We admire people who sense what is the right thing to do in an unfamiliar situation. Intelligence is more than just a general capacity to learn, to reason or to understand, it is a quickness to apprehend, as distinct from ability which is the capacity to act wisely on the thing comprehended. Intelligence is shrewdness, cleverness and knowledge all rolled together with emotional intuition, balance and a strong sense of practicality.
Aristotle defined intelligence when he said anyone can become angry – that’s the easy part. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason and in the right way, that is where intelligence becomes so important. Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, ascribes this ability as a survival skill; “We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the steward of life’s continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are”1. So we had better get on and act intelligently!
It was the Frenchman, Alfred Binet, who invented a predictive test to sort out the ‘feeble-minded’ from those who might serve in the army2. His ideas resulted in the Stanford-Binet intelligence tests which claimed to give an accurate Intelligence Quotient (I.Q) to each person by relating their test scores to their chronological age. It soon became clear that individuals tended to increase their I.Q scores as they became better educated, while whole populations over time showed a rise in average levels of I.Q. This questioned their validity. The tests were of even less value if administered to cross-cultural groups.
It was in ‘Frames of Mind’ in 1983, that Howard Gardner set out the theory of Multiple Intelligences3. According to his research, humans are able to make sense of the world through various forms of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, use of body to solve problems (kinaesthetic), an interpersonal skill and an intraspective intelligence. Later he added, somewhat hesitatingly, an eighth intelligence which he variously called naturalistic or spiritual. Individuals, he noted, differed in the strength of these intelligences leading Gardener to propose that a single definition of intelligence should be replaced by a profile of intelligences.
Others4 have argued that intelligence as a concept can be defined in three parts. Roughly half of what we call intelligence has a genetic base – some people are born with a Rolls Royce of a brain, others with a clapped out Morris Minor. About a quarter of intelligent behaviour is content specific – a skilled pneumatic drill operator would make a very bad dentist. However a third component, composing 20-30 % of the whole, is described as ‘reflective intelligence’, the ability to think around a problem. If the content’s specific nature of intelligence is likened to a map of country to be traversed, then reflective intelligence is how a good driver of an old car can cover the course more easily than a bad driver of a brand-spanking new Porsche. It is reflective intelligence that responds best to education.
Emotional intelligence seeks to explain why people with high academic but low emotional skills often do less well than those with a profound emotional understanding of people but with less technical knowledge5. Emotional intelligence includes such characteristics as self awareness and impulse control, persistence, zeal, self-motivation and empathy. The idea of spiritual intelligence6 draws on recent research into high-frequency (40Hz) neural oscillations which are being used to explore the neural basis of transcendency, the origins of human creativity, moral codes, an ability to temper rigid rules with understanding, and about the formation of meaning, vision and values.
Just as no two people look alike – sexual reproduction and genetic mutations see to that – so no two people think in the same way. Some claim to have particular ‘learning styles’, which makes it easier to work, say, with music in the background. Some find reading a book easy, while others find listening to a lecture hard. Some people have no sense of space or direction, others can not distinguish one musical note from another, and others can’t draw to save their lives.
Intelligence is undoubtedly multi-faceted, for very good reasons. To survive out on the savannah all those tens of thousands of years ago, or to have been a trader in William the Conqueror’s London, or a sailor in the Napoleonic wars, you needed to be able to approach your every-changing environment in every possible way. Maybe part of the mental confusion of our own day is that we don’t have enough opportunities to develop our own various forms of intelligence7.
Thesis 10: 24th August 2006