Natural Intelligence

Rev. François Laisney

If anyone says that there can be “artificial intelligence”, this person is not intelligent, because he does not even know what intelligence is!

In our enquiry into so-called “artificial intelligence”, we ought to consider first of all what knowledge is in general and then what intelligence is. We should consider the acts of the intelligence, then its nature, and conclude with its only possible cause: God. Only God, the Supreme Intelligence, can make intelligences.


When we open our eyes, we see what was already there before we opened our eyes, assuming our senses work well—if they don’t, through some disease or natural defect, then we see less or not at all, but it would be wrong to say that we see something else.

Thus, when we open our eyes, we learn about what is out there: we learn external realities, we do not make them; we learn the truth; we do not make the truth.

All this is plain common sense, yet some modern philosophies reject it and claim that we only know our own sensations, and nothing further. Their claim is false: sensation is that through which we know the thing—the object that causes them. What we see is not the image in our retina but, through that image, it is the thing itself before our eyes; what we hear is not the vibration of the little bones in the ear but, through that vibration, the actual object that causes it: immediately the vibration of the air (sound) and through it the object that causes that vibration (e.g. a musical instrument, a voice, etc.).

What is true at the level of our senses is also true at the level of our intelligence: what we know is not the idea but, through that idea, the thing itself.

To know something is to be informed about that thing, somehow to possess the form of that thing. But this is not material information, since matter is informed by a form or an act. Material information happens when a certain matter (material cause) receives a certain shape or form (formal cause), put in it by an agent (efficient cause) for a certain purpose (final cause). That material information is not knowledge at all.

Knowledge happens when an act or form is possessed, not by matter, but by another act! The impression made in the organs of our senses by the exterior object is the means by which we know the exterior object: the exterior object actualises our sense (impresses colour on our retina, sound in our ears, etc.) and through this act we know the thing itself. Knowledge is achieved in that second step, not in the first. That second step is what is lacking in merely material information.

Let us give some examples. The camera receives the image of that which was in front of it, but has no knowledge of those things whose image it receives. The book receives the printing of letters and/or other signs (e.g. pictures), but the book itself has no knowledge of what is printed on it: not only no knowledge of what the writing signifies, but even of the fact that there is writing on it. There is no higher science than the knowledge of God’s words, yet a Bible has no knowledge of it at all! Thus, St. Paul said: “the letter killeth, the spirit quickeneth” (2 Cor 3:6). There is no life in a printed letter!

When a dog brings the newspaper to his master, the dog has more knowledge than the newspaper! The newspaper has absolutely no knowledge of what is printed on it. Whether one writes on paper or on computer chips, there is no difference in knowledge: neither does the paper know what is written on it, nor does the computer chip have any idea of what a wire being on or off (representing a one or a zero—i.e. a bit) means. Both are tools for humans to exchange information by putting a sign of it on paper or on computer chips. Spoken or written language is a sign of ideas. The sign itself has no knowledge; but it signifies for the person who reads it certain ideas, which themselves relate to things.

The computer chip has one advantage for the man who uses it, it can be programmed, reacting to electric current and difference of voltage; with the speed of electricity and the miniaturisation of circuits, a (huge number of) computer chips become a powerful tool for the user—yet, essentially, the tool still knows nothing of what is going through it: whether the data that goes through it represents geographical data, financial data, cinematographic data, or simply text, it is still a (complex) set of wires switched on or off—absolutely devoid of any knowledge whatsoever.

With intellectual knowledge comes freedom, as I will show below. It is quite evident that computers follow the laws of electricity and electromagnetism out of necessity: they have no freedom whatsoever. Even when “generating random numbers” they use deterministic algorithms from external circumstances (which are not controlled either by the computer or by the programmer, such as atmospheric data, etc.). Prof. Mads Haahr writes:

A computer follows its instructions blindly and is therefore completely predictable. (A computer that doesn't follow its instructions in this manner is broken.)1

The computer itself has no freedom. Therefore, it has no intelligence. It does not even have sensitive knowledge: it knows absolutely nothing.


If we compare ourselves with animals, we find that there are animals that see better than we do (eagles), that hear and smell better (dogs), that run faster (horses), that are stronger (lions), that swim better, that fly, etc. Yet, by our mind we can surpass them: we make telescopes and microscopes that can see farther or smaller things than any animal can; we make radar that can catch waves that no animals can catch; we make trains that can run faster than any animal; we can defend ourselves with guns better than any animal; we can make planes that can fly farther, higher and faster than any bird; we can make submarines that can dive deeper than any fish... We can even make rockets that can go to the moon, a feat that no animal has ever attempted!

We do all that with our intelligence. It is thus quite clear that we surpass animals by our intelligence. So, what is so special with our intelligence?

To answer that question, it is useful to compare intellectual and sensible knowledge. Because we are composed of body and soul, when we think, we use our senses and our intelligence together: we know through images and ideas (I here take the word image to mean any sensitive representation: visual, auditive, tactile, etc.). So, what is the difference between them?

Let us take a simple example from plane geometry: what is the sum of the three internal angles of a triangle? When asked, most people will know the answer: 180°. But can they prove it? Well, first we draw one triangle ABC; then we extend AB to form BD and draw BE parallel with AC; finally we mark the alternate interior angles (BCA = CBE) and the corresponding angles (CAB = EBD); hence ABC + BCA + CAB = ABC + CBE + EBD = ABD = a flat angle: 180°.

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Now this is only one image;2 how can I conclude this is true for all triangles? The image is particular; yet the reasoning does not apply only to the image, but rather to the idea of a triangle, which is not particular but rather general. It applies to all triangles: it is one general idea abstracted from particular triangles. Because the reasoning is with the general idea, the conclusion is valid in all its generality: for all triangles (in plane geometry).

We see—with our intelligence—the general idea in the particular image. By abstraction—the first act of the intelligence)—we grasp these general ideas from our sensitive experiences. Then, with judgement, we associate the ideas that fit together. Then, with reasoning, logically ordering our ideas, we draw conclusions from premises. These are the activities of the intelligence and they are far reaching: in fact, our intelligence is open onto all Being: Ens et verum convertuntur— “Anything that is can be understood.”

Our senses cannot reflect on their own selves (we cannot “see our sight”), but our intelligence can both know the activity of our senses, and even reflect on its own activities. From the beginning of mankind, man has reflected on this activity of his intelligence, and philosophers of old had already found much truth about our intelligence, which our proud modern scientists have ignored.

Now, a very important syllogism will reach a very important conclusion:

Major: Every material thing is particular.

Minor: Our ideas are not particular but general.

Conclusion: Therefore, our ideas are not material: we call them spiritual.

In order to be able to have spiritual ideas, our intelligence itself must be spiritual, and hence the soul that is the subject of our intelligence ought to be spiritual. Thus, we understand that we are able to know truths that are above time: they were always true, such as mathematical theorems.

Moreover, our intelligence being open to the universality of being, the affection that follows it (our will) is open to the universality of goodness: hence only unlimited, infinite goodness can determine our will. When we see God, we are so drawn by Him, Who is infinite Goodness, that we love Him above freedom, by a wonderful necessity: we are rapt in the Love of God. In front of a limited good, our will can always consider what is lacking to it, and thus not to choose it: we are free to love it or not. Freedom goes with intelligence. Destroy true intelligence and you destroy human freedom. As explained above, computers are not free.

The ancients knew these truths about our intelligence (and freedom). We are not more intelligent than they. To verify this, one need only consider the achievements of ancient Greek geometry, such as the works of Archimedes or the Conics of Apollonius of Perga. Their intellectual achievements are proofs against the theory of evolution!

Artificial intelligence?

We can only transform existing things; we are not able to make intelligences, new spiritual beings. Not even angels can do that: only God can create intelligence. Hence, at the conception of every child, there is an act of God giving him intelligence, though he will only be able to use that faculty when the senses will be developed, as tools of the intelligence. No man can create a true intelligence.

So-called “artificial intelligence” is only a powerful computer, a tool which can sort and sift, compare and group huge amounts of data. The electricity runs through its circuits at a huge speed, but in a deterministic way, and not knowing in the least what is happening to itself.

Those who pretend that this is real intelligence practically reduce our own intelligence to a similarly deterministic machine, destroying freedom and merit. The differences between one man and another would be the result of determinism. Or of blind chance. (Even then, “chance” would only be the fact of our not being able to calculate events of such complexity, of such a great multitude of particles). Einstein would only be the product of determinism or chance, with no merits to his studies; the Saints would also be the product of determinism or chance, with no merit to their virtues.

“Artificial intelligences” are mere machines, yet powerful machines because of the amount of data they can process at great speed. They can become very dangerous machines in the hands of the power-hungry. They can also become deceitful means for common people, dangerous especially for students who would use them to bypass personal reflection. There is nothing more important than developing true intelligence, with the love of the truth and honesty, together with humility, facing reality and truth.

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