How it works

This special human ability of ours seems to work as follows:

  1. It continuously receives from the environment a great volume of information, coded in neural impulses, from the excellent battery of sense channels which each human possesses. This vast computer-like ability of ours receives many kinds of visual information from our eyes, many kinds of audible information from our ears and skull bones; it receives taste information, smell information, temperature information, balance information, and kinesthetic information from our many other sense organs.

  2. This vast volume of information coming into our intelligence is continuously and quickly compared with the information already on file in what we usually call our memory, information from past experiences which we have already understood. Similarities between the incoming information and the information on file are apparently noted, as well as the ways in which similar experiences in the past have been successfully met.

  3. At the same time, this incoming information is contrasted with the information already on file; i.e., the differences are noted as well as the similarities. The incoming information is understood in relation to other information, in its similarities and differences to other data, not ever as a concept by itself.

  4. The information of how similar experiences were handled successfully in the past is used as a basis for constructing a suitable response to the present situation. The differences between the present situation and the similar past situations are, however, allowed for, and the actual response becomes tailored-to-fit the present exactly, as far as the available information allows.

  5. The new information from the current situation, having now been evaluated in terms of both its similarities and differences to other information, now goes on file in the memory as useful material with which to evaluate later experiences. We are better able to meet later experiences because of what we learned from the previous one. (This effect, for instance, will be very noticeable in beginning a new job in a new field. What is learned in the first week makes the second week comparatively easy to handle.)

This evaluation process is conducted both on aware and unaware levels. Usually the great bulk of evaluation takes place without aware attention, which is reserved for the most interesting or critical information. The assumption made in many theories that awareness and unawareness mark the boundaries between rational and irrational processes turns out to be misleading and is expressly not included in this description.

How Much Intelligence?

This ability, this flexible intelligence, is apparently possessed by each of us in such a very large amount as to be difficult for us in our present conditions to envisage. (This capacity is destroyed or diminished permanently apparently only by physical damage to the forebrain). Apparently if any of us could preserve in operating condition a very large portion of the flexible intelligence that each of us possesses inherently, the one who did so would be accurately described as an "all 'round genius" by the current standards of our culture.

This is not, of course, the impression that most of us have been conditioned to accept. We have heard, from our earliest age, that "Some have it and some don't," "Where were you when the brains were passed out?," "Don't feel bad, the world needs good dishwashers, too," and similar gems. These impressions and this conditioning, however, seem to be profoundly wrong. Each of us who escaped physical damage to our forebrain began with far more capacity to function intelligently than the best operating adult in our culture is presently able to exhibit.

The adult who does function extraordinarily well compared to the rest of us, and whom we do call a "genius" in our admiration and respect, seems to be not someone who was endowed with extra ability to be intelligent when the rest of us were "hiding behind the door," but rather someone whom circumstances allowed to keep a considerable portion of his/her flexible intelligence functioning while everyone around him or around her was having theirs inhibited and interfered with.

A Schematic Diagram of Human Intelligence

A schematic diagram of this ability can be made by enclosing a large area with a closed curve to represent a large amount, a genius-sized amount, of this ability to think flexibly.

We sketch some rectangular filing cases around the top of this closed area. These represent our memory storage. Here the information from good experiences is filed after being understood in terms of similarities and differences to other data.

We locate the environment below the curve in this schematic with a funnel leading from it to the intelligence, and little doorways (our sense channels) in the wide entry.

Last modified: 2017-02-21 01:50:45-08