“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.