Does the quality called “intelligence” even exist”? How would you measure intelligence specifically among a species?Congratulations! The year is 2020 and you have been asked to go on an...

Does the quality called “intelligence” even exist”? How would you measure intelligence specifically among a species?

Congratulations! The year is 2020 and you have been asked to go on an interplanetary mission to search out intelligent life on other planets. Your job, as ship's psychologist, is essential in assisting the captain with how to identify and measure “intelligence” in alien life forms on the planet, Mensa. However, this is not an easy task because any life forms on the planet will not speak any language that is easily understood by you (although there is some possibility for communication). You must have a clear definition of what psychologists mean by “intelligence” in order to advise the captain. Unfortunately for you, as much as science has progressed since the first decade of the twenty-first century, psychologists are still debating “ whether an overall quality called “intelligence” even exists” What will you tell the crew being beamed down to the planet to look for as they try to find intelligent life?

The starship's captain would also like you to select some of the most intelligent of the aliens to come back to the U.S. for meetings so that we can learn more about each other. How will you measure which of the aliens are the most intelligent among their own species? Since the alien inhabitants of the planet are not human, you will have to consider factors related to intelligence in other animals as well.

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although you say they're not human, you are clearly assuming that they have some form of what we'd call "higher intelligence" because you are assuming they have language and you are going to bring them back for "meetings" rather than to study them.  So you're assuming these are alien "humans" rather than alien "dolphins."

I think it would be easier if they were dolphins...

I don't think "intelligence" does exist, at least not in any way that can be differentiated from opportunity and drive.  In other words, I don't know that the people we think of as "smart" are anything other than people who had the chance and the desire to become that way.

I'm going to cop out.  I think you'd have to just try to figure out who was most important in a variety of ways and take them home with you.  You would have to assume that the "people" who had managed to achieve had something on the ball.

But wait, what if they have a hereditary hierarchy?  Or what if they're all subsistence farmers.  Now how do we figure out who's smartest?

What if you gave them puzzles to put together?  That should get one kind of "intelligence."  Maybe try to put them through mazes?  Have them identify patterns and predict the next thing in the pattern?  Give them a musical instrument and see how quickly they can make music with it (assuming they've got the right anatomy)?  Maybe if you got some the people who were good at each of those you'd come close to getting the most "intelligent..."


amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would tell the captain this:

"Captain, before we look for intelligence we need to identify the living things. (Assuming only living things can be intelligent - i.e. are computers intelligent). Then, we'll narrow the field by weeding out those living things that have consciousnesses. This will be easier said than done. We may have to do some physiological studies and might run into bureaucracy as to what kinds of testing we can do - assuming there is bureaucracy. Make a note: some conscious life forms might not move or make sound - like plants with brains - so watch for those. Next, we should find organisms that communicate. Telepathy will be particularly hard to detect if it even exists. Which species has art as well as math, writing, etc.? Which species uses these to live better, progress, evolve while doing so NOT at the expense of others' misfortune or suffering. Then, having met these qualifications, which species doesn't kill each other. There's your most intelligent species on the planet. The bonus is that when we take these highly intelligent aliens back to Earth, they probably won't try to kill us. Unless of course, they were acting nice, in which case they fooled us and therefore are smarter than us and therefore we accomplished our goal which was to find intelligent life. And we should definitely watch out for poison ivy.

krishna-agrawala | Student

There are many qualities of living things including basic things like health are difficult to define clearly and even more difficult to measure objectively and accurately. But all the same these qualities are very real. Similarly, intelligence is is a quality that is difficult to define or measure, but there is no doubt among experts that it exists.

There is no universally accepted definition of intelligence, but in general it can be thought of as capacity to learn and understand ideas and the ability to use knowledge to solve problems.

The method of testing intelligence of a species needs to be tailored closely to the level of intelligence of the species  as well as physical capacity of its sensory and other organs. Thus the methods used by scientists for testing intelligence of different species of animals on earth itself varies greatly from one species of animals to another.