What’s Better: Being Smart, Intelligent or Wise?

It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Albert Einstein

Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart.

Alan Alda

A smart man only believes half of which he hears, a wise man knows which half.

Jeff Cooper

Belief is the death of intelligence.

Robert Anton Wilson

We use these terms every day.  People whom we like got labelled with them. People, whom we don’t, get the opposites. Our children are smart, our enemies aren’t.  It’s easy to say, but how does one justify the judgement?  Is it possible to define each?  To compare, we should be able to measure it.  Is it possible?  Final questions are: What do we have to gain by doing that, and is it really worth our efforts?

There was a famous 1921 symposium during which 13 psychologists were asked for their definition of intelligence.  They came up with 13 different answers.  How can we discuss the issue when we even cannot define it to our satisfaction?

Even I have my own definition.  “Intelligence is knowledge of facts and the ability to use it in proper time.”

And then we have many different types of intelligence: mathematical, linguistic, spatial, kinesthetic … and so on and so forth. You get the message.  It’s getting more and more complicated and confusing.

IQ is a widely accepted way of measuring the intelligence.  If you have a low IQ, you keep quiet.  If it’s high, everyone knows it.  If you have very high, well, you try to associate with people on your level.  But is the test created more than 100 years ago still applicable to the contemporary population?  Researchers claim it is, but what about the differences between developed and developing societies?  What about the Flynn effect, which is a general increase in IQ over the years from the 1930s until now?  We are fascinated with people with a high IQ.  We like to measure things.  It reminds me of a known English soccer expert coming to the United States for the World Cup in 1994.  Local sportswriters were trying to describe soccer matches and soccer players in terms of numbers, percentages, ratios and alike.  Just like baseball.  He was trying to explain it to them that soccer is not about numbers.  You just watch the game and either like it or not, it interests you or not.  It’s a game of perception.  You can’t measure it.

Going back to IQ.  In medicine we tend not to order tests unless we know what to do with the results and unless they are going to effect our treatment plan.  Testing IQ can have some questionable predicting value in some aspects of life, some negative predictive value in others.  But obviously, saying that a person with an IQ of 101 is smarter than a person with an IQ of 100 goes way too far.  There are breakdowns of IQ scores down to the point and corresponding predictions as far as future achievements are concerned.  And that’s going way too far.

I don’t have problems with praising people with high IQ just for what it is.  Good results on the test.  I have problems with labeling and denigrating people with an average and below-average results.  Ancient Greece was an association of cities.  One of them was Sparta.  Sparta’s social system and constitution was focused on military training and excellence.  After birth, the child was brought by his or her father to the council of elders, who had to decide if a child is healthy enough to be reared.  If not – child was thrown down the rocks from Mountain Taygetos.  It was a primitive form of eugenics.  The concept of eugenics was as old as it was brutal.  Very attractive, however, to some people, through the history of civilization.  Dormant for quite a while, it was revived in the 19th century with the works of Gregor Mendel on genetics and of Alfred Binet on IQ.  The knowledge was used to support an idea to get rid of unwanted (unproductive?) individuals.  Winston Churchill was an early supporter.  Hitler incorporated eugenics into his Mein Kampf.  In the United States, we had forced sterilization of mentally incompetent patients.  Euthanasia was to follow.  Everything with the goal of creating a genetically superior race.  We know, where did we end up with the purification of the Aryan race in Hitler’s Germany.  The Catholic Church was an early and strong opponent of eugenics.

The next step was the development of psychometrics by Sir Francis Galton as a follow up on works by Charles Darwin.  This branch of science measures knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits.  Also tries to predict future behavior.  Sounds great, but wait and see what can be done with the results.  You can compare men and women, different races, pick up preferred job applicants, discard unwanted traits.  The Government can get control of groups of people and marginalize inconvenient individuals. For an extra reading, there is a book  “Agenda” by Eric Gill.  Mind-boggling.

Not everything which counts can be counted, and not everything which can be counted counts.

Albert Einstein

For my IQ is like money.  It’s not how much do you have, but what do you do with what you have.  We all know people with high IQ, smart (and with a lot of money for that matter) who inflicted irreparable harm on families, communities, nations and even the history of the world.  I am decisively opposed to giving “smart” people a pass on their views of every issue just because their IQ is so high.  And following them just because they are labelled “smart” and know how to express themselves.  Same as accepting “celebrities” views on politics, economy and social justice just because their faces are on covers of magazines.  They have to be reminded of it, since they certainly don’t accept the limits of their expertise.

And there is another power – belief. It is not true, that belief is the death of intelligence.  And how do you measure the power of belief?

For myself, out of these three choices, I would like to be considered wise.  This comes with age, and one has the record to prove it.

An intelligent person can rationalize anything, a wise person doesn’t try it.

Jen Knox

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.