What if We're Wrong About Intelligence? An Expansive View Of "Smart"
Our understanding of intelligence is evolving
“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
We’ve all been there. We get a test and see that C- and our heart sinks. We tell ourselves that we’re not smart. But what if intelligence is more expansive than we give it credit for? What if being “smart” means having the ability to learn in many different ways?
In the early 1900s, intelligence was defined as the ability to think abstractly. This definition favored those who did well in school and on IQ tests.
But as psychologist Howard Gardner pointed out in his 1983 book “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” this view of intelligence is too narrow.
Gardner proposed seven types of intelligence:
Linguistic intelligence is the ability to use language.
Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to reason abstractly and solve problems.
Spatial intelligence is the ability to perceive the world and visualize objects in three dimensions.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to use our bodies.
Musical intelligence is the ability to create or appreciate music.
Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand and interact with others.
Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to know oneself well and have a strong sense of self-awareness.
Evolving Towards a New Definition
The idea of intelligence is evolving and changing. It is broader than the ability to do math or score well on a test.
Intelligence is now seen as a multifaceted construct that includes skills such as creativity and emotional and social intelligence.
Creativity has been seen as an essential component of intelligent behavior.
Creativity can be defined as the production of novel and valuable ideas or new ways of solving problems.
Research has shown that there are many different types of creativity which include things like;
Divergent thinking is coming up with many other solutions for a given problem.
Convergent thinking is finding one solution for a given situation.
Artistic creativity is the ability to produce works in any of the visual arts.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, understand, and manage emotions. Emotional intelligence includes both intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.
Contextual or situational awareness involves being aware of one’s surroundings and understanding how one’s actions might affect others.
Social intelligence is the ability to navigate social situations. It includes intrapersonal and interpersonal skills and contextual or situational awareness skills.
Limitations of the “Intelligence” Concept
While intelligence has evolved and become more complex over time, it remains a limited concept.
This is because many still define intelligence by what can be measured. This means that things like emotional and social intelligence, which are harder to quantify, are often left out of the definition of intelligence.
Another limitation of the intelligence concept is that it is often used to label people.
When someone is labeled as “intelligent,” it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy where they live up to their label and have a confirmation bias, where they only see evidence that supports it.
The idea that a single number can measure intelligence, like an IQ score or a “smartness quotient” (SQ), is no longer valid.
Intelligence is not a single entity that can be measured and ranked.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” — Isaac Asimov
How the Brain Functions and Develops
As any neuroscientist will tell you, the brain is a complex organ. Recent research has shown that it is even more complicated than we previously thought.
The brain is composed of many different regions, each contributing to various aspects of intelligence. This means that intelligence is not merely the product of the “thinking” part of the brain but instead the result of interactions between all parts of the brain.
The brain comprises billions of cells called neurons, which communicate through connections called synapses. The brain has three main parts: the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem.
The cerebrum controls conscious thought and voluntary movements.
The cerebellum coordinates movement and balance.
The brainstem controls vital functions such as breathing and heart rate.
The cerebrum is the most significant part of the brain and is divided into two hemispheres (left and right).
Each hemisphere contains four lobes: the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe. These lobes are responsible for motor control, perception, language, and cognition functions.
The brain is growing and changing throughout our lives. This process, called neuroplasticity, allows us to learn new things and adapt to our environment.
The brain’s ability to change enables us to improve our intelligence. Intelligence is not fixed at birth but develops over time through experience and learning. This means we can all become more intelligent if we create the right environment.
The Implications of the “Expand Intelligence” View
If we accept that intelligence is not fixed, it means that everyone has the potential to be more intelligent. This has enormous implications for education and how we raise children.
It also means that intelligence is not a product of genes but rather the result of environment and experience. This view of intelligence also has implications for how we see ourselves.
If we believe that our intelligence is fixed, we are more likely to give up when faced with challenging tasks. But, if we believe that our intelligence can improve, we are more likely to persevere in facing difficulty.
Psychologist John Carroll first proposed the idea of expanding intelligence in the 1970s. He asserted that intelligence is a measure of one’s ability to solve problems and is not set at birth or predetermined by genetics.
This view challenges the traditional view that IQ cannot be increased through artificial means. It also challenges the idea that people are born with a fixed amount of intelligence. They can never increase or decrease it through external means such as education or training.
Many psychologists and educators have adopted this expansive view. It has also gained popularity recently as more research has been conducted on the brain’s ability to change.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I suggest reading “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” by Psychologist Scott Kaufman.
Understanding the Limits to Our Understanding
In general, we use the term “intelligence” to describe the ability of an organism to learn from experience and adapt. However, there is no universally accepted definition of intelligence.
This is because what we think of as intelligent behavior can vary depending on the context.
For example, intelligence is about making good decisions based on a set of general rules in a chess game.
In contrast, in a game like Go or Bridge or Poker, intelligence is about making good decisions based on incomplete information where there are many possible moves and counter-moves.
One of the challenges in defining intelligence is that it is difficult to determine what should be included in the definition.
Should we only consider cognitive abilities, or should we also include social and emotional intelligence? Should we consider only human intelligence, or should we also have animal intelligence?
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” — Oscar Wilde
What is clear is that our understanding of intelligence is evolving as we learn more about the brain and how it works.
So even though we may not have a consensus on what it means to be intelligent, I believe that the expanding intelligence view provides a more accurate and helpful perspective than the traditional fixed view.
Do you agree? What’s your opinion on intelligence and whether it can be developed?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
© Alejandro Betancourt, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
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