Intelligence. Simply.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

I love conversation.  Have I mentioned that?  I love having it with myself (I keep a journal as a socially acceptable outlet for this); I love having it with friends.  I love having it with writers and strangers and . . .  I’m getting to a point in my life where I really just talk too much and don’t know when to shut up.  I get it.  But I won’t deny that it’s been helping me.   Recent conversations with three separate people have been helping me to pull together ideas and fit pieces together that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do.

I’ve been having a discussion with a friend recently about whether intelligence is naturally occurring and inherent in people, or whether it’s something everyone has the aptitude for and is nurtured into being.  My personal opinion on it is that it’s both, but that intelligence must first be an inherent thing and only secondly be nurtured into what the masses view as intelligence.  The question has to be answered, though, just what is intelligence?  Like anything else, I don’t view intelligence in a black-and-white fashion.  I don’t think there’s anything in life that I do.  I believe there are different kinds of intelligence, and that intelligence can be broken down into a few different steps, or facets, if you will.

My intelligence-debating friend happens to be very good with numbers and the natural sciences, which takes a great deal of pragmatism.  I, on the other hand, excel at language and communication, which requires a completely different skill set.  Look at humor and wit–both produce a sense of the absurd and can make you laugh, but they’re achieved in two completely different ways.  The more reasoned people I know tend to produce wit above humor, while people I might refer to as “comic geniuses” tend to be socially adept.  There are people with wonderfully artistic minds who do horribly in more concrete areas of study, and vice-versa, but it is usually the artistic person whose intelligence is overlooked.  I see people who are socially intelligent but subject stupid; others are the other way around.  But understanding social dynamics is a skill of its own requiring its own brand of intelligence.  Athletes are intelligent in their own way; the brain has to make certain connections in the way the body moves, or to prepare and put into action strategies.  Personally, athleticism is a kind of intelligence I simply can’t tap into.  Some are brilliant at music–others at politics.  So what is intelligence then but a person’s own particular skill set?

Yes, I very much do believe that intelligence varies not just in quantity from person to person, but also in species.  It’s fashionable these days to assume the general population is stupid and that stupidity runs rampant, but just how common is stupidity really?

We’re taught from an early age to appreciate book smarts in people, to appreciate the kind of intelligence we find embedded in logic and reason.  We’re conditioned to appreciate these from childhood, as can be seen evidenced by the pressure we put on children to do well in the core classes in school.  If these children also happen to do well in art, in gym, in music, well, that’s icing on the cake, but the thing parents and teachers focus on is the core set: social sciences, natural sciences, English, and mathematics.  It shows up in the way we talk about “extracurriculars”:  do “artsy fartsy,” “band geek,” “dumb jock,” or “social butterfly” have negative or positive connotations?  There are also the terms “geek” and “nerd,” which when I was very young were considered derogatory, but ever since junior high onward have been looked on favorably–I find myself boasting about being a nerd sometimes and often see lots of my nerd/geek friends doing the same.  This looks to me as a trend toward favoring certain kinds of intelligence while putting others down as worthless.

I posit that intelligence is nothing more than the mind’s ability to make connections between various data it receives; what it then does with these connections manifests itself as a skill.  There are steps to achieving intelligence:  first the mind has to receive information.  This is the thing schools excel at–providing students with massive quantities of information.  Once the brain receives it, it  then must be retained (but longer than it takes for you to pass the multiple-guess test).  Here’s the important part: it then matches the information with other information in the brain so that it can start building new information with it.  This is what I call intelligence.  Finally, it hopefully then applies the information to situations and problems.  Although sometimes I assume it just stores the information.

I spend a lot of time making connections in my head–I call it “thinking,” as most people do.  The more I practice making connections, the better I seem to get at it, so I agree with the people who compare the brain to a muscle that has to be used often or else you lose your intelligence.  I once made the mistake of thinking that a guy I was dating was smart because he was always spitting out information–I thought he knew a lot, and I guess he did, but I found out by conversing with him that while he got that first step to intelligence down really well, and the second (obtaining and retaining information), he wasn’t able to make connections between much of the data he had.

Conversation works wonders.

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6 thoughts on “Intelligence. Simply.

  1. I guess the problem I have with wisdom is that I use other words to describe it. Wisdom doesn’t seem to be its own entity–I might call it common sense or reason or, yes, morality depending on the instance in which its being applied. Maybe wisdom is just a catch-all name for the different kinds of intellect we apply as a way to get through life. What one person views as wise, though, another may view as foolish, so like anything, I guess wisdom is the eye of the beholder, which makes it just as subjective as anything else in life.

    Something to think about.

  2. I largely agree with you. I do think the general population is becoming more and more ignorant. There is a severe case of ‘you don’t even know what you don’t know’ going on, in my opinion. Generally, people refer to this phenomenon as ‘stupidity,’ which I define as lacking the ability to think, while it is actually ‘ignorance,’ which I define as a lack of contextually relevant information.

    • I wrote this whole angry spiel about how people aren’t stupid, realized I misread your comment, and had to delete all five paragraphs. Heh.

      I think what gets me about this whole, “people are stupid” thing going around is that they tend to blame the individual, while I blame our culture. It isn’t something that is anyone’s FAULT, it just is. We’re always looking for the one thing we could change about our culture, the one easy fix, to help people get smart, but it isn’t an easy fix. We’ve become lazy. Instead of people with the patience to teach others what they ought to know, or how they ought to think, or how to find information, we throw tons of irrelevant data at them and expect them to LEARN this way. That isn’t learning; it’s memorizing data.

      What we need is a slow process of people who know how to think taking it upon themselves to teach other people in their lives how to think. Intellectual thinking is contagious, but it requires patience and effort and oodles of tolerance, things that are disappearing in our culture because of the way our culture is designed, each having their own issues to address before we have more people willing to be more patient and tolerant and persevering. One of the big problems is that our culture feeds itself the lie that we should think about numero uno first, foremost, and most often. Is it any wonder we are the way we are?

      Teaching people to care about others would be a great first step, in my opinion, to fixing the many and rampant issues we have today.

      I need to think about this more.

  3. Love this post, and I love the fact that I can talk to you on an intellectual level. I don’t have very many people that I can do that with.

    I’m so much like you in this way–I love to think, and I love to talk. I like to share with people the connections that I have made in my spare time. I don’t need to be busy doing things; I spend a lot of my spare time just thinking. I love it.

    I think it’s funny that people seem to think badly of idle time spent just thinking … I wish that people would spend more time thinking than doing, really. I have so many people encouraging me to “keep busy” so that I don’t “think too much.” I’ve been told often that I overthink things. I know what they’re talking about, but I don’t think that’s always the case. I want to understand things as they truly are.

    As far as intelligence being inherent or if it can be nurtured, I’ll agree with you: I think it’s a bit of both. I think that people can be born with certain intrinsic abilities–I guess an “openness” for it. There’s a word for this, but it escapes me at the moment. Those who are born with that propensity for intelligence will pick it up more readily than those born without it, but I do believe that either person must work at it–even if the person without the natural ability learns more slowly. I think it works the other way, too: if you’re intelligent by nature and you don’t passionately pursue it, you’ll be no better off for the most part than anyone else who hasn’t been gifted in that way. It’s similar to artistic ability, I think … I think that you can be born with, and you can cultivate it, too–those who are born with it will cultivate it faster, but it can be learned to a degree.

    There’s book-smarts, and then there’s wisdom … I care more for the latter. I like being book-smart, but it really doesn’t mean much at all if it can’t be applied to attaining wisdom. I think that intelligent people have more of an ability to make those connections that impart wisdom, but I think so many intelligent people are too busy trying to be intelligent than developing their wisdom. I’d give all of the book-smarts in the world away to be wise, honestly.

    I like how the more I know, the more I can sort of talk about–the more I can connect with people.

    You started the post with one of my favorite Einstein quotes–it’s so applicable for those of us who are interested in being teachers. I’ll leave you with this Einstein quote, which you’ve doubtless heard before, but it’s very applicable to portions of your post:

    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
    ― Albert Einstein

    and with that, I think I’ll give you a call. 😀

    • Thanks, Samantha, I love this post too, mainly because it was a bit of a shocker to me, being able to fully and simply understand how intelligence works. I’ve always viewed intelligence as too complex to be truly understood, and I guess in some ways it is, but it has a fundamental makeup just like anything else.

      I’ve always questioned whether the general population is actually stupid. I’m not quite that jaded yet, and I certainly hope I never will be.

      As to wisdom, I’m starting to think it’s a myth, a little too focused on right and wrong, which I have trouble believing in as well. Sometimes I think we delude ourselves into believing these things we learn from birth. We get so bogged down in traditional ways of thinking that we forget to question them.

      I love the quote you provided! It’s very apropos for this post. The one I inserted at the beginning was mainly my way of saying, “I get it now.” Yours has more to do with the content and fits nicely. 🙂

      And thanks for the call; it was a great conversation, and I’m going to be blogging about some of it here in the (hopefully) near future.

    • I don’t think that wisdom necessarily has to do with right and wrong, actually. I think wisdom is knowing some of those subtle nuances about what works. For instance, I’d say that you’re very wise to understand that disliking something simply because it’s popular is silly. It’s intelligence that we gain through experience, and it’s intelligence that we can apply to everyday life. I think wisdom and maturity are almost one in the same, or at least they go hand-in-hand. Wisdom, I think, is being able to see the big picture beyond all of the little factoids that we can understand intellectually–but understanding how they all go together, what they all mean … now THAT’S wisdom.

      I think what you’re referring to as wisdom is what I call morality. I don’t think that morality is always a tenet of wisdom, though I think it can be and certainly is quite often … even so, morality is another one of those things that tends to be subjective, even in some of the traditions of the strictest guidance.

      I think wisdom can be both traditional and progressive, honestly. There is some wisdom in the words that our grandparents say, teaching us little proverbs in life that you’d learn if you’d have lived enough life, but there’s also wisdom in the words and actions of the youth who HAVE examined tradition and found it lacking. The wisdom, for example, of the young abolitionists who dared to question whether or not a black man was a person or not. Sometimes wisdom is outside our social confines. I find that quite often it is.

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