Intelligence in the Information Era

“The intelligence of an individual is measured by the quantity of uncertainties that he is able to withstand” Immanuel Kant

Today, in the midsts of the XXI century, to say that we cannot know something has become an anachronism. In any realm, there is information that shows us the state of the art or the most efficient techniques to execute an activity. In a more dramatic way that the printing press, the internet has democratized knowledge to the level of a click, creating a world in which there isn’t a theme that can hide from the intimidating human power of knowing.

For this, when someone says there are limits to knowledge, it is normal for us to feel frustrated. It is shocking that one of the most determinant fields in our lives as epistemology is, keeps being continually ignored by the majority of the population.

As soon as we start to think in how we think we find a shocking reality: we are beings of memory. All our method of knowledge is based on interpretation arising from the known, from that which we have lived. In this way, the information era becomes a reflection of our own mental processes, which are the historical result of a movement towards Separation.

To understand this, we have to relate the role of knowledge in human culture. As Charles Eisenstein tells us, man dominated fire and with that the whole of nature. With fire, the dangerous nights of darkness were cleared so that the eye could see. Knowing this marvelous tool, the human project would be defined as the progressive mission of expanding the realm of fire until it could cover the whole of darkness.

Thus, the fire or light would become identified with knowledge during the times of Enlightenment. Even though it would be more with the spirit of Diderot than with Kant’s, it is just at the century that we are living the moment in which this project would reach it’s zenith in the so called Information Era.

It might be this great amount of available information what has made knowledge to be assimilated with intelligence. We recognize a person who knows a lot about a topic as intelligent, giving him college titles that the only thing they do is to declare that a human being has memorized certain things.

Nevertheless, seldom do we realize the nature of what we are adoring when we idolize the intellect.

There is an old tibetan myth that explains the reason why the heart is not alined in the center of the body as the brain, gut and genitals. Man, after a great deal of thought, left his heart by the side and isolated it from his life. In this way it would be created, the abomination that we call today intelligence and that is intrinsically limited, as we shall see in a moment.

To start, we have to understand that, as Osho reminds us, man is the unison of instinct, intellect and intuition. Instinct is the legacy of the wild in our lives. It is about a fine sense of navigation that can, for example, allow one to defend himself without having previously practiced martial arts. Everything that is truly important for the physical life was delegated to the instinct, like digestion or breathe, because the intellect was too distracted playing with itself.

On its part, the intellect is a process that is separated in two parts, one of life and one of death. In its living side, it is about a magnificent cluster of mental processes like analyzing, associating, comparing and judging. It is a pre-verbal intelligence that is capable of handling problems that arise at the level of intermediaries with reality, like language and numbers are. On its death side, the intellect is based exclusively in memory to perform all of its activities. It is that group of lived experiences, learned or innate reactions, influences, human archetypes and traumatic experiences, all that composes “the self”. It is the accumulation of the past what help us navigate through life, dividing the world between what is aligned with us and what isn’t.

Finally, intuition is that wordless voice that communicate us realities that are generally important, but that we tend to ignore because they require us to get out of the conformity of the known. It is an intermediary bridge between the cold intellect and the passionate instinct, that in many cultures is identified with the connection with something bigger than us that speaks to us all the time.

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Having said that, it is clear that our times have centered in the intellect, specially in the death branch. What better definition of postmodernism could be said than the excessive consideration of the world of symbols? Wether it is to venerate or to refuse them, symbols have become something of great importance. We are told that we world of the known, which is memory, and manifestations of it like opinions, knowledge or perceptions, is what separate us from animals and between ourselves, making us unique and creating the totalitarianism of relativity.

In this way, every effort to understand that world based on the intellect starts with an intrinsic limitation: it is personal. Everything personal is limited, because it is a particular effort than understand a world that isn’t. Even if you’d read every single book of the Library of Babel described by Borges, there isn’t a way in which the known can understand the unknown, because the latter is always under constant change. The unknown is a flame that is constantly renewing itself and from which, in the words of Krishnamurti, the ashes that form thought are left behind. In very practical terms, there is not a way of thinking or knowing it all.

Thus, the intelligence that identifies itself with the intellect is simply an insufficient tool to understand the unknown, that is nothing more than life. What is happening here and now cannot be understood through the intellect if we don’t want to simply remember something lived. Even though the word consciousness has been mystified as something supernatural, it’s end is simply to connect us with reality. This, of course, can mean a great deal of possible worlds.

So, we experience a very paradoxical phenomenon today. While information is more accesible than at any other historical period from which we can recall, the use that we are giving to it annihilates intelligence.

What does intelligence means?

Lets see our understanding of intelligence from another angle. In the movie Lucy, a woman starts to progressively access to the totality of her brain capacity and, every time that she increases it, she has access to more information. At the same time, the movie Superman shows the relationship between the senses and access to information, because the character has such a sharp sense that the quantity of available information is just overwhelming. In these two movie, intelligence is conceived as the capacity to concentrate to eliminate noise, so we can better handle information.

The latter conception has an historical challenge, and its the advent of the machine. If intelligence is simple the management of information, men are obsolete by the side of any computer. Could it be that intelligence is something more than handling information, that is, intellect?

If we accept the presupposition that the end of intelligence is to connect us with the whole of reality, and that the intellect is a partial process, it would be easy to see that intelligence cannot be just the intellect. Any pattern that intelligence adopts is the ending of it. For example, the problem of action cannot be reduced to following our heart calls or to maximize our own self interest, because this kind of formulas become a refuge in which man tries to scape from the infinite responsibility of his actions. More than this, the foundation of intelligence must be based on the integrity of being between intellect, instinct and intuition, overcoming the Separation that has led to over developed intellect with dusty hearts.

This reduction of intelligence to the intellect can be seen in creativity. For many, creativity is a infallible proof of our intelligence, and its just what separate us from the machines. Nevertheless, there is not a way of ascertain the existence of a creativity beyond the intellectual. As Mark Boyle tell us, intellectual creativity is based on working within limits: give me some tools and clear ground rules, and I will create something to solve the problem. For example, it is easier to set out to create a jazz song that last 3 minutes, that try to create a song in general. The more limited is our field of action, the more creativity tends to express itself.

But, could there be a creativity that habits a limitless space? That it is so fragile that when trying to do something with it, it disappears? It may be that the tibetan practices of creating mandalas of sand only then to destroy them is a physical representation of a mental process of immediate creation and destruction, in which everything is born and dies in a single instant. We are talking about a creativity that has no utility but that is absolutely vital, that doesn’t come or works over the limited, the temporal or spatial, as we saw that only between limits is intelligence expressed. What kind of intelligence may exist in a state where there is not scarcity nor separation, where the mind is not occupied with any problem, where there isn’t any urgency for expressing itself?

To get out of this tangle, let’s go back to history. If we said that separation has been a historical process, there must have being a moment before it where human beings were closer to an intelligence that isn’t universal nor particular, neither objective nor subjective, but both. We can only have a notion of something if we, as human species, have experienced it before. Lets consider now that, from all of the time that humanity has existed, more than 90% has being living a life a hunter-gatherers.

The hunter, being immersed in the world of the jungle, could not get the luxury of separation the intellect from the instinct or to trust the slowness of words to do his mental calculations. Survival in nature for weak animals like humans depends on velocity. This is why a hunter cannot concentrate on a specific point without excluding the rest of things, which is why he develops something completely different from concentration, which is attention.

It is no coincidence that the classics would invest so much energy in making their environment places worthy of involving in. In those times, where the ordinary was the organic and crafted, it was very important to keep away ugliness or boredom. Facing with a reality that overwhelm us, whether it is the adrenaline of a hunt or a beautiful painting, the mind becomes silent and the activity occupied around itself becomes one more factor of the whole. Paradoxically, by doing that the senses, thoughts and feelings have a space that gives them the opportunity of renewing themselves and be expressed more intensely.

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It is just this type of pre-verbal intelligence that Robert Greene argues in his book Mastery is the key of people like Da Vinci or Bach. The greatness of those who we call geniuses resides in their capacity of using the inherited intelligence of our past of hunters, to dense topics mediated by symbols and intellectual operations. Then, their intelligence assimilates big ideas through a much less fragmentary instrument than language or analysis, which could be named total perception.

Even so, the non-separation the geniality demands may lead us to experiment synesthesia, tasting the wonderful sound of a future melody or smelling the ugliness of a critique. After this, the task of the intellect is trying to put this terms of communicable theories something that is eternally held inaccesible. For example, it is said the Einstein had seen and felt the Theory of Relativity way before he could formulate it. The greatest work of a genius is not finding his ideas, but communicating them.

Here is the big mystery: While opinion is what make us individuals, it is just forgetting it that we can know a universal truth. This truth is not communicable as it doesn’t has limits, that is, qualities. Maybe be should go back to studies Gorgias when he said: Nothing exists; If something would exist, it could not be known by man; If an existing something could be known, it would be impossible to express it through language to another man. At least the doubt would be left if that “something” inexpressible and unknown, could either way exist but, to share its existence, we’d have to become of its same nature.

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“The intellectual potency of a man is measured by the dose of humor that he is able to use” Friedrich Nietzsche

For all of the above, intelligence does not depends on any kind of knowledge, but is rather that curious and spontaneous activity that every born child comes with. On its part, creativity is the bridge that ties those immersions in the unknown with the dense world of the known. There is a creativity that does not requires an expression of ideas through a sonnet or a book, but that is the mental state of attention in which there is receptivity to receive something new.

Thus, we see that the intellect without an intelligence free of the known is just a accumulation of dead symbols. Knowledge is what we know, but the new is in the unknown. Can the light of the known access the darkness of the unknown? The only way to do it, it’s leaving its fire home.

Even though he referred to the consumption of meat, Tolstoi warned of the consequence of carrying something death in us when he said “We´ll only be able to keep producing death as long as we keep being cemeteries”. The search for changing the wave of destruction in the world must start be liberating ourselves, even if it´s just for a fraction of time, from all of the weight of symbols, problems, concentration, scarcity or any activity whose root, axis and objective is memory, the movement of the past, the “self”.

This is why meditation, understood as the freedom of the self from the conditioning of the known, becomes the solution to the biological problem of adaptation, as it actualizes us to the demands of the moments; to the spiritual problem, as it give us the chance of knowing something that hasn’t being touched by man, that it includes him but also transcends him; to the economical problem, as it is the surest rode to a universal mind that can express creativity in its work and innovate; to the problem of death, as it is based on the knowledge that the only way to overcome something that we fear is to become that, and thus it serves itself from a constant death and Phycological resurrection; and to the practical problem, which is how to live.

Meditation by itself will not solve any of the fundamental problems of man, but it can create a mind capable of doing so. Without the constant renewal that it brings, it is only possible to substitute to known for the known, without ever reforming the bases of the totality of the process.

In that sense, it is very remarkable that the meditation described by someone like Jiddu Krishnamurti coincides with the characteristics described by the mind of our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers. It’s incredible the amazing mental work and intellectual sophistication one needs to be able to recover something of the complex simplicity of an indigenous. The next time, before looking to India, we should first look to the Amazon.

If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Robert Greene and Jiddu Krishnamurti


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