Distinctions are the building blocks of intelligence

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Jul 29, 2021
Distinctions are the building blocks of intelligence
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A “distinction” is a difference that makes something stand out from what else is around it. “So what” you ask. What difference does that make to my life? Well, you might be surprised; read on.
Distinctions are helpful because they put a kind of boundary around things which makes it easier to focus attention, and also to share with others what we are referring to. This ability is fundamental to not only communication, but is also the foundation of intelligence.
When we sense something, our perception tries to unravel the contents of our experience into individual elements. Sometimes the boundaries between some elements is quite vague so there might not be an obvious way to delineate between them. This makes perception a creative process, like a kind of art form, without a single “right” answer.
Rabbit or Duck?
Rabbit or Duck?

The development of language

What naturally occurs from this is the development of
. A word is just a symbol that refers to the distinctions we choose to make. These words are just like the features on a map; symbolic representations of the underlying territory. Our language as a whole is just a set of thousands of distinctions that someone at some stage thought “oh that’s a useful thing to be able to refer to”, and so created a word for it.

Distinctions are the building blocks of intelligence

What makes a distinction especially helpful is the relationships it has with other distinctions. Imagine for instance that you are a hunter-gatherer looking for food. You might begin to notice a pattern around the conditions where you find your favourite food. The mushrooms you like for instance might be found in a particular type of forest habitat. Both “mushroom” and “forest” may be distinctions in your vocabulary, and now you have found a pattern that links these two distinctions together. You have found a correlation; one of these, “forest”, often leads to finding another of these, “mushroom”. Now if you happen to be hungry, this relationship between these distinctions is transformed into a helpful prediction. This is a much more efficient means of finding food than the “wander around until you find it” mechanism you were previously operating under. This is the very essence of intelligence; building reliable predictions (or what scientists call “theories”) about how to get to where we want to go.

The distinctions of Meaningful Participation

The reliable satisfaction of our needs and desires is dependent upon our ability to predict what actions might take us toward their fulfilment. The purpose of the distinctions of
Meaningful Participation
is to help you develop your
Self Authorship
intelligence so that you might play a more effective role in shaping your life in a way that satisfies you better.
You will find lots of new distinctions in this website. They will seem unfamiliar and a little uncomfortable at first; that’s only natural. But like all distinctions, the purpose they serve is simply to point out significant features that help us to navigate to where we want to go.
They do this in several ways;
  1. New distinctions draw attention to particular elements of experience that we might otherwise not be paying much attention to. For instance, perhaps a distinction might draw our attention to an obstacle blocking our path that we previously hadn’t noticed
  1. A predictive relationship between distinctions might help us understand how to more reliably move from where we are to where we want to be. Distinctions can help build our intelligence and thereby our effectiveness in the world.
  1. A distinction might group a set of other distinctions together thereby making them easier to remember. Mnemonic’s are an example of this kind of distinction.
In short, distinctions can help focus our attention, shape our perception, improve our effectiveness, and make it easier to remember how to do all of this. In a very practical way, the quality of our life is affected by the quality of our distinctions. We would literally be lost without them.
Mitch Olson

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Mitch Olson