The Titan

Prometheus is a Titan – a giant-like deity from Greek mythology originating in the 8th-century BC Greek poem Theogony. He is the son of Lapetos and the Oceanid Klymenê.

He was tasked by Zeus with creating human beings, and to shape them in the likeness of the gods. However, Zeus made one exception: human beings were not to have fire, and so he hid it from them. Knowing what an intelligent being could do with fire, Zeus was afraid that humanity might use it to overthrow the gods.

Prometheus duly created human beings, but was so taken with his creation that he decided to disobey Zeus. He stole fire from heaven and gave it to humanity, hidden inside a hollow fennel stalk. This of course gave them just that mastery of the world that Zeus had feared, and gods were indeed overthrown in the most radical sense possible: we stopped believing that they even exist.

prometheus_titanZeus was enraged at Prometheus’ disobedience, and determined to punish him in the most horrible way imaginable. So he nailed him to a mountain in the remote Caucasus mountains and sent an eagle to visit him every day. The eagle would tear out Prometheus’ liver, and then fly away. The liver would grow back over night, and the eagle would return the next day and tear it out all over again. And so on. Forever.

Or not quite forever. Many years later Hercules came by on one of his Labours, released Prometheus and shot the eagle in exchange for information. Prometheus was released, Zeus relented, and then… Who knows?

Sources of the myth

As is the case with many myths, and especially one so old, different scholars, playwrights, poets and so forth have added to the myth, embellished some points and refuted others. Some say Prometheus was tasked by Zeus with creating human beings, and to shape them in the likeness of the gods. A more common variant like that in the book Prometheus Bound, is that he was the champion of humanity, and gave us every skill, but did not create us. According to the Greek scholar Apollodorus, Prometheus completed his task by shaping humans from earth and water. Others say that he shaped us from clay.

In books

You can purchase the excellent tragedy about our unfortunate Titan, Prometheus Bound, from Amazon. This was supposedly written by Aeschylus (an ancient Greek tragedian / playwright) circa 450BC.

Human Intelligence

Hear the sum of the whole matter in the compass of one brief word – every art possessed by man comes from Prometheus.

– Aeschylus c. 500 BC

The definition of intelligence is controversial. As intelligent beings, we have a range of capacities that are open to scientific research, but for which the predominant scientific approaches have no convincing explanation.

For example, human beings have history and consciousness and reason and art and politics and a hundred other things that exist only in the most rudimentary forms in other species. As far as the vast majority of other species are concerned, they are completely unknown. Yet as far as I am aware, there are no scientific models of human nature, or any significant fraction of that nature, that even recognise, let alone account for the centrality of these things to what it means to be human.

As for the importance of intelligence to all this, it only because of their intelligence that human beings are able to wonder about their world and their place in it, that they care what sense their world makes, and that they have the power to change that world until it does indeed make sense. On the other hand, their peculiar intelligence is embodied in few, if any, innate practical capacities, so they have no choice but to make their world from the bottom upwards, from the simplest forms of sustenance to the most sophisticated world-systems.

Even though they play little part in modern scientific thought, such ideas of human nature have a long and eminent history, and plainly it is essential to any science of human nature that we understand the intelligence that makes all this possible. I hope that this site will operate as a conduit through which such ideas can be channelled back into scientific thinking.

by RJ Robinson

Quotes About Intelligence

Having proved men’s and brutes’ bodies on one type: almost superfluous to consider minds.

– Charles Darwin, Transmutation Notebooks

This intelligence-testing business reminds me of the way they used to weigh hogs in Texas. They would get a long plank, put it over a cross-bar, and somehow tie the hog on one end of the plank. They’d search all around till they’d found a stone that would balance the weight of the hog and they’d put that on the other end of the plank. Then they’d guess the weight of the stone.

– John Dewey

There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.

– Pablo Picasso

In the scale of life there is a gradual decline in physical variability, as the organism has gathered into itself resources for meeting the exigencies of changing external conditions; and that while in the mindless and motionless plant these resources are at a minimum, their maximum is reached in the mind of man, which, at length, rises to a level with the total order and powers of nature, and in its scientific comprehension of nature is a summary, an epitome of the world.

– Chauncey Wright, Limits of Natural Selection

In our study of Anatomy there is a mass of mysterious Philosophy, and such as reduced the very Heathens to Divinity; yet, amongst all those rare discoveries and curious pieces I find in the Fabrick of Man… there is no Organ or Instrument for the rational soul…. Thus we are men, and we know not how…

– Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici

Many organisms ‘experience’ the sun, and even guide their lives by its passage. A sunflower may track the sun in a minimal way, twisting to face it as it crosses the sky, maximising its daily exposure to sunlight, but it can’t cope with an intervening umbrella… But we human beings don’t just track the sun, we make an ontological discovery about the sun: it’s the sun!

– Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Mind

There is nobody more irritating than somebody with less intelligence and more sense than we have.

– Don Herold

None of my animals (with the possible exception now and again of the monkeys) showed the least understanding of the how or why of their actions, as distinct from the crude fact that such and such a thing produced the result they required… What Jack [his dog] or the elephant knew was, crudely, that they had to push [a] bolt… The reason why… they obviously never grasped.

– LT Hobhouse, Mind in Evolution

Man considering himself is the great prodigy of nature. For he cannot conceive what his body is, even less what his spirit is, least of all how body can be united with spirit. That is the peak of his difficulty and yet it is his very being.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées

[Communication] permits all human beings regardless of race, culture, age, gender or experience, to unite more closely with one another than individuals of any other species… No matter how similar to one another wildebeests are, standing shoulder to shoulder to shoulder in a herd, they cannot know much of anything about their similarities, let alone their differences. They cannot compare notes. They can have similar experiences, side by side, but they really cannot share experiences the way we do.

– Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Mind

Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.

– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.

– Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

As far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels of praise of intelligence.

– Bertrand Russell

It is an idea that will be found consistent with the natural phenomena around universe, with the various events of human life, and with the successive revelations of God to man, to suppose that the world is a mighty process for the creation and formation of mind. Many vessels will necessarily come out of this great furnace in wrong shapes. These will be broken and thrown aside as useless; while those vessels whose forms are full of truth, grace, and loveliness, will be wafted into happier situations, nearer the presence of the mighty maker.

– Reverend Thomas Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population

Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.

– Pablo Picasso

Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal, and a species of the Order Primates, akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material. It is however a gross misrepresentation to say that he is just an accident or nothing but an animal. Among all the myriad forms of matter and of life on the earth, or as far as we know in the universe, man is unique. He happens to represent the highest form of organisation of matter and energy that has ever appeared. Recognition of this kinship with the rest of the universe is necessary for understanding him, but his essential nature is defined by qualities found nowhere else, not by those he has in common with apes, fishes, trees, fire, or anything other than himself.

– George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution

I deem I was not made for heaven or hell. But simply for the Earth.

– William Morris, Bellerophon at Argos

You may think that there are other more important differences between you and an ape, such as being able to speak, and make machines, and know right from wrong, and say your prayers, and other little matters of that kind; but that is a child’s fancy, my dear. Nothing is to be depended upon but the great hippopotamus test.

– Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies

You can give a dog neurosis… by a complicated laboratory experiment: you can find cases of brief emotional conflict in the lives of wild animals and birds. But, for the most part, psychological conflict is shirked by the simple expedient of arranging that now one and now another instinct should dominate the animal’s behaviour.

– Julian Huxley, The Uniqueness of Man

Calling a [political] state an ‘organism’ and concluding that it is therefore comparable with a metazoan organism is a glaring example of the fallacy of the shifting middle term.

– George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution

One can imagine an animal angry, frightened, unhappy, happy, startled. But hopeful? And why not? A dog believes his master is at the door. But can he also believe his master will come the day after tomorrow? – And what can he not do here? – How do I do it? – How am I supposed to answer this?

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part II, i

‘He was a philosopher, if you know what that was. ’ ‘A man who dreams of fewer things than there are in heaven and earth,’ said the Savage promptly.

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

It has become abundantly clear that human behaviour is active in character, that it is determined not only by past experience, but also by plans and designs formulating the future, and that the human brain is a remarkable apparatus which can not only create these models of the future, but also subordinate its behaviour to them. It has become evident at the same time that recognition of the decisive role played by such plans and designs, these schemes for the future and the programmes by which they are materialized, cannot be allowed to remain outside the sphere of scientific knowledge, and that the mechanisms on which they are based can and must be subject of deterministic analysis and scientific explanation, like all other phenomena and associations in the objective world.

– Alexander Luria, The Working Brain

To disparage man and exalt animals in order to establish a point of contact, followed by a point of union, has been and still is the general tendency of the ‘advanced theories’ in fashion in our day. Ah, how often are these ‘sublime theories’, that morbid craze of our time, based upon ‘proofs’ which, if subjected to the light of experiment, would lead to… ridiculous results.

– Jean Henri Fabre