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.


11 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.


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