You’re probably thinking to yourself, “What the hell is a spandrel?”, and “what does it have to do with rational intelligence”. And the answers are “a concept in evolutionary biology which is inspired by architecture” and “perhaps it’s a metaphor that explains our very existence”.
In architecture, a spandrel is the space between two arches, or the space between an arch and it’s enclosure. The remarkable thing about spandrels is that they do nothing, and serve no purpose, but you always have to have them. Nobody intends to build a spandrel, they’re just the consequence of putting an arch inside a square structure
Eventually, architects decided to do something with all the spandrels they were building, and started putting pretty designs on them. And spandrels became pretty things, and people liked them and maybe even decided to put more spandrels in their buildings. By becoming a canvas for craftsmen and artists, spandrels found a use in art, despite being useless in architecture.
In biology, a spandrel is a word used for an evolutionary adaptation that came about as a side-effect of a true adaptation, but which is not the original purpose of the adaptation. While an Elephant’s trunk may be useful for washing parasites off it’s back, the trunk did not evolve specifically for that purpose, just in the same way that a human nose doesn’t exist to put your glasses on.
So, what does this have to do with human intelligence?
Well, I want to make a controversial argument about human intelligence. I’m not a scientist, and maybe someone else has already come to this conclusion, but I want to throw it out there anyways.
The argument is: maybe human brains aren’t any more designed for rational thinking than an elephant’s trunk is designed for taking showers. That our ability to do math and physics, our ability to understand complex logical systems such as the physical world around us, is really just a side-effect of a brain that was designed to do something else.
So, what were our brains designed to do? What were they good for, if not for thinking rational thoughts and exploring the world around us?
And the answer is: they are for understanding other human beings.
Our brains evolved, not to help us build spears, or to build huts, or to learn writing, but to understand the people around us. We evolved big brains so that people couldn’t trick us and steal our resources or our partners. We evolved big brains so that we could trick others, and survive when times were lean. We evolved big brains so that we could know when our spouses or our allies were cheating on us, or lying to us, or planning to betray us, and so we could prepare an appropriate response.
Obviously, that’s a complicated, and difficult task. It required the human brain to be capable of recursion (aka, thinking about someone thinking about what you’re thinking), and to be extraordinarily flexible. People, after all, are tricky things. Compared to the complexity of people and of tribal politics, building a spear was probably pretty easy, and so it was natural that our flexible, brilliant brains would start figuring out the natural world in their spare time.
And so, rational, logical intelligence in humans (as distinct from social or artistic intelligence) evolved as a spandrel, the side-effect of a brain that had to be both extraordinarily powerful (in processing power) and also flexible.
Before we go any further, I’d like to make a disclaimer: I know I’m over-simplifying things. Obviously, it’s not like human brains evolved *purely* to understand people, and that the ability to understand the physical environment was of no importance. I’m simply arguing that understanding people was the major evolutionary imperative, and that understanding the physical world was of comparatively minor importance.
I think this theory has some good explanatory power, and has some evidence to support it. Here’s some of the evidence that led me to this conclusion.
Human beings aren’t really very good at logical thought.
Without education, the average human being would barely learn to count by themselves. Even well-educated individuals often have a hard time with math and logic, and can’t perform these tasks without assistance. However, even a completely uneducated individual can learn to be very eloquant, can learn several languages, and can learn to deceive and manipulate extraordinarily well.
Similarly, when you compare a human being to a computer, we have the mathematical ability of an 8 bit pocket calculator from 1978, yet we can identify a lie better than all but the most advanced computers.
When human beings make errors in understanding the physical world, their errors often appear to be an over-application of “social logic”.
Throughout history, human beings have tended to treat physical problems like social problems. Religion and superstition can be explained by the application of socially primed ways of thinking to rational problems. Aside from the obvious examples of religions that represent physical phenomena with imaginary persons (the sun god, moon god, etc), there are many other examples.
– The belief in “jinxing”, for example, can be seen as a parallel to the social problem of hubris or pride. You can “jinx” your relationship by taking it for granted that your wife will always love you, but you can’t “jinx” your ride home by taking it for granted that traffic won’t be bad.
– Conspiracy theories, as well, seem to be a result of a preference for social answers to questions, rather than accepting more complicated, rational answers. These theories may be the result of a preference to blame hard-to explain events using human motives and psychology, rather than more complicated and rational arguments, such as economics, game theory, and probability.
– Popular political beliefs may be a result of the preference for social thinking over rational thinking. For example, the support of harsh criminal penalties which may persist despite evidence that they do nothing to prevent crime. Or the belief that an state, organization or corporation has human-like intent to harm people or achieve a goal, when a logical analysis shows that they are simply acting in their reasonable self-interest.
So what does this mean for your game?
For the most part, this article is pretty off-topic, I’ll confess. I just wanted to write it. But it does have consequences for game. Here are some conclusions that you can draw from this theory that will help your game.
– Your brain is DESIGNED for social intelligence. That is it’s first function, and if you just LET GO of the way of thinking that has been instilled in you by years of education, your core intelligence will guide you. Trust your gut!
– Learn to distinguish your socially based intuitions from your rational thought processes. If something is governed by social logic (a relationship), trust your “gut” over your rational mind. If something is governed by rational logic, be cautious about listening to your gut. For example, George Bush’s “gut” probably served him well in running for office and in forming relationships in business. But when it comes to invading a country, he should have put his gut instincts aside and looked at the lessons provided by history and social science.
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