Intelligence and emergence

Pratyush Kumar Panda
2 min readJul 7, 2019


It seems that the tiniest of particles — a quark — is “intelligent”. It obeys properties governed by very complex quantum laws. In this sense, intelligence seems to be omnipresent.

There is a separate view. Consider an artificial neural network with millions of untrained parameters intelligently computing an output, which to us is useless. By training, the same neural network can perhaps classify cat pictures from dog pictures. This trained network is viewed as “more” intelligent than the untrained one. Clearly then, our definition of intelligence depends on our valuing the task of distinguishing cats from dogs.

However what happens if we have no value functions? Then again, intelligence should be seen as omnipresent.

How did value functions emerge from a material universe with omnipresent intelligence?

One way of bootstrapping our search for value functions, could be by starting off with preservation. What remains is what preserves. The evolutionary pressure thus seems like a value-free consequence of the marching of time in a universe governed by the third law of thermodynamics.

Omnipresent intelligence biased towards preservation, seems to have aggregated into ever-complex structures: Microbes, multicellular organisms, fishes, plants, animals, humans.

During this march towards complexity, somewhere along the way emerged “proxy” value functions. For instance the value function of self-identification.

These other value functions could be “derivatives” of our single value function of preservation, or could represent a natural solution to increasing complexity within given material constraints.

Eastern spiritual traditions focus on marginalising these proxy value functions. It is expected that upon so doing, the individual frees up her accrued natural complexity to reflect upon and identify with the reality that intelligence is omnipresent.

Even beyond this, is the attempt to marginalise the original objective of preservation. Curiously if this would be possible, it would mean that the very property which aggregated a defining complexity enables us to overcome that property.

Are we to act out of proxy value functions to add to the march towards complexity or are we to transcend the very defining value function that created us?