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Intelligence. The difference between individuals.

  1. Aug 23, 2014 #1
    How do you define 'smart' or intelligent? What makes someone smarter than another? Is it the ability to process information at a certain rate, then synthesize that information effectively towards an end, the ability to store it in memory quickly and effectively as well?

    What is your conception of intelligence and can you give concrete examples of what great intelligence is like?


    I am asking this question in hopes that I can understand intelligence more and this may make an impact on my decisions related to academics. Like whether or not I should pursue engineering or computer science.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2014
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  3. Aug 23, 2014 #2


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    Intelligence is highly variable in kind and I think it is pointless to try to say that one person is smarter than another. For example, how do you compare a really outstanding auto mechanic who has a terrific understanding of cars with an actor who has to know completely different kinds of things? Do you really think it would be meaningful to say that one is smarter than the other?

    As for the thing measured by "IQ tests" that is a really excellent measure of how good someone is at taking IQ tests and is otherwise pretty useless.

    Yes, there ARE people who clearly are not as smart as others but I think it's a bit like pornography ... can't define it but I know it when I see it :smile:
  4. Aug 23, 2014 #3
    You may find this article interesting. Although I haven't scrutinized the article's sources, it claims that any person with an IQ of 115 or greater is capable of any career.

    There are several more factors that contribute to your academic success, such as persistence. It's easy to become discouraged when learning anything new. I'm sure there are some very intelligent people who fail to grow as a person, because they don't want to go through the embarrassment of being a novice.

    If you are interested in tests to guide you to the right major, try sokanu. It's free, and as far as I know, does not appear to be a cult, like the MBTI.
  5. Aug 23, 2014 #4


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    My sokanu results:

    1. Mathematician
    2. Nanny
    3. Trapper (animal)
    4. Agricultural inspector
    5. Faller (i.e., logging)

    uh...ok :uhh:

    Well it's true that I think it would be awesome to work in the woods/fields with kids, then go back to the cabin and teach them math (seriously).
  6. Aug 23, 2014 #5


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    But really, beyond some (probably low) result, IQ means next to nothing. Social skills, wisdom, luck...those come into play more than we'd like to think, IME.
  7. Aug 24, 2014 #6


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    You should have warned us that the test takes over an hour.

    My recommended careers are:

    1. Conservation Scientist
    2. Sustainability Officer
    3. Climate Change Analyst
    4. Particle Physicist
    5. Chemist

    I'm good with those. Though chemistry has always been my worst subject.

    Nanny eh? I was at the river the other day when a gentleman backing his boat down the launch narrowly missed squashing a 4 year old running across the ramp. He apparently hadn't seen the child, as when I told him; "If it does it again, and you kill it, I'll help you hide the body", he didn't seem to understand what I was talking about.

    I could never be a nanny.
  8. Aug 24, 2014 #7


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    From that sokanu test (which took forever btw, thanks for warning me):

    1. Conservation Scientist
    2. Mathematician
    3. Particle physicist
    4. Sustainability Officer (wth is this?)
    5. Climate change analyst

    Well... Maybe I'm in the wrong major
  9. Aug 24, 2014 #8
    My recommended careers:
    1. Mathematician
    2. Biostatistician
    3. Actuary
    4. News Anchor
    5. Editor

    Currently working on MS in Statistics. No plans to switch to communication or journalism, lol.
  10. Aug 24, 2014 #9
    Your ability to do engineering or Cs has little to do with intelligence. As with any technical degree, it is going to be about 80% hard work and motivation and 20% innate talent.
  11. Aug 25, 2014 #10
    Sokanu Results:

    Water engineer
    Naval Architect
    Chemical Engineer.

    I've considered chemical, mechanical, and aerospace engineering already. As soon as I heard of mechanical engineering, I wanted to pursue it! I think I was 15. Resolved to be an inventor at 13 prior to knowing what engineering was...

    Although I have interests in computers now a days.

    For the longest while Sonkanu was saying I should be a gynecologist as the highest recommendation.
  12. Aug 25, 2014 #11


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    I'm not playing any silly online game that takes an hour to pretend to tell me what I career I might be good at. :rolleyes:
  13. Aug 26, 2014 #12
    Without defining intelligence in any detail, I've often felt the most intelligent people must be the ones who made it very high up the totem pole in world power. That doesn't necessarily mean politicians, though it might include them, but more specifically the people who control where massive amounts of money goes, how it's spent, and where resources are applied. The movers and shakers.

    Their intelligence has to encompass both many types of logistics, and exceptionally well developed people skills.
  14. Aug 26, 2014 #13


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    Intelligence is a very slippery concept that's used in different situations to mean different things. Personally I agree with evolutionary biologist Steven Gould that intelligence is a reification: a collection of abstract phenomena erroneously treated as a discrete characteristic. Whilst theories of multiple intelligences don't seem to actually pan out when tested (see g-factor) there are quite evident ways in which two people, both described as intelligent will be quite different. A fairly accepted distinction is fluid and crystalised intelligence; the former indicates the ability to learn novel skills and adapt to new circumstances, the latter is the ability to apply learned information and skills to solve problems. They seem similar but there's a growing body of evidence showing their is a distinction, interestingly across age (the former is more prominent in younger people whilst the latter in older).

    Whilst that's all interesting it doesn't tell us much about everyday use which gets us back to being intelligent at something. Often people might be described as very intelligent in one subject but not in another or in a completely different situation (to use a cliché being intelligent in science but not in social skills). Rather than indicating multiple intelligences I think it's probably due to personality, how you use your intelligence is also a factor in your intelligence. There's probably a better way to put that but unless you're actually interested or passionate about a subject it's pretty difficult to work through it, even if it's of no significant complexity compared to other things you understand.

    In short intelligence isn't an easy thing to define and when we say "Alice is intelligent" we often mean "Alice is good at figuring out problems in X, Y, Z field".
  15. Aug 26, 2014 #14
    I disagree. In my personal opinion, all you need to be a money mogul and a "mover and shaker" is a near pathological disinterest in anyone's welfare and political glory other than your own, and perhaps a few of your closest cronys, but even that veiled sense of altruism is cloaked in greed. It doesn't take a lot of intelligence. The examples oft quoted about the gift to the world that came of an industrialists "greed is good" Gordon Gekko moniker are, more often than not, "happy accidents" that they can use retrospectively for political purposes, not goals set at the outset.
  16. Aug 26, 2014 #15


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    It was very tedious. But there were some entertaining moments. As you progress through the game, it continuously updates your 5 top choices, with cute little round pictures. At one point, I had farmer, dairy operator, and street vendor. I had indicated that I had only a high school diploma, and it probably thought I was qualified to sell apples and oranges on a street corner. Not sure how I eventually ended up with particle physicist in my list.

    At least it wasn't proctologist.

    hmmm.... Someone remind me next February to play the game again. I want to see if I can get proctologist.

    An example of how the questions are worded in one of the later sections:

  17. Aug 26, 2014 #16


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    Well that was long winded. I got:

    1) Psychologist
    2) Professor
    3) Elementary School Teacher
    4) Kindergarten Teacher
    5) Sociologist

    The second I would like, the last maybe and the rest no. It seemed to have confused the fact that I like socialising, helping people and children to mean that I want to help and socialise with children. Errrr nope.

    My dream job would be science but with a lot more automation so I can focus on the interesting and exciting stuff rather than spending weeks of my time on the tedious and repetitive side of things.
  18. Aug 26, 2014 #17
    Actually, I would describe the problem with many homeless people I encounter as their having a near pathological disinterest in anyone's welfare and glory but their own, coupled with a complete lack of money and people sense.

    The "intelligent" people I'm talking about are probably sociopaths, but they are of the most alert and intelligent variety, and don't present as sociopaths. An example: I think Franklin Roosevelt was "smarter" in the sense I'm talking about, than any physicist who worked on the bomb. No one had a grasp of, and worked to shape, "the big picture" at the time more than he did.
  19. Aug 26, 2014 #18


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    How many homeless people do you know and in what capacity? I have two close friends that work with the homeless, on for the town council in housing and one for a shelter charity. It's a regular topic of discussion and rarely does it seem like people became homeless because they weren't smart enough/hard working enough etc. More often than not there's a string of bad luck, or to be fair choices, that lead to a poverty spiral. Most come from disadvantaged backgrounds and so lack good education or a good support network, they get stuck in a situation where they can't get a job and have no money. Crime usually comes in at some point either as a desperate measure to make money (petty theft, prostitution) and along with it comes situations like drug addiction.

    It might be easy to sit back and think "well they should have got a job, planned their money and said no to drugs!" but that's naive and ignores the difficulty many of these people had in the first place. There's been times in my life when I've run out of money and couldn't get a job despite a lot of effort trying. Luckily I'm from a typically middle class background with a good family so could move in with parents, borrow money off of grand parents etc. Also because I'm middle class I had the benefit of a good education which made it easier to get a job when one finally came up. If I had a poor home life growing up which contributed to a poor education and no family to rely on I may very well indeed have ended up homeless waiting for sheltered accommodation.
  20. Aug 26, 2014 #19
    Notice I said "many," not "most," or "all". And I didn't claim to "know" any of them, I merely claim to have encountered them.

    How I encounter them is that they come up to me when I'm sitting at the outdoor patios of coffee shops and restaurants and ask me for money or cigarettes. I could write a book about this, but for brevity's sake: there is always an element of low grade extortion about these requests. They get in too close emphasizing the fact they're standing and you're sitting, hence at a physical disadvantage, and they imply there'll be trouble if you refuse. I almost always refuse because I dislike extortion, and there is frequently trouble when I do: they don't make it easy for you to refuse. They stand there and stare or call you a name or start arguing you should give them something. One guy threatened to bash me in the head with a bottle. The whole point of them going up to people seated at places like that is that they're "sitting ducks." They also target bus stops or anywhere the people can't just walk away. They bank on the customers forking the stuff over because it's so much easier to get rid of them that way than to go find an employee to kick them out.

    So, with that background contextI repeat what I said: "Actually, I would describe the problem with many homeless people I encounter as their having a near pathological disinterest in anyone's welfare and glory but their own, coupled with a complete lack of money and people sense."

    That's not all homeless people, obviously, and I wasn't making a statement about homeless people. It was a contradiction of DiracPool's notion that all it takes to become a "money mogul" is complete disregard of others. If you want to make a case that it was the homeless people's circumstances that made them sociopathic or criminal it doesn't alter the fact that those qualities won't make you a power in the world.
  21. Aug 26, 2014 #20
    I think what I was trying to say is that, to become a money mogul, it is more about being able to overcome your innate sense of altruism and embracing your inner greed than it is about being "intelligent" per se. That's just been my experience. I've dealt both with business people and academics over the years. I ran my own marketing company for 15 years and my dad has been a stockbroker for over 35 years. The one commonality I see with "financials" people, the ones that are successful at least, is an almost myopic focus on increasing their personal earnings and/or market share, typically at the expense of someone else's market share. That doesn't take a lot of intelligence from my perspective, it takes mostly a devotion of time, greed, a healthy sense of ruthlessness, and luck. I don't look at my dad's partners and the people I used to do business with as "smart," per se, although granted some may have what you might call "financial intelligence," I look at them mostly that other way.

    It's my friends and colleagues in academia, on the other hand, and my idols such as Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein, etc. who I see as smart and "intelligent." Academics, scientists in particular, deal with ideas and mathematical models that address invariances in nature. Businesspeople deal with people and model their behavior on some sort of intuitive crude calculus of their intents and desires. Not much is invariant or exact there. Despite what the Harvard "quants" might want to try to sell to the pubic and Wall Street, science doesn't typically sell in the businessworld, it's mostly relationships and backpatting and backstabbing. I think that's why intelligent people gravitate more towards academia than the business world despite the healthy "pay cut," if you will, that comes along with it. If you're academically minded there's a certain measure of "dummying down" you need to achieve to be successful in business, and that's oftentime unpleasant for the academically minded.

    That said, in my opinion, the quintessential demonstration of intelligence is Einstein's decade long development of general relativity. It is marked by the concentrated focus of a human brain on solving a problem that is of universal relevance, not simply personal, and the perseverance to see that quest though to it's mathematically rigorous manifestation. That is the benchmark to compare all other acts or forms of intelligence against.
  22. Aug 26, 2014 #21
    Follow your dreams. :biggrin:
  23. Aug 26, 2014 #22


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  24. Aug 27, 2014 #23
    To avoid the issue of homeless people, lets take the example of men in prison. Depending on what statistic you read, something like a third of prisoners are deemed to have Antisocial Personality Disorder. Guys like this have all the greed, ruthlessness, and lack of altruism you cite as necessary, yet they are penniless and in prison. I think the difference between them and your former business associates must be one of intelligence. For all the ruthlessness you ascribe to them, they must be smart enough not to do anything illegal, or, at least, not get caught.

    The intelligent sociopath realizes it is never wise to screw someone else over for his own short-term benefit, because there'll be backlash from that, and it is, in fact, better to make himself liked and needed by doing favors. "Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," is not altruism, it's "enlightened self-interest," and I don't think anyone gets anywhere in politics if they don't know how to play that game. In fact, that's rudimentary.

    I am not advocating people aspire to sociopathy, mind you. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the kind of people I'm talking about, but I have to appreciate that there is some special kind of intelligence involved in becoming politically/financially mega-powerful.

    Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein seem myopic compared to Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan. The latter three looked at things and much better assessed the scale at which important changes would be effected in their world and they shaped it at that scale. Intelligence, IMO, involves that ability; the ability to assess the operative scale of a situation.
  25. Aug 27, 2014 #24
    I think using a prison population as a factor in the argument is confounding the discussion. The majority of peoples that populate the prisons, whether male or female, have found themselves there because they suffer from chemical dependency and/or psychiatric problems whether organic or situational from a traumatic childhood. The kind of ruthlessness that arises in this situation is not the calculated type that I was referring to. So that is really a different discussion.

    I agree, but that sounds more like common, "folk" sense than some sort of enlightened intelligence.

    Yeah, I guess you're right, some greedy people are probably more clever than others. And when it comes to politics, somebody's got to do it. But these people as a general rule do not impress me, especially because of the culture of diefication that surrounds political figures. There's a reason that there is the term/phrase, "power vacuum." If the president dies, there will be another president, if the governor of Kansas withdrawals, there will be another governor. If a position on the local school board becomes vacant, someone will fill it. Why? Because society as nature is inherently (classically) a chaotic system. Billions of small inputs to the system serve to establish a global chaotic attractor that demands positions be filled. This is what we call an "order parameter." This is what a "power vacuum" means. If Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan were never born, it would have someone else who we would be idolizing.

    What's missing from these ad hoc surveys of history are the counterfactual arguments. We can say that it was Churchill or Roosevelt that won the war, and how great they are, and that's not to say that they weren't great. But what about Neville Chamberlain's cabinet member that never existed, and spoke up early and succeeded in preventing a global war? We never hear about him/her. So the "special kind of intelligence involved in becoming politically/financially mega-powerful" I think needs to be looked at from a relative perspective. Somebody has to fill that role, whether they are intelligent or not. And what I am arguing is that it is not always the more intelligent one that fills that spot, many times it is someone that just happens to be at the right place at the right time.

    I'd definitely disagree with that.

    How do you know they had the prescience to assess the scale and shaping of the economies of their actions and time? Couldn't it have been that they were just trying to make a buck at first and then it grew into something bigger they didn't expect?
  26. Aug 27, 2014 #25
    No, I'm saying the Antisocial Personality Disorder (Psychopathy, Sociopathy) is what landed them in prison. It didn't develop as a result of being in prison.
    "Enlightened self-interest," not "enlightened intelligence." The point being there's a smart way to be selfish and greedy, and there's a dumb way.
    By that standard you really ought to be unimpressed by Einstein and Newton. They're as deified as any political figure.
    Same response here. Had Einstein, Maxwell, and Newton never existed, other people would eventually have come to all the conclusions they came to. And what about that guy who never existed who solved the such and such problem that's bothering everyone today?
    Because they didn't go into physics. They didn't become doctors, and they didn't become opera singers. They became industrial magnates.
    The corner market, however successful, does not accidentally turn into the nation-wide chain of supermarkets. It has to be aggressively pushed into every state and it has to put all the local corner markets out of business. Home Depot and Starbucks did not accidentally spread like kudzu to the surprise of their founders. They're everywhere as a result of a long term, military-like strategy of invasion and occupation.
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