What is Intelligence?

From my journal, seven years ago this month.  Some things don’t change (much).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010—I ran into M and his wife, K, at B&N yesterday, and we got to talking.  M talked a lot about intelligence, and I realized he is insecure about his, because he doesn’t (or didn’t) have a college degree.  He married his first wife because she did and quickly found degrees don’t assure intelligence or curiosity.

We speculated together, and I continued later to wonder what constitutes intelligence.  Others place too much emphasis on standardized tests, I believe, yet these represent the conventional guidelines.  College or advanced degrees constitute another measure.  If you go to a brand name school, all the better.

These don’t guarantee intelligence, though, as M. learned.  By others’ standards, I am intelligent, well educated, and do well enough on standardized tests, but I was not smart enough to reach people like my father.

M said engineers are linear thinkers.  His brother is an engineer and a perfect example.  Another term is “narrow-minded.”  Some people have claimed vocabulary determines intelligence.

Seth, in The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events, claims fundamentalism has arisen in reaction to Darwinism, which presumes a random, chaotic, uncaring universe without rules.  But science, as we understand it, binds itself with the most rigid rules and produces people like my father, who deny the existence of anything outside the framework.

I believe intelligence is an attitude rather than a concrete quality.  Intelligence and curiosity may be synonymous, because curiosity gives flexibility, open-mindedness, inventiveness, and common sense.

We don’t measure common sense on IQ tests, but this may determine basic intelligence more than any other parameter.  Common sense finds food when hungry, shelter when cold or wet, safety when threatened.  This is survival of the fittest in action, and this is why the relatively hairless beast called man can survive in freezing weather.  It has little to do with beating other hairless beasts over the head with a club to steal their women and food.

In fact, the fittest and most likely to survive are those who can cooperate in groups, as the pack animals can join together to bring down their prey.

Intelligence is a relative term.   M claims marriage compatibility is based on intelligence, and that he and K are closely matched.

My parents were closely matched in intelligence, I believe, but no one appreciated my mother’s smarts because she didn’t have the degrees to prove it.  Yet she had an active mind, lots of common sense, and managed to keep my father’s interest all their married life.

My father, who made gods of science and intelligence, was one of the most narrow-minded people around.  He couldn’t converse on any topic other than those that interested him, or where he excelled, and these were few indeed.  He had little interest or curiosity about anything outside that box.

If you presume others are stupid, you will miss evidence that conflicts with your belief.  The “scientific method,” the presumption of cause and effect, must exclude more than it includes to have any validity at all, and then you are only proving the limitations of your experiment.  The germ theory of disease, for instance.


16 thoughts on “What is Intelligence?

  1. feistyfroggy

    Very interesting post! I do agree that tests and degrees do not necessarily indicate intelligence. I’ve known some people with degrees and intelligence who were not what I would call intelligent and some without a tests & degrees who were super smart. Common sense, unfortunately, doesn’t seem all that common but it is very necessary for our survival.

  2. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    Intellectual curiosity is definitely a measure of intelligence, at least in my mind. Folks that are interested in learning, particularly new things, tend to have an elastic mind, and retain the ability to pick up new skills and knowledge. They are usually more interesting, as well.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Agreed. I’m a perpetual seeker of understanding, if not knowledge. As your most recent blog points out, “fake news” and “propaganda” are virtually synonymous, and “knowledge” can be skewed every whichaway.

      Understanding, on the other hand, is more flexible and doesn’t expect absolutes.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. MrJohnson

    I was thinking about this topic recently and wasn’t able to come to a conclusion. Just from being around certain people long enough I could easily see that they had a faster processor than most people. They figured out linear problems quicker and didn’t get confused as easily. But try to explain a simple unconventional idea to them and everything just shuts off. So I don’t know if intelligence is based on efficient processing power, the lack of certain traits(ignorance, ego, critical thinking skills) that allow one to see more openly or something else.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      At least you’re wondering about it, which is probably a sign of intelligence in itself. Your comment reminded me of the left-brain/right-brain styles of thinking, which I’ve considered blogging about and may still do. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      1. MrJohnson

        After thinking about it more, intelligence is probably more of a learned trait. You get better at it the more you work towards it. You can’t have an intelligent conversation with some people even though they are smart.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        That’s probably a limited view of intelligence, which is greater than words can convey. A capacity for appreciation of life’s surprises, rolling with the punches, that kind of thing. Leave everyone smiling? My version.

  4. I of July

    “I believe intelligence is an attitude rather than a concrete quality.” – Wise words, I agree with you. That’s exactly what intelligence is.

  5. ᛋᛠᛉ

    So I guess we know confirmation bias can be the enemy of intelligence. 🙂 I don’t think I could begin to answer this until the can tackle Pontius Pilate’s winning question. But then if I did that, life would lose her lustre. I think intelligence is subjective. And maybe overrated. Is it consubstantial with wit, and cunning? A man can be dumb, but learned. A dullard can be witty. It would seem to me to support the hypothesis of “Multiple Intelligences.” Given how, and correct me if I’m wrong because science is NOT where I butter anybody’s bread… math, language and other intelligible expressions utilise different sectors of the layered brain. For that matter, the mammalian, reptilian and primate layers all seem to regulate different evolutionary stages of intelligence- however one defines evolution. According to what I read. So it seems to me that a simple definition might defeat the intelligent among us. In my less than humble opinion. But a good thought exercise. I love riddles like this.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      I think intelligence is related to problem-solving ability, which requires mental flexibility in diverse situations. This is difficult to measure or to judge in another. As you say, it may be an internal dilemma, because no one can fully understand another’s challenges or know the rationale for the methods they use.

      I perceive intelligence in Nature, and in animals, and try to learn from them. Maybe “wisdom” better describes that sense of unabashed integrity.

      1. ᛋᛠᛉ

        I guess the rabbithole only becomes deeper, the more one thinks. Are cunning, wisdom, and smarts all the same thing? Branches of the tree of knowledge? This is why I can’t answer questions, there’s always another. 🙂

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Yep. They may all be variations on the same talent for problem solving, each appropriate for the task or tasks at hand.

        Wisdom may determine which problems need solving, and the others help determine how to accomplish the objective. Maybe.

        There are probably no final answers, because each one leads to the next question, like cresting a ridge in mountain climbing. It only opens up new vistas to explore.

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