“Most of our intelligence is not in our brain, it is externalized as our civilization.

It’s not just that our bodies, senses, and environment determine how much intelligence our brains can develop — crucially, our biological brains are just a small part of our whole intelligence. Cognitive prosthetics surround us, plugging into our brain and extending its problem-solving capabilities. Your smartphone. Your laptop. Google search. The cognitive tools your were gifted in school. Books. Other people. Mathematical notation. Programing. The most fundamental of all cognitive prosthetics is of course language itself — essentially an operating system for cognition, without which we couldn’t think very far. These things are not merely knowledge to be fed to the brain and used by it, they are literally external cognitive processes, non-biological ways to run threads of thought and problem-solving algorithms — across time, space, and importantly, across individuality. These cognitive prosthetics, not our brains, are where most of our cognitive abilities reside.

We are our tools. An individual human is pretty much useless on its own — again, humans are just bipedal apes. It’s a collective accumulation of knowledge and external systems over thousands of years — what we call “civilization” — that has elevated us above our animal nature. When a scientist makes a breakthrough, the thought processes they are running in their brain are just a small part of the equation — the researcher offloads large extents of the problem-solving process to computers, to other researchers, to paper notes, to mathematical notation, etc. And they are only able to succeed because they are standing on the shoulder of giants — their own work is but one last subroutine in a problem-solving process that spans decades and thousands of individuals. Their own individual cognitive work may not be much more significant to the whole process than the work of a single transistor on a chip.”


From The impossibility of intelligence explosion by François Chollet.