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Intelligence is Like Beauty, in the Eye of the Beholder.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | June 16, 2018

No. 1,506

Image: govtech.com

A friend of mine, who is my age, has been tested several times recently for symptoms of dementia. He asked his wife why the tester always asked questions about the date, day of the week and the like.  “Is it important?” he asked. It was a good question for him, since he had been retired for some time and didn’t have any daily responsibilities.

After being assured that it was, he stated that, in that case, he would make sure he always knew it.

Generally speaking, we remember what we think is important. However our brains are not perfect.  From the very first day of life they are molded by stimuli received from the world. By the time we are administerd an IQ test, perhaps in first grade, we are already pretty far down the road of experience and learning.

Intelligence has been defined in many different ways to include the capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, and problem solving. It can be more generally described as the ability to perceive or infer information and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context. [Wikipedia]

Intelligence tests are supposed to be neutral.  The effect of acquired knowledge, culture and everything else is supposed to be filtered out.  But, as we have reluctantly been forced to admit, despite the intriguing culture-free intelligence tests for infants developed by Piaget and others, it never can be.

We’ve been congratulating ourselves for the last 60 years or so that intelligence test scores have been increasing at a steady pace. The so-called Flynn Effect is supposed to reflect environmental factors, such as nutrition, that improved in the post war (WWII) western world.  But what is given can be taken away.  Some of the same studies that reported steady increase in IQ over the second half of the 20th Century are now reporting a decrease. Many factors have been suggested, but of course, there is no hard data that explains the supposed phenomenon.  In fact, it may not even be real, since the changes are very modest and may even be within the statistical range of error.

A more complete discussion is contained in a couple of interesting blog posts here and here.

The post by Economics prof  Tyler Cohen in Marginal Revolution on the subject drew a raft of comments, some witty, indicating that explanations range into dozens of sinister causes, including television. One of them is that when the world population level broke free from the Malthusian ceiling determined  by a limited food supply, Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest principles no longer operated to cull the human herd. Yes, some of the ideas suggested by Marginal Revolution readers are not exactly politically correct.

So where does all this leave us?  Is there nothing to be done?

Obviously not.  Other studies suggest that everybody, including older people, can do many things to improve the functioning of their neural network.  Exercise is one.  Diet is another.  Try reading — something challenging, of course.  Learn a language.  Do some math, preferably by hand.  Don’t watch mindless television shows; watch mindful ones and not too many. Engage in conversation with intelligent and interesting people.  Take a class.  Meditate.  Keep a daily journal. And, if you are really serious about keeping your mind in working order, write a blog.

I can’t prove it, but I have come to believe that everybody is smart in at least one unique way and dumb in others. There are so many ways to be smart that the range is infinite.  Find something you do best and when you do, do it a lot.  In other words, choose to be smart.





CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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