What is Intelligence?



We want children to become more intelligent. We want ourselves throughout life to become more intelligent, but what does that really mean? Most people believe that they know what it means to be intelligent, but, in truth, there is no agreed upon definition of that term. The only definition that seems to have survived the test of time is “intelligence is what intelligence tests measure.”

That is the best definition that we have, and it sounds like a circular, redundant one. But, in fact, it does have validity. The definition was created by a psychologist named Charles Spearman in 1927. He meant that it involved a high degree of “general ability”, but specifically he defined it as: “if an individual is very successful at tasks considered by society to require intelligence, then tests that reflect those tasks will serve as a measure of intelligence.” This means that it is society that determines what is intelligent according to the abilities that are most needed and required. And our modern society has pretty much assumed that pure verbal and mathematical skills were the most desired ones. Since the industrial revolution, these are the abilities that are tested primarily on intelligence tests and also in school.

But with today’s information revolution, will pure verbal and mathematical abilities be the only skills that are needed? With all of the influx of computer technology, I can only assume that additional skill sets may become just as important, if not more important, than the pure “academic” ones. Who can say that hacking ability is less intelligent than one’s ability to read and understand Shakespeare plays? Or that the ability to operate and troubleshoot a highly complex robotic assembly line is less intelligent than being able to solve an algebraic equation?

Schools and the standards movement like to pronounce that they want to ensure that all students know “what they are supposed to know” at a certain grade level. But who determines what is “supposed to be known?” Are we using the guidelines of the past to determine this — what was considered most desirable during the industrial revolution? In a lot of ways we are. Of course, common sense tells us that everyone needs to know how to read, write, and do basic math, but beyond that, who can say what is the most intelligent ability? Perhaps it is team-building skills, or artistic skills like the ability to convey complex information graphically. These are wholly new skills sets that are only beginning to emerge. As outlined in this post many times, after age 16, we need individualized learning. Individualized learning can help every person find their best intelligence and how they can contribute the most desirable skill set to the world.



About chbernat

I am a technical writer and instructional designer. I have an intense interest in adult learning and instructional design principles. I greatly feel that adults need to take control of their own learning in order to advance their knowledge and skills throughout life.
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