First of all i want to say thank you very much to all the participants who are so open minded and interested in this thread.
The answers i got are really precious because they add to this difficult topic.
I hope i can keep this post to a level that will not dissappoint you.
What I think we're talking about is what defines life, the essential thing(s) that it does and which other things don't and which explains the most about it.
This is almost precisely what we are talking about, but not a hundred percent.
The slight but important difference is that we talk about what defines life, the essential thing(s) that it does and which other things ALSO do.
My point is that life and intelligence share the same origin.
You can leave out the following paragraph and jump to the next one if you find it too physical:
In a way we are talking about a physical topic, which is thermodynamics.
More specifically we are not talking about the classical thermodynamics which are basically about closed systems only. The second sentence of thermodynamics which is said to be one of the most important laws of physics ever, claims that entropy in a closed system can not decrease.
So much for the closed systems. Open systems however have never been interesting for scientists, because as oppose to closed systems they behave so unpredictable that you can hardly make any clear statement about it, which is naturally what a scientist wants: Make one hundred percent certain predictions about something. Anything else was considered nonserious.
This is pretty much why we still know very little about the physics of life. Thermodynamically open systems behave unpredictable, uncalculatable, chaotic if you want to use this word. Erwin Schroedinger actually did not only create the equation that is still in use for quantum mechanical predictions, but also wrote a book called "what is life", which is about thermodynamics of open systems.
The reason why i talk about thermodynamics is that you will never get around the term "entropy" if you talk about self-organization.
There is a set of definitions about what this word means and none of them is wrong.
One definition of entropy sais that entropy is a measure for the availability of energy in a system (meaning that the higher the entropy gets, the less you can use the energy in the system (meaning the energy in a closed system does not disappear but by using it will be transformed from usable energy, like kinetic energy, to heat energy until finally you have a soup in which everything has the same temperature. There is no use for this soup anymore, it can not be used for physical work)).
This is the origin of the concept of entropy.
Other definitions connect entropy to (dis-)order. The amount of entropy in a system is equivalent to the amount of (dis-)order in a system. Even though it does not explain what order means it drags the idea of order into physics.
So even if physicists did not really understand what order could mean they indirectly started using it in their calculations. The first thing you have to know when you talk about selforganization is that there are strict physical laws that selforganization is subject to.
The first one is that an increase of order (organization) can only take place if a system is thermodynamically open (like planet earth is open to the sun's energy. All life on earth is based on the permanent flow of energy coming from the sun.)
Although we lack a general definition of the word "order" a measure for order seems to be how "random" or how determined the constituents of a system are.
Hot water for example, as a gas has lots of molecules moving around very unpredictable. When the water cools down, the molecules build bridges, which turn the water into a totally connected liquid, the molecules are much more determined in this stage. (The entropy is lower than before.)
If you cool down the system to like 273 degrees Celsius below zero the molecules are solid crystals, with almost no movement at all.
The entropy is close to zero at this point, the molecules are totally not random anymore, but extremely determined, highly "organised".
This might be an idea of the word organised that doesn't correlate with what we mean by self-organization, but this is the physical basis of what is meant by order.
Order means the way something is organised.
This is obviously something that exists before the more specific kind of order which is called Self-organisation .
Self-organisation means first of all an order that appears spontaneously from inside a system, which means not induced by something coming from outside.
Further there is a more specific kind of selforganisation which is the self-maintaining selforganisation.
The selfregulating feedback loop is an example for it.
And to become even more specific, there is a kind of self-maintaining selforganisation that is even self-reproducing.
I know only one kind of selfreproducing selforganisation which is called autopoiesis.
In other words we are becoming more and more specific going down from order to selforganisation to selfmaintaining selforganisation to autopoiesis.
Autopoieses is the pattern that life is based upon.
It is selfreconstructing/selfreproducing selforganisation.
Now back to my statement:
Life and intelligence have more in common than we used to think.
Order can be subclassified the following way:
Order -> selforganisation -> selfmaintaining selforganisation -> autopoiesis.
Life begins one step after autopoiesis. Autopoiesis is the threshold to life.
Where does intelligence begin?
If it is correct that intelligence originates from functional information processing we have to look at all the steps. What is a function in nature?
Actually anything that is not random.
When two atoms meet they exchange information about their electrons and their behaviour can be predicted with mathematical precision.
Their behaviour follows a function just like f(x) = x+1 .
Anything that is determined can be considered to be subject to a function, and of course there are natural and artificial functions.
For example if a door opens automatically for you, this means it has registered your presence and processed the information according to a function.
This is functional information processing and in this case (since it's artificial) the function has what we call a purpose.
A climatic system like the monsoon in some areas of the world:
A selfmaintaining feedback loop (Actually a set of feedback loops). The function(s) in this case lead(s) to selfmaintanance, however this appears naturally out of the nothing, without a purpose.
Selforganization in general already means processing information according to certain functions.
When the way a system is organised leads to selfmaintanance, again we have a specific type of selforganisation. Selfmaintaining systems can grow in size and complexity and thus increase their capacity for information processing.
The major part of information processing systems in nature is not logically connected to each other, so that the systems processing the information have relativy short life cycles.
The function (not purpose!) that leads to selfmaintanance however causes the possibility of continous accumulation of processing capacity.
This is precisely what happened with life.
Since the accumulation of processing capacity depends on selfmaintanance, it is not surprising that the next steps of evolution in information processing will at the same time always lead to higher selfmaintanance potential (Darwin's selection is already active on this low level).
This is probably the most common process that natural intelligence will go through.
Life as it can be seen in an organism is one example for it. It's not the only example however.
The "market" is a system containing a whole web of information processing systems. The so called "invisible hand" was originally an idea of Adam Smith, referring to the selfregulating mechanism of amount of production on one side and price on the other. This invisible hand however plays a role of much higher importance and complexity in later economical theories and philosophies. It is this mechanism that leads people to refer to the market as something that has its own intelligence.
Another example is, of course, the global evolution. When people say something like "There is nothing that nature does with no reason" there is a subtle mystical aspect and even scientists tend to implie some kind of intelligence, even if there is no believe in god in their concept.
This intelligence is the result of accumulated information processing.
I have to make a cut here and distinguish between natural and artificial intelligence.
Natural intelligence the way we know it, will emerge at the level of selfmaintaining selforganisation.
Artificial intelligence is also defined as: the ability of processing information functionally.
You could say: The intelligence of a system equals its ability of processing information functionally.
The capacity of a chess computer seems very limited to us nowadays, but actually it already has an incredible amount of information processing units.
The door that opens automatically when you arrive has: One.
In fact with artificial intelligence there can be emergent intelligence without selfmaintaining functions.
This might be a different chapter however.
So - in a way you can call my point of view mystical, because the essence of intelligence is already in everything that is related to order, may it be the way atoms connect.
Or you can call me a reductionist because intelligence is nothing but an accumulation of information processing.
You are free to choose.