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In Marshall's thread "How many intelligent species are there in the Universe", there is a discussion about what exactly constitutes "intelligence". I think this is an interesting issue, because I'm of the opinion that there is no clear way to define intelligence in any meaningful way, especially if we are dealing with alien species. All species are structurally constrained in some way, which limits how they interact with their environment. Some argue that because of those constraints, some species will never become intelligent. For example.....an amoeba is too small to ever manipulate tools or develop sentience. However.....I would argue that we are limited by our view of life on our planet, and could never say with any sort of certainty that an alien amoeba wouldn't be able to manipulate tools in a very complex way. That issue aside, there is no clear way to bin life into "intelligent" or "non-intelligent" even on our own planet. One could make a case for whales, dolphins, chimpanzees, and dogs as being "intelligent", depending on which criteria you use. To suggest that complex technology and/or sentience is the ONLY way to be truly intelligent is a very "species-centric" way of thinking IMO. Besides, which one of them is the obvious sign? What if a species lacks technology, but has sentience? Lacks sentience but has complex social structure? I can train my dog in a way that would mimic "intelligent" behavior, but to an alien species that might be good enough for dogs to be considered intelligent.

So, what I'm really interested in here, is which ONE of the following, if you had to pick, is the most important in defining an intelligent species. I'd also be interested in hearing if that is the only requirement you would need to define a species as intelligent, or do you have multiple requirements? I'm hoping that seeing all of these options will make some people question what it means to be intelligent. Because if it can't be clearly defined, is it really a concept that matters in terms of life elsewhere in the universe?

Poll
Which ONE of the following is the most important requirement for an "intelligent" species to have?
Technologically advanced (industrial)
Technologically advanced (pre-industrial)
Technologically advanced enough to send signals into space
Sentience
Complex use of simple tools
Complex social and familial structure
Use of agriculture
The ability to learn and problem solve
The ability to apply learned knowledge
The use of language and symbols
Religion and story-telling
Recording the history of the species through drawings/language/speech
      35 answers
Poll created by Zaphod
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Boy, do I wish you'd used check-boxes instead of radio-buttons...

I can't give a single answer with the choices that are up there.
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That depends on how you intend to use the definition. If you're goal is to make progress towards answering Marshall's question, then you should go with the astrobiologists definition: a world harbored an "intelligent species" if it is the source of a signal we believe to have been deliberately generated. If you just what to bullshit about the meaning of the word "intellegence", ask Darilian.
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Aldaron wrote:
That depends on how you intend to use the definition. If you're goal is to make progress towards answering Marshall's question, then you should go with the astrobiologists definition: a world harbored an "intelligent species" if it is the source of a signal we believe to have been deliberately generated. If you just what to bullshit about the meaning of the word "intellegence", ask Darilian.


Yeah, but that definition is one made out of necessity, as those signals are the only way we can currently find other "intelligent" life. It's not meaningful in any sort of biological or philosophical way. In other words......yes, I would like to bullshit about the meaning of the word intelligence.
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Zaphod wrote:
Yeah, but that definition is one made out of necessity, as those signals are the only way we can currently find other "intelligent" life.

Actually, there's considerably more to it than that. The definition is meant to be unambiguous and to represent the only test for extrasolar intelligence we are likely to ever be able to apply. As such it is in fact profoundly "meaningful" in a "philosophical way". In fact, in precisely the (rare) "sort of" way that is not bullshit.

Zaphod wrote:
It's not meaningful in any sort of biological or philosophical way. In other words......yes, I would like to bullshit about the meaning of the word intelligence.

What? You're not interested in the astrobiologists' definition because its "not meaningful", but you do want to bullshit? Bullshit is about not-meaning.
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Aldaron wrote:
That depends on how you intend to use the definition. If you're goal is to make progress towards answering Marshall's question, then you should go with the astrobiologists definition: a world harbored an "intelligent species" if it is the source of a signal we believe to have been deliberately generated.


But of course, this astrobiologist defintion is meant as a means of defining an unambiguous indication that intelligent life exists on another planet. That's not exactly the same thing as defining what constitutes intelligent life, right? Because Earth was incapable of generating such a signal and broadcasting it into space until the early 1900's, and yet obviously intelligent life existed on Earth for thousands of years previous to the technological advancement that allowed such humans to send such signals. Just wanted to make sure what the OP intended to define.
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Aldaron wrote:


Zaphod wrote:
It's not meaningful in any sort of biological or philosophical way. In other words......yes, I would like to bullshit about the meaning of the word intelligence.

What? You're not interested in the astrobiologists' definition because its "not meaningful", but you do want to bullshit? Bullshit is about not-meaning.


As Leo pointed out, its the only evidence of intelligent life that we can detect but that is not the same as quantifying what it means to be intelligent. I think most people would consider us an intelligent species before radio signals. But my point is......there is no biologic meaning to that definition, and since we are talking about life, I think we need a biological/anthropological definition of intelligence (hence the original post).

I was only joking about the bullshit comment, but I do want to discuss it, and I think it can't be reduced to the practical astrobiology definition. Essentially that definition says it doesn't matter what intelligence means, because the only intelligence that matters to us is one which can be detected. But I think that's inadequate in terms of my own intellectual curiosity (as well as evaluating life here on earth).
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You forgot the "we wouldn't put them in a zoo" definition. The more I think about that definition, the more I like it
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mdp4828 wrote:
You forgot the "we wouldn't put them in a zoo" definition. The more I think about that definition, the more I like it


It seems that many of those reality TV shows where people are locked in a house for some reason or another are similar to zoo's. The rest of us watch them in their artificial habitat, curious of what they are going to do next.

Now the real question is.........are the participants intelligent?
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desertfox2004 wrote:
But of course, this astrobiologist defintion is meant as a means of defining an unambiguous indication that intelligent life exists on another planet. That's not exactly the same thing as defining what constitutes intelligent life, right?

Yes, and?
 
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Hmmm...

Fascinating. Most people (all 10 so far) have gone with 'Sentience' as the key element behind intelligence.

I was torn between sentience and language. Sort of a chicken and the egg question- can we have language before we have the conception of someone to talk about, or do we have to have the ability to recognize that there is an 'outside' world before we would learn how to talk...

I think that these two concepts, in tandem, are probably the most important characteristics between what we call intelligence. But I certainly don't know how they interact. Give me about 100 years of study, I might come up with an answer... *LOL*

I still think, however, that talking about the 'alien' is just a way of putting up a mirror to talk about ourselves. Thats why, for me, the best portrayal of an alien in a science fiction movie is the Monolith in 2001. Its clearly alien- but is it alive? Is it a tool? Is it sentient? What IS it?

In "His Master's Voice", Lem discusses about how the 'alien message', ulitmately, becomes just something that we pin our OWN hopes and fears upon. Is it a weapon of mass destruction? Is it a message of cosmic hope and solidarity? Or, could it just be cosmic radiation- a wierd series of bits of electromagnetic flim flam that we're desperate to ascribe meaning to....

Without anyway of determing the 'objective' truth of what the 'message' is, all we have left is our own subjective limitations to try and understand it.

If none of you have read any Stanislaw Lem, I'd certainly recommend him....

Darilian
 
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Aldaron wrote:
desertfox2004 wrote:
But of course, this astrobiologist defintion is meant as a means of defining an unambiguous indication that intelligent life exists on another planet. That's not exactly the same thing as defining what constitutes intelligent life, right?

Yes, and?


Aliens come down to Earth, after years of catching our radio emissions, but not understanding what they see.

If they looked carefully, they would CLEARLY see that, in the US at least, the INTELLIGENT species are.... Dogs, living in some symbiotic relationship with the bipedal apes.

After all, the Apes go out, get food FOR these creatures, who happily lounge around in shrines dedicated to them, while at times demanding their ape symbiots to take them in little bags they wear on their shoulders. They then meet other little animals ALSO being carried by the ape creatures, clearly in some social attempt to demonstrate that THIER symbiote is a BETTER and more deserving of praise symbiote than someone elses.

At least, thats what I got from reading the Anthropological data on Earth from ArrfruFF III, from the Dog Star of Sirius Minor....

*LOL*

Or, you have Douglas Adams, who argues that Dolphins are clearly more intelligent than humanity. After all, WE have nuclear weapons, wars, New York City and the like, and all they do is just play in the water all day long.....

The criteria that the Observer uses is ultimately going to reveal more about the Observer than its going to about the alien life form....

Darilian
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Darilian wrote:
If they looked carefully, they would CLEARLY see that, in the US at least, the INTELLIGENT species are.... Dogs, living in some symbiotic relationship with the bipedal apes.

Actually, I think they're technically brood parasites. (Back when they hunted and defend us they were symbionts. Today they'd have to pay bills and answer robocalls to earn the title.)

More likely, the alien visitors would conclude that the intelligent species are corporations, with humans their increasingly subservient and dependent symbionts. But I digress.

I'm glad to see that we agree. Labeling things as "intelligent" is pretty useless, and we should stick to operational definitions that focus on specific capabilities or features.
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mdp4828 wrote:
You forgot the "we wouldn't put them in a zoo" definition. The more I think about that definition, the more I like it


I like the definition, too, but it has some loopholes.

Any life on a planet in another solar system is unlikely to be put in a zoo by us because we can't get to them. meeple

For that matter, by this definition, the bacteria-like lifeforms around volcanic vents under our ocean are intelligent, right?

I'm with an earlier poster, more than one of choices offered in the OP are needed to determine intelligence.
 
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Aldaron wrote:
That depends on how you intend to use the definition. If you're goal is to make progress towards answering Marshall's question, then you should go with the astrobiologists definition: a world harbored an "intelligent species" if it is the source of a signal we believe to have been deliberately generated. If you just what to bullshit about the meaning of the word "intellegence", ask Darilian.


A really intelligent species would have researched us and made damn sure none of their signals would reach us.
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I'm going with "ability to apply learning".
Which takes us down to worms, both annelida and flatworms. (?)

Whatsa difference between a freak-show and a zoo?

Hmmm 60 years and political correctness.

Or pre-1851 in Bedlam?

Come on, we're humans - we'll put anybody in a zoo.



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DCAnderson wrote:
Most of you guys picked "sentient" but technically racoons and house cats are sentient:

Quote:
sen⋅tient  /ˈsɛnʃənt/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [sen-shuhnt]
–adjective 1. having the power of perception by the senses; conscious.
2. characterized by sensation and consciousness.

–noun 3. a person or thing that is sentient.
4. Archaic. the conscious mind.


I believe the word you really mean is "sapient":

Quote:
Adjective sapient

possessing wisdom and discernment


Just thought I'd annoy all of you with a condescending English lesson.


Yes, but saying that intelligence=sapience is just a way saying water is wet.

I think that its a combination of sentience (knowledge of the external world) AND the ability to use language, in combination.

Darilian
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Pinook wrote:


Come on, we're humans - we'll put anybody in a zoo.





Not somebody who could stop us.
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I've put "Ability to learn and problem solve" if "learning" also include transmitting knowledge, though I guess that includes a variety of earthly animals. But if we ever find some birds or whatever on a distant planet, that would already count as "insanely awesome" to me.
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Darilian wrote:

I think that its a combination of sentience (knowledge of the external world) AND the ability to use language, in combination.


And perhaps the ability to avoid redundancies
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Aldaron wrote:
desertfox2004 wrote:
But of course, this astrobiologist defintion is meant as a means of defining an unambiguous indication that intelligent life exists on another planet. That's not exactly the same thing as defining what constitutes intelligent life, right?

Yes, and?


Well, simple, really. To me, your response did not address the OP's question. He wanted to discuss the nature of intelligent life and how one might define such life. You instead responded with what would constitute an indication that intelligent life exists. I just wanted to point out that it seemed your suggestion did not appear to fit the question, and was rather somewhat of a non sequitur. I was a bit disappointed that you didn't engage the question as asked, since I thought you might have an interesting response.
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desertfox2004 wrote:
I just wanted to point out that it seemed your suggestion did not appear to fit the question, and was rather somewhat of a non sequitur. I was a bit disappointed that you didn't engage the question as asked, since I thought you might have an interested response.

Sorry, I didn't mean to be flip. My point was that that (as you say) the astrobiologists definition does not attempt to define "intelligence" as such. It focuses on some attributes that are useful in a particular context. And that's what makes it a good definition: any claim that any set of attributes is anything more than a list of attributes—particularly to bless that list of attributes with a loaded word like "intelligence"— is a waste of time.

Aldaron wrote:
Labeling things as "intelligent" is pretty useless, and we should stick to operational definitions that focus on specific capabilities or features.

See here, and above.


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