What is Smart?

IntelligenceNormally I start a week-long topic with the definition of said idea but I went a little backwards yesterday because the concept of being intelligent is so difficult to define. IQ tests have become a defacto measurement and they might well represent the greatest probability of measuring intelligence. Today I’ll look at some of the ideas about what defines intelligence and tell you what I think are its most important indicators.

Let me start by admitting that I’m not going to find a unifying answer but I do have my definition. It’s a brutally difficult to define intelligence and more than one brilliant mind has tried to answer the question but there is no consensus. That being said let’s take a look at the kinds of intelligence to be found.

One main theory that has, I think, some excellent points is called the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory. It suggests there are a number of interrelated factors in intelligence. The list is lengthy, I’ll let you read the article if you desire, and I’ll just summarize here. Intelligence seems to include reading/writing skills, processing information with your senses, numeric understanding, memory, reasoning faculties, and speed of processing.

So, in order to have intelligence we must be able to understand information, store it in memory for retrieval, categorize it, and decipher different pieces of information in a short period of time. Basically you must learn of something and store it away for later, usually an ability to categorize items is helpful for quick retrieval, and then when given other, related information, connect the two pieces into a final conclusion.

This is an extraordinarily simplistic definition but it will have to do. The ability to do the above is something I call mental agility. One thing to consider is that a computer has several of these components particularly the ability to “remember” and retrieve but connection until recently has been difficult to overcome. However, recent advances in computer “intelligence” are beginning to change that fact. I’ll talk more about computer intelligence soon but not today.

So, for me, this defines intelligence: The ability to piece together separate but connected pieces of information to draw a factual conclusion. Now, I’ll wrap this up by talking about some categories of intelligence, at least in my model.

The people who have the ability to see two related facts and instantly come a conclusion that many other people will never find are, in my opinion, smart. There are two groups of these types of people in my model. Some people very quickly analyze information and come to conclusions. We call this genius or brilliance. Other people take time to analyze but also come up with solutions. I call these people plodders although that is an incorrect technical definition. A plodder by definition doesn’t get anywhere. To my mind the plodder is the like the turtle in the proverbial race against the rabbit. It may take him or her a while to get there but eventually they arrive.

In many ways I think being a plodder is better than brilliance. Brilliance finds things easily whereas a plodder has to work hard. As a so-called genius moves through life they start to meet those as intelligent and questions start to become more difficult. Much like a star baseball player in high school is an average player in college and unable to become a professional. As things get more difficult early brilliance usually meets equally brilliant people and can get discouraged whereas a plodder is used to working hard and eventually finding the solution. This best combination is the genius-plodder who makes connection easily but also works hard. People like this are rare but change the world.

So, anyway, that’s my definition of intelligence and a standard model. Tell me what you think in the comments. What is intelligence?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist