Defining Intelligence

James Barnes (Barnesj@SMTP.LMS.USACE.ARMY.MIL)
Mon, 6 Feb 1995 13:20:26 -0600

On Monday, February 6th, Halloway wrote:
I agree that 'intelligence' can be a relative term.... We have been talking
about the relationship of behavioral complexity and its neural correlates
.... Intelligence is a tough term, but we simply have to sharpen our focus
and discussions.
Ever since the Rushton debates, I've pondered the very slippery nature
of the concept "intelligence". I've heard references to various "types"
of intelligence: verbal, spatial, muscular, etc. At least in the case of
evolution, I think I have a good working definition of the concept.

In discussing the evolution of intelligence, I think we are really talking
about the enhancement of three traits that were already present before
the first primate. That is, memory, association and, especially,
extrapolation. Increasingly complex interactions with both the
environment and others would require increasing elaboration of these
traits. And, more important perhaps, the increasingly complex
interaction between the three traits.

The ability to learn requires all three traits. You must be able to
remember events, associate consequences with those
events,associate past events with the present circumstances and,
finally, to be able to predict future consequences based on those
memories and associations. With increasingly complex and subtle
personal interactions, enhanced capabilities in these areas might
translate into a reproductive advantage. In developing technology, the
importance of these attributes is fairly evident. However, I think it is
here that extrapolation becomes so important. In order to develop new
technology, one must be able to order memories and associations in
new ways, seeing associations that never existed before. Perhaps it is
this ability to "reorder" associations into new associations which is most

So, in physical terms, one would look for elaboration of the neural
mechanisms dealing with these three traits.

So, that is my working definition of intelligence.
Jim Barnes