Tags: conciousness, creativity, dreaming, dreams, Einstein, Evolution, human evolution, Human intelligence, Intelligence, mental models, science
We are so witty an animal.
Previous posts on this blog (here, here) have suggested that human intelligence developed from our facility in generating possible scenarios for what has happened, for what is happening, and for what might happen, and that the development of this facility was driven evolutionarily by our being a social species.
Being able to guess the future actions of other intentional beings and of non-intentional objects confers a large evolutionary advantage only to members of social species in which each set of parents produce only a few young, and the parents or the colony expend considerable resources to raise each child. Ants are social, but but the individuals are expendable. So there is no short-term evolutionary advantage to an ant colony from some of its members becoming smarter.
Social mammals, and some social reptiles (including those dinosaurs who hatched and raised their young in crowded colonies), and some of the social avian descendants of the dinosaurs, satisfy that criterion. Chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and wolves are social, and have impressive intelligence. For example, scientists who raise wolves to study the development of their behavior find that they cannot allow a post-puberty wolf see how the scientist operates the latch of a gate, because the wolf will thereafter be able to operate the latch, and soon all of the adult wolves in the enclosure will have learned the skill. A herd of horses has a hierarchy. Any fluid hierarchy must be learned and understood by all involved. A herd of cows has a hierarchy. A flock of chickens has a pecking order. A member of a hierarchical group in which the hierarchy is fluid, must have both emotions and the ability to at least partially mentally mirror what is going on in the minds of other members of the group. The species named in this paragraph all also have ways of communicating between members of the group.
There seems to be a chain of consequences. Schematically:
Social species with costly individuals => mental mirroring => ability to generate mental scenarios.
In humans, and to a lesser extent in at least some of the other species, scenarios of diverse levels of abstraction are generated, and the individual can nimbly go from one level of abstraction to another.
It is plausible that the generation and effective use of scenarios is what we mean by intelligence, or is at least a very large fraction of what we mean by intelligence.
At the moment this is just a hypothesis. For it to become science, the accuracy and scope of this hypothesis must be tested relentlessly and thoroughly, in every context to which it can apply.
So please devise those tests, and carry them out. My own work is in another part of science, and I lack both the expertise and the time to do so.
I’d be happy to receive comments about your ideas.
Higher intelligence involves generating and using scenarios at diverse levels of abstraction. In particular, scenarios at higher levels of abstraction allow you to become one of the actors in your own scenarios. It allows your scenarios to become recursive, and therefore much more versatile.
Doing so requires additional abilities. Namely, it is necessary to be aware of your own scenarios, and to be aware of the character of each scenario. That is, it is necessary for part of your mind to mirror selected other parts of your own mind. So it is necessary to be partially self aware. That enables higher levels of consciousness. To use scenarios at diverse levels of abstraction it is necessary to generate and use scenarios for using your other scenarios. That allows truly versatile thinking.
Both in this post and in your reactions to it, we are using the neural ‘circuits’ that initially evolved for mirroring one another, and then for also mirroring predators and prey and inanimate objects (a thrown stone or spear, or a storm), to now construct plausible scenarios of how humans and other animals became smart. These scenarios are instances of what Einstein described as the free creations of the human mind. They are an indispensable intermediate step toward understanding anything. This creative ‘Monte Carlo stochastic process’ is how we generate the hypotheses that are later to be tested. This creative aspect of our attempt to understand and predict is not harmful if we remember that the resulting scenarios are ‘just so’ stories until they have been tested.
Note the appearance above of the adjective ‘creative’. The brain mechanisms that generate mental scenarios may underlie our creativity, as well as the creativity exhibited by some other animals.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Here is another scenario that needs testing: It is a scenario about scenarios. The brain mechanisms that evolved to mirror others by generating scenarios will act on whatever stimuli they receive, appropriate or not. They will act on the random and temporary pattern of the directions of the stars in the sky to make us imagine constellations, and even stories to account for them. They will act on random firing patterns in the sleeping brain to generate dreams.
Tags: autocracy, democracy, Egypt, Egyptian Army, Islamic Brotherhood, Morsi, Putin, Rusiia
Before he was overthrown, the former President of Egypt, Morsi
– “temporarily granted himself unlimited powers to “protect” the nation in late November 2012″
– granted himself “the power to legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts”
– rammed through changes to the Constitution that would favor himself and his former party, which represented the Islamic Brotherhood.
(The quotes are from an article in Wikipedia.)
Morsi’s overthrow was not undemocratic. His overthrow did not undermine the rule of law. It was not a coup: Morsi’s acts were the coup.
In the long run, if Eygpt’s military lives up to its promises, Morsi’s overthrow will have protected the rule of law.
Overthrowing Morsi was just and necessary, because Morsi was acting more and more like Putin.
Tags: Eugene Robinson, George Zimmerman, manslaughter, Trayvon Martin
The not-guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial for shooting Trayvon Martin was an injustice to Trayvon Martin, and to all of us. Eugene Robinson’s analysis in the Washington Post is particularly perceptive on the topic, and makes important points that have not been made elsewhere.
Two previous posts (here and here) on thepoliblog also stress crucial features of the encounter. Indeed, thepolibog was started out of frustration with the then-current state of the public discussion of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, because, at the time, essential aspects of the encounter were being ignored.
George Zimmerman got away with manslaughter.
But the jury’s verdict was ‘not guilty’. Within our legal system, George Zimmerman cannot be retried for the same crime (no ‘double jeopardy’).
Those who believe him to be guilty can only treat him as they would treat any other guilty person who escaped conviction because of the imperfections of the judicial system.
He can be shunned.
Tags: Abigail Hauslohner, autocracy, democracy, Egypt, Egyptian Army, Islamic Brotherhood, Jack H. G. Darrant, Morsi, The Political Idealist, Washington Post
Until this week, Egypt’s military seemed fated to appear in the history books as being blind to the benefits of democracy and of an open society, and as interested only in its own welfare and power.
Its removal of the undemocratic, autocratic, coercive Morsi regime and the Islamic Brotherhood from power suddenly offers the prospect that Egypt’s military can now end up being recognized as truly patriotic, as the friend and defender of democracy and of an open society, and therefore as the defender of the true interests of Egypt.
Although Morsi and the Islamicists were elected, they were elected because the majority that opposes their policies did not understand what was at stake in the election, nor the need for political organization. Many did not vote. The secularist opposition was fragmented. This is well described in an article by Abigail Hauslohner in the Washington Post.
That was because during that election, democracy was new to Egypt. The results of the election were not the results of a functioning democracy. The overthrow of Morsi and the Islamicists was not an assault on democracy. Jack H. G. Darrant, whose blog The Political Idealist is noted for its rigorous analyses, came to the same conclusion.
Egypt has learned a lot as a result of seeing Morsi and the Islamicists in action. Morsi and the Islamicists do not understand and value democracy and an open society, do not want to understand, and never will understand. They are autocrats at heart.
Egypt’s military has given Egypt a new chance to build a thriving, open society.
Tags: civil liberties, classified information, Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Privacy, terrorism, terrorist
He claims that he released the information to provoke a public discussion about the trade off between privacy and the prevention of terrorist attacks.
As many have noted, in a partially analogous case, Daniel Ellsberg turned himself in so that his trial would throw a spotlight on the content of the Pentagon Papers, and also as proof of the purity of his motives. Unlike Ellsberg, Edward Snowden fled, and is now seeking asylum in countries that are antithetical to the principles that Snowden claims to be defending. This caused Julian Assange to voice his support of Snowden – Julian Assange, another coward who claims to be driven by principles, in Assange’s case the principle that no government has the right to secrets, a principle that Assange invented, an idiotic impractical principle that is not enshrined in law anywhere.
Despite Snowden’s loss of honor, the discussion he wanted has occurred, and its outcome is now known.
But the discussion not been explicit. It has been implicit. The public’s verdict has been declared by ‘the dog that didn’t bark’, to borrow a phrase of Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes.
The outcome is that the great majority of Americans are not outraged by practices that seem to have prevented a goodly number of terrorist attacks. They think that these practices represent a balanced trade-off. A limited loss of privacy has been traded for the prevention of the murder and wounding of innocent people. Anything less would have constituted a failure to perform the duties of government with due diligence.
No matter what they say publicly, other countries recognize this. Britain, which is careful about privacy and civil liberties, nevertheless places cameras in most public places, to help it deal with the same threat.