On Intelligence

I had a very unusual and not so pleasant experience a few months ago. The details are quite personal and are not necessary for this discussion, but it did get me thinking about the nature and expression of intelligence.

Let’s just get something out of the way – intelligence is not a predictor of, nor is it essential for success. I’ve done some study on this and I’m not going to go into the science of it. I’m not really sure that it’s science more than whatever you call a subjective conclusion gained from spending a long time gazing at successful people. Let me also just get off my chest my feelings on the measures or nature of modern success. Actually, let’s let that one go, it’s a whole other diatribe for another (long) day.

I know, I know, no matter which new learning deficit, neat social what-what term you want to give it stupid is, at the end of the day, stupid. There. I said it. Forget what the expert in remedial educational practices told you, if your kid has an IQ of 80-ish and below the best remedial educational interventions aren’t going to change the fact that the little darling is, well, not so bright. Don’t misunderstand me, they are perfectly valuable people (they are mainstays of my social circle) and are not necessarily destined for failure (whatever that means).

This reminds me, I need to express myself at some time on the relationship between mediocre intelligence and full-blown, off the charts narcissism. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

I’m also not going to get into the subject of EQ. It’s the word that’s on the lips of every corporate trainer and self-help guru of the modern age. The concept bred an industry and saved another.

The monk who sold his Ferrari? Horseshit. You’d think the pious prick would have given it away. No, well, that would bring into play the question of the exorbitant amount the author charges to attend his ra-ra sessions. Greed is good. Let us pray.

Tell you what, throw out your Robin Sharma books and go and read the eastern philosophy that he and his ilk so happily crib and pass off as unique insights. Or something. The dull among us sit in rapture at their feet begging for the next morsel of wisdom like a politician begs for a backhand across that fetid hole in his face. That too is another discussion for another day.

What were we talking about? Oh, yes, the nature of intelligence. Or, more it’s expression. I know nothing about the nature of intelligence. Zip. Nada. Zilch. On that topic I am the empty vessel that makes all the noise.

I just gaze admiringly at the expression of intelligence; it’s outward visage. It’s a very beautiful thing to see, despite my not understanding it. (I’m a founder member and poster boy of the under 80 club.) Surely that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize or admire what I don’t understand? I mean, like woman, baroque music, modern art, women, car engines, women, etc.

What I see in people I hold to be intelligent is this: they get it. Only that. They make the connection. Join the dots. Get the picture. Not the ‘penny dropped’, mundane connections but the profound ones.

Catch my drift?

What intelligent people do is to more than just make the connection between cause and effect. They understand the connections between seemingly unconnected things. Just that. It’s not a new concept and it’s certainly not mine. Leonardo da Vinci said that we should:

“Learn how to see.
Realize that everything connects to everything else”

There, in my simple reckoning, lies the nature and expression of intelligence. So then, why does this get so little airplay? The answer is easy: it can't be taught.

We try. We talk about 'lateral thinking' and that sort of thing, but if you're providing training to group of corporate executives, you're talking about making connections and they have a limited ability to make the connections you are unlikely to get the next (lucrative) corporate gig. They'll call you stupid. So we leave it out of our definition, and in turn don't bother to define it at all. (If you say I haven't got it, that it's what defines genius and you can't teach it to me then I refuse to acknowledge its existence.)

Corporations are the Petri dish in which to look at this stuff. The suits in the boardroom assume that they are complete and represent the Olympic swimmers in the gene pool. Not only are they the only ones with the answers but they think they are the only ones who understand the question. It is their duty to enlighten the dull. (Remember what I said about mediocracy and narcissism?)

Some dickhead quotes a bit of Ghandi and the hordes on the corporate ladder clamor to drop it into every discussion like a bible school recruit with a quiver of obscure memorized verses. They slap it in above their e-mail signatures and print it and pin it to notice boards and grey walls like Election Day posters. They just can't really connect it with anything they do. It's probably this mysticism that they find so profoundly attractive.

Now I'm going to spin off on a tangent. Business leaders need not necessarily be too intelligent. Neither do politicians. They absolutely need some intelligent people in their ranks, but the skills required for their personal success require a fairly average level of intelligence. Yes, darling, you CEO isn't a genius, he is just a narcissist with strong sociopathic tendencies. You think not? Take the time to read more widely and raise the veil of your ignorance. Oh, ignorance and stupidity are very different things; I didn't insult you.

Politicians? Don't get me started. They're too afraid of the implications of connecting the dots. Besides, they want to reach the widest most easily influenced number of people who wouldn't get it and who would run away mumbling about witches.

Managers? Dumb as a fucking plank, almost to a man. No need for intelligence there. Just a dash of problem solving ability (within a tightly constrained framework), a smattering of people skills, a rudimentary understanding of commercial principles and an overwhelming drive to tick the boxes provided to him by the bright guys.

Oh, hate to do this to you, but education doesn't make you smart. It makes you educated. Experience doesn't make you smart, it makes you experienced. The Talmud tells us that you can educate a fool but you cannot make him think.

So who makes my list of intelligent people? Creators of ideas do. In fact, creative people generally. The guys who see steam coming out of a kettle with force and build a train. The guys who see sip's masts gradually becoming longer before the ship appears and who connect this to geometry to postulate that the world is round. The guys who predict the existence of, position and paths of planets by manipulating numbers on a page. These are intelligent people.

You don't need to resolve some smoldering scientific conundrum to be intelligent. You just need to be able to construct one minor masterpiece from a series of seemingly unconnected blurred images. It's nothing more or nothing less. Einstein said that creativity is intelligence having fun.

And how beautiful is that?

I suppose I have to start to conclude this very poorly constructed collection of thoughts. A denouement is required. A grand closing statement. One that astounds and burns itself into your consciousness.

I'm procrastinating because, truth be told, bringing it all together requires I lot more intelligence than I have in my meager arsenal.

This post is all over the place. Entirely uncohesive. Scoff as you please. The first sentence holds the clue to this obvious case of targeted criticism. But, you’ll have to admit, there runs a truth through it.

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