October 28, 2020

How is intelligence defined in living beings? | Science



A priori it seems that intelligence was something easy to define because everyone finds a definition, but it is really difficult to find a suitable and adjusted one and, above all, to take into account all the variables. For example, the definition of the SAR says it is the ability to understand or understand, to solve problems; that is, he is talking about skills and abilities, but he is not saying that in order to develop those skills, experience is needed. So you can compare if when you do something you do it well you need to start from an experience, a memory and a learning. And that definition of the SAR does not take these factors into account.

If we think of the whole range of living beings, how do you ask the question, we consider that a living being is intelligent, first, if it is capable of using tools to modify its environment. That looks great on chimpanzees who use sticks to put them in the anthill and eat termites, although not only chimpanzees use tools. Second, if he uses language to communicate with other beings of the same species, such as humans; but it has been seen that this communication capacity also occurs in dolphins and other animal species. In addition, it would be necessary to be aware of oneself. Why? Because you have to ask yourself if what you are going to do is useful for what you want to achieve. That is, one has to be able to reflect and dig through his experience.

The fundamental problem when defining intelligence is that we are considering it as an entity, something with its own entity. People who don’t work in neuroscience usually ask you: And where in the brain is intelligence? And that question comes from what is considered intelligence as something tangible. But that is not so: intelligence is not something with entity characteristics and, of course, it is not located in a specific place in the brain. In fact, intelligence is very difficult to quantify even using so-called intelligence tests. These tests only quantify a certain part of the intelligence.

Now we have the theory of multiple intelligences, of which I am a supporter because, for example, a person can be a total failure in social matters but can be an excellent musician. And thanks also to pathologies such as autism we ask ourselves more and more questions about intelligence. Many people of the autistic spectrum are not considered with an intellectual capacity or with a high intelligence coefficient, but there are many who are very good in calculus, geometry or other mathematical abilities and also in art. They have certain facets in which they excel in terms of their abilities. But intelligence is considered as a set of everything. I believe that intelligence must be defined from another question: what is it for?

The fundamental problem when defining intelligence is that we are considering it as an entity, something with its own entity

The purpose of every living being is survival and not individual survival but that of the species. So what allows you to survive? That you are able to adapt to a changing environment. And how can you adapt to a changing environment? Of course not from the physical point of view, because physical changes require many millions of years to take place, so it has to be a change of intellectual power, of mental power. And there is a little more defined intelligence, which would be what allows you to move in a changing environment and generate skills and attitudes that make it possible to survive in that environment.

Multiple intelligences are those skills that one has for certain skills: if you are very good at math, or if you are very good at memorizing, planning or socializing, etc. That would be the different skills that one presents. And then there would be what general intelligence is, how each one uses these skills to adapt to multiple circumstances.

Rocío Leal Campanario She is a doctor in neuroscience, professor and researcher at the Pablo de Olavide University.

Question sent via email by José María de Azcárate Bang

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