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Redefining Intelligence

While I tend to come down on the side of science vs religion, one thing religion gets right is its ability to narrate abstraction in a way that is deeply and personally meaningful to us as individuals. It pleases me to think that storms are just angry gods and night is brought by a cloaked woman; that the earth is carried by a turtle or a man, that the trees are wistful spirits bringing wisdom and deliciousness with each fruity bite.

Newton under the apple tree waiting for the apple to fall...
This tree discovered gravity 10000 years ago.

There’s something so uniquely human about these stories that still teaches me something, even if what I learn is behavioral rather than scientific.

Science may explain gravity to a mathematical precision, but there’s no path as to why gravity is important. Too dry.

And personifying gravity takes away too much of the necessary info to understand what it is.

So, I’m proposing that we re-frame scientific forces in a way that combines the best aspects of both of these things. And I plan to do it elegantly; by redefining intelligence.

Intelligence, in the traditional sense, is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. But I propose that instead, intelligence is a force that operates under structured and observable processes to complete a specific goal.

Broad brushstrokes, yes, but hear me out.

In ancient magic, there is a concept of a “will”. Wills are, in essence, solidified external forces that exist only to accomplish one specific action. I always like to use the example of a time I was staring at a bottle of Coca-Cola, trying with all of my might to imbue it with the desire, the will, to move. Essentially possessing this bottle with a desire to move. Anything would do.

Minutes passed, but I was bored, so I persisted. Eventually, I started to zone out, stare at the bottle, and mindlessly exist with no real thoughts passing through me.

At that moment, a hand reached and grabbed the bottle. The man looked at the bottle for a second, considered it, and placed it back on the table. He didn’t drink it or read anything from it. He simply picked it up and placed it back down. I thought for a second that maybe the bottle did possess a will, but not necessarily one to move on its own. I consider that bottle often.

Coca-Cola ( N )ight
The bottle was just trying to escape being filled with poison.

I’m positing that intelligence is anything that can form that type of will. If this were the definition of humanity, humans would have something personal in common with gravity. Gravity is a voice in the dark. A simple thought that says, I want to be more than nothing. How do I accomplish that goal? Well, first, I have to draw things to me. And once I have something, it shouldn’t be nearly as hard to get a little more. What a beautiful and simple narrative to allow us, mere animals bound by gravity’s massive desire, to relate to it in such a personal way.

In the same way, we could see a narrative with water. The polar forces that cause water droplets to gravitate toward each other is less a slightly magnetic scientific abstraction and much more simple. Water is just happier when it’s together. Water has the singular goal of being with more water, and so devised a path, observable and procedural to accomplish that goal.

Water droplets
Look how happy it is!

It is an intelligence that these forces behave in the way that they do. I see no harm with adding a narrative to the way the work if they help me to more deeply understand the complexities of great scientific realizations. Who knows; broadening the definition of intelligence to nonliving things may even give us more insight into the unique distinction of being alive.


Photo Credits: Intelligence by Nate
Newton under the apple tree waiting for the apple to fall… by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig
Coca-Cola ( N )ight by francesco scaramella
Water droplets by Thomas Bresson


If you like what you read, feel free to share. Basic Rules: Be civil. We are all people and deserve respect. That’s a hard and fast rule, by the way, it is not optional. Other than that, anything goes.

Interested in many things, but nothing captivates more than technology, entrepreneurship, futurism, and humanity’s quest to problem-solve.