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What Is Intelligent?

Introduction

Patheos.com — September 13, 2017: A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “What Is Alive?” Today, I want to write a complementary essay called, “What Is Intelligent?” It will basically be a set of questions perambulating about the perimeter of possibilities.

A. Mountains

Are mountains intelligent? Or do they simply exist and, subsequently, age by impersonal, chemical processes like erosion? When a mountain meets the wind or the rain or the sun, is it simply a passive rock being pounded by random forces? Would it be anthropomorphism to claim that it is actually intelligently orchestrating carefully choreographed responses to these ancient dance partners? Or is it, in fact, a greater anthropomorphism to deny such intelligence?

Just because mountains do not win Nobel Prizes or write poetry — at least not in an orthography comprehensible to humans — does this mean they are simply part of “dumb nature”? Who’s dumber, you who can’t express yourself in my language, or I who never made the effort, or didn’t have enough brain power to learn your language?

B. Musical Plates

When two great tectonic plates interact with each other, which one of the following answers would you pick as being correct?

1. It is merely inorganic lumps of matter blindly blundering into each other in the dark subterranean regions.

2. It is the random clash of impersonal forces.

3. It is geology’s way of illustrating “chaos theory.”

4. It is a game being played by an extra–dimensional entity who is bored with matters on his own plane.

5. It is following a carefully pre–programed code from which no deviation is allowed.

6. It is an enjoyable “conscious” dance of two communities of atoms, in order to erase old mountains and continents and build new ones, under the baton of Shiva — the god who dismantles old configurations but uses the same pieces to create a new, more complex world.

Geologically speaking, are we dealing with “gradualism” (also known as ”uniformitarianism”) — the belief that Earth changes happen at a glacial pace (no pun intended) over millions of years? Or are we dealing with “catastrophism” — the belief that huge changes occur in the blink of an eye, courtesy of comets, meteors, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis? Or, is it a combination; what evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, called, “punctuated equilibrium”?

C. Mother Earth

Gaia, are you simply the third rock from the sun; mere debris pulled into planethood by gravity, and lassoed by the local star? Were you the first victim of the slave trade; or, are you a child who recognized her mother and are dancing around her with your seven siblings and their stuffed animal–moons?

Pacha Mama, are you truly she who gave birth to our bodies; and who continues to nurture us even as we ignore or even abuse you? Or, are you simply an accidental, fortuitous resource — ours to tame, to mine and to discard? When we’re done with you, will you be kicked off the plane of the ecliptic, to be picked up by a galactic garbage gantry, or ground into gravel to pave a section of the asteroid belt?

D. Spiritual I.Q.

It takes intelligence to recognize intelligence; it takes even greater intelligence to recognize subtler levels of intelligence; and it takes really advanced intelligence to recognize the subtlest level of all which is the intelligence of compassionate love.

Mostly, we human beings are not very intelligent, because there is a great lack of love in our living.

Who will inherit the Earth?

Namasté,

Seán

Fr. Seán ÓLaoire, PhD

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