Decades ago I read a definition of intelligence that surprised and befuddled me. “Intelligence is the ability to adapt.”* I couldn’t accept this definition. Wasn’t intelligence the ability to acquire and use information? As I aged and grew (possibly) wiser, I began to appreciate the definition’s Darwinian underpinnings. Intelligence is, among other things, the willingness and ability to observe and learn; to think for oneself; to study the past and prepare for the future. It’s about confronting and responding appropriately to the reality around us.
The universe’s essential element is change. All life encounters trials which threaten survival. Do we embrace these as a species and thrive, or ignore them and stumble? Addressing challenges — through biological transformation and/or behavioral modification —is what we call evolution. Those species who don’t adapt (or don’t have the time to adapt) to meet the shifting characteristics of their surroundings will fail. Adaptive intelligence increases the likelihood a species will endure for millennia.
Humans face many challenges. Let’s get on with the important business of evolving into a viable species.
*This quote, with the addition of to change after adapt, is sometimes attributed to Stephen Hawking. But I read it many years before Hawking was famous or even old enough to be quoted. Perhaps many others have written about intelligence this way.