The Interestingness of Intelligence

Read an excellent essay from Venkatesh Rao this morning about two ways to defining intelligence.

The common definition is purely functional.  Intelligence exists to accomplish tasks.  The sooner they are done, the sooner you no longer need to engage your brain in thinking.  This is a kind of nihilistic way to define it, as the point of thinking is to get to the point of not needing to think.

The other definition is about thinking as a means of enjoying life.  You think because it’s interesting, and makes life more pleasurable.  The longer you can engage in pleasurable thought the better, and to cease playful inquiry is to become a mineral or die.

Interestingness is vastly underrated.  I began reflecting on various people and sources of information I enjoy and don’t enjoy.  It hit me that those I enjoy are diverse in subject matter, style, etc. but share one thing in common: the person sharing it seems to really enjoy thinking their thoughts.  Those I don’t like as much all share the opposite: the person sharing it seems to be performing the function of thinking and sharing the thought without really being enraptured by the process.  They just sort of do it to get it done.

This doesn’t mean functional thought or action is bad.  It’s crucial.  It’s necessary.  But it’s not sufficient for a life worth living.  You need functional AND interesting/enjoyable thought and action.  Functionality and interestingness/enjoyability don’t have to embody the same thought or action (though it’s a blast when they do), but you need both.

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