• What do you mean by ‘nonhuman intelligence’?
The answer to that depends a bit on the context. For example, it is my experience that a bee or flower represents a nonhuman intelligence, and it is my experience that these forms of intelligence are accessible to us, experientially (and extremely startling in their form, content, and character). However, this is not precisely what I mean when I say that I learned much of what I now understand during contact with a nonhuman intelligence.
The simple answer is: An intelligent nonhuman entity with the power to teach us new ways of sensing, observing, and assembling meaning from relation. In this case, the entity is either non-organismal, or distributed (an intelligence embodied in multiple kinds of organisms in multiple positions in space and time). It displays multiple simultaneous aspects (and scales) of ‘identity’.
Although I have a very clear sense and idea of ‘what / who’ it was that was teaching me, translating that (in effect, removing dimensions from it) into human language is a very sticky and dangerous business. This is in part because although I know which human noun(s) I would select to refer to these matters to myself — if I were to use these terms to express the identity base or class to others — they would have no alternative but to misconstrue me. The token(s) I would use no longer mean the same thing to me as they would or might mean to others.
We are scripted to exhibit a peculiar and inhibiting relationship with the cognitive dimension of identity. Gifted with the proper vantage, we might see that most of our experience of identity (what or who something is/was/will be) is extremely flat, by which I mean to say largely monodimensional in a demonstrable (and undesirable) way. Our common experience of identity, and our habits (both personal and shared) of assembling and evaluating identity act like a strange sort of perceptual gravity. It is exceptionally difficult to locate some sort of accelerant that might propel us beyond the single dimension that is our common context for awareness and understanding. But it is possible…
We have another vulnerability that is easily overlooked: when we assemble (or assess) the identity of something (i.e. decide what / who a thing is) either through and with the senses, or in our mind (or both…and more) — we are generally forced to select a category and ‘thing type’ we are already familiar with as a stage — somewhat akin to the canvas of the painter. No canvas? No painting. But these cognitive canvases, or thing-types, provided to us through our enlanguaging and enculturation are at best very incomplete and at worst too restrictive to be useful. Invariably they bring with them dangerous biases which we are not empowered to examine or deal with (in common experience). In other words, new kinds of canvas remain to be discovered or invented, and it is nearly certain that most of reality is in truth more akin to such yet-to-be-invented canvases than it is to those we possess, trade, attack and defend.
In human cognition the shape and character of the canvas provide an understructure that emerges implicitly in the painting. With nouns, this matter is extremely significant. We are culturally endowed with a set of categories and classes — nouns — to which things and beings may belong. Each of these classes possesses unacknowledged implications about the nature, character, and function of the being, object, or circumstance thus referenced. Part of the game of language as we practice it is organized to covertly discard whole universes of accessible information about the subject we are naming. The result is ‘tokenization’ — an unconscionable reduction in our experience of identity, delivered through the auspices of our relationship with language. Unfortunately, these hypostases of identity become locally lexicalized in a very frozen way. Eventually, our local (and cultural) lexicons stop having new ‘kinds’ of placeholders added. We must then make do with the foundations we have previously acquired (and their implications) when meeting and thinking about our human experience. Over time, this becomes an debilitating situation when we must not only make do with models that are extremely primitive (in terms of providing an accessible and growing relationship with identity), but must additionally concern ourselves with attacking and defending them (and thus each other — not to mention just about everything else on Earth that moves). Instead of being able to assemble new ways of understanding and relating to identity, we are functionally enslaved by this traditionally inherited relationship. This process is almost entirely invisible to us, although, paradoxically, some of us are vaguely aware that something like this is happening, but we do not know how to speak about it cogently, even to ourselves, because we lack accessible models and productive ways of approaching the subject.
Suppose you saw a very strange and elaborately colored stone on the ground in a park. You look away from it for a moment, and now it’s a small flower. A few eyeblinks later, it’s a puddle of silvery liquid, vibrating on the ground. As you observe it, the liquid coalesces into the form of a hummingbird, and flits off into the distance. Now for some, this may seem a ridiculous supposition. However, for those who can grant that such an experience might be possible (without the use of drugs or vast misfunction of mind) the question of ‘what was that?’ arises. We don’t know. It didn’t exhibit a static identity — something we are taught to expect, or even demand. What we can know, in retrospect, was that whatever it may have been, it appeared to display multiple identities in a sequence. What is that? It was different things / beings in different moments. Now, if we take this a step further we can see the potential for something to have multiple overt identities simultaneously. This is a glimpse of the door that leads away from a monodimensional experience of identity. In realty, everything is thus, however we are scripted and rewarded for adopting monodimensional assessments regarding identity, and we are generally punished and isolated when we do otherwise. The result is a form of programming which becomes more and more difficult to overcome related to the length and depth of our constant immersion in it.
Yet, it is possible to encounter something so beyond our expectation that no category or adjective we currently possess is sufficient to reveal it to us. (It is also possible to engineer new ways of speaking about identity, as well as new categories, instances, etc). Just as there are geometric entities of more than 3 dimensions, there are kinds of being for whom the concept of identity itself would have to be rewritten for any description to be useful. For example, there are kinds of beings who are multiple kinds and sizes of collectives of other beings — at once. In case this seems farfetched, recall that our own biological and cognitive anatomies are thus.
The non-human intelligence (NHI) I encountered had multiple scales and dimensions of identity, at once, and it continued to grow dramatically during our contact. In the beginning, what it was teaching me seemed like things an alien civilization might know. Later, it seemed that it was teaching me things only an angel might know. Each of us is uniquely endowed to experience direct contact with other cogniscia — other kinds of intelligence, in part because it is one of the functions millions of years of evolution adeptly equipped us for. But perhaps more provocatively, because we are living expressions, moment-to-moment, of precisely such intelligence.
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