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Intelligence Across Humanity

  1. Jun 20, 2011 #1
    Hello world.

    I wanted to get the opinion of some intelligent people (by which I use the term intelligent in the most general, lay-person sense) about intelligence itself.

    This could easily spiral into a lengthy essay on my part, so I will keep it simple and just jot down a few points and respond as necessary if people find it interesting enough to comment.

    For a little reference: I am a big proponent of CHC Theory and how it applies to those in the sciences and other disciplines (such as music, writing, pilots, lawyers, etc.) If you're not familiar with it, this is a good (and very brief) overview.


    1) My question is why does society seem to focus on quantitative/scientific intelligence and put it on a pedestal, when there are equally intelligence people working in other fields? Or, is it the case that those in the sciences are smarter than those in non-scientific fields such as authors, philosophers, lawyers, chess grandmasters, and so on?

    (Yes, I realize the oversimplification of boundaries on occupations is not conducive in the long run. But we have to make categories here, even if temporarily, in order to get anywhere).

    2) How do you define intelligence? Like consciousness, it is not very well-defined, and may never be. But if you were forced to create a one or two sentence definition, what would it be?

    For full disclosure, I am a musician (piano performance) but I also have a B.S. in Mathematics. I love both the arts and the sciences. Sometimes, though, I feel like I have a unique perspective on what it takes to do either (or both) and how much the intelligences overlap. While I recognize the importance of science (especially in the United States, where it is sometimes downplayed by some very manipulative and pandering politicians) my biggest fear is that one day in the future we'll overcompensate and lift all sciences and mathematics onto a pedestal and forget about the arts. The arts serve an obvious aesthetic purpose, but I think also a very neglected practical purpose as well.

    Those are just my watered-down thoughts. I'm not trying to start a debate about which is more important. I think most people would agree measuring 'importance' is highly subjective and that both are, of course, imperative for a full life.


    Edit: Sorry for the wrong initial placement.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2011
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  3. Jun 20, 2011 #2


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    A minor comment for you: one of the things that has occurred to me over the years is that people seem to often use the term "talented" for someone like Picasso or Beethoven but use the word "intelligent" for Einstein and this seems to stem from the fact that Einstein (and I'm using these few referenced folks generically) works in this head whereas the others work with physical objects. I think the labels we put on these concepts are overly constraining. That's probably exacerbated in the West because we LOVE to have simple names for things.
  4. Jun 20, 2011 #3


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    I would say that I don't often experience this. I can't speak for everywhere but in my experience in the UK people use the term intelligent to mean someone who is academically intelligent, this can be in science, arts or even trades. I agree with phinds though that people tend to use words like talented or skilled when referring to physical, rather than mental, capabilities.

    I would define intelligence as the capacity to absorb and apply knowledge. I think this is an ok(ish) definition but there is hardly anyway of reliably testing it as peoples "intelligence" varies based on field.
  5. Jun 20, 2011 #4


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    Interesting point. Perhaps that's also a cultural bias against those who do physical work for a living.
  6. Jun 21, 2011 #5


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    I think it really depends on the work. People can consider sportsmen and trademen very skilled or talented and hold them in high regard even though they do physical work. If anything I would say in the UK there is a bias against people who choose academia (especially the arts) as a career path.
  7. Jun 22, 2011 #6

    I definitely agree that the simplistic labels on complex concepts are sometimes constraining to our understanding. But surely you recognize that Beethoven and Picasso work in their heads just as much, if not more than, Einstein? Einstein's end-product was just as physical as a musical composition or a work of art. Just because it takes form in equations and theoretical description, makes it no less tangible than the Ninth Symphony or Picasso's Blue Period. My question is why do people look at Einstein (again using him as a general example) as the pinnacle of intelligence (this is by no means to downplay his extraordinary achievements) when there are others equally as intelligent but manifest that intelligence in different ways? Is it because society needs some sort of figurehead and it seems easiest to pick a topic the most foreign to them?

    Then there is the idea of importance, which is another topic altogether. But let's avoid that for now.

    I think another point I wanted to make was how imagination and overall intelligence seem to be inherently linked (as Einstein so brilliantly has attributed to him "Imagination is more important than knowledge"). If you look at the highest forms of art or science, you soon see that the difference between regular "great" stuff and "genius" stuff is how much creativity and imagination is put into it. This is especially true in more creative academic studies such as most engineering disciplines and pure mathematics (while I would argue physics is more descriptive, but of course not that it lacks imagination... it's just the nature of the work is different).
  8. Jun 22, 2011 #7
    That's interesting. In the US, and sometimes even more so in France where I've spent a great deal of time, those who choose the arts are socially cast out, while those who choose the sciences are put on a pedestal. Here, it seems somewhat shallow and all about the title.

    A functioning society needs both to succeed, but the problem comes when one has to describe why the arts are important. With the sciences, it's easy because its fruits are (usually) very tangible. The benefits of art are more longitudinal. In any case, my ideal society would be where people are versed in both without sacrificing specialization. I think you can be a theoretical physicist and still know how to play a Beethoven Sonata on piano. In fact, theoretical physicists who CAN play music or paint or have another creative outlet are already intellectually and emotionally ahead of their peers, for reasons too multitudinous to go into here.
  9. Jun 22, 2011 #8


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    I think you're missing my point and you are arguing with the wrong person. You asked for opinions as to WHY a phenomenon happened, not whether or not we agree with its correctness. I agree w/ you completely, I was simply suggesting ways for you to look at the issue that might help you understand why people in general believe the way they do. Arguing about whether they are RIGHT is doing what in the military is called "pissing up a rope".
  10. Jun 22, 2011 #9


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    And in the current post-recession economy that most developed countries find themselves in with huge deficits, debts and budget cuts an attitude of sod-the-arts tends to develop. When everyone has to examine every penny spent and scrutinise its benefit to society (which is massively defined as how much money it generates for the economy nowadays) it's obvious why the arts would suffer. The abstract nature of them is far harder to defend on a budgetary audit over science and engineering.
  11. Jun 22, 2011 #10
    I see. The way you phrased it initially "...stems from the fact that..." made it seem like that was how you thought also. I didn't know you meant to propose that only as a suggesting of what other people think.

    In any case, I totally agree. That is definitely a great point to consider when referencing the way the general populous may see these things. Thank you for the input! :)
  12. Jun 22, 2011 #11
    I don’t know if you have ever heard of Jacob Bronowski, kings7, but he was an extraordinary intellectual at the height of his fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s, whose background was in mathematics – specifically geometry – but who spoke of the false dichotomy that society had created between the arts and the sciences. He was asked to make a television series for the BBC about the history of science to compliment an earlier series called ‘Civilisation’ that was about the history of human art. Bronowski called his series ‘The Ascent of Man’ in reference to Darwin’s famous work ‘The Descent of Man’. Bronowski refused to see the history of science as something distinct from the history of art but saw them both as part of a broader history of human achievement and the rise from a nomadic, tribal existence to the complex, sophisticated, civilised world we had come to by 1973, when the series was made. The book that accompanies the series has been credited by some as being the original popular science book. It remains a wonderful, sweeping account of that rise, a great establisher of contexts for much of human discovery, and shows the arts and the sciences to be the product of the uniquely powerful human imagination.
  13. Jun 22, 2011 #12
    For sure. And to some extent, while it hurts to say this, it can be necessary to have to starve things down to the necessary functions for a while. But the lines are really easy to cross and going to extremes becomes natural for politicians who think that the arts deserve NO funding (even if it's a drop in the bucket that won't affect fiscal policy whatsoever in the long run). Blah. Anyway, before it gets too political, I totally agree.

    And I should also mention this is an issue that should be important to everyone, because the arts are not the only things that suffer. I constantly have to explain to certain members of my family and friends why mathematics beyond elementary calculus is important ("what do you do? why do you do it? what's it for" blah blah blah). I even have a cousin who is finishing his physics degree, and badgers me all the time about the linear algebra class he took saying that "it's not math, just words". Now, he is slightly more ignorant than most, but it's a good microcosm of what many people think about the higher academic subjects sometimes.
  14. Jun 22, 2011 #13
    This is very informative, thank you! I've heard the name in passing and probably have brushed passed the book once or twice, but I've never known enough to pick it up. I think I may have to do so now. Thanks once again!
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