Intelligence is... what you do with it
More than breaking modern physics, subatomic particles that whiz faster than the speed of light could be our first glimpse of hidden dimensions, insist scientists unwilling to abandon Einstein after speedy neutrinos were found to be faster than light by 60 nanoseconds. Sanchita Sharma writes.Updated: Oct 09, 2011 00:38 IST
More than breaking modern physics, subatomic particles that whiz faster than the speed of light could be our first glimpse of hidden dimensions, insist scientists unwilling to abandon Einstein after speedy neutrinos were found to be faster than light by 60 nanoseconds. They could well be right: As the cat-hating Erwin Schrödinger demonstrated in his thought experiment, you have to look to perceive reality, even if it means killing the cat in your head.
A lot of what's wrong with the human mind is that much of it is still rooted in the notion that we are the most intelligent life form and know everything we need to know. We are shaken when Pluto is kicked off the planetary charts, and quiver with indignation if subatomic neutrinos dare to challenge crazy-haired Einstein's smartness.
Sure, we are are smarter than other species, but only by our own definition of intelligence.
Now scientists are beginning to question what defines intelligence: is it human-centric psychometrics and IQ tests designed to pit human brains against one another or is there need for a more broad-based mathematically-derived intelligence test that would measure human thought power against those of all forms of living as well as artificial intelligence.
The very fact that a species is alive is proof that it has the brains to defy extinction. Though the quality varies widely, signs of intelligence can be found in unexpected places. Dolphins can call each other by name by copying each other signature whistles, reported the journal Biology Letters last month. Even slime moulds that live in dung can navigate mazes quicker and faster than humans who have more complex brains. Yet, slime mould cannot engage their minds on much else, quite like IBM's megamind Deep Blue computer that famously beat Garry Kasparov at chess but was is be incapable of tying a shoelace or planning ahead based on past experience.
The human brain learns and remembers - well, mostly. New research shows that the brain smells what it expects rather than what it sniffs. Simply put, before an odour hits you, your brain is already preparing your sensory system for that familiar smell based on what it sees and past experiences. The study, published in the October 6 issue of the journal Neuron, offers strong evidence that the brain uses predictive coding to generate predictive templates of specific smells - setting up a mental expectation of a scent before it hits your nostrils. It's like your nose telling you the egg is rotten before you eat it and fall ill.
Predictive templates provide us - and all animals, for that matter - with a behavioural advantage by helping them react more quickly and accurately to stimuli in the surrounding environment. The Neuron study used functional MRI techniques to identify the existence of predictive coding in the brain's olfactory cortex, which houses the sense of smell.
It's now well established that like memory, human intelligence is not confined to a single area in the brain, but is the result of multiple areas working in tandem. A lot of it is inherited, but more than size and structure, much of intelligence depends on how quickly information is absorbed and processed.
Which brings us back to where we started. Absorbing and processing information holds the key to understanding the physical reality around us. And if it means killing several cats and many dogmas - no pun intended there - so be it. After all, it's all in your head.
First Published: Oct 09, 2011 00:35 IST