Intelligence: Reshaping The Human Brain
Ascending Into Tomorrow: Part Six
The brain is the very center of our humanity, personality, and sense of being, yet we know almost nothing about its massive complexity. With the help of advanced technology, scientists have been able to map and analyze the brain down the individual neurons that determine our every thought and function; however, intelligence, with its companions consciousness and memory has remained hidden despite everything.
What Is Intelligence?
According to Google, intelligence is "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills". Intelligence has no specific location in the brain, but exists among each neuron, for every connection is a new extension of its beauty. Research indicates that the brain constantly changes its connections through neuroplasticity. This theory suggests that the brain is like a molding clay or plastic, which can be manipulated and changed millions of times a day. When the brain learns something new, makes a new prediction, or develops a new memory, the connections between the 86 billion neurons that make us human change. Therefore, intelligence is not a solid, concrete state of being, but an infinite process of building, destroying, and remodeling.
Unlike the common belief, the definition is interesting in that it does not claim intelligence to be a unique human trait. Humans tend to believe that they are superior to the rest of the matter on Earth, as if they were somehow different than the very soil they walked upon. An important thing to understand is that we are essentially the same as everything else on Earth, just with a different chemical organization.
Every being uses science to thrive and survive, through the beautiful mathematics of the universe and its governing laws. Life express art and culture in different ways, with each being having unique dances, songs, language, designs, traditions, and structures. Living things are also aware of their own limitations and that "spiritual" aspect of life that will soon come to us all: death. For example, a cat will often curl up in a small, dark, lonely place to die in peace, as if it can perceive death and its meaning on some level. All living things understand death in some way, and ingrained within all of us is our desire to live and fight for those we love. For example, a popular video was shared on Facebook of a mother and father elephant desperately pulling their child out of a pool as he had fallen in and could not swim. It was as if the mother and father knew of the death that awaited him if he were to drown. Furthermore, elephants have been recorded standing by their deceased to take a moment of grief even if they're complete strangers. Yes, science, mathematics, art, culture, spirituality, etc. have unique human characteristics, but, as shown, they are not ONLY human-borne.
Our definition of intelligence is subjective to our understanding of what it means to be human; we believe we are intelligent because being human is all we know. Therefore, it only seems reasonable for us to assume we are more intelligent than other living things because they are incapable of what we are. But there's a fault in that perception. If you were to compare the intelligence of an fish, for example, to the intelligence of a human, one may feel attacked or belittled as if the fish was less intelligent. However, what the victim fails to understand is that they are comparing their human skills, knowledge, and abilities to those of the fish. The message here is that we cannot judge a fish based on its ability to climb a tree, meaning that we cannot determine which species is more intelligent than the next based upon what one can do over the other.
If you were to think of the two most intelligent animals next to humans, which would you chose? Did you think of a monkey and a dolphin? Congratulations! You're correct, partially. Monkeys and dolphins are able to complete puzzles, make predictions, develop social structures, manage roles, and even understand human language on some level. However, this does not make them intelligent, it makes them unique. Just because a bee does not understand human mathematics and can't solve your Sudoku, does it mean it is unintelligent despite its ability to seek out flowers miles from its mathematical fortress that houses a buzzing (pun pun) community of workers that without a "highly developed brain" have been able to form a society where everyone has different jobs but somehow all come together for one common goal?
Intelligence is not just one thing, but a wide spectrum of constant change between knowledge, memory, and consciousness. We cannot say that monolingual John is more intelligent than Wilma because he understands physics and mathematics while she is a professional pianist and speaks three languages. Overall, intelligence is a subjective, fluid experience and does not exist as a linear, measurable entity.
Memory and Intelligence
Memory and intelligence go hand-in-hand, for without the capacity to absorb, store, and recall information, humans and other beings would lack the ability to apply their experiences to their lives. Memories guide every action we take, from how to contract and relax all 600 of our muscles to determining what our senses are telling us.
At birth, babies are "blind" as their underdeveloped brains do not have the ability to recall objects, shapes, and colors that they have not stored as experiences. However, as time goes on, the brain begins to connect shades with colors and shadows with shapes until it can recall the memory so quickly that it feels instantaneous. Think about it, you don't see total darkness in between objects or settings just as you don't hear silence in between sounds. Everything molds together because our memories tell us what we are experiencing before we are even aware of it.
As we grow older, society teaches us its norms, standards, and mores, which we adopt almost entirely before growing into adults and determine our own values. Therefore, society and our families can teach us fears. For example, you're seven years old and just seen a Gardner Snake for the first time. You go up to touch it, but your mother snaps your hand away before bringing you into the house. You hear her saying how "gross" and "dangerous" they are. Every time you see a snake from this point forward, you and your mother freak out and run away as fast as you can just how most do when they see a spider. This is where memory and intelligence tango. Because your mother taught you that the snake was disgusting, your brain associates every one from that point on to be gross and a danger to your life through a psychological process known as conditioning. You have been conditioned to feel fear towards this creature, your mother's reaction being the perfect facilitator, thus causing the identical reaction every time. Therefore, you have applied the conscious knowledge from your memory which then produced your behavior subconsciously.
Common sense tells us that it would be wiser to learn about dangers rather than experience them ourselves. For instance, I'd rather someone tell me the stove is dangerous than to simply place my hand on it with a soon to be broken smile. It's an evolutionary advantage for us to learn what's "good" and what's "bad", but when we learn things are scary, disgusting, or dangerous despite them being harmless, we can develop phobias, which are irrational fears. For instance, most of the Western World will gladly proclaim their fear of spiders and defend it with as much reason as they can, yet most have never encountered a dangerous spider, some having never seen one larger than a loonie.
What I've come to understand is that when fear becomes the norm, it anchors you down. The most common fear among all living things is death, which is where religion and other beliefs originated providing us with purpose after life to erase the anxiety. Every time we think about that one thing that scares us, our brain solidifies the connection until it controls us. Remember, this is the only life that we can prove is ours, for everything after that is speculation. This is to not say religion is wrong because one could be right, or none, or all of them. However, it doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong; what matters is that we all agree that all we have is now. We have the power to change those connections and resocialize our fears.
It's also important to realize that we can develop fears on our own from experiences. When we experience something traumatic, such as a car accident, the brain hijacks itself, changing its wiring and solidifying as many connections as it can to avoid this event from ever happening again. This memory then becomes knowledge, informing us of our mistakes and how significant it is that we avoid them if the event were to happen again. Perhaps, because of this event, you will never speed, roll a stop sign, blast the music, or even drive again. On the other hand, an event as small as getting stung by a bee can trigger fear in us that can quickly develop into phobia the more we react in response to that fear. Ever heard of that quote, "if you don't use it, you lose it?" Well the same works for fear; if you generate fear all the time, you'll never get over what causes the anxiety.
Lastly, memory can be found in our DNA, a massive molecule that determines every aspect of our biological being from the number of hairs on our heads to the time of our death. DNA contains the "memories" of all of our ancestors who ever lived before us, including the mammals which gave rise to us. Over 98% of DNA is considered to be junk because it does not code for human protein, the building blocks of life. Therefore, DNA acts like a massive storage unit, constantly adding our story onto the genome for the next generation.
DNA can also change its memories through many complex processes, such as by deleting fragments, rearranging them, or inputting new ones. When a change is good, the species tends to survive, such as a snow rabbit having white fur compared to brown. However, if the change is bad, the species tends to die, which is known as natural selection. Natural selection determined us, for example, to be more fit to survive than our distant extinct relatives, the Neanderthals. Because our DNA maintained the "memory" of what is good, we thrived. These genetic memories have also provided us with subconscious intelligence, such that our brain with no prior experience has the knowledge and skills to maintain our heartbeat, breathing, sensation, temperature, water and chemical balance, blood volume, etc. Without this inert intelligence, we could not function.
The Big Three
Consciousness, like memory and intelligence, has no specific location in the brain. Scientists believe that these big three exist simultaneously within the connections of the entire brain. Each of them work together to ensure our survival and provide us with a meaningful life; consciousness works to feed our memories, memories work to strengthen our intelligence, and intelligence works to maintain our consciousness.
Expand your perspective and understand that you and I are made of the very same star dust which gave birth to this rocky world and all beings upon it. Our brain remodels itself every second, providing us with new intelligence, memories, and levels of consciousness. Intelligence is a universal phenomenon, not a numerical value. Afterall, how can we measure something when we don't even know what it is?
About the author
Hello there! I am a registered nurse with a major passion for writing and language. I enjoy writing about science fiction, mindfulness, health, psychology, wellness, philosophy, and the mysteries of being human.