Intelligence without Nerves

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright November 2007

One of the great wonders of the world we live in is the human brain. It is the crown of intelligent thinking.

But are nerves and brains the only way life on earth can create intelligence? I think not.

If intelligence is defined as the ability of an organism to respond to its environment in favorable ways, then several other intelligent systems can be seen in our world. One example close to the heart of every man, woman, and child is the stomach and the whole digestive tract. (In this article, I will call this whole collection the stomach.)

The stomach must respond to what kind of food is eaten. While nerves control the muscle contractions of the stomach, it is other systems that control the chemical interactions between the stomach and the food. These chemical interactions are an alternative intelligence system.

Can the stomach learn? Oh yes! Anyone who has traveled and eaten strange food has felt the stomach struggle with the unfamiliar. But if a person keeps eating that strange food for a while -- a few days to a few months -- the stomach learns, and the food doesn't cause upset anymore. The stomach has learned.

When a food causes many beginners to feel discomfort, but many people learn to like it, the food is said to be an acquired taste. Acquired taste is an example of stomach intelligence: The stomach has adapted to its environment.

The stomach learning to digest different foods is a wonderful example of an intelligence system that doesn't use nerves.


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