Intelligence, cockroaches and power



The trained survival instinct of the government that is there – and still is – haunts the most rigorous scientific skepticism

“Anyone who has ever tried to kill a cockroach knows that they are smart.” So said Professor Lucia Santaella. Holder of the Oscar Sala Chair at the Institute of Advanced Studies at USP, the thinker knows what she is saying. Cockroaches can indeed be considered intelligent. In their own way, they reason, devise escape tactics and, more often than not, manage to escape.

In her praise for the training of the clever insect that, above all, “flies”, Lucia Santaella does not offer us a paltry anecdote with didactic purposes. Based on the semiotics of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), it brings us more than one boutade. Peirce wrote that "thought is not necessarily connected to a brain". For him, there would also be “thought” in the “work of bees and crystals”, just to name a few examples.

In Peirce's text, the term “thought” must be understood as the ability of an organism or a system to give calculated responses, based on some form of memory and learning, to the stimuli it receives from the external world. Nowadays, we use the word “intelligence” for this – and it doesn't even need a brain. Researchers say that if you rip the head off a cockroach, it will continue walking normally, with perfect body coordination, and that for a long time.

Who watches a documentary available on Netflix called Professor Octopus (Oscar for best documentary in 2021) ends up convincing himself that octopuses also “think”, although they don't exactly have a brain in the middle of their head. In their case, the neurons, distributed by the tentacles, manage to communicate with each other, without depending on commands coming from a central encephalic mass.

Even plants have a form of intelligence. Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso has been saying just that for two or three decades. “An intelligent being is not just one who has a brain”, guarantees the scientist. “It is an organism capable of solving problems and learning from situations – and plants have been masters at this.” The studies of the Brazilian botanist Marcos Buckeridge prove the thesis. “It is nothing exorbitant to say that plants have internal memory”, he said in the lecture Cognition and intelligence in plants, available at You Tube. Buckeridge, who is director of the Institute of Biosciences at USP, maintains that plants learn and order their growth intelligently. Among other things, this means that it is not accurate to say that a person in a coma is in a "vegetative state". Vegetables, ladies and gentlemen, actively "think".

Given this, it is not surprising that there are signs of some intelligence in the political movements of the President of the Republic. Right now, this week, the ceremony of his affiliation to a political party reveals the existence of some kind of calculation in the bowels of Bolsonarism. It's impressive. More than the directional discernment of slugs and stalagmites, the theme has been intriguing observers of the national political scene.

The tamed survival instinct of the government that is there – and still is – haunts the most rigorous scientific skepticism. In astounding strategic metamorphoses, the Bolsonaro body managed to transform itself into the opposite of what it was, without ever neglecting its objective: to remain in power. The head of state, who a few months ago insulted the Centrão's leaders, found ways to enthrone himself as the maximum leader of them all. In this displacement, which involved highly complex operations, the mythomaniac character escaped the threat of impeachment, he reversed criminal actions that lurked in his family circle (he left them all procedurally cracked) and, now, he is viable to try for re-election. A prodigy, indeed.

But how can you? Was there a genius strategist out there? The fanatical hordes (que las hay, las hay) fervently believe so – even if in this belief lies, latent, a gratuitous offense against cockroaches. Others say there is no intelligence in those hosts, but that matters little. The fact is that the success rate of the (dis) ruler disconcerts, humiliates and oppresses all those around him, near or far.

In this hour of moral discomfort, we cannot forget that human reason is not limited to the faculty of intelligence. At least since Aristotle, reason assumes, in addition to reasoning, in addition to instrumental logic, the ethical dimension and the aesthetic dimension, among others. Subjects with personality disorders also articulate acts and words, but they get stuck on the ethical level and do not have resources for aesthesia and empathy. The ability to combine critical thinking, aesthetic sensitivity and ethical principles perhaps synthesizes the substance of the spirit (Ralph Waldo Emerson said that character is above intelligence).

For all these reasons, the intelligence installed on the other side has a crude, demented, ugly, wild and inhuman aspect. The fact that it has prospered so much, with such impudence, proves that, on this side, stupidity still rages.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of A superindustry of the imaginary (Autentica).

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.


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