Saturday, February 21, 2015

What is intelligence?

I have raved about Innovation Hub many times and this week’s episode is another great example of why.  The first segment is my favorite.  It is an interview of Annie Murphy Paul, who is a freelance writer for publications like The New York Times on topics related to intelligence.  Although she doesn’t do any original research herself, she has read just about every research paper there is and her writing is excellent. I have been a fan of her blog for a few years.   

Today’s interview was a basic discussion of what intelligence is.  I have been studying this myself for enough years that I didn’t think I would learn anything from the interview.  But she said something that really resonated with me.  She said (full disclosure - this is my interpretation) the biggest mistake is thinking of intelligence as a noun.  A phenomenon that can be defined independently of the person and the context.  The second biggest mistake is thinking of intelligence as an adjective.  A trait of a person that might depend on the person’s nature and nurture but is independent of the context.  We need to think of it as a verb.  A fully context-dependent behavior that shows the person is effectively doing what they can and/or using what they know to achieve her goals.

Of course this is a simplification but I like the idea of thinking of intelligence as something that only happens in context and depends on the goals.  I can intelligently take a shortcut I know to be wrong if that satisfies some emotional goal that is more important at that time than accuracy.  I also like the focus away from a trait because having a fixed mindset about intelligence is known to degrade behavior and learning.

Your Turn

So how do you think of intelligence?  Do you think that the intelligent thing to do can be defined normatively and objectively?  Do you think a person has a general IQ that follows them around?  Multiple IQs that follow them around (emotional intelligence, cognitive intelligence, social intelligence)?  Or is it fully context dependent?