A Different Type of Intelligence

These past few weeks, Susan Orlean, author of the immensely popular book The Orchid Thief, has written and published a collection of essays and stories concerning how we humans interact with the animals with whom we share planet earth. In On Animals, Orlean considers a large range of creatures, from the chickens which she keeps in her back yard to the twenty-three pet tigers which one woman in New Jersey kept, and which none of her neighbors knew about until one of them escaped, to a famous whale in Iceland who actually resists human efforts to set him free. In turns both enchanting and thoughtful, the essays celebrate the meaningful connections which we have with our animal friends.

Of course, many people, when they think of Orlean remember both the book The Orchid Thief and the movie version of it, adaptation. Some may even remember one incredibly prescient scene from the film in which orchid expert John Larouche, played by Chris Cooper, explains to Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, the relationship between an insect pollinating a particular flower and large metaphysical concerns; such as because when the insect does exactly what it is drawn to doing, that is finds its soul mate flower which it pollinates, the whole world comes alive because of this sort of direct desire, and that once anyone of us finds our flower, so to speak, we can’t let anything get in our way.

This type of selective attention, often centered primarily in the sensory and emotive worlds, might on occasion move us within ourselves toward a larger intelligence which isn’t necessarily apprehended through words and thoughts, but one through which we might perceive our world more deeply and fully through the process of direct insight. Given that the Internet and our obsessive use of digital devices might be now impeding the stream of our thoughts as we habitually jump from one site in the virtual world to another; dulling our memories as we use large search engines as our brain’s external hard drive, rather than employing our own neuronal networks to look for information; and negatively affecting our attention spans as both our short and long-term memories become flooded with more information than they can effectively handle, indeed we may need to facilitate a whole new approach to what intelligence means.

That is, if we as human beings can effectively learn how to increasingly access an immediate perception born of direct insight to better comprehend our world and ourselves as the Internet and our use of digital technologies continue to adversely affect our cognitive capacities, then we might potentially be able to continue acting intelligently regardless of the effects brought about by our current digital age.

Direct insight, quite simply, is the capacity to immediately see the essence of a situation, person, idea, etc. by inhabiting a space beyond thought and memory. Some psychologists have referred to such a state as being in the zone. Others, such as noted Hungarian psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have referred to such a place of immediate comprehension as a flow state; a place where the mind is able to make consistent connections between different areas of information and knowledge without any sort of interruptions or distractions preventing those connections from taking place.

Therefore, if one believes that the power of direct insight has a significant role to play in allowing a person to clearly apprehend their world at a place beyond the activities of thought and memory, the question would then appear to be one of how to actually facilitate such a state of mind. Consequently, certain questions related to one’s capacity for this type of insight come rapidly to the fore.

How might our emotive and sensorial lives, in lieu of our cognitive life, become focal points for this new type of intelligence? How might our thoughts impede our emotive and sensorial reactions to our immediate environment? What is the relationship between the stream of our thoughts and an intelligent apprehension of our world? How might moments of direct insight evolve from absorbing emotive or sensorial experience? And how do all these questions pertaining to an intelligence born of direct insight relate to one another?

Answers to these questions might involve emboldening both our emotive and sensorial lives in lieu of a predominately cognitive life, which means looking at the above questions and potential answers within a much larger context; at a place where the word intelligence might take on a much different meaning than that which has been formerly attributed to it.

Might it be that emotions and sensorial reactions are part of a larger intelligence which exists at a deeper level than what most neuroscientists, psychologists, learning theorists, and others had previously imagined, one which exists beyond the bounds of thought and memory? And if so, might this larger intelligence become increasingly necessary due to the effects of our current digital age on our thoughts and memories?

Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published December 9, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.