Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An idea in search of a name

I was watching a Herring Gull fly over a lake a while back, and a person near me mentioned how stupid gulls are.  I didn’t respond, but as I was watching the gull fly, I could only think of its mastery of flight and the brilliance of its design.

In calling the bird stupid, the person was referring to the individual bird’s ability to think, choose, adapt, etc.  But in regarding the brilliance of its flying ability, I was thinking of an intelligence that belongs to the whole species – a genetic, instinctive intelligence, but an intelligence nonetheless. All living things are examples of this kind of “intelligence,” and perhaps also the cosmos, which provides the time, space, and materials for the evolution of life.

I’ve been trying to find a good term for this kind of intelligence.  Calling it an intelligent design is problematic because the term “intelligent design” has been co-opted.  Simply calling it “Nature’s intelligence,” might do, but the naturalist may find this too close to anthropomorphism, and some religious people would probably find it unintelligible.  The same thing, I think, would be true of calling it “evolution’s intelligence.”  One might call it “God’s intelligence,” insisting that the term “God” is being used poetically, but a lot of people are confused by poetry and poetic usage. 

I was wondering if anybody has better suggestions for a term.


1 comment:

  1. Afraid I don't have a better term to suggest, though I've long enjoyed a similar idea. I've thought of it as "universal intelligence" before: the idea that everything in the universe "knows" exactly what to do when it comes in contact with other things. Hydrogen "knows" to fuse into helium in the hot core of a star. A rock "knows" to wear away when a wind blows upon it. And our bodies "know" to decompose and turn into other things after we die.

    This is anthropomorphism in the extreme, and will certainly mislead many who can't seem to work out what poetry is. But it is also suggestive, to me at least, working a magic that blurs the lines between human and cosmos.