Intellectual innovations and adaptation

Published on May 16, 2016

Intellectual innovations and adaptation

    It goes without saying that the higher nervous system of man appeared as a result of the evolutionary development of the adaptation reflexes of biological organisms. But is intellectual activity correctly identified with adaptation activity? Or present it as a special case of adaptation? Or even the highest form of adaptation to environmental changes?

    The problem of correlating the concepts of “intellect” and “adaptation” is sometimes completely reduced to a terminological one by postulating the thesis: “intellect is the ability of the system to adapt to changes in the environment”. As a result, all biological organisms from unicellular to humans are automatically endowed with intelligence. And the difference between the reaction of an amoeba to light and the writing of a scientific treatise is presented only as a quantitative one - the second is a bit more intellectual than the first.

    The logic and purpose of this approach, quite popular among experts in artificial intelligence, is quite transparent. They hope, having “launched” the model of adaptive activity of a living being or population on a computer from scratch, to obtain as a result an intellectual product — new ideas, hypotheses, theories. That is, to simulate the evolution of the nervous system from the reflex to the intellect.

    One of the arguments designed to confirm the unity of adaptive and intellectual activities is the assertion that both adaptation and intellectual activity are, in fact, the solution of some problems. Of course, in both cases, we can distinguish the initial conditions, the course of the solution and the final result. However, conclusions about the generality of the decision-task approach do not follow in any way: (1) if intellectual activity is reduced to solving problems, then it is adaptive; or vice versa (2) if adaptation activity is the solution of problems, then it is intellectual. The most significant difference between the adaptation and intellectual tasks is the unconditional individuality of the first and the obligatory sociality of the second, both in the statement of the tasks and in terms of the result achieved.

    Sometimes, to confirm the identity of the mechanisms of intellectual and adaptation activities, they refer to evolutionary epistemology (in particular, Karl Popper), which draws unequivocal parallels between biological evolution (with its natural selection) and the development of science, realized by the competition of various theories. However, despite the apparent continuity of these processes, they are fundamentally different from each other. The object of the theory of biological evolution is adaptable organisms, and the object of evolutionary epistemology is scientific theories, and not the intellects. That is, the statement of some “adaptive behavior” of scientific theories does not at all indicate the adaptive nature of human intellectual activity, as a result of which they were born.

    The ratio of intellectual and adaptive human activities


    Intuitively, we understand that the Nobel Prize winner or professor is more intelligent than the savage of the Amazonian jungle. And if we are not talking about the abstract degree of people's intelligence, but about the fundamental difference between different types of activities from each other, then the difference between the professor’s and savage’s intelligence is not reducible to the notion of more-less. There is one completely objective indicator that distinguishes the savage from the professor, or rather, the specific activity of the first from the specific activity of the second. A savage does not produce innovations during his life - tools, technologies, techniques, customs in the primitive community do not change for thousands of years. A professor (not to mention the Nobel Prize winner), by definition, must produce at least one innovation - a dissertation, the main criterion for evaluating which is novelty ( that her dissertations sometimes do not happen, I think, does not detract from the significance of this thought). Although, of course, among the savages, once in a millennium (or a century), one can come across an “intellectual” who has proposed a new way of sharpening a digging machine or a new knot for a snare. But in general, the innovation (intellectual) activity for savages is the exception rather than the norm.

    And again, we emphasize that the issue of differentiation between adaptation and intellectual activities is a matter of principle, not terminology. You can call the ability to produce innovations as you please - but it is by this criterion that we can objectively distinguish both savages from civilized people and some of our contemporaries who only repeat the same type of operations from others who put forward new ideas, laws, theories. And in favor of calling the ability to produce innovations “intellectuality,” the very ordinary use of this word to designate intellectual (novation) activity says: “he is an intellectual worker” - and it’s immediately clear that he doesn’t drag bags, no crocodile hunts.

    Returning to the problem of correlation between adaptation and intellect, let us ask the question: who is a professor or a savage who has a greater ability to adapt to environmental changes? The answer is quite unequivocal, given that the professor is not that he cannot take a step in the forest, and in his metropolitan apartment he is often not able to adequately orient himself. Analyzing the history of mankind, we can confidently conclude that it is the little-intellectual individuals that possess the most adaptability (the desire and ability to survive). Unless of course, do not engage in word games, arguing about the presence of various intelligences, but accept a completely logical and common sense understanding of intellectual activity as innovative. Moreover, for researchers and natural,

    A possible objection that, they say, a professor is adapted in modern society as well as a savage in the jungle, is easy to answer. Well, firstly, the social status and welfare of the professor is largely determined by the social system, and not by his personal adaptive abilities. During periods of social upheaval, people of the intellectual professions have always been the most affected, which first of all indicates their low adaptability to environmental changes. And secondly, and most importantly, not the place of the professor in society is discussed, but the type of his activity (thinking, writing articles, lecturing), which, of course, is not directed directly at his personal adaptation.

    Innovations in the biosystem


    Of course, animals and birds, when adapting to changes in the environment, are able to produce some innovations in the process of life - new types of behavior and adaptations. However, it should be noted that the adaptation innovations of animals are fundamentally different from the intellectual ones: as already noted, they are purely individual. And even if the innovations are adopted by congeners in the flock-flock, they are only individual adaptations to the environment (the individual who first applied the new adaptation and served as an example should be considered only as part of the environment for the rest).

    Adaptation innovations of individual biological organisms are not fixed systemically - they do not become the property of the genome, in contrast to intellectual innovations, which by their nature have a fundamentally systemic (public) status. Human innovations are systemic in fact. If they are not, then no one recognizes them as a “creator” as an intellectual (although they can recognize it later).

    Intellectual innovations (after recognition) instantly become the property of the system, since, by definition, they are realized immediately in the system memory of a society — material culture. For animals, system memory is a gene that is not modified by individual organisms, and the system (genetic) innovation is fixed in it through many generations. This is another fundamental difference between the individual adaptation innovations of the biological organism and the intellectual ones. 

    If we turn to the systemic biological innovations fixed in the genome, we will have to state that they are not directly related to the adaptation activity of individual organisms, since they are fixed in it at birth. And, if you follow the traditional Darwinian concept, they arise as a result of random mutations, which, of course, can not be taken as an intellectual process. Moreover, the system biological innovations, fixed as a result of selection, that is, in the course of adaptation (adaptation, survival) - sharp canines, flippers instead of legs, coloring, etc. - correspond to changes in the environment (!), Characterize the environment (!), Are caused by the environment (!), And not by any “intellectual” activity of the organisms themselves. 

    Intellect and social adaptation


    You can, of course, talk about the adaptation value of individual intellectual activity in general for the social system, that is, about increasing the sustainability (security, etc.) of society in the course of the development of science. But this, in general, empirically accurate, the statement adds nothing to the understanding of the process of intellectual and innovative activity of a particular professor, who is largely indifferent to his own survival, and often the adaptation of all mankind. (Of course, professors can worry about their own lives and the fate of the planet, but he does not do anything with the goal of surviving or saving the world, if you do not literally understand the phrase “he cannot live without science” literally.)

    Although the scientist, of course, is concerned about the "survival" of the theories he proposed, to which, following evolutionary epistemology, it is possible to apply the formalism of natural selection and adaptation. But, you see, the efforts of the scientist himself or his students to advance, uphold the finished theory are very far from intellectual activity, the result of which was the theory itself. And success in the matter of advancement is often achieved by just a few intellectual representatives of the academic environment.

    Adaptation and artificial intelligence


    It is reasonable to ask the question: is it necessary to endow the function of adaptation with artificial intelligence? It is “intellect”, and not an automaton, a robot that really needs adaptation to various environmental conditions to successfully perform a particular action. Intelligence is first of all the ability to produce new hypotheses, theories, etc., and in this area no adaptation is required. Adapt to what? Of course, it is possible to imagine the training of the intellect — that is, the process of acquiring initial knowledge — as its adaptation to this knowledge. But first, without this initial knowledge, there is no need to speak of any a priori existing and subsequently adaptable intellect: learning is the process of the formation of intellect. And secondly, of course,

    From all of the above, we can conclude: it is necessary to strictly distinguish between two tasks of computer modeling: (1) reproducing the actions of a certain system (animal, human) aimed at adapting it to the environment in order to preserve individual integrity and functionality and not having any relation to intelligence; and (2) the generation of new knowledge, that is, the implementation of intellectual processes, the result of which should not be successful individual actions (as in adaptation), but systemically significant intellectual innovations.

    St. Petersburg, January 2005