December 03, 2012

Life Smarts and The Intelligence Myths

Intelligence has been in the news recently. Futurist, Ray Kurtzweil, new book, How to Create a Mind  talks about the coming merger between artificial (molecular, nano super computers) and biological intelligence (our brains) and how this new technology will enhance overall human intelligence. That got me to thinking.  While intelligence is one of the most desired human attributes, it is also one of the most misunderstood. Unfortunately, there are a number of widely held myths about intelligence that create unnecessary confusion and problems. Today we're going to talk about some of the latest research in this area and try to clear up some of the erroneous thinking about being smart. 

Commonly held myths

1.Intelligence is a single ability, i.e. Intelligence is having a high IQ. Recent research shows, however, that is no such thing as intelligence, i.e. a single ability. There are however many different intelligences. What we think of as intelligence is made up of number of different abilities and skills.  While we tend to think of individuals as either intelligent or not, a better way to understand cognitive aptitudes and abilities is to think of intelligence as a collection or a profile of intelligences i.e. of separate skills and abilities. Besides mathematical and verbal skills, musical, artistic, language, athletic and interpersonal skills are just a few examples of other intelligences.) It is important to realize that no one has all of them and, likewise, no one is without some of them.
When intelligence is narrowly defined as raw cognitive ability, other crucial abilities and talents may be overlooked and underappreciated. Even worse, when IQ is understood as the be all and end all of being "smart", a person may become discouraged and not appreciate or develop other important traits that would make the individual successful.  (This fact is especially important for parents to know as they raise their children.)*

2. Intelligence requires speed and quickness of comprehension. New findings show that the solutions to some complex problems require a different kind of intelligence, one which is not necessarily fast but which perseveres and tolerates the frustration of failure. Think Thomas Edison. We think of him as a genius and he was but he also failed 1000 times before he discovered tungsten as the right filament for the light bulb. Sometime folks who are very quick in finding answers also give up quickly when they are not immediately successful. Conversely, those who can hang in there and keep trying often succeed.      

3. Intelligence is only about individual effort, ideas and solutions.  While individual genius is important, most of the progress in life comes from a team effort and collaboration among individuals.          

4. Intelligence fades with age. While the processor may slow a bit, barring serious pathology, people grow in wisdom and perspective over the years.      

Important Factors of Intelligence Not to Overlook.  --  Whether you've blessed with a high IQ or not, we all have talents which are necessary for success and important to develop.  Here are four big ones to work on:

 - Perseverance: The ability to struggle and tolerate frustration and not give up is often more important than finding a quick solution.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - Flexibility of Perspective: Being able to think outside the box. Don't get stuck in one point of view. Don't be afraid to look at a problem from a completely different angle. Often a change of outlook can lead to important discoveries.                                                                                                                                                                - A Realistic appreciation of one's limits and abilities. Know what you know and know what you don't know.                                                                                                                           - Collaborate.  Don't be afraid to ask for help or think that you have to do things all by yourself. Likewise, when others offer different points of view, listen and try to understand. Learn to appreciate other points of view and incorporate them into your own thinking.

Not understanding the nature of intelligence can lead to misunderstanding as well as unnecessary discouragement and giving up. We all have talent and each person needs to realize his/her gifts.  While raw intelligence is important, perseverance, self awareness and working with others are equally, or even more important, in most life situations. While no pill or exercise can increase your IQ,   you can improve other aspects of intelligence such as determination, self awareness and the ability to collaborate with others throughout your lifetime. 

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, prepared these remarks for Bridge Street   12 3 2012.   

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