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Do we really understand what intelligence in life forms is?


Thinking about Jeff Hawkins‘s new book,  A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence (Basic Books 2021), championing the mammalian neocortex, for example, one might ask, what does the iconic mammalian neocortex do that equivalent systems in birds and octopuses can’t do? That’s not clear:

It’s not even clear any more that intelligence (never mind consciousness, a bigger and much more difficult issue) has a systematic mechanical relationship to the brain. Smart birds are now a staple of discussions of animal intelligence and so are smart octopuses (invertebrates). They have quite different brain arrangements from mammals.

That’s assuming a brain is even needed, depending on the task. We’ve also discovered that one-celled life forms with no nervous system or brain can learn. Slime molds can make decisions collectively without any central brain. Even bacteria show intelligence in some situations. And plants form communities with extensive relationships and communications without the question of a brain even coming up.

Many life forms, especially mammals, birds, and — for example — octopuses, can be shown to have not only intelligence but some level of consciousness and emotion (minimal self) though not specifically human levels of cognition.

Meanwhile, our human consciousness remains something of a mystery. It has no apparent seat in the brain. People are conscious in a human way with split brains, half a brain, or almost no brain. If our mammalian neocortex features a thousand brains, as Hawkins suggests, none seems explicitly tied to human consciousness in particular.

News, “Intelligence: A thousand brains — or a thousand theories?” at Mind Matters News

And human intelligence is something different again.

Takehome: Jeff Hawkins’s approach — applying AI concepts to the neocortex — offers interesting analogies but seems to leave the central questions untouched.

A wave isn't a thousand things, it's a wave. Can't disassemble it. polistra

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