|Jen are Smart
by Jen on 9/04/01
I've wanted to write this article for a long time, not so
much to infiltrate your minds with my opinions on intelligence, but more so to get some
kind of discussion going. After I wrote about my opinions on happiness, my inbox was
flooded (OK, trickled) with e-mails from people with their individual takes on happiness.
And I have to say, I probably learned more from all of you than I did from years of
introspection. And just like my writing about happiness didn't necessarily mean that I
know whether or not I am truly happy, my writing about intelligence doesn't imply that I
think I'm intelligent.
Just to make what's probably an obvious distinction from the beginning, the words smart
and intelligent cannot be used interchangeably. We use the term "book-smart" to
describe people who study at will, but aren't necessarily the most intelligent people.
Anyone with mediocre intelligence can apply himself and become exceedingly smart, just by
studying vigorously and memorizing facts out of a book. A smart person, as I will define
him, is the person who applies whatever intelligence he has and does well at school,
succeeds in the workplace, etc. He's usually the one to bandy about big words with no
genuine idea of what they mean. I remember sitting in my political theory class one day
when the brainiest kid in class raised his hand and asked, "So professor, do you
think it was expedient of Adlai Stevenson to appear as a character witness for Alger Hiss
in his perjury trial?" My professor stared at him blankly for about ten seconds and
finally asked, "Do I think it was expedient? Do you mean Do I think it was
speedy?' What the hell are you talking about?" My professor single-handedly humbled
the most arrogant, self-important kid in our class. This was a crowning moment of
achievement for me, friends.
Whether intelligence is solely reliant on genetic makeup, solely determined by
environmental factors/experience, or a product of both genetics and environmental factors
seems to be the major question for people regarding intelligence. So what do the experts
say? Alfred Binet first defined IQ as (Mental Age divided by Chronological Age) X 100.
According to him, if you are 8 years old and are capable of passing tests that most
10-year olds pass, then you have an IQ of 125 (well above average). IQ testers generally
administer three types of tests: Verbal, Numerical, and Visuo-Spatial. So, if I
consistently do well on IQ tests, if I do well on these verbal, numerical, and
visuo-spatial tests, I'm deemed intelligent. These same IQ test creators staunchly believe
that intelligence is an "innate general cognitive ability."
According to this guy, people who don't know their state capitals are dumb
Can we confine intelligence to the classifications of verbal, numerical, and
visuo-spatial abilities? Many IQ tests are inherently flawed, not only as subject to human
error and cultural biases, but simply because every IQ test has markedly different
questions and dispenses dramatically different results for some test-takers from test to
test. Yet IQ test creators claim that you should generally receive the same scores... The
most fallible IQ tests will have questions like:
"A trichina is which of the following?"
a) a triangular structure
b) an ancient method of counting money
c) a parasitic nematode worm
d) an unscrupulous politician or lawyer
Any test that requires you to define obscure words like trichina is defective
not just because I didn't know that a trichina is a nematode worm: Test creators claiming
that intelligence is an innate quality should not be testing us on material that is
necessarily acquired through study
As far as their visuo-spatial tests, I have
learned that I have gotten "better" at some of the visuo-spatial tests through
practice alone. Sadly enough, I'm a BIG dork and I have performed too many of these tests
to know if I'm developing an ability to discover new patterns, or if I'm just remembering
similar patterns from tests I've taken in the past.
Now, to poke some holes into the "innate" theory
what if I
were born and raised in an environment completely bereft of intellectual stimulation,
where my development was stymied to the point where sounds were words, and gestures were
the medium of communication? If I were to take an IQ test, I would probably score a big
fat zero on all of these tests, especially the verbal segment. Now, it's likely that I
could have a brother who is raised in an economically stable society, with a family who
sends him to school and encourages his educational development
and that same brother
can go and score 170 on an IQ test. Both of us would be endowed with a very similar
yet his score would be 170 points different than mine. This example,
while somewhat oversimplified, lends credence to my proposal that intelligence is an
innate ability, but it can be improved upon, and our natural abilities call for certain
environmental factors to be set in place.
Since most standard dictionaries define intelligence as the capacity to learn, let's
use that as our starting point, although we should consider some qualifications to this
1) Can people have a capacity to learn a lot in some areas and not in others. Can
someone be "intelligent in math" and "unintelligent in verbal
2) Should time constraints be a factor? If one person completes an IQ test half an hour
earlier than another person, is the first person more intelligent?
To the first question, I would have to say yes. Most everyone
seems to be "more intelligent" in one area than the next. A colleague of mine
made the interesting point that the truly intelligent people may have mastered both the
logical and the creative ends of the spectrum. Speaking to the second question, I think
time constraints should be considered on a case-by-case basis. My brother, who is
mathematically "gifted," can definitely solve any math equation twenty times
faster than I can. But then again, I wouldn't say my friend with dyslexia is any less
intelligent than me, just because she takes un-timed tests. Also, let's not forget, Donna Martin graduates. Besides, sometimes we just get distracted, plain
and simple. Kind of like I do when I'm trying to write an "intelligent"
So what are the precise components of intelligence in my (limited) brain?
Logic and reasoning are the first characteristics that come to mind. What may seem like
a rudimentary skill, the ability to problem solve in a reasonable fashion escapes many of
the most "intelligent" people I know.
I love chimp movies
Plus, logic and reasoning seem to be the classifications we use to label primates as
"intelligent" or "unintelligent." In the case of chimpanzees and
orangutans, we consider them the "most intelligent" species next to homo sapiens
primarily because of their ability to use logic and reasoning to get what they want. Of
course, some of the really advanced chimps, like Amy from Congo, possess some of the more
advanced verbal skills to be discussed next.
Almost everyone agrees that some variation of verbal and mathematical abilities are the
bases of intelligence. As previously stated, this verbal component is somewhat problematic
to me, as I don't think people with large vocabularies are necessarily more intelligent
than those who say "merge" instead of "amalgamate." In most cases, I
think people who use simple words to convey their ideas are more intelligent, as my
political theory professor pointed out; they don't need to hide behind big words to make
their points carry a lot of weight. I often find that I use big words when I am most
insecure with my audience. However, I do think this capacity to learn a number of
different vocabulary words and actually use them in natural speech requires intelligence.
As a subset of verbal acuity, a capacity to learn foreign languages should be
considered as a worthy component of intelligence. This component seems somewhat sketchy to
me, as I have found that anyone can become proficient in the more common languages, simply
by taking classes, memorizing, practicing, and spending enough time in the countries. In
terms of learning some of the more intricate, non-Romance languages, I can see where
intelligence might come into play. A friend of mine immersed herself in a tribe in Africa
and learned what I believe was a Bantu tongue; she can now speak it fluently. Given 6
months of intensive studying, could anyone learn this language, or any others for that
Mathematical components of intelligence are a little more concrete, a little easier to
characterize. The ability to solve different mathematical problems in a logical format is
about as concrete and innate an ability as one can possess. Because while all of us can
memorize words and develop a command of any language, mathematical abilities cannot always
be acquired. Those of us who aren't mathematically intelligent can't just study and
memorize equations. For tests, sure, we can memorize a bunch of patterns and then identify
them when we recognize them. But for the most part, if we aren't mathematically gifted, we
will have a difficult time grasping math from a logical perspective; we will never
understand why and how it works.
I think imagination and creativity should be included in the discussion as well, at
least in my (non-Mensa affiliated) book. I think artists, including (some)
painters/sculptors/etc, (some) musicians, and (some) actors/playwrights reach a level of
intelligence that logicians could never hope to reach. That intelligence relies, to a
large degree, on a heightened level of perception. When a genuine artist constructs a work
of art, he has the ability to perceive, recreate, and interpret the most minute details,
from the faintest shadow above the shoulder, to the contrast of light and dark that will
make the eyes appear to, at the risk of sounding cliché, "twinkle." While
artists are certainly born with the ability, a large number of them acquire a great deal
of their inspiration from their contemporaries. Almost all of the most gifted artists need
an innovator to influence them in the first place. Most agree that Jeans Arp is the
founder of Dadaism
if he hadn't gotten the ball rolling, perhaps more memorable
artists like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali wouldn't have joined the movement.
In all this discussion of intelligence, I really haven't talked about the brain too
Back in the day, phrenologists divided the brain into 27 faculties and declared that
these were the exact
points where components of intelligence as well as personal character were located.
For example, the faculties are given ambiguous labels such as "murder;
carnivorousness, " and "sense of cunning." As you can guess, phrenologists
were largely discredited in later years, but the study of the convolutions of the brain is
still valid today.
I actually studied the brain carefully my senior year in college for one of my
psychology classes. While the class was insanely difficult (for me), I learned many
interesting, mysterious things about our human brains. For instance, when we memorize
words to a song, there is actually a pinpoint location in our brain that corresponds with
those exact lyrics. So, if we go back in time and recall the lyrics to an old favorite
like "Cherry Pie," there is some metabolic activity going on in one precise
location in our brain that hasn't been used in a while.
Our final exam question consisted solely of the following (abridged) question: You get
into your and turn on the ignition. You start driving, turn on the radio and tune the
radio while you are driving. You come to a red stop light and watch it turn green. You
continue to drive when the aroma of freshly baked-bread comes into your nose. You are
aware that objects are staying in place while the car is continually moving. You see a dog
dart out in front of your car and you stop. (I can't remember the rest of the question).
Describe IN COMPLETE all of the neurological activity that is going on inside your brain
without omitting any steps. As you can imagine, we had three hours to answer this
question. I covered almost 10 pages, front and back in very small type with all of the
information I learned from the class. And I still ended up with a B minus. Just goes to
show, your fearless author is not as intelligent as she would like to be
or am I not
that smart? Or both? Who knows?
Donna Martin graduates!
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