The Problem With Understanding Intelligence

Image result for intelligent tumblrThere are a lot of articles out there claiming to understand what comprises an intelligent person. They’ll site flimsy studies that affirm a myriad of very stereotypical traits about intelligent people. You’ve heard it plenty of times I’m sure. “You might be super smart if you are a night owl, introverted, don’t smoke, or have a cat instead of a dog.” To me, a lot of these claims are just plain silly. For centuries, scientists and psychologists have been trying to figure out what exactly intelligence is. More importantly, they’ve been trying to figure out how the highly intelligent think. As concrete as many articles claim the research is, we don’t actually understand intelligence much at all. If we did, more people would understand that intelligence can’t be measured and that there aren’t a set of assigned traits that intelligent people have.

An article I recently read written by Big Think created a correlation between intelligence and physical activity. If you’re highly intelligent you may not be as physically active because you prefer to be thinking. It sites a study of 60 college students with varying NFC’s (need for cognition) which, after just one week of time, discovered that those with higher NFC’s were less physically active. Therefore, it concluded that smarter people must be less active. Well, there’s a lot wrong with this deduction. First of all, there was a small pool of subjects. You need to study a lot of people to accurately gauge something as ambiguous as intelligence. Second, they only conducted the study for a week! There is no way you’re going to be able to accurately deduce anything about cognition over a span of 7 days. Things change in people’s lives and the desire to be active fluctuates based on a myriad of factors. Third, the correlation itself is a bit shady. They are claiming that those who are less active chose to stay home and think. Who says that staying home to think about stuff makes you smarter? And who does that anyway?! If I stay home instead of doing something active, I’m probably at home watching movies or something. There is clearly very flimsy evidence to suggest that lazy people are more intelligent. What if going running or playing a sport helps people think? It is very possible that certain people think more clearly or more creatively when they’re moving.

As humans we can’t help but feel we have to condense things in order to understand it. We condense vocabulary words to flash cards, we try to understand personalities by assigning colors and specific terminology to them (introvert vs. extrovert), and we try to understand groups of people by assigning them to biological races. Some of these are not even backed by real science! There is no scientific basis for biological races. We do the same for intelligence, claiming that intelligent people tend to stay up late, are thinner, and are funny. These are individual personality traits that some intelligent people may have but not all of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that we shouldn’t try to understand intelligence, I just think that before we go making concrete claims about intelligence, we should make sure we have the science to back it up!

Personally, I don’t believe that intelligence is necessarily fixed. There are always more ways you can educate yourself, learn more about yourself and the world. Here are some ways you can make yourself a little smarter every day.

1. Keep an Open Mind 

The world is a big big place and there is so much to know about it. If you’re always held up in the same way of thinking, you may never be able to expand your mind.

2. Adapt to Changes

This is a tough one, but you must be able to adapt to changing environments and conditions. If you’re working on a project and a bunch of set-backs come your way, just adapt and re-asses.

3. Understand that there is a lot you don’t know 

You are never going to be able to know everything, but it’s better to learn as much as possible than to be content knowing nothing. Once you understand that there so much to learn and so much knowledge you don’t have, you’ll find yourself curious to learn more about stuff.

4. Be curious about stuff 

It doesn’t really matter what it’s about. Just start with some interest you have and fall down the rabbit hole of information. In one day I go from technological advances in robotics to the art of meditation. The sky is the limit, so learn whatever you can!

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