Alien Intelligence and Plant Intelligence

 As NPR reports, planets are being discovered that might support life.  These new and exciting celestial spheres are more-or-less suitable for the emergence of life: the temperature, gravity, and elemental make-up of such planets can create selection pressures that range the gamut from mild to pretty-much-inhospitable.  One such discovery is especially noteworthy: Kepler 22-B (named after the telescope) is in the ‘goldilocks’ zone.  In this zone, the size of the planet and its proximity to its star create the right sort of conditions to support flowing water.

The BBC (picked up by Slate) go on to make the link between the discovery of such planets and astral systems, and SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.  With the discovery of more and more of these potentially-hospitable earth-twins, SETI gains a more plausible target to turn its arrays.  With the discovery of more and more of such planets, it is more likely (though I am hesitant to use this term here) that we may discover intelligent life.  Another variable in the Drake Equation starts its climb up in the cardinal numbers.

But wait! What is intelligent life?  The ability to broadcast galactic radio-waves?  Drake, at least, keeps that a separate variable, a tier that only a select group of intelligent critters will ever reach.  But that really seems to operationalize our search for intelligent life.  What if, being impatient, we send a probe (‘Make it so Number One’, etc.) to Kepler 22-B and discover strange, barely congealed bioluminescent areas – would we be right in attributing it with intelligence?  Might our current conceptions of it be too broad? – too exclusive?

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Are there cognitive differences between sexes?

Cheeky peekIn a series of posts, entitled ‘Gender Is Dead, Long Live Gender’, ‘Social by Nature’, and ‘Girl Power’, philosopher Alva Nöe makes some contentious claims about the sexes.  Never one to shy away from controversy, Nöe argues that almost all behavioural or cognitive differences between males and females will not and cannot be explained in terms of underlying psychological or neurobiological processes.  Instead, what will do all the heavy lifting in explaining any such divide is society and the way in which our concepts assume certain differences between the genders.  Such deeply held assumptions in turn structure our lives and our expectations of ourselves, and these expectations turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.  In other words, boys aren’t really better at math and science, our social concepts just assume boys to be better, boys in turn expect themselves to be better, and this leads them in fact to be better.

It’s a long chain of reasoning, one that Nöe never really defends or argues for in a particularly illuminating way.  Indeed, across the three articles, he can’t decide whether or not to include the category of the psychological as something underpinning differences seen in the use of gendered concepts (psychology understood as the place where social concepts do their work), or indeed as something that is part of and explained in terms of sex-differences (psychology as understood as structures and processes like memory and reasoning).  And this vacillation might be one of the reasons that lead him to conclude that most behavioural or cognitive difference between the sexes is explainable only at the level of wide-spread social concepts.

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