The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
This quote is generally attributed to Albert Einstein, but it has not been confirmed, and nobody ever seems to know exactly where in Einstein’s writings one can actually find the quote, so as far as I’m concerned, this is one of those Internet misquotes that will probably never go away because too many people have seen it and too many people still think information on the Internet is true just because it’s on the Internet. I have to laugh, because I’m sure one day it will be said that one of the most far-reaching consequences of the Internet on human knowledge is misattribution of sources. But I digress…
Whoever made the above statement first, it does seem that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is a survival skill, and in the sense that it can be done consciously, by choice, it could certainly be classed as a form of intelligence. The human race has made a great many changes, not all of them particularly smart, however. Scientists have altered certain strains of wheat, for example, to the point that wheat is actually toxic to the human body. Humans have nearly depleted fossil fuel resources and irreparably harmed and polluted our land, water and air in the process. Meanwhile we have become dependent on devices that run on electric power, the production of which currently depends on fossil fuels. Most human beings today live in protected environments in which it is no longer necessary to hone any active survival skills. The sheer quantity of information that exists today is exponentially larger than what we had to work with even ten years ago, but I suspect that very little of this information has any real value. (Quick: What was Justin Bieber arrested for in Florida last week? Will the sun rise tomorrow if you don’t know? Very likely. Will it even matter 50 years from now? Probably not.)
There are a number of ways we can adapt to changing conditions, but the really smart move would be to attempt to change some of the conditions, themselves. For example, it has been suggested that melting of the polar ice caps is resulting in a rise in sea level, and that many coastal cities will have to move inland in order to survive. That’s one way to adapt: move the cities. Another way to adapt is to do something to address the melting of the polar ice caps.
Accepted wisdom used to be that in order to be better, everything should be bigger, faster, and more complex, but we’re beginning to find that this isn’t always the case. Albert Einstein actually did address this idea, as follows: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” Einstein seems to be speaking, here, of something we might call “intelligent change.” Not change for the sake of change, or for the sake of superlatives, but change that actually results in improvements.
What if the key to a better world depends on simplification? On breaking things down into smaller units? On more generalization of knowledge on the part of individuals, rather than more specialization? What if it’s better to wear clothing made of natural fabrics that have been dyed using natural coloring agents, rather than toxic chemicals? What if our modern conveniences such as cell phones, microwaves, and computers are slowly but surely killing us? What if it’s better, in the long run, for human beings to develop a sense of direction, rather than relying on GPS systems. What if local economies are best, after all, because they are more participatory? What if institutions that are “too big to fail” are already failures because they’re too big?
There may never be total agreement about the direction human adaptation should take, but there seems to be a majority consensus that something needs to change, and soon. Whatever the case, it has already been established that change comes from within and on an individual basis. Groups change because people change one by one. How will you, personally, contribute to the adaptation of humanity to the current conditions? How have you adapted to changing conditions in your own life? Have your adaptations to change been successful? 🙂