Sunday, December 10, 2017
IS THERE INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE?
IS THERE INTELLIGENT LIFE?
Let’s take this one step at a time: Is there intelligent life? We would hope so; but before we can answer this question in any meaningful way, we must first recognize that when we ask this question, we are assuming that we know what intelligence is, and we are also assuming that we know what life is. I don’t think there is much tangible evidence that we do. We are assuming that just because we can ask such a question, we are intelligent. But, let’s think about how we determine whether we are intelligent or not. We judge human intelligence based on IQ. But, exactly what is IQ?
IQ is defined as a numerical score obtained by dividing a person’s mental age by his or her chronological age, and multiplying the result by 100. The median raw score of many human test results is used to define the “normal” IQ, which will be then be 100. With this definition, and a measure of the variability of the data, called standard deviation, of 15 points, approximately two-thirds of individuals tested will score between 85 and 115, and about 2.5 % will score above 130, and 2.5 percent below 70. Intelligence defined in this way is related to human intelligence only; it says nothing about any other kind of intelligence. Are other life forms less intelligent than we are if they don’t have our vocal chords, or hands that can hold a pencil or peck out words on a keyboard?
If you score 132 or above on a standardized IQ test, you will qualify to become a member of MENSA, and other people, who don’t qualify, are expected to think of you as a genius. But, what does it really mean if you score 133, or even 200 on an IQ test? It means is that you are very good to extremely good at taking IQ tests. It means that, on a test that takes about an hour for the average person to complete, at that one time in your life, you scored much higher than the average of the general population. There are several assumptions built into this evaluation that, even though they were thought out by some very “smart” people, may or may not be true. In some ways, other life forms may be more intelligent than we are.
Certainly, there are some animals, like dogs, cats, horses, and dolphins, that have many abilities that we do not possess, and I would argue, based on my experience as a math teacher, that there are some dogs that are smarter than some people. The point is that we have a very narrow view of intelligence, and we shouldn’t assume that other life forms are more, or less intelligent than us based on human standards alone. Even if I score 200 on a battery of human IQ tests, I have no right to claim complete superiority over any other human being, and certainly no right to think I’m superior to other species.
It is the height of self-centered egoism to assume that the species Homo sapiens is the epitome of intelligent life in the universe. There is no evidence of that, and considerable evidence to the contrary. There very well could be a life form out there somewhere in the universe that could score 1000 or higher on our IQ tests. If so, does that make them superior to us? Not necessarily; we might be able to squash them like ants. Incidentally, how do we know how intelligent an ant is? Some small insects are more resilient and more complex structurally than we are. Have you ever looked at microbes under a microscope? Do we really know what intelligence is? I don’t think so.
OK, then; if we don’t quite know what intelligence is, what about life? Do we know what life is? We think of life as a state of being that distinguishes animals and plants from other things like rocks and toasters. Living things, at least on this planet, first appear in an infantile form, then, under the protection of adults, grow organically until they can reproduce, interact with their environment, enjoy life, suffer pain, and then die. But is this true for all life forms everywhere in the universe? Is there intelligent life out there? I think there probably is, but maybe we should first ask whether there is intelligent life in here.
Ed Close December 10, 2017