Human intelligence and deception




The unsatisfactory level of human intelligence

If by intelligence we mean the ability to understand reality through our mental activity, we must recognize that, on the whole, the experiences determined by human psyche have almost never offered an adequate and truthful explanation of the world, but have produced a series of more or less fictitious representations, of mythical character, some of which have been successful, taking the form of cultural programs by which, in general, the Ego is conditioned (for a description of the activity of human psyche, please refer to the pages dedicated to it in this section). In this respect human condition is truly strange, to the point of being almost unbearable. In fact, we completely lack direct and reliable information, not only in relation to the physical structure of the world around us, but also with regard to the functioning of what interests us more closely, such as our organism, the nervous system and the brain. A characteristic of humankind, as a whole, is that throughout its history it has not been able to rely on an intelligence capable of providing immediate and direct knowledge of the world (through what in the past was called infused science), and therefore the the definition of homo sapiens with which we wanted to gratify our species may seem completely arbitrary. The human being is a partly conscious organism, endowed with considerable talent and creativity, but can not be defined as savant: only in recent centuries has intelligence begun to play an effective cognitive role in relation to the physical world, thanks to a remarkable effort by groups of people devoted to science. Relatively speaking, the sapiens label is justified only if we compare humans with other living species that, on this planet, manifest cognitive and intellectual faculties inferior to ours. 

The minority distribution of high-level intelligence

In this not very exciting condition, we can mean by intelligence the ability, on the part of our mind (and therefore of the human brain) to devise and implement experiments and techniques having as their goal the increase of knowledge and the validation of the explanatory theories advanced. Once recognized that we do not have direct knowledge, intelligence can be considered as the faculty to increase our knowledge through attention, observation, and acquisition of information and data, and their elaboration through deductive and inductive rational processes and experimental validation techniques. In the mass of humans emerge some individuals who, having intellectual resources higher than average, are able to make progress in knowledge so to help all humans to get out of the state of ignorance they are in. Nonetheless, the level of general intelligence of large human groups remains what is (that is, inadequate), and it may happen that instead of encouraging the action and talent of these individuals, some social currents tend rather to hinder or even to oppose their efforts: one gets the impression that – as in the myth of Prometheus – certain forces arising from the psyche want to punish these persons for their attempts to increase knowledge. Anyway, the tension towards knowledge that always manifests itself in the human being did so that in our time intelligence has established a firmly attested bridgehead, if compared to the ignorance that has characterized and still characterizes humanity as a whole. This system, which is termed science, has established itself not only, as we said, thanks to the commitment of the most intellectually gifted human beings, but also because of the benefits that humankind has been able to take advantage of. Consequently, the changes that have taken place within the collective psyche have allowed science to root and grow by overcoming the risk to be eliminated at birth.

Intelligence and brain

If it is true, as much of the scientific community maintains today, that intelligence depends on the activity of the brain, perhaps in the future the functional mechanisms that determine the considerable differences existing among brains, despite their apparent resemblance, will be identified. It can be affirmed with certainty that intelligence does not depend on the weight or volume of the brain, since surely brilliant and creative individuals, gifted with a remarkable intelligence, had a completely normal brain, and in some cases of less than average weight. On the other hand, the hypotheses tending to diversify the intelligence into a range of distinct components, and to argue that the increase of a form of intelligence (for example the logical-mathematical one) goes to detriment of other forms (such as the creative and emotional intelligence) is not confirmed by the biographies of different personalities: if there are some examples that seem to confirm it (and that are often used as stereotypes), in many other cases we can find that the intelligence is manifested and expressed in the same person in a wide range of interests and functions, not only in thought, but also in sentiments and emotions. Not infrequently the lives of the most intelligent people are rich, complete and satisfying in their various aspects, while those who have a standard or below average intelligence may have more problematic and less gratifying lives. So the theory of compensation between different types of intelligence is groundless. Of course, it is not intelligence alone that determines all possible interactions between human beings: beauty, for example, is a catalyst for human relationships that works independently of intelligence (to which it may or may not be associated), and which certainly has a strong impact (though not always positive) on a person's life. Indeed, it can be stated that the role of intelligence in influencing the various human interactions is decidedly less relevant than that of other dynamics elaborated by the psyche, capable of exercising control over the conscious Ego. 

Consequences of the spread of incorrect information

The circulation of information and the spread of knowledge should contribute to the evolution of the collective psyche, and the method used by our intelligence to acquire the available knowledge should concern the majority of human beings, except for those who are convinced that ignorance, peppered with various myths, is the best condition to face life. It should also be remembered that through knowledge and action, humans acquire a real power to actively intervene on the reality of this world, modifying and transforming it according to their needs. But even today we are not able to distinguish the true from the false through immediate knowledge, and rather we continue to consider justifiable those who support the false for their own advantage, forgetting that the distinction between true and false is essential for a correct transmission of information: indeed, when this distinction becomes uncertain, our mind ends up processing information contaminated by errors.

The presence of error, in the context of the human condition and of nature herself, is a fact: errors may in fact occur, as we have seen, even in the copying mechanism of the genetic code, but in nature the ratio between events that cause an error and those that occur without errors is extremely low. Were it not so, a complex and evolved phenomenon like life could not last over time. In human psyche, on the other hand, the risk of error is much greater. The same perceptions, and the psyche's elaboration of the vision of the world, can be contaminated by error: they do not offer a faithful and adequate information of the real world, but only a rough representation, usually inadequate and imaginative (just think of how deseases have been interpreted and cured for many centuries). As we will see better when dealing with the psyche, under the profile of direct perception and intuitive processing of the data of the physical world our intelligence cannot trust the naive representations it develops. At the same time, our conscious Ego tends to be almost always ensnared and charmed by the experiences of its own psyche, which are perceived as reliable, and runs the risk of believing in error by faith, defending it as if it were the truth.

Even in the transmission of information from a person to another there is always the possibility that the false is presented as true, or vice versa. Leaving aside for now the reasons why this transposition is consciously performed (such as the search for a personal advantage through deception, or as a form of self-defense) there is no doubt that the verification of information is very difficult in the context of socio-cultural communication, especially because lying is considered, in practice, almost as a natural right. But the transmission of incorrect information also occurs in good faith, in all those cases in which those who receive and classify false information as true, transmit it in turn as such, with the power of conviction and persuasion that is usually reserved for things considered true. The chances that in these conditions intelligence can fulfill its task seem very small: the first and obvious premise for the exercise of intelligence, in fact, should be the recognition, by a majority of human beings, of the absolute importance of the correct transmission of information. But, as we have seen, this is the main problem: the mystification of information can be consciously performed with great ease and people usually do not have adequate resources to be able to distinguish the true from the fake.

Deception in nature and in culture

As for the reasons that lead to an unreliable transmission of information, we note that already in nature there are evidences of deceptive processes, such as those constituted by mimetic imitation of shapes and colors of animals or plants by other species, or by those strange appendages functioning as bait that some fish have. The tendency to transmit information that does not correspond to the truth is therefore a beneficial characteristic for the species that has the power to deceive other species, also as a self-defense system to avoid being identified and attacked. Humankind has practiced the art of deception for centuries, also towards animals, to ensure advantages in survival. The exercise of deception has easily extended to interpersonal relationships and to those between human groups, tribes and nations. If deception ensures benefits, as many believe by following nature, why not take advantage of it? However, in the course of human evolution there has been a need to enhance the correct transmission of information (the defense of truth), in contrast with the falsification necessary to carry out deception. At present it is observed that both science and technology represent a major advantage for humanity, and both are based on the correct transmission of information. What would happen to scientific knowledge if the information were falsified in the transmission from one researcher to another (which indeed happens sometimes)? We would have an unreliable and ineffective knowledge, just the opposite of what we need. And what would happen if information were altered in the transmission of instructions for building a machine? The machine would simply not work or its operation would be haphazard and unreliable. There are therefore fields in which the correctness of information transmission is an indispensable requirement.

The psychic foundation of the culture of deception

In human relations, in sectors such as business, commerce and journalism, information reliability is considered important, even if the practice of deception is not lacking. In these cases, however, the correctness derives more from an evaluation of the advantages and damages that the use of deception may entail (given that whoever deceives could in turn be deceived) than from the conviction of the need for a correct information transmission. The practice of concealment of truth or its falsification is common and widespread in politics, in the judicial field, in the search for personal profit and in criminal circles, and is considered as logical and necessary towards the enemy in case of war. Indeed, it can be said that the separation and division of humans and of their groups boost deception, because the psyche tends to persuade us that our (or our group's) advantage is independent of the damage done to another person (or to another group). So falsification is performed because it often works: there would be no possibility of deception, in fact, if information carried within itself a clearly identifiable code related to its own reliability. Those who knowingly transmit false information do so because they believe that it can be received as true, otherwise they would not succeed. We must therefore conclude that the possibility of being deceived is inherent to human nature: indeed it is easy to realize that, in general, people can easily be deceived, even if there is a widespread consensus that the transmission of falsified information is detrimental to the recipient. Furthermore, it may be appropriate to alter or not to spread the information that has unpleasant or painful effects on the recipients. Many resources and energies are spent on checking the information's correctness, but often, despite the continuous verification activity, the results do not correspond to expectations, as can be seen from the functioning of the judicial system, the most impressive social institution for assessment of the (procedural) truth.

The tendency to falsify information seems so to be a characteristic of the psyche, which is not even able to transmit correct information to the conscious Ego about the organization of life. If there is, for example, something anomalous in the working of my body, or if I contract a desease, the psyche is not able to inform me correctly about the real causes that compromise my functioning, but depending on the socio-cultural programs received and of its ability to elaborate fantasies, it can conceive some more or less convincing information (as for example the punishment for having offended a divinity). All this is not intelligent: to be able to use what little intelligence we have, it is necessary a continuous exercise and a method on which we can rely, learning not to trust too much the interpretations offered by the psyche. Intelligence has made progress in knowledge when it began to examine and describe the world with the help of measurement and visualization tools, regardless of its interpretation. We should never forget the technical importance of inventions such as the microscope or the telescope, which have greatly expanded our perceptive faculties. The collection of data and their elaboration has then led to the formulation of laws and their validation through the experimental method. The research work, initially carried out by a small number of people who exchanged information mainly by letter or speaking, then required the collaboration of a growing number of individuals, for whom the correct transmission of information was essential, given that by its nature the scientific method is based on reliability, truthfulness and the possibility of verifying the information received and transmitted.

However, most human beings do not yet have an adequate intelligence to fully understand the usefulness and the value of the scientific method, and so on the whole it prevails a tendency to spread sociocultural programs on the basis of the uncertain and unreliable indications coming from the psyche, which continue to negatively affect human interactions. Even today, for example, political information, which should always be reliable on the basis of an intrinsic certification of correctness, is constantly contaminated by doubts about its possible falsification, so we are forced to be wary of many received news. If we want to check the correctness of an information, we are forced to spend time and energy in the search for other information (which should in turn be verified) to have any chance of reaching a useful result. This labor, and the uncertainty that derives from the lack of reliability of circulating information, could be avoided if the psyche had reached an evolutionary level sufficient to make the correctness of the information transmitted prevail over any other consideration. But this is not the case, and for this reason the human condition is still characterized by an unresolved ambiguity that undermines mutual trust. 


Conscious. & science
Interview with Roth
Intelligence & deceit
Science & human life
The unconscious
Unconscious faculties
The creative function
The human psyche
Psyche & Nature
The recorded life
The ego & the psyche