What is your definition of intelligence?

Just curious what is intelligence? Is life intelligent?

Can you elaborate a little bit more on your question? It’s hard to respond to such a broad prompt.

Thanks Brad. It is a broad question. I am trying to understand the concept of intelligence. Intelligence has been used to describe behavior that distinguishes man from animals. That said animals display behavior that might be termed intelligent. So are there just different levels of intelligence?

I am trying to get someone from the information sciences or behavioral sciences to jump in here to give me an scientific definition of intelligence. As we develop artificial intelligence (whatever that is?) I am curious to understand the processes which are developing to make AI. Of course I am aware of the Turing test but that is more a test of intelligence but not a definition.


Dictionary.com’s definition of Intelligence (the one I think is the most relevant) says:

". . . capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc. "

A very clever woman I know decided long ago that the most relevant way of looking at “High Intelligence” in the Human arena was: " doing well under various circumstances." < Pretty short, aye?

When someone in the animal sciences talks about “Intelligent Life”, they might mean “Awareness”… like the Chimpanzees and Gorillas who have been taught sign language, or using plastic symbols to make rough sentences or phrases.

These broad sweeps seem easy enough, it’s when someone gets down into the nooks and crannies that we have our difficulty:

Someone might be incredibly aware of the emotional state of another person (like some tops salesmen are), but couldn’t do algebra to save their lives. And then we have the Savants who can mysteriously pull perfect information out of their minds (not just memory retrieval, but processing!) . . . but who could be quite obtuse when it comes to understanding themselves or those around them.

For discussions like what we have on the boards on a daily basis, perhaps the most important Intelligence is Moral Intelligence! I can’t even imagine how to go about quantifying Moral Intelligence… but I think it would be far more important than all the other kinds of Awareness or Intelligence.

It’s far more useful to speak of different kinds of intelligence. I’ve worked with brilliant guys in programming who couldn’t spell to save their lives. And the great Beethoven couldn’t do subtraction!

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Agreed! I’m suggesting that Moral Intelligence may be the most important kind of intelligence Humans can have…

Could we say that Jesus was imbued with a particularly high degree of Moral Intelligence?

George, I do not understand what Moral Intelligence is. Could you elaborate a bit on what that means?


What separated Jesus from the Pharisees and Sadducees when confronted with the case of an injured stranger on the road?

What separated Jesus from the these same folk when his band hungered on the Sabbath?

What separated Jesus from these people when asked if we should pay taxes to Rome?

Everyone accepts that his answers were better than anyone else’s answers… Was he reading from crib sheets? Or did he calculate the moral transgressions and opportunities and come to a conclusion?

If more the latter than the former, that would be an expression of Moral Intelligence, yes?

Thanks for the clarification. I suppose you could describe it as discernment, or perhaps recognition of truth, as Christ was truth enbodied. And in our ranks, that is indeed a remarkable quality,as I am sure we all know those who can recognize truth better than the rest of us, whether it be biblical or otherwise.

Moral Truths … what greater wisdom could a man or woman hope for if communion with God is their central goal?

Thank you all for your insightful comments on intelligence. I realize that this is a very subjective term. I am trying to understand the science of artificial intelligence and how theses AI systems are being created and whether this can help better understand life. What I am getting at is if you consider the genetic code as a program for a living system then is that genetic program displaying some degree of intelligence in function?

I think all life is intelligent to some degree. Not just intelligence designed not going there, life displays intelligence. All life is intelligent. It contains information and retains memory information it contains and applies knowledge and it is perceptive to its environment. it develops adaptive strategy and it of course can evolve. It is designed to be intelligent.

Long ago a wise man told me “Intelligence is knowing just how little you know.” If that is the best definition, then we seem to be losing that in our society. We have politicians who say “We need to start standing up to the experts!” when denouncing climate scientists, evolutionary biologists, and virtually anybody who points to evidence as a basis for analysis and conclusions. Yesterday I was startled to learn that a group of NBA basketball stars have adamantly declared their belief in a flat earth. Initially I thought it was some sort of joke meant to protest something. It’s not. And their analysis of the “evidence” sounds very similar to something Ken Ham or Kent Hovind would say in defiance of the science.

Listening to these multi-millionaire sports stars explain how they reached their conclusion of a flat earth leads one to wonder how they can live under the assumption of vast conspiracies of all of the world’s scientists, including NASA “making up” those dazzling photos of the earth from space. It reminds me of the Chemtrail Conspiracy videos I’ve seen on Youtube. (My favorite is the lady who shows how her lawn sprinkler-mister produces rainbows—and that that is proof of poisonous chemicals in the water which have been distributed by jet planes in their exhaust plumes.)

American Christians of the 1960’s and 1970’s lamented “situation ethics” and “moral relativism”. Today we call it the loss of absolutes. Yet, many within the Church today are abandoning rational thought based upon evidence—the kind of absolutes which brought us modern science and civilization. If intelligence involves having some grasp of how little we know when defying the experts, we may have that intelligence in short supply.

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I think that no matter what they are able to do with A.I. … the “Soul-ists” will consider the entities to be lacking in “Moral Agency” - - which is all to easy to be assigned to an ineffable quality of God and/or what God gave to Adam and Eve and their progeny.

I know that at some point, anyone that accepts that hominids evolved, and at some point God gave (or recognized) a special group of hominids as having Moral Agency - - doesn’t seem to necessarily include anything that might be accomplished by Artificial Intelligence.

The Evangelicals do not really care about Intelligence (per se) or even Awareness (self awareness or any other kind). For them, Morality is based on Moral Agency. I don’t think A.I. will ever sufficiently represent this quality to most Evangelicals.

Ultimately, I would tend to define intelligence as the ability to use information. With that definition, a plant might even be considered to have a very limited intelligence, as it turns towards a sunny window. The presence of information does not make one intelligent, but it is the ability to utilize it, be it in composing music, being aware of cues in making a sales deal, or building a space station.

I think that intelligence involves creativity and flexibility in problem solving, and the ability to mentally map out a plan.
There has been some amazing work done with animals on this topic.

Causal understanding of water displacement by a crow

On the other hand, we have visitors who post the same thing 500+ times…


Thanks George. It is interesting. I think that the soul does not exist in the physical world. I think that just as the soul or spirit are non physical entities so are the aspects of intelligence non physical. Information, knowledge,reasoning creativity and ideas. Even The laws of nature are all non physical. All these can act on the physical world but in themselves do not exist in a physical sense. We are spiritual beings.

Thanks Beaglelady. Awesome Crow video. I think that 500 repetitive posts are probably a sign of insanity. I think that there are different degrees of intelligent behavior. Starting with basic intelligence and then expanding to ever greater levels. I love the Crow video. I don’t think I would figure that out! No doubt humans have the highest intelligence levels but crows might give us a challenge! I do think that moral agency is a higher form of intelligence. I find amazing the bacteria behavior displayed in a Petri dish George mentions in the information = evolution posts. It seems to me that the bacteria are displaying intelligent behavior. And evolution in itself is a creative process. And creative ability is a form of intelligence.

Don’t worry. There is still hope on Earth.

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