In chapter 15 we introduced the notion of "intelligent behaviour". We describe behaviour as "intelligent" if it is capable of being is flexible and novel, allowing the animal to respond successfully even when it receives inadequate stimulus information. What kinds of animals have this quality?
For an animal to make full use of a large brain with numerous cross-connections between multiple high-capacity input and output channels, there are at least two other requirements:-
An animal's behaviour need not be "intelligent" just because the animal has a brain. The main functions of the brain are to control the animal's internal physiological activities and its responses to environmental stimuli. The second function is relevant to behaviour (intelligent or otherwise). To fulfil this function, the brain has to integrate all currently relevant sensory information. It must use this integrated information to create an internal representation or "model" of the environment, and of the animal's body in relation to that environment. Then it must direct the body's responses in accordance with this model.
Overall, animals behave in ways that ensure their survival and reproduction. They do this by responding moment by moment to changes in the environment and to signals from their bodies (for instance, perceived danger is avoided; food is sought when an animal is hungry). All behaviour, not least intelligent behaviour, is therefore targeted or goal-seeking. When an animal behaves "intelligently", memory and learning are crucially involved and most behaviour is generated internally, in the brain. Intelligent behaviour is modulated by stimuli from the environment, but does not usually arise directly from such stimuli. It appears rational, or creative, a matter of choice rather than reflex or instinct. Perception is an active process, seeking and selecting sensory stimuli in accordance with the animal's needs.
Primate (especially human) brains are tremendously complicated, but they are made of cells like any other organ; and each cell conforms to the "living state" model that we summarised in chapter 10. Cells in the brain exchange information with one another, as in the rest of the body. The cells that carry sensory information to the brain, process it and cause responses are nerve cells or neurones. Circuits of neurones relate sensory input to response (output) and do the work of learning and remembering. To understand "intelligent behaviour", therefore, the first step is to explore how neurones work. The second step is to explore how the junctions between neurones, synapses, perform their role.
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