The Secret of Intelligence: Towards a New Materialism

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341010
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key words: intelligence, brain, materialism, evolution, connectome.

New analytic techniques have led to a richness of information from the neurosciences in recent years. Philosophical work on brain phenomena, and their explanation, will need to be highly sensitive to the precise parameters of these empirical findings. We are neither our neurons (the neuron is not an epistemic subject), our genes (we have no special cells), nor our synapses (we are not an electrochemical control room). Our brain is not computational because the neuron changes with each connection, modifying in turn the architecture of the connections. A material process of change in the strength of the connections that might explain how simple brain matter becomes Higher-Order Thought. We are not ‘brains in a vat’ because we are immersed in a socio-cultural environment where experience shapes us through a Darwinian process of ‘creative destruction-selection.’ We are therefore our connectome, which seems to be our pragmatic identity, a mixed material-mental form, or rather, a set of ‘intentions in action’. The findings of recent experimental studies confirm this view. The enhancement of abstract reasoning, both inductive and deductive, in new tasks of problem-solving makes intelligence fluid, not directly dependent on our experience, our historical-evolutionary baggage: a process that could be defined as ‘value-coding,’ which Darwin called ‘forgotten reasons.’ The study, then, of global intelligence (both fluid and crystallized) refutes the hypothesis of higher cognitive abilities being related to connections that are highly and permanently connected. On the contrary, the level of intelligence is correlated with the ability to transfer information to distant areas of the brain by weak connections, that are flexible and adaptable. This shows that the secret of intelligence lies in the plasticity of the adaptation processes, in the ability to incorporate in the present act the variability of the past history of the mind, in other words, a ‘flexible nested brain mind’. As a corollary, neuroscience now encompasses plausible theories in many domains, including the mind, especially since the weight of evidence indicates that mental processes actually are processes of the brain. In short, the mind is not a non-physical entity.

Rossi, A.
Director of the Department of Neurological and Sensorial Sciences,
University of Siena, Viale Bracci 16,
53100 Siena, Italy.

Attanasio, A.
Department of Philosophy,
Head of the Laboratory of “Neuroethics and Social Cognition,”
University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Via Carlo Fea 2,
00161 Roma, Italy.

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