Intelligence and Learning

The central feature of intelligence is the ability to understand what is really going on out there and to respond to events with successful and adaptive behavior. Intelligence is built from subsystems that sense, decide, remember and action. It is fashionable to speak in terms of "mental abilities" and to list a number of different mental abilities in terms of educational concerns, such as reading, writing, math and music. The brain is modular with a host of different functions contributing to intelligence.

Intelligence is about survival in a threatening world. Humans survive because of the genius abilities such as vision, hearing, skilled movement and speech, all abilities that are built into their brain, innate gifts from nature. Humans do not have learn how to see or how to hear what is going on out there, but they do have to learn what it means to them today. This is an interactive process. Speech is an advanced form of sound interaction. Although modern humans tend to emphasize individual thought and expression, most thinking involves group activity and the value of speech is to connect individuals in “thinking” groups. Books and other publications link large numbers of humans in common patterns of language-dependent thinking.

The newest human abilities are more dependent on learning and are the least reliable. Reasoning, planning and learning to tolerate other humans in a friendly constructive manner require the most sustained practice. The term, “nice,’ refers to these characteristics and therefore nice people require sustained learning to remain reasonable, to tolerate others and to behave in a friendly, constructive manner. In higher education and other life contests, general ability has been traditionally desirable. The "well-rounded" individual was a generalist, good at everything but perhaps not outstanding in one skill.

To become nice and to remain rational and skilled, a human must belong to and work within a supportive group that shares these characteristics. Human groups often have the opposite effect, supporting intolerant and irrational thinking and behavior. In the recent past new knowledge and abilities have proliferated in every human population with only a few humans doing well at cultivating the new abilities.

The key to human survival is group cooperation that allows individual specialization. The group tends to smooth out the negative effects of individual limitations and irrationality. In an affluent urban society, a small subpopulation cause most of the trouble and consume most of the social and medical resources available. Often the understanding and solution of “social problems” involves the interaction of elite and educated group with a sick, aberrant, dysfunctional group. Their interaction involves a persistent, inevitable misunderstanding arising from incongruent needs, values, information and capabilities.

Human societies involve increasing specialization of individuals who are skillful at performing single tasks. The income of an individual often depends on this specialization and does not depend on a general or comprehensive understanding of how their society works and his or her place in it. A similar description applies to individuals in many animal groups, beginning with the social insects. Humans and ants have much in common; the most compelling similarity is that individuals achieve viability on the planet, not by solitary activities, but by participating in a metaorder that involves the entire group.

Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights, and dignity must be learned anew and stored in each person's neocortex. Information always comes with noise, that extra, confusing, unnecessary stuff which burdens our brain not with the task of remembering but of forgetting.