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The human brain is a paradox. It’s about 1400 cc in volume, and approximately 1.5 kg in weight. It contains approximately 86 billion neurons that fire away to produce our senses, our intelligence, and indeed, constitute our “self”. All that we are capable of, as an intelligent species, is possible due to this little mass of cellular network. Yet with all our intelligence, we have not yet fully deciphered how the brain actually does it.

Even as early as childbirth, a baby can already recognize her mother’s face, and likes it more than strangers’ faces. By about three months, the baby starts to read expressions on human faces, and can distinguish emotions such as happiness, anger, fear, and sorrow. In fact babies can even read these emotions from hearing voices.

How?
How is it that a baby comes equipped with such amazing ability to detect these subtle nuances? Could a super-computer do that?

Here’s a little story- a minor digression, if I may. It is a famous story about Pablo Picasso, that you may have heard. He was sitting in a cafe in Paris one day. Another patron, recognizing the great artist, approached him and asked him to do any sketch for him on the back of his napkin. He also offered to pay any reasonable sum that the artist might demand.

So Picasso agreed, and did a quick sketch on the napkin. While handing it back to the gentleman, Picasso demanded  a rather large amount of money for the work.  The admirer was horrified: “How can you ask so much? It only took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years.”

The point is, although the baby looks like it is only three months old, we are the result of 4.5 billion years of evolution. Some “knowledge” we acquire from books, from our environment, from our teachers, from life itself.

The other vast repository of knowledge is the one that we carry- in our genes. It is not surprising that the baby does what it does, because it carries that knowledge inside.

We are programmed to pass on knowledge through our genes onto our progeny. Indeed, it may almost seem like our only purpose here is to pass on knowledge, ensure the continuity of life through reproduction, and thereby, ensure the continuity of knowledge.

To that end this blog may be Δ+

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Have you seen this picture before?
Can you possibly take a guess who the artist might be?
Okay, which period?

If you ask me, it looks pretty “today”. I mean, this could be a digital-oil paint hybrid. Or maybe a piece created completely in Corel Painter.

Shockingly though, it is a prehistoric cave painting from Gua Twet in Borneo. They are stencils of human hands, made by placing the hand against the wall and then blowing a mixture of red ochre and water around them.

Those guys must have been high!

We almost believe evolution started with the iPad. Or maybe it started with the Beatles and LSD.
But then how do you explain the cave art in Lascaux, or Bhimbetka, or Borneo?

Did we become intelligent when we invented the wheel? Discovered how to make fire? When did it all begin?

What is intelligence?

Carl Sagan said that intelligence is the tendency of an organism to control its environment for the purposes of survival. By that definition, intelligence must have started with the first appearance of life. Even the single-celled amoeba moves away when the environment turns acidic. That’s intelligence at the basic level. It tries to acquire a better environment. (Although I can’t say we show the same level of intelligence in dealing with our environment).

Without intelligence, a species cannot survive. It cannot continue to exist through the hurdles of “Natural Selection” and “Survival of the Fittest”- the two strongest tenets of evolution. If intelligence is about survival, then it is the central facet of evolution. It transformed  us from hunter-gatherers to community dwellers. It gave us our domestic hearth. It gave us our literature, art, mathematics and medicine. All that we do or have done, is guided by the sole purpose of the survival of the species.

At one end of the intelligence spectrum lies the amoeba, at the other, the human brain.

The Gua Twet painting depicts the journey of a Shaman into the spiritual
world. The picture is in the public domain.