the anthropomorphism). It is important to note that, on a paleological scale, it has been an extremely short experiment so far, and there is no evidence yet to suggest that it is a successful gambit for survival (remind me again how many millions of years the dinosaurs ruled the Earth?).

    If you want to talk success, look to bacteria - some of the simplest things on Earth. Cyanobacteria are some of the oldest living things on Earth - billions of years old. Strains have changed little in all that time. I would argue that they claim the honour of 'most successful organism'.

    But I'm not sure that's where you were planning to go. As you point out, "purpose of this thread was really to discuss how the brain is able to make associations that computers can never hope to get close to". Maybe we need to redefine the parameters of the discussion.
  20. Mar 27, 2006 #19


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    Hey Scott, check this out:

    This is an excerpt from the book I'm reading right now (Jay Ingram's Theatre of the Mind - Ch4 'The Trickle of Consciousness' p63):

    "...if bees are trained to fly to two different directions based on orientations of two different of a striped pattern, if shown a new pattern that is midway between the two, they will fly in a direction that is also midway.

    The structure of the bee's simple brain suggests that while there are neurons that are specifically designed to produce a single, variable response, there are also other neuron modules that seem capable of integrating their information to produce novel responses." (italics mine).

    This sounds precisely like what we are talking about regards making meaningful associations between cause and effect.
  21. Mar 27, 2006 #20
    What I am really curious about is the mechanism involved in making these connections. Every single time the brain makes one of these connections, I think two neurons grow together, physically connecting information. But what I really find fascinating is the fact that those two thoughts only have one thing in common that the brain cell is able to 'see.'

    Thank you very much for your time,
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