Phillipe Verdoux has a thought-provoking post over at IEET entitled, “If Only We Were Smarter!“. He argues that increasing intelligence may not be as good an idea as it may seem at first blush. As he says, the point of the piece is,
“to gesture at an apparently strong correlation between our expanding intellectual capacities and our growing (self-)destructive capabilities. This correlation appears to hold (more-or-less) historically, contemporarily and into the prognosticated future.”
Phillipe’s suggestion could be easily dismantled by arguments from boosters of transhumanistm; in due course, it no doubt will. Indeed, in some ways the argument (showing up as it does on IEET) might be seen as a straw-man which ultimately gestures at such sentiments as Julian Savulescu’s moral obligation to enhance.
I wish to suggest an alternative view of the matter: that the challenge is not increasing intelligence per se, but rather specific types of intelligence. Looking beyond the folk psychology of intelligence, we find that intelligence is not a monolith but rather a complex and incompletely understood phenomenon which lies at the heart of modern neuroscience. The most well-known discourse on the topic is, of course, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences which includes, at least, the following:
Add to this list such characterizations as emotional intelligence, ecological intelligence, cultural intelligence, swarm intelligence (usually attributed to ants, but the related concept of the wisdom of crowds has garnered quite a bit of attention recently) and their kin, and one quickly finds that the proposition that expanding intellectual capabilities is correlated with an increase in self-destructive capabilities is just a tad facile.
Phillipe’s essential premise certainly has some merit, but I suggest that the question requires framing with greater subtlety. Which of our intellectual abilities are most adaptive for the modern world? Which of them should we strive to sharpen (be it pharmacologically, educationally, or otherwise)? Will any of them save us from the perils that Phillipe points out we face? Phillipe’s missive is but the start of a very interesting conversation.