Of all the species of mammals that inhabit, at least for now, our marvelous planet, we seem to be the smarty pants of them all. Not only that we are capable of articulating long strings of information and also remember them, but, we have an ultra-complex social system and also a high amount of spontaneous background thinking, which results in unusual ideas and perceptions a.k.a. we’re creative folks.
Most intriguing is that study of other animals has proven that, although not as complex as us, they are pretty smart: show of emotions, use of tools and complex communication have all been noticed and documented in the animal kingdom. Heck, we even wonder if dolphins aren’t smarter than we are. So what exactly makes us so special?
And how come we’re using the mind to discredit the mind? Being a passionate spec about esoteric themes, I’ve encountered a lot of musings on the difference between mind, spirit and how it appears that humans tend to describe their mind as separate from themselves — in a perfectly sane way, like, for example, the striving in meditation to silence the mind or the biblical weakness of the mind when tempted with sin. How come we want something but we can’t convince ourselves its also what we really need?
An exercise of grasping
Well, leaving philosophy aside, in order to broaden our esoteric discussion, we have to look at science. Science doesn’t care about sin as in right or wrong very much. It does however care about quality, meaning defining what is what and which is which. Science doesn’t really care about “living in the present” either. But it does care a lot about time itself and its very nature, indeed. So what do we learn here, in the realm of science, that could shed some light on our philosophical problem?
Well for one we learn that the universe is very undecided: dualistic natures all over the map. Light is wave and particle (one theory says everything is like that), for matter you also have its opposite (although rare, antimatter is an experimental reality not a thought game) and while the universe is expanding, well, it is also contracting at the same time — it depends on your perspective. Then we learn that time is inseparable from space. Our best and most verified theory about what stuff is made of declares this timespace thing as the foundation of it all. But its also easy to see that while we know a lot about space, we know very little about time. One example is that the reason why time moves forward only is still rather theoretic (one might say philosophical) — increasing entropy. We can’t really say why high entropy is the choice and not order (low entropy) — just look at a atom structure of say … a diamond: how can the universe not prefer that over some random bits of energy scattered all over the place on a fabric named timespace?
With the above in mind a feeling of inspiration seems to build up. Of all the animals around us on the planet i believe we’re the only ones really preoccupied about time. The only ones separating tenses. The only ones striving to figure our the future, remember the past and not missing the present. If you look at an animal intelligence scale you’ll see one interesting pattern: the more intelligent the less chemically bound to behavior and the more intelligent the more planning they can do. Think of a bee versus a chimp just to illustrate this in a raw manner. They are both organized in social groups but the bee is chemically controlled to stay in the group in a very specific social role and they coordinate spontaneously (say when the hive is attacked), while the chimp can and will challenge its social role and the coordination is planned ahead (like when a chimp group hunts another animal for prey). Well time and intelligence do seem to have some relationship don’t they?
Figuring this out i could formulate the following interesting conclusion:
Intelligence is the ability to perceive time.
Its not IQ that’s just one side of it. Its not creativity that’s another side of it. Its not emotional complexity either, that’s just a way to express it socially.
So, what am I saying? Think about it like this: the more able an organism is to detect the existence of time into timespace and react to its presence and course, the more intelligent it is. By using this perception the creature is able to not only remember but interpret memories, not only to solve problems but to communicate each step of the solution and not only to imitate the environment but to make alternative versions of it. This is what intelligence is at large made of.
One thing you would be tempted to do, is to be lost detailing every aspect of behavior and analyze it with the intelligence glasses on. That’s not wise. Behavior has way many other aspects that complement intelligence, so we should limit our aim at understanding intelligence itself not why people behave the way they do.
Remember how the universe is undecided, well apparently we, the great apes that talk, aren’t very stable either — but neither are other living creatures. Analyzing the biology of at least animals with big brains we’ll see how there is a continuous play between the brain and the body on gaining control: the brain controls vital parts of the body trough electrical impulses and the body controls the brain trough chemical substances. I wonder why? If the brain is the “know it all” , and, even more, to a sentient being the body seems to be a vessel for the spirit (that means, we identify way more with our mind than with our bodies) — why does the body feed the brain all kinds of drugs to subdue it into certain moods and actions? If the body is basically the life support system why does it let one organ — the brain — take it off the cliff and into the abyss in extreme cases? Apparently i like questions.
This constant battle between gut feeling and rational discourse is a product of our dualistic nature: we are made of a part that is akin to particles and matter and one that is akin to waves and antimatter. Please note the use of “akin”, i am not saying “the same” or “made of” just to force a pseudo-scientific argumentation. But, similar to matter and particles the body takes you from second to second by homeostasis which is a way of ensuring that the present is stable— like matter and continuous — like a particle. Similar to antimatter and waves the mind, dare I say the brain, takes you (or at least it can if you ask of it) from the big bang to the end of times by being intelligent, which is a way to grasp the continuity of time — like waves — and the instability of it — like antimatter. It’s really a stretch of our terms here but this kind of comparisons create a fertile soil for ideas, don’t they?
So in other terms: your body cares about the present while your mind cares about the past and about the future. That’s what they’re supposed to do to to keep the contract working and you alive and kicking: “body make sure all systems are running”, “mind make sure all systems were running and will run”. Darwin has a word here too: the lower the intelligence level the lower the chances of prevailing in the Darwinian jungle, the smaller the brain use (not size) the less care for past and future, hence lower survival opportunities. But, in terms of evolution, there is also evolution itself that adds the constrains of the contract between body and mind, the small print of the contract: “no super fecundity for you humans” would be an example.
Getting back to our philosophical roots since this essay is in no way scientific, we could declare that the mind is free in time, while the body is free in space. Given that the body only cares or understands the present, then it kind of ignores the notion of time in timespace. The same can be said about the mind which, being busy with the past and the future, doesn’t really get the notion of space in timespace. So they both get the notions they miss from each other.
However the mind wants to be free in space too. Just pay attention and see how humanity is haunted by the desire to leave the limitations of our bodies: extra-corporal experiences, researching the speed of light with fervor, our unclenched desire to travel, visit and discover. I haven’t met one person yet to not emotionally want to get on Mars with that first human crew — i did have some rational explanations of “why not”, though. So we feel like we want to be everywhere at the same time. But the body also wants to be free in time too: we all want to undo our actions, especially the ones that hurt, to redo our actions, especially the ones we loved, we want to stay young and live longer, we want to feel how it was in the distant past — history is not enough, or how it will feel in the distant future — imagination is not enough.
So in terms of what we want we’ll always by split in four: we want to maintain stability because that’s the body’s job, but also to break the rules of the universe regarding time travel because that’s the body’s secret desire; we want to take the time to think about time because that’s the brain’s job, but also to move around at light speed and be everywhere at once, possibly break the universe’s rules about space travel, because that’s the brain’s secret desire.
Making a choice is tough
The one thing to take out of all this is that whenever you want something, but are unsure, its way more difficult decide than you perceive it to be. You have four mouths to feed every time, and every time some of them loose and its still you that suffers from it, because they’re all yours them mouths. Choosing is the hardest aspect of life. Choosing is not a matter of intelligence only, but also of gut feeling.
Low entropy is the goal
So, if our case here, so far, is true, or partially correct, it looks like we have a war going on right in our face. This war, pondering the crappy activity of choosing, might very well be the culprit for the extended unhappiness all around us and in our very own lives.
Well, lets remember how science tells us that the single reason time moves only forward is because, for some reason, it wants to restore chaos and bring order down to dust. Just look at anything that exists, everything is there only because some order keeps it there isn’t it? But nothing is eternal, not even black holes which are huge to say the least, everything decays to chaos sooner (a random baryon at CERN) or later (a star).
This is what the common goal of our dualistic selves is: maintain low entropy for as long as possible. We, living organisms, use the qualifications of our highly evolved body to maintain low entropy inside and the more intelligent, the more we use our brains to maintain low entropy on the outside: from rudimentary (build a better shelter) behavior to nearly impossible (predict weather) ideas or awesome (have planet escape routes in case of comet) types of plans.
The more intelligent we are the more we outwit time — because we perceive it fully — in its evil plan to break everything to dust. Hence as humans, we seem to have a tremendous success as a species so far, and some individuals have some amazing success on their own too.
Intelligence is playing a key role in our success to maintain low entropy. Be it by using high IQ approaches and predicting the future, be it by using creative approaches and making the future a certain way, we’re doing it, we outsmart time. A problem solver, taking every step to check the hypothesis, predicts the future by zeroing into it, looking back in time and figuring out what time will do next. An artist knows how the work will be before even starting it. It crafts it by looking in the future, at the end result, and forcing time to flow to that direction. Just think about it: managing your family budget is an act of winning against time and its schemes of bringing high entropy in your pockets. Doesn’t that add more meaning to that spreadsheet?
Happiness is to do the right thing, the right way, while you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right company and all these while you’re all right.
I am starting this final mini section with a quote from myself … But i did find it appropriate for concluding the above. Being happy is about putting into a long or short term agreement the mind and the body: have options in life, make as few as possible long term bounds, that will create the sense of freedom in time — you can undo, you can redo. Live healthy and emotionally complete — love, hate, laugh — to help the present keep its pace and nature, be physically active to have the mind enjoy space — travel, visit, dance, exercise, make love — and last but not least think! Thinking will make you happy, because you can plan out all the above, make sure they will happen and make sure you’re around when they happen because you, my friend, can perceive time in timespace — that’s close to superhero power isn’t it?
But putting all the parts into agreement is not an easy thing to do. And if you fail, keep looking. Don’t try, trying is assuming you may fail. Keep looking, as in search for what time and what space allows for your mind and your body to be at peace and there and then you will find your happiness, i can tell you that.