"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

The Changing Face Of Intelligence

The 2 basic premises, which I will first attempt to substantiate and will then use in furthering my argument, are:

1) Innate intelligence is unmeasurable; only overtly manifested ability can be evaluated—making intelligence tests, in many ways, akin to achievement tests.

2) The definition of “intelligence,” or of what component abilities should be most emphasized on an exam, is socially determined and thus may change in accordance with the needs of an era or culture.

The “classical” education highly valued by the erstwhile British aristocracy emphasized linguistic skills almost exclusively; youths were taught predominantly literature, philosophy, ancient Greek and history. In a more technologically oriented age, some of the most respected scholars of that time might have seemed profoundly inept or “one sided;” conversely, many modern scientists—esteemed for their acute mathematical and spatial reasoning—might have been judged “ill fit for higher learning” or “unintelligent” by an educational system which focused entirely on literary accomplishment.

In our own era, the ability to reason analytically is deemed vital to the advancement of technology and, thus, is stressed on many intelligence tests. Because all information is communicated through the verbal modes of speech and writing, vocabulary and linguistic reasoning are considered important indicators of “mental capacity.” The ability to “rote memorize”—vital to the retention of knowledge in a pre-literate era and important in the learning of complicated ecclesiastical rituals in the medieval period—has been de-emphasized; moreover, the focus on technologically useful forms of thinking has reduced the value placed on linguistic aptitude in isolation.

Thus, the mental abilities deserving emphasis—the criteria for assessing intelligence—may change with the times; men of extreme but one sided talent, deemed “brilliant” in one era, might be considered unremarkable in another. In evaluating intelligence, we measure how well an individual has assimilated the knowledge valued by his culture, how well he has learned to reason in conformity with the current styles of thinking, and how well he can adapt (on a cognitive level) to the conventions of his time.

“Resourcefulness” and the ability to think “broadly” (or “divergently”), to foresee how numerous factors might interact and to envision multiple possible solutions to any given problem, take priority. In an era when computers perform more and more of technology’s “analytical” work and when increasing numbers of people assume managerial roles, the incisive and narrowly-focused reasoning which considers data sequentially and ignores all ostensibly extraneous information may be superseded by the ability to consider heterogeneous pieces of information simultaneously.

The body of modern knowledge is enormous—too huge for one individual to master—even 5 lifetimes; continual advancement, especially in the technologies, assures that every man will always be “slightly ignorant” (even regarding the developments in his own specialty) and that, inevitably, he will often need to consult references for an explanation of new discoveries. The efficient use of such reference sources, necessary for adaptation to an ever-changing society, is of vital practical importance; gaining access to the facts of interest, when (abundant) information is stored in a complex manner, is facilitated by a divergent type of thinking called “resourcefulness.” This “resourcefulness,” as a key determinant of success in the modern world, may be a valid criterion by which to evaluate adult intelligence.


One response to “The Changing Face Of Intelligence

  1. Giovanni Dannato June 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    To some extent the definition of ‘intelligence’ depends on who you ask and if you understand this element of subjectivity, you can get much more done than someone who’s busting their head against the wall trying to conjure up a universal definition.

    When a woman says “I want an intelligent man.” What she means of course is social intelligence.

    When a soldier talks about intelligence, he means the ability to respond rapidly and coherently under pressure.

    When I speak of intelligence I mean the ability to see the big picture and apply principles laterally across a wide range of ideas.

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