Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I is Smart

I always wondered what people meant when then called other people intelligent. Whether about a kid, a person, me, I never really got what makes one person smarter than another.

Some people are easy to label as intelligent. The Spelling Bee kids, who can figure out how a word is spelled by understanding its language of origin, are incredibly smart. They have strong powers of logic and deduction, as well as memorizing skills and understanding the complexities of language.

Other people are tougher to label. Ken Jennings from Jeopardy is called intelligent because he knew all the answers. I don't believe that trivia makes some one smart. But isn't that more of a function of memory?

Some people say their toddlers are smart. I know I do. Lilah is a genius! She's learning new words all the time, without us even trying! All of the sudden she's telling us that she's "stuck" or asking for "help." But does every child go through that? Is that "smartness" innate and universal (to a degree)? NOTE: Lilah is a god damn genius!

I try to be smart in my job. I make choices that I think will best suit my clients and co-workers. But could anybody with the right amount of training and time be just as smart as me? Where does common sense come in to play?

I finally found a definition that works, based on Steven Pinker's definition of reason. Here goes:

Intelligence is the ability to deduce new pieces of information from old ones.
There you have it. Intelligence, being smart, means you can take existing information and create new information. It's a clean, simple definition that is universal and egalitarian. Anyone can be smart, no matter the age, gender, race, education, etc. There will be levels of complexity that vary from person to person. A rocket scientist will have more complex mathematical problems to solve than an artist. But intelligence surpasses profession and is relevant in all situations.

My favorite part of this definition is that it focuses on creation. Creativity = intelligence. This flips the example I just gave. By definition, an artist who creates a work of art (a pattern of complex shapes, colors, symbols, etc) is more intelligent than a rocket scientist who is dealing with complex situations but simply using pre-existing formulas to solve problems.

Ken Jennings has a stunning capacity for memory, to recall facts he learned before. But is this true intelligence? I would say no, although his talents are no less remarkable. The Spelling Bee kids do intelligence backwards; they breakdown a piece of information into it's smaller components (figuring out the root, the language of origin, etc.) to understand the whole. This somehow fits my definition.

There you have it. Resolution on an issue that's been bugging me for years. I love these moments!


Don't Be So Dramatical said...

We do have a little genius on our hands...We're in big trouble! xoxo

Jen Simon said...

i'm all about memory. guess i'm just an idiot. durrrrrr.