The Development of the Intellect

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. All living things have intelligence as a mechanism to survive and prosper. Humans and animals functioned similarly in this sense until the intellect developed. Intellectual development has been estimated between 20,000 to 40,000 years to establish itself as a distinct function in human beings. Intellect is defined as the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, especially, with regard to abstract or academic matters. This refers to the understanding or mental powers of a particular person.

Intellect was a crucial turning point for humans as it allowed for the creation of symbolism in the mind to communicate past, present and future events. No other creatures have developed this ability to the extent that humans have. This new frame of reference was also the beginning of our awareness of being a separate entity from the natural world.

Bruce Barbour, author of “In Our Wildest Dream”, asserts that the separation between intellect and intelligence is related to the feeling of belonging and connectedness. He goes on to say, “I believe that the intellect takes credit for all things great and small, simply by discovering, harnessing, manipulating, and marketing the nature of the universe. What the rest of the living world accepts as the whole of life, the human intellect dissects into ever-smaller parts. The intellect, having separated itself from the body, continues the process of separating itself from the universe by dissecting the universe into lifeless parts”.

On the positive side, the intellect is also responsible for the great achievements of humanity such as art, music, architecture, philosophy, religion, science, technology, etc. Without the intellect, we could not have advanced our knowledge to create the world we know today and might still be living primitive lifestyles like our ancient ancestors.

However, as we continued to see ourselves more as distinct and separate, our feeling of connection and belonging to the Earth continued to dissipate and led to a whole range of attitude and value changes that have influenced our relationship with the planet to this day.


Barbour, Bruce. In Our Wildest Dream, 2001, Xlibris Corporation, pp. 118-121.

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