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  Experimentation (from Latin experiri, ‘to test’) is one of the first signifiers of active intelligence, as opposed to instinct. When, for example, a rat in a maze learns the sequence of moves needed to win the reward or avoid punishment, it does so by trial-and-error, gradually eliminating error until the ‘correct’ behaviour-pattern is established. This is a form of willed imprinting, and it is not done by ‘lower’ creatures such as seaslugs or ants, whose behaviour is instinctive and does not depend on learning or memory. At a ‘higher’ level still, computers can be built which experiment along the rigorous lines which are part of the scientific method: thesis, testing-by-experiment, conclusion. At what is so far the ‘highest’ level known, experimentation is not merely a testing process but a creative one, throwing up side-issues, suggesting possibilities and leading to conceptual and practical break-throughs which were no part of the original idea. No rat, no computer, but almost every single human being, does this. KMcL

See also artificial intelligence; thought.



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