WHY DO WE FEAR INTELLIGENCE?

gettyimages-825231080

The only finite being that could be an absolute end of creation is the human being, considered not merely as a link in the chain of natural causality but as a moral being capable of grasping itself as such. This is Kant’s moral theology …”[1]

As an absolute end to creation, humanity also becomes a purpose of creation. Do we have a more inspiring idea pointing to the importance and meaningfulness of our existence in the Universe? An existence which is not only an evolutionary aim of nature, our perceptive and cognitive faculties are appropriate or conformable to nature, and are purposive for it. By investigating the nature of the Universe, we allow the Universe to know itself through us, and that self-knowledge enriches the Universe with meaning. This train of thought leads to the anthropocentric idea that our cognitive faculties have been deliberately fashioned by nature in order to allow the deepest reaches of the inanimate cosmos be made meaningful through a process of being known and appreciated.

According to Kant, being human had to be defined through the three faculties of the mind: the faculties of cognition; feeling; and desire. We are rational, but sensitive and easily driven (as well as mislead) by desire. Likewise, we are condemned to exist in a reality of paradoxes: once we start thinking deeply, we discover there is an abyss of scepticism before us which can pull reality itself into question – How can we be certain that what we perceive is truly real?

As Socrates said: the more we know, the more we know that we nothing at all. Thinking is dangerous: it can be tormenting; can provoke madness. So, is it so hard to understand why so many people choose not to bother? For the majority of human beings, the most human faculty of all, our cognition, is the least interesting one, and it is repressed by the most vital faculties of feelings and desires. Thus, we have the intellectual: which becomes an aberration or freak of society – or what is popularly ridiculed by being labelled a nerd.

Western society is certainly one driven foremost by desire, with a strong sympathy for feelings and little time at all for the cognitive faculties. Sometimes it seems as if the cognitive just gets in the way of the fun: it is a party-pooper. Nevertheless, every time we deny the cognitive faculty, we are really denying our most human quality – certainly our most Sapiens’ quality.

This latter idea, however, has been both reinforced and contradicted whenever our own capitalist society has envisaged us meeting other, more advanced species of extra-terrestrial visitors. Our imaginings of the more advanced races of interstellar travellers visiting the Earth, are almost always endowed with an over-abundance of cognitive abilities and a sharp lack of feelings and desires. The alien visitors are intrigued and seduced by our human propensity for the sensibilities they lack. At the same time, in the same sci-fi scenarios, we humans are portrayed as being proud of our anti-intellectual, wilful and sentimental souls.

In the sci-fi vision of us versus them, the anti-intellectual is warm-hearted and good whilst the rational beings are cold and bad. Of course, much of this material was fabricated in the Cold War and is a capitalist fantasy of the desire-driven subjects belonging to the liberal economy cultures triumphing over the cold-hearted, emotionless intellectual beings created by communism. But nevertheless, this tradition has transcended the fall of communism. For Hollywood, an alien invasion is still a possibility, and if we were conquered by creatures from another galaxy, they would have to be cold, calculating monsters of pure cognition. How would they have been able to develop a technology complex enough to have transported them across the Universe if they weren’t?

But, why are we so scared of aliens? Why are we so frightened of intelligence and deep thinking? Shouldn’t it be something to aim toward rather than tremble with fear at? And, why in the first place does intelligence seem so alien to us? Why can’t we associate ourselves with it; sympathise and empathise with other Sapiens?

Of course, Kant pointed out that cognitive judgements have a sensuous dimension and sympathy and empathy have to play an active role in any decisions made that affect others. To not allow sympathy or empathy to sway our judgements would turn us into a psychopath for a simple definition of the psychopath is one feels no empathy.

But the psychopath, who is highly intelligent, is not reason enough to disdain intelligence: it is rather an example of an unbalanced human personality. Yes, the result of too much thinking without enough empathy and feelings creates serial killers and other monsters, but that does not mean that intelligence is bad for us.

Is the cold-blooded sadist and killer reason enough for us to fear intelligence? Do we hold an assumption that an over-developed cognitive mind would dominate and deaden feelings and desires, turning the anal-retentive genius into a psychopathic demon? Yes, some brilliant minds are anti-social, but so are many non-brilliant minds. An excess of rational thinking can turn us into a Raskolnikov or an Einstein, and a lack of it can fabricate a Rocky or a Donald Trump.

We must remember that to be human, according to Kant, we need the three faculties (the cognitive, as well as our feelings and desires) to be harmoniously balanced. But if we are to develop our humanity and ensure human-progress, we have to develop the intellectual side along with our feelings of empathy. Empathy is important because it combats the psychopathic tendencies and therefore liberates the intellect because it keeps it rooted within humanity as a whole. Lack of empathy leads to megalomania and a lack of humanity. Without empathy humans cannot be the moral beings meaningfully linked to the cosmos which allows us to fulfil our role at the end of the great process of creation. But neither can we achieve that purposive role without a highly developed intelligence either.

It seems more coherent to us to imagine alien visitors not only with mega-intellects but also with a highly developed sense of empathy. And empathy and intelligence are what we on Earth are lacking if humanity is ever going to progress in an authentic way; more empathy and more intelligence is what we need if humanity is ever going to fulfil the enormous ends that it is supposed to achieve.

[1] Nicholas Walker from his Introduction to Immanuel Kant’s CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford World Classics, OUP, p. xix

Advertisements

IF YOU’RE HUMAN AND YOU KNOW IT, USE YOUR MIND

thinker-300x224Nietzsche called consciousness our most fallible organ[i], yet despite its inaccuracies it is really the defining element in what it is to be human, and in its constant dialogue with the unconscious and its struggle to be conscious of the non-perceivable, consciousness embodies the amazing complexity of the condition of being human. Despite Nietzsche’s remark, we have no more prized possession and once it has been taught to work well and learned how to maintain itself in proper working order, there should be nothing more dear to us. It is the defining feature of the Homo Sapiens – I am because I know and I know because I’m consciousness – and yet, perhaps Nietzsche was right, as far as humanity as a whole goes, it is in a sad state of neglect, misused, often quite blatantly abused and fragrantly uncared for by most people.

 

For humanity to be honest with itself it must protect this human-defining power. Humanity needs to see itself more clearly for what it is – and we are essentially “Sapiens” the animal that knows. Sapiens needs to impose itself, above the term “humanity” itself, not as a new species but as a fulfilment of the potential it has always had, or, better said, as a commitment – perhaps for the first time really – toward fulfilling that potential of being truly conscious of the Universe.

[i] Friedrich Nietzsche, GENEALOGY OF MORALS, 2nd Essay, XVI)