Everyone is a philosopher in himself

From the perspective of a philosopher: is intelligence innate?

© Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn Markus Gabriel is Professor of Epistemology, Modern and Contemporary Philosophy at the University of Bonn.

Intelligence and gut feeling

According to Plato, the ability to recognize relationships at all when they are presented is a different form of intelligence than that which is logical-mathematical in the narrower sense, which consists in the discovery and skillful application of algorithms. In order for algorithms to be used, we have to recognize structures, that is, patterns. Without structural input, no internal processing mechanisms can lead to knowledge and thus to a problem solution. The structural input cannot itself consist of algorithms. At some point in the chain of what we have learned we must come across a starting point. We are not only in contact with reality in a mathematically reconstructable way.

We have to be in contact with real things, which we have not yet deciphered logically and mathematically, so that decryption can even begin. Since then, philosophy has referred to this contact, which precedes every logical-mathematical coding and decoding, as intuition or perception, which is also known every day as “gut feeling”.

According to Plato, intuition is innate. Everyone is in contact with reality from birth. We agree with Plato on this. After all, children could not learn a language if they were not able to grasp structures at the latest after birth - of course this all begins in the womb. Today, of course, we no longer explain this as Plato did by recourse to the assumption of an immortal soul that has been endowed with patterns from eternity to eternity, which he known as ideas. It is sufficient to subordinate structures to nature itself, which have differentiated themselves into pattern recognition systems in living beings thanks to an evolutionary system formation.

Thinking slowly is good

On this basis, I assume that sufficiently healthy people - to which the majority of newborns belong - are endowed with the same assets. People naturally tend to want to know, as Aristotle puts it at the beginning of his “Metaphysics”. Which articulation of already existing knowledge reaches which pupil does not depend on an allegedly measurable intelligence quotient. At best, this either measures the computing speed of people who have already been brought up or tests their pattern recognition software. Whoever really understands something is able to teach it to anyone who is interested in it. The speed of comprehension is not decisive. Because sometimes a student does not understand something because there is a deep mistake that is hidden from the teacher. Slow thinking, perhaps even over years, may lead to radically new insights.

What we call intelligence as a whole should not be reduced to a quantifiable quotient. The intuitive component that we have due to our evolutionary history, among other things, cannot be grasped in numerical proportions. It consists in opening up connections beyond what is already known, that is, in questioning. The connections that make sense to us in order to be able to use the patterns abstractly in this way are not tied to a privileged code. Today the mistake is widespread that intelligence is firstly quantitatively measurable and secondly is privileged in terms of logic and mathematics. This is because we can model, domesticate and economically use this component of human thinking particularly well.

Lively thinking, which is still in development, is the source of all deep innovation and thus also all heuristics. What we really find out, what is not yet known, can only be revealed by going beyond the scope of what has already been mapped. The ability to do this, to question, is innate, since without this ability we would not be able to become autonomous persons.

Questioning authorities

Those who put up with everything are restricted in their intelligence. As a linguistic and thus social creature, humans have an innate ability. Its practice is determined by linguistic and social circumstances. Intelligence shows itself in resistance against false authorities, that is, against the explicit or implicit assertion of falsehoods. If we want our children to learn, we have to take small steps to teach them to constantly question ourselves. Because only what can be questioned can stand up to scrutiny.

What we urgently need to question today in view of digitization is the philosophically completely inadequate model of thinking that is spreading in the face of the artificial intelligence industry. This model serves to subjugate people to their own products. That is why we need an alternative in our schools and universities to the naive idea that we can measure the continued existence and progress of humanity on the basis of science and technology alone. Unfortunately, this ideal of a modernity shortened by the philosophical dimension of the Enlightenment has crept into our education system, which is one-sidedly on MINT instead of MIND. That is not intelligent.

This article was first published in the magazine "BEGEGNUNG - German School Work Abroad" 1-2018.

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