Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fractal Intelligence

We recently watched the NOVA Science Now episode "How Smart Are Animals?" A discussion followed  as to why and how we are asking this question. We know animals are "smarter" than our species has historically given them credit, but we're having a hard time quantifying that intelligence. It occurred to me that underlying this question is actually a more foundational question: What is intelligence? What is it to be human?

It bothers us humans that there is a difference between us and non-human animals, but that the more we dig into the question of what that difference really is, the harder it is to articulate what that difference is. We tend to say things about emotions, intelligence, tools, and language. But non-human animals definitely feel emotions. From an embarrassed cat to a grieving elephant, animals feel. Many animals use tools, from crows to chimps. Many others have of course evolved their own built-in tools, including beaks, claws, long tongues, and the like. We say this isn't a tool - yet it's no different, really, than our evolved thumb. It works, and we use it to achieve our goals.

Scientists are fascinated with the measurement of intelligence and language. But so often the measurement of these qualities is to compare them against human intelligence and language. We are only seeing other species intelligence through the lens of our own. Same with language.

If you slow down cricket song, it sounds like angels singing. If you slow down bird song, it sounds like jazz. Maybe scientists need to be using not spoken language, but music to study animal intelligence. Music and fractals.

I suspect that animal - and plant and rock and air and water - intelligence is not linear like ours (currently) is, but is fractal in nature. (I mean to say that human intelligence is currently linear as we understand it.)

We're fond of saying that humans use only 10% of our brains. We think we will be "smarter" when we access more parts of the brain. Interesting that music activates many different parts of the brain at once, as well as these parts' interactions with each other. I suspect becoming smarter is not about simply using more linear brain space, but about delving up and inward fractally.  I don't know what this means neurologically, but as an artist and a dreamer I get a certain Yes when I visualize the idea. Nature's intelligence and language is musical and fractal and we will understand it - and ourselves - better when we delve more deeply into these ways of understanding.

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