Morphing Intelligence: From IQ Measurement to Artificial Brains [Book Review]

Chiasma 6 (1):248-260 (2020)
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In her seminal text, What Should We Do With Our Brain? (2008), Catherine Malabou gestured towards neuroplasticity to upend Bergson's famous parallel of the brain as a "central telephonic exchange," whereby the function of the brain is simply that of a node where perceptions get in touch with motor mechanisms, the brain as an instrument limited to the transmission and divisions of movements. Drawing from the history of cybernetics one can trace how Bergson's 'telephonic exchange' prefigures the neural 'cybernetic metaphor.' It is elsewhere, however, that What Should We Do With Our Brain? finds its crux: inspired a dialectical-speculative opposition between plasticity and flexibility (wherein plasticity is the way in which time shapes or fashions us, constitutes our subjectivity and at the same time allows for resistance), Malabou invalidates the 'telephonic exchange' metaphor for failing to take into account synaptic and neuronal vitality. Bolstered by neurologist Marc Jeannerod's research in The Nature of Mind (2002), Malabou further demonstrated, in her past work, that the cybernetic metaphor has also had its day. In Morphing Intelligence, by problematizing intelligence as strictly empirical and biologically determined, Malabou also troubles the traditional distinction between intelligence and intuition. This division is perhaps best exemplified by Bergson’s analysis of intellectual measurement magnitudes in his appeal to intensity, and intensity alone. Malabou, drawing from Dewey and the pragmatism mode of thought, characterizes this fetid standstill as little more than provincialism, charging that, ater Bergson, no truly new argument was offered to counter intelligence as defined by psychologists and biologists, including the most recent cognitivist version. Despite I disagree with her claims regarding cognitivism, in echoing Georges Canguilhem, Malabou castigates psychology’s instrumentalist regard for intelligence, making the claim that it is able to measure only the human ability to “become an instrument.” Malabou contends that Alfred Binet (who heavily critiqued Bergson) had it right—intelligence is constituted by intensities and qualities. This book picks up from this critique and works genealogically; in my exegetical review, I engage with Malabou's and its implications, given her past work.

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