The Consciousness Question

Nature, nurture, and the hundred billion neurons in between

Intellect and Intelligence

Fact and feeling determine the existential course of one’s journey through life.

In those long ago days just after World War II, when reading Psychology at the University of London, it was constantly stressed that Intellect and Intelligence should not be seen as synonymous terms—even though their symbiotic relationship in consciousness must be recognized.

Intellect was seen to denote cognition—the rational mental processes that constitute ‘knowing’: the ability to identify and analyze, memorize, and categorize… the physical characteristics and implications of whatever thing or event is perceived by the senses, thus bringing one to comprehend the objective facts of the external situation. Intelligence, however, was regarded as a mental faculty in its own right—a function of consciousness taking one beyond the facts as such, to suggest meaning or purpose, and determine the course of action to be taken.

It is a level of consciousness that is triggered by the arousal of Feeling: the psychological phenomenon that accompanies every act of cognition—the ‘felt-thoughts’ that bring to mind one’s latent emotions and sensibilities that accompany not only every sensory experience of the external world... but also attend those moments when internally generated abstract ideas and thoughts take over consciousness. It is the way we feel, and the strength of feeling, that determines how we evaluate the facts of life and how we are driven to respond to them. ‘Feeling-attitudes’ motivate the actions we take: they may stir little or no interest or engage a questing curiosity; give rise to enthusiasms and passions demanding creative (intelligent) responses; or provoke apprehension, fear and a negative retreat.

Intellect (Fact) and Intelligence (Feeling) determine the existential course of one’s journey through life. Here is a relatively mundane illustration of how they work together:

You are about to step off the sidewalk and cross the road as a car is bearing down. You visually recognize it as such; register its color, size, make, estimate its speed, the distance between yourself and it, and the time factor involved in crossing safely to the other side: (Intellect—the Cognitive factor.) Immediately, a ’Feeling’ response sets in, allowing one to be confident, apprehensive, or even fearful about crossing the road (the Intelligence, or Affective factor). And the combination of these two modes of consciousness will determine the nature of your actions: whether you stand still, stroll across the street, hurry across, or run like a scalded cat (the Action of Conation factor).

You could take this mundane illustration as a simplistic analogy for Life itself. A life dominated by Intellect, given to living by Facts alone, is a pretty limited kind of existence. To live devoid of Feeling is to go through life permanently bemused—wandering… with little drive as to direction or purpose.

Seeing is believing, but feeling’s the naked truth.

John Ray, English Proverbs

(I must make a short qualification here with regard to the psychological inferences implied by the term ‘Feeling’. It is generally understood that Feeling develops at two levels. Children—say up to the age of five—release feelings as spontaneous expressions of emotion at any given moment, depending on the particular situation in which they find themselves. But as they grow up, such random emotional responses tend to become more ordered, consolidated into predictable emotional ‘attitudes’ to life’s events, forming the basis of individual judgment and action, and are then described as Sentiments—and as such form the basis of the adult individual’s personality.)

A more complete explanation of consciousness’ workings will be found in What the Hell Are the Neurons Up To (available on Amazon) where the role played by Intuition as a vital factor in this Intellect cum Intelligence partnership is discussed at length.

Let me refer here to a Royal Air Force practice during World War II. It was the custom in Bomber Command to spend a short time ‘training’ new pilots joining an operational squadron from O.T.U. (Operational Training Units). The final test after a week of varied flying exercises was to check the new man’s response to an emergency-landing situation. Consequently, a squadron pilot took over the place of the flight engineer, and so would be sitting alongside the ‘trainee’. On the approach, usually at around 2,500 feet, the squadron pilot would cut one engine and wait for the new pilot to respond. The accepted ‘drill’ here—for the pilot—was as follows: Press the fire extinguisher button for the ‘dead’ engine; ‘Feather’ its propeller; Re-trim the aircraft by raising ailerons (wing airfoils) and elevators (tail airfoils) to diminish drag and help bring the nose of the aircraft up; increase power output on the remaining three engines to prevent a stall. Now, airborne posture of the aircraft regularized, the new pilot must decide whether to ‘go round again’ and configure the aircraft for a new approach or, having corrected the airworthiness of the aircraft, judge whether to continue the present course and land.

Such are the Facts pertaining to the situation.

However, on the occasion to which I am referring, the ‘trainee’ pilot—who, as a civilian, was said to be the youngest university lecturer in the educational field—turned to the squadron pilot and said, somewhat flustered, “Have you got the Handbook…?

Imagine: consulting the Handbook in order to reassure himself of the Facts! Here was an able man… Yet one dominated by the authority of Intellect. Where were the Feelings that come to the aid of the Facts to prompt an immediate Intelligent response, triggering split-second imagination and intuition to takeover? Bring one to fly by (as is said) ‘by the seat of one’s pants’.

 

Graham Collier, author of What The Hell Are The Neurons Up To?, is an exhibiting landscape and portrait artist in Britain, an artist-philosopher in America, and a frequent Antarctic voyager. more...

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