A New Take on Human Intelligence

He "understood" his office. That's because his eyes fell upon a blue coffee mug that he knew, from personal memory, wasn't supposed to be there. And therein lies the essence of Hawkins' theory.

The human brain is filled with memories from previous experiences. That memory bank provides the basis for what we expect to encounter in the world around us. So if you look around the room in which you are sitting, you will see objects that your brain has already predicted will be there, based on its memories.

Intelligence really gets down to work when the prediction turns out to be wrong -- as in the case of a blue coffee mug that we suddenly realize shouldn't be there. Our eyes send messages to the brain, telling it that something is amiss, and the brain amends its memory bank and sends a message back down the chain of command, telling the observer what to do. Or perhaps more accurately, predicting what will happen if the observer takes a particular action.

That may not seem important if the invading object is just a coffee mug, but it could make a lot of difference if it's a lion on the loose.

Why We All Can't Bat 1,000

That is, of course, a horribly truncated version of Hawkins' theory, because it's pretty hard to reduce an entire book to a few paragraphs. But he lays out his case convincingly, and it does help explain a lot.

As in the case of Bonds, the famed slugger really shouldn't be able to hit the ball so often and so hard that most pitchers prefer to make him walk instead of letting him hit. How could anyone know exactly where a baseball, traveling at more than 100 mph, will be at the precise moment for the bat to meet the ball?

Many have argued that it's just not possible to do that, at least very often.

Hawkins' theory suggests that all those years of swinging a bat have produced an enormous memory bank that is so complete that Bonds can predict where the ball will be even before it leaves the pitcher's hand. That's one manifestation of what we call "intelligence."

So, one might ask, why can't we all do it?

Because we don't all have the same experiences, or the same body, or even the same interests.

But, Hawkins argues, we all do essentially the same thing. We all predict what we are going to find in the world around us, based on past experiences and a warehouse full of memories. And that, he says, is intelligence.

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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