Sunday, June 14, 2009

Abstraction, Intelligence, and How We Use Them

It has been asked often why man considers himself, over other animals, to be "the rational" animal, when he often doesn't act rational, and even commits acts of irrationality.

What we do with our intelligence is not the question. The answer is: Brutes abstract not. (Locke)

Because they cannot abstract, at least with any degree of mnemonics, the naturalist Loren Eiseley said that animals live in an "eternal present" from which they can never escape.

Ayn Rand described it as "range-of-the-moment consciousness", which explains the lack of mnemonic cognition. They can't teach their young what they've learned in a manner which gives the young something to build on. Whatever they learn, it stops rights there, even it is passed on to the entire tribe, like those macaques who learned to wash their food. This action was caught on camera by scientists who had been studying these particular groups of monkees and had never seen them do it until one accidentally dropped his food in the water-------and liked the result. So he continued to do it, and the other monkees mimmicked him and discovered they liked it too.

But that didn't lead to an abstraction. Nothing more was learned than that washing food tasted good. Perhaps in an act of evolution, only the monkees who wash their food will survive someday during a storm of biological pestilence upon their food. But it wasn't because they learned to make anti-biotics.

Man can learn to understand that because he washed his hands and his food, he prevented himself and others from getting sick. That knowledge was an abstraction, and it can be taught to others.

THAT is what makes man intelligent. That he foolishly or criminally uses his intelligence is a different question.

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