I read a good article in Scientfic American the other night. The point of the article was that social learning among great apes (orangutans in the article) was critical to learing higher level skills. And that without social interaction, these skills were not learned. The key hypothesis in the article is
My own explanation, which is not incompatible with these other forces, puts the emphasis on social learning. In humans, intelligence develops over time. A child learns primarily from the guidance of patient adults. Without strong social–that is, cultural–inputs, even a potential wunderkind will end up a bungling bumpkin as an adult.
The core learning method is interaction with others. The area they studied had a high number of orangutans, causing more social interaction than is normal among these apes. The apes they studied used tools much more than other apes.
One of our first finds in this unlikely setting astonished us: the Suaq orangutans created and wielded a variety of tools. Although captive red apes are avid tool users, the most strikÂing feature of tool use among the wild orangutans observed until then was its absence.
The increased use of tools does not represent a higher intelligence among this group of apes.
We doubt that the animals at Suaq are intrinsically smarter: the observation that most captive members of this species can learn to use tools suggests that the basic brain capacity to do so is present.
In looking at this behaviour, they looked at a number of reasons why it would occur in this group. In an well presented analysis (you need to read the article), they show that the reason is clearly cultural learning. The orangutans learn from interaction with other orangutans. Social interaction increases intelligence.
So I draw the conclusion that the internet increases human intelligence. Why?
- The internet is primarly a means of interaction between people
- It enables interaction without regard to geographic separation
- Communities develop that allow people with similar interests to share their skills
- My own experience in astrophotography is that my skills are better because of what I have learned from others in internet newsgroups
I wrote about the benefit of newsgroups in an earlier post. This Scientific American article gives a scientific basis to the benefit for all of us of collaboration enabled by the internet. So surfing and chatting and blogging and newsgrouping makes you smarter! Almost an invitiation to do this at work.