... is directly equivalent to the evolution of Matter, the Universe itself.
If we accept the basic simplicity of the definition of intelligence
as being capable of making a decision or choice, then even the
first non standard quantum event was an intelligent act.
Viewed this way, intelligence clearly does not mean what too many commentators
really mean by intelligence. Which is, of course, only "human intelligence".
The problem with the anthropocentric view (that intelligence is only
something which is visible in our own species) is that it mystifies intelligence
and gives grounds for such metaphysical nonsense as belief in a "soul".
After all, if intelligence is something which magically only appears at
our level, then who knows what other little miracles might have happened
in the same vein.
Anyone who has kept pets knows that intelligence is a continuum. The
Chicken is more intelligent than the worm (just!). The Hamster is more
intelligent than the chicken. The Rat more intelligent than the Hamster.
Horse more than Rat. Dog slightly more than Horse and Chimpanzee much
more than Dog. And then there's us.
My conjecture is that the continuum is literally synonymous with THE
continuum. Intelligence didn't start in organic matter. It is simply the
ability to make a choice. The very first quantum event was a choice. Pretty
limited one, but a choice nonetheless.
And a first consequence of that:-
is that the Evolution of the Universe IS the Evolution of Intelligence.
A second consequence is that it becomes clear how intelligence is the
organising force of the universe. Not - initially at any rate - in the
omniscient God sense. More the dumb rules of mathematics. Structure falls
out of the laws governing information.
We like to think of our intelligence as being superior to that of all
else we have so far surveyed. And it is - in degree only. In principle,
however, it is no different, no better and no worse than the intelligence
exhibited by all objects in the universe. What is most significant about
our level of intelligence is that we are the first species on our planet
to have attained the level at which we are capable of designing our own
successors. A species whose intelligence will be at least as advanced
on our own as ours is in regard to the chimpanzee, possibly much much
Every advance in material organisation represents an advance in the intelligence
of the relevant system.
For possibly the first third of the life (to date) of the Universe, that
increase in structure and local density of information was an entirely
inanimate process. Apart from the choices made were, with quantum exceptions,
the inevitable consequences of a chain of events. Not really choices at
all, the only element of choice being at the tiniest quantum level, where
particles can decide to be here and now or there and then.
The average choices made at the quantum level was so highly predictable
that inanimate matter makes virtually no choices at all. It is pretty
dumb. Anything it does is the direct and inevitable consequence of a chain
At a certain key stage, however, matter acquired the ability not merely
to react to information (the 2nd level of intelligence: the 1st level
being the mere ability to create information (the result of any choice
must yield information)) but to process it. i.e. to convert the incoming
information into new and different information.
That probably constitutes the most fundamental definition of Life.
And, as I've explained in detail elsewhere, the unifying feature of all
Life is that all living things do something, the purpose of which
is to continue living. They Pursue a goal.
When matter acquires the ability to pursue a goal, the intelligence has
Still, admittedly, at a low level, but now the intelligence is capable,
at least, of locating or identifying a nutrient and ingesting it.
Organic evolution has begun. And pretty soon there are organisms who
have taken the next leap in intelligence. They can identify other organisms
as having pre-processed the nutrients they need and that ingesting those
organisms is a more cost-effective way to pursue the common goal.
Now that is actually quite a sophisticated computation. Yet we
hadn't even evolved the chartered accountant! It was a messy system. Bit
hit and miss, but essentially the design was achieved by accident. One
of the original organisms was a bit odd and had this tendency to eat anything
it could get its pseudopods around, including its siblings. Remarkably,
it thrived and divided into many others like itself, who all thrived and
so on. The result:- a slightly improved survival algorithm.
And so on. We can even identify major development stages in intelligence,
all of which, initially at least, must have conferred significant survival
advantages over the first members of a species to adopt them.
Possibly the next step was the first level of co-operation. Two or more
single celled organisms got together and, as a result, either were able
to avoid a predator or were jointly able to obtain nutrition that neither
could have managed alone.
That path leads ultimately to the sponges, who remain, to this day, colonies
of individuals. Not many of whom have so far aspired to moral philosophy
or even chartered accountancy. Nevertheless, the sponge is a considerably
more intelligent design than the humble amoeba.
After co-operation, we get Specialisation. Some cells sacrifice their
autonomy in order to make themselves capable of performing only a narrow
range of functions, but doing them very well. In compensation for their
sacrifice, the other cells in the organism feed and nurture them.
Here come skin, teeth, eyes, ears, hands and feet etc. All of which increase
the information processing abilities of the organism, so it is becoming,
at each step, more and more intelligent than its predecessors.
The rest, as they say, is history. Emergence onto land, differentiation
into hunters and hunted, protecting your young in eggs, then carrying
them within, then protecting them even after birth. Hunting, scavenging
or defending yourselves in packs. Development of social hierarchies and
dominance cultures. Learning to use tools. Walking upright. Mastering
Fire. Building Weapons and Homes. Creating Language. Creating Empires.
Creating technology. Creating the Web.
It's a very clear progression. It clearly has impetus and direction.
The common thread is the development of ever greater levels of intelligence,
to the stage where we can usefully talk of intellect - that level of intelligence
which is capable of discussing itself. But make no mistake, this level
does not exist in isolation from all that has gone before. They are simply
simpler manifestations of the ability to make decisions. And they stretch
all the way back to the beginning of time.
Matter is evidently intent on organising itself. That it can do so only
by virtue of the unmitigated randomness of the Universe is the hardest
lesson - at least psychologically - that many human beings will ever have
to digest. But until it has been digested, too many of our species will
retain the arrogant and destructive view that "we" are somehow "special"
and that, as a consequence, we can do what we like to whom we like and
never worry too much about the consequences.
Technically, its true of course. We are sufficiently evolved to be able
to make decisions to do anything we can imagine. And our imaginations
The question is, have we evolved enough to make intelligent decisions?
Which, of course, begs the question.
What are the intelligent decisions?
20 August 2000