Monday, 30 June 2014

Intellect and Wisdom

If knowledge is a gathering of information, and lack of it is ignorance, then what is intelligence? When the government or military talk about intelligence they are referring to a gathering of information, after all.

In everyday terms, intelligence isn't actually as easy to define as you might think. It can be seen as the capacity for learning. When we talk about artificial intelligence what we mean is a computer/robot/machine that can make decisions. But making decisions is really only the end result. Before that there has to be an understanding of the options. And before that, there has to be an awareness that a choice is possible.

When young children first realise they have choices, they are really only at that first stage. They don't yet have any capacity to choose well, and frequently they don't. Most of their choices are instinctive and appear random. On the face of it there appears to be no choice going on at all.

How intelligent is a chicken? I've watched them for hours, I confess, and their level of intelligence seems to be extremely low indeed. Having found a hole in the fence and escaped their run, they then wander about a bit, pecking at the ground for tasty morsels, and then when the sun starts going down they head for their shed in the run but don't remember how they got out. They walk up and down the fence repeatedly trying to find a way though, missing the hole many times, driven only by a vague sense of direction towards home. Many, many times, they've had to be rescued - cornered somewhere, grabbed and tossed back over the fence, only for the same thing to happen the next day, and the next, and the next.......

It would appear then, that memory plays an important role in learning, and consequently in decision making, but is memory all there is to intelligence?

The animal handlers who trained the owls on the Harry Potter movies explained in an interview how it took them all day to teach an owl the simplest "trick", and by the next day they had completely forgotten it, so they just used new owls, because it made no difference. Reputation for the wise old bird, TRASHED. In fact, they suggested, owls are incredibly stupid. Are they? Or are they just forgetful? Just like chickens, they can find their way home, but is that a different type of memory, for a different purpose?

It's not so hard, but still not exactly easy, to train cats. It's very easy to train dogs. Yet with some exceptions we tend to think of cats as smarter than dogs, and sometimes we even suggest it's because they are free-thinkers - unwilling to bend to our demands. We seem to have decided that cats are not like owls. It's not that they can't learn to do tricks, it's that they don't want to. We have defined rebellion as intelligence.

And in fact, we do the same with children. We say "oh, he's testing his limits!" and we smile happily at the mischief, seeing it as a good sign, despite the problems caused by bad behaviour. "He's too smart for his own good!". Experts tell us this is all part of the learning process, as it develops a good sense of cause and effect, and consequences.

But when a young adult makes bad choices, that is to say he rebels against society and gets himself into trouble with the law, we tell him not to be so stupid.

Indeed it has been proven that crime does not pay. Lifetime incomes of career criminals have been studied, and most of them work for less than minimum wage, and that's assuming they never get caught. If they spend any length of time in jail it's reduced further. To choose that lifestyle is to make a very bad choice indeed.

Of course there are other ways to opt out of mainstream society, and how that is looked upon depends on one's own perspective. If you come across squatters, travellers, hippy communes, or whatever, you may or may not approve or understand, but is their decision to live apart from "mainstream" society considered to be a deliberate lifestyle choice? Sometimes it is, other times it simply seems to be a solution.

It seems to me that we tend to assume that people whose decisions are radically different to ours, must be lacking somewhere. I'm not referring to matters of taste, but to decisions that affect relationships, employment status, safety, health or wealth.

If they make decisions that appear to us to be poor in these areas, we assume they either:

1) Lack information required to make good decisions, or
2) Lack the intellect to make use of that information.

We may not analyse it quite like that, but it's what we do. In everyday speech, what actually happens is conversations like this:

"Well, that was bloody stupid!"
"Oh, but maybe he doesn't know any better....."

The idea behind it is that everyone is just doing the best they know how. The chicken really isn't able to remember where the hole in the fence is, and you can't blame him for being a chicken. The child has yet to learn about consequences, and you really can't blame him for being young. The young man may not have the intellect to really grasp the idea that crime is a bad option - but we blame him anyway. He's been told enough, wasn't he listening?

We may say to people "Are you really that stupid?" when they just don't seem to be able to take in a concept we are explaining to them. Sometimes the honest answer is yes. At this point I'd like to remind you that half of the population of the world are below average intelligence.

I live with a young man whose IQ is between 160 and 180 depending on which test he takes, and he's taken a few. He regularly makes incredibly stupid decisions. I could easily dismiss this as being to do with his Asperger's diagnosis, but it doesn't really explain it. He has the capacity to learn, and he has had 21 years of learning. Clearly there is more to decision making than intellect.

Perhaps you are already thinking of wisdom. It is not the same as intellect. It's an end product of it, certainly, but it requires something else. Some of it is experience, but that's not the whole of it either.

Experts do not agree on precisely what wisdom is. But it seems to involve decision making. It would appear to be dependent on at least some level of intellect, but used in conjunction with perception, and perhaps even ethics. It certainly requires the ability to see things from more than one point of view.

Not only is intellect alone not enough, but high intellect does not guarantee wisdom. So what does?

I am increasingly convinced that it is a choice. That often when we use the word stupid (and certainly when I use it) we are not referring to intellect, but to wisdom. Therefore, as an insult it is reasonable and fair because the person does know better, and is not doing their best. But why would anyone do that?

That's a good question, isn't it? Is wisdom optional?

As I've said, all of these words - information, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, and others too like nous etc, are not always clearly defined and some seem to be used interchangeably. There's a matter of opinion involved in a lot of it.

Well, it is my opinion that at some point in everyone's life they decide what they value, and if it's wisdom they seek it. They aim for it. They want to be wise in order to "do the right thing". But it has been suggested to me by others that it's the other way around, that innate wisdom is what drives us to make good choices.

As I was halfway through this blog I stumbled across a series of images that seemed to have been drawn by somebody exploring the same thoughts.

The original was this:

Which is an interesting way to look at it, I can't find much to disagree with there, although you could just as easily label the second one wisdom.

But people got hold of this and altered it. Some of them are really interesting. Firstly another way to look at it completely.

Then one person changed that to this.

But this is perhaps more on the lines I'm thinking along here:

Finally, there was one that made me smile, because I live with Tom.

I don't think there's anything that actually fascinates me as much as the human brain.

Well, is wisdom passed on? Can it be taught? Over the centuries we have amassed quite a collection, as a species, of the wisdom of the ages, as it were. Wise words of wise people. Recorded directly and quotable, or just passed into our culture as tradition and lore.

I can't fail to mention holy books, which are considered to be divine wisdom by some, and certainly have a few good ideas within them here and there.

Some of this is handed down in the form of doctrine. No matter how you personally feel about that, you are aware, I'm sure, that it is an attempt, an intent, to teach, and for at least some of those pushing the doctrine there is a belief that this is wisdom, that it will work if taught, that it applies to everyone, and that it is wholly a good thing.

And on that note................I'll save the concept of belief for another day.


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  3. The human brain! Or perhaps, brains. We have at least two, perhaps three, and even those are layered, so depending on how you define brain you can count quite a few.

    Divine wisdom: if the Divine Wisdom is written down at a time when the atmosphere is providing less than optimum protection it might be "Go not out into the sunshine at midday lest thou hast thy broad-brimmed hat on", but if the climate changes subsequently, there is going to be a whole lot of fundamentalist believers who will happily go out into a hurricane-force wind, convinced that they will be spared because they are wearing their broad-brimmed hats.

    Divine wisdom may be divine and it may be wisdom. But if it only applies when a particular set of circumstances are in effect perhaps it is divine folly not to include a note of the circumstances that required it to begin with?

    1. I do wish people would remember that. Brilliant analogy.

  4. A most excellent piece. Inspiring, thought-provoking, entertaining. Looking at those "diagrams" I can identify with all of them, well, except Asperger's. And I'm sure you'll agree that a big part of it all (or perhaps something that encompasses it all) is decision making - good and bad.

    Looking at myself, I would think of myself as "intelligent." I've absorbed and internalized a LOT of information in 64 years. I've "connected" a lot of dots. And as regards making decisions, I've made a lot of good ones, advantageous ones, and my share of bad ones. There were ALWAYS risks and I chose to take them. Most of the time, it paid off. Sometimes, things did not go as planned, or well.

    I look at our son, who definitely has a high I.Q. Incredible problem-solving and troubleshooting skills. Very early, he looked at what he wanted, where he wanted to go and "connected" the dots. "If I want to be THERE, this is what I have to do." And he did it.

    And then, I look at our grandson and how he developed into the "artful dodger." Almost always, he took the path of least resistance. If something looked interesting, enticing, but it required effort and diligence, screw it. But in all fairness, his mother's lifestyle and attitude contributed to that. The significant thing is that at NO point did anyone put "expectations" on the child to grow or develop in a particular way, to take a particular path. And he did seem to exhibit intelligence, creativity and wit. But drive? No.

    So, I see intelligence as raw material; sort of like having a very powerful computer with all the bells, whistles and software. But, you have to make the conscious decision to USE it. Much of my musical equipment is similar in nature; very powerful, extremely capable, endless potential. First, of course, you have to know HOW to use it, but that's not "rocket science." It only takes a little bit of "how" and a lot more of "desire" to make it happen.

    But, I do not totally agree with Vince Lombardi that merely "wanting" something hard enough is everything. There is the "wanting," then the "learning," and then the "doing." Success depends upon diligence, skill and to a certain degree, luck is always a factor.

  5. Okay...Google ate my last attempt at responding, so here we go again. :P

    You have managed to define the terms well enough through your piece: info is data; knowledge is holding capacity; and experience is the kinetic movement of the two, with added nuance as to time. We can almost sense the dimensional growth that happens as these all come together. I feel we are at the marker of another phase of dimensional growth, when we realize the changes we need to make happen--more like that comprehension image (hopefully).

    Intelligence may be further defined as the mindful application of information, knowledge, and experience, in such a way that it can be utilized (one would hope in a positive way) through life. That said, there may be times when ones intelligence is 'not' when one may choose to be judiciously silent at times. Knowing when to use and not use intellect can make or break us, and we may further reason that we do what we must at times.

    Furthermore, we may assert that wisdom is yet another dimension of applied knowledge--gleaned from info, knowledge, experience, and intelligence, accumulated, and comprehended/understood, over time into a kind of 'best practice.' Nature is likewise filled with all goodness...and negativity...and it is through the divine wisdom and loving the best into being that we continue on; ...we may choose to emulate and appreciate those gifts.

    Another aspect of wisdom is the curated or digested/fermented part where we glean from the best parts of it all--physical/essence/spirit/noosphere/osmosis what we need to know. Whether we attribute that as creativity or not, we do get something 'new' in the mix. Noticeably missing from the handy illustrations are all the dotted-and-dashed lines that indicate behind-the-scenes influence. It may be who we know...or it may be a spiritual finger of fate...that causes us to create a new way...of thought...of intention...of being; whether out of necessity or common sense, or totally for the fun of innovation. Luckily for us...or maybe unluckily at all comes together. ~ Blessings! :)