That Smarts


The IQ test is scored so that the mean score i...

My wife and I were discussing intelligence the other day.  It’s a fairly common discussion in our house, actually.  I noted that, as I’ve grown over the last few decades (mostly outward, but that’s another matter entirely), I’ve shifted my definition of “smart”.  We see people all over the place – news, TV, Internet, real life – doing pretty stupid things.  We don’t pull punches; we call those people “stupid”.  And yet, when I started thinking about it, I wondered if that assessment was fair.  “Stupid is as stupid does,” so Forrest Gump’s mother told him, and to some degree, I think that’s true.  On the other hand, almost everyone has a strength of some sort, and for that I have no argument.

As a kid, “smart” meant getting good grades in school.  If you could toss in some general, Trivial Pursuit game-winning knowledge, even better – you might be considered “genius”.  This was true throughout my schooling, including high school and into college.  At some point, however, I realized this wasn’t a measure of intelligence, only one’s ability to regurgitate information.  Heck, Kim Peek – the man upon whom Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rainman was based – can do that, right?  He’s among the best in the world at so doing, in fact, and yet, Kim Peek suffers from what is known as “savant’s syndrome”, and no one in their right mind would call that man “smart” as most of us think of it.  (I’m not saying Mr. Peek is stupid, don’t misunderstand; he has a mental disability, and that’s not his fault, and isn’t my point.  I’m making a point about our brains containing information and how this isn’t necessarily a measure of intellect, so bear with me.)

So, being academically capable isn’t a measure of being “smart” (I’m going to use that without quotes from now on, do it please ya or do it not).  Then what is?

I realized at some point during my heated discussion with my wife (not an argument, but we become passionate about things), most people will not admit they’re dumb.  They’ll acknowledge a weakness, but won’t say they’re dumb.  “I may not have gone to your high-falutin’ colleges and whatnot, but I ain’t dumb, boy!”  No, of course not.  I didn’t go to a high-falutin’ college either.  Never finished my first year, matter of fact.  So academics isn’t it.

I also realized a good portion of people will say they’re not stupid, but will acknowledge they’re not omniscient either.  “I may not be a genius, but I ain’t stupid” is that argument (similar to the above, except ignoring the academia aspect).  Okay, fair enough.  And I don’t argue such people have a strength of intellect somewhere in their brains.  It may not manifest itself readily, but it’s there.  They know more about fixing a ‘72 Chevy Malibu than I ever could.  They’ve forgotten more about fishing than I’d ever be able to learn.  They’re the world’s greatest soap whittler.  I don’t know what it is, but they have an area of expertise which they feel puts them out of the realm of stupid.  (I think those things I listed are bad examples, though – those are skills, not intellect measurements of any kind; but I wonder if most people making that argument confuse the two?  Hm.)

Then you’ve got the “I ain’t got book-smarts but I got horse-sense” people.  I dated a girl of this mindset.  I ran intellectual rings around her, but she claimed her “common sense” was as great or greater and more practical.  Pressed for the information, however, she couldn’t define specifically what “common sense” was, and flew into a rage at my pointing out that “common sense” is “common” because it’s “common” to all people, not something a few have as a storehouse of treasure in their possession.

How then is smart defined?

Well, I have no idea, frankly.  I’ve met people who aren’t as smart as they seem, and this only exposed itself over time.  I’ve met people I thought were dumber than a box of rocks and found they just couldn’t speak and/or write worth a darn.  Not being able to put a complete sentence down in writing or spell their way out of a paper bag was their problem, but they weren’t dummies.  At least, not to me.

So, how do you measure it?  I’m not sure the ability to solve problems, or knowing a bunch of trivial formulae and facts, or understanding mathematical equations and working them on a test is an accurate measure of intellect, so the “I.Q.” of days gone by is really only good for getting you into Mensa.  So … what is smart?  How do you know if someone’s smart?  C’mon, admit it – we see stupid people every day, doing stupid things and acting stupid.  We know them.  But how do we define that?  What separates the smart and the stupid?  What’s the measure?

Sound off, y’all.  I’m curious as a stupid cat.

-JDT-

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9 thoughts on “That Smarts

  1. Hmmmm. I guess I guess I’d define it as the ability to make connections, recall data, express ideas…Uh-oh, by my definition I’m dumb. I always suspected it.

    Uh-oh. I might not measure up to my own measure either. How strange is that?

  2. Intelligence is the measure of how long it takes a person to realize they’re a moron.

    I’m in trouble, I think.

  3. Work with me for a week and you’ll be able to define dumb.

    I work in an industry that doesn’t attract the best and brightest. Therefore, I don’t base my definition on who can spell or use proper grammer, but rather the ability to learn from their mistakes and not do a different variety of the same stupid stuff over and over. I guess that is in line with the “stupid is as stupid does” theory.

    Unfortunately, I sometimes confuse lazy with dumb. When Server Shannon put a cup over the Budweiser tap and told everyone we were out rather than changing the keg I catalogued that under “dumb” when in fact it was “lazy”. When Server Sharon said she couldn’t empty the trash because we were out of trash bags I put that in the “dumb” category when, in fact, she was too “lazy” to bend over and get the bags off the bottom shelf. Really, who’s the “dumb” one? Me! because I changed the keg and emptied the trash.

    Lately, I’ve been having a running battle with the cooks for not putting everything on the plates (rib sauce, garlic toast) when they call my name. This causes me to make an extra trip to get all the stuff that is missing. Again, who’s the dumb one? Me! for not checking the plates before I take out the food.

    Wow! I think I am too stupid to live!

    Nah, but I must admit “lazy” and “dumb” can look a lot alike. I must be stupid for not recognizing it sooner. 😉

  4. in psychology they talk about multiple intelligences- Gardner named 7 (Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Visual-Spatial, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal) and it’s the first three that are supposed to be assessed with IQ tests. however, these tests were designed for separating out special needs children for the education system, not measuring intelligence. at best, such tests aren’t even hitting half of what some intelligence theories say need to be taken into consideration. it’s a bastardization of the whole concept to equate IQ with mental worth or overall smartness. (any firefly fans out there? remember when simon is describing how brilliant river is to the crew? he mentions how she’s musical and a dancer as well. tapping into other forms of intelligence. fun fact. hehehe)

    i don’t think that smart and dumb are antonyms any more. i’m smart in some areas and dumb as a brick in others. i can tutor my sister in graduate level classes in a subject i’ve never taken, but i’ve been known to do so while wearing my shirt inside out and backwards. clearly, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. (i kid you not).

    i can’t even say that it’s booksmarts vs practical abilities. i’ll happily spend hours reading a book on probability and working out in the margins casual assertions made by the author, but hand me a history book and i’ve got the attention span of a demented bee. when it comes to math, i soak it up, entranced and thoughtful; with history, i’m confused and distracted. so am i book smart? only in certain areas?

    when i worked in a jewelery/craft store, one of my coworkers and i made a particularly good team. she could design anything, matching colors and styles and god-knows-what to assemble a beautiful necklace to go with the customer’s dress. but she couldn’t actually construct it to save her life. i couldn’t have told you if black went with black, but once she told me how something should look and what materials to use, i could make it happen, troubleshooting and improvising the fabrication. which of us was skilled? were either of us smart?

    in other words, i haven’t a clue. then again, i think most words that people bandy around to describe themselves and others are incredibly hard to define, often used in contradictory ways, and just generally ambiguous. what is charity? what is goodness? what is love, what is wisdom, what is morality? i think the fun is in the asking and discussing, even without ever coming to a conclusion. then again, if you come up with a fantastic definition of intelligence, let me in on the secret 🙂

    I’ll be sure to do that, sweetie. Thanks for the good information. I think have a series of areas in which one can excel to identify intellect is probably a good idea, if such a thing is necessary. But I think that will fall short in explaining why some people do the things I’ve seen them do, and sometimes … we accept mystery, ne? 😉

  5. Not sure if you can ever answer that question. The ability to learn is smart. Beyond that I fear to tread. And I’ve got that Gardner book on the 7 intelligences. I agree with some of it, but I don’t know if it made me any smarter.

    I don’t know if my graduate degree made me any smarter. Apparently even your own perceptions influence your brain power. Listen to this: http://blogs.wnyc.org/radiolab/2009/01/27/the-obama-effect-perhaps/

    My dad has always been so sensitive about his intelligence… as soon as I could use a phone I had to take all messages & make all phone calls. I watched my dad teach himself to read and for years I thought all grown ups had to study just like kids.

    And I can feel my brain click off when I see a math problem. In school I got put in the dumb kid math class.

    But if you did find out what smart is and who has it–what would you do with that information?

    Why, I’d use it to subjugate the masses to my superior intellect, of course. 😉 (I have no idea. It’s just something I’d like to know, I suspect.) I’m the same way you are about math, by the way — I didn’t get put into any “dumb kid” classes, but I probably could’ve used the help to get back on my mathematical feet. There’s a post in there somewhere; maybe I’ll use it.

  6. Good question..be it a post that seemed longer then war and peace….

    I would think Smart means someone that knows how to apply commen sense to everyday life. Yeah being well read is helpful but not always necessary I know a princeton grad that can recite hemingway chapter and verse but cant explain the theory of car insurance…..anyways you seem smarter then the average bear…Zman sends

    Thanks, Zman, I appreciate the compliment.

  7. I would never consider myself dumb nor would I say that I was intellectual either. I can’t do math worth a damn, never have , never will. I couldn’t even memorize the multiplication tables yet can memorize everyone’s lines from a 2 hour play I was in. I have always scored high and advanced in school when it came to reading. In grade school I could read and comprehend college level reading, but then I was taught to read before kindergarten and I have always loved to read. I am self taught in areas that I enjoy like computers and I do well. I am teaching myself CSS coding right now.

    Does that make me intelligent? I guess there has to be some intelligence to learn complex concepts on your own but I wouldn’t call me an intellectual on any level because I have quite a few things I suck at horribly at such as math and spelling. Does that make me dumb or stupid? No, just dumb in those areas.

    Sounds like you’re a proponent of the same sort of intelligence measures as Vani, wherein multiple areas are considered in measurement. In all honesty, I think there isn’t a single definition someone can apply to this subject to settle it. I’m dumber than a bag of hammers in some areas, rival Hawking in others, and in the end, that and a dollar fifty will get me a cup of coffee at Denny’s. 😉 Thank you for stopping by and offering us your insight! (CSS coding is fun, btw.)

  8. I can only say that I wish I was smarter but in a way I just might be undiciplined (or lazy). The perfect example for me is that I mostly failed English in High School, never finished college yet am now somehow working in the tech support field and am frequently teased by my coworkers that I write interoffice emails with a lot of metaphors and twenty dollar words in them.

    I’m in the same sort of boat as you; didn’t burn up the record books with my grades in high school (especially math), did well in English but only took the mandatory composition classes then swung into creative endeavors, and now I work in tech support (when I CAN work, that is) and try to add some pizazz to mundane things. I think it’s a challenge.

    My daughter had a lot of issues with homework when it came to school but then she went and got a perfect score on the state math exam for 4th graders. I am trying to help her buckle down but I do wonder if her mind is just like mine in some ways.

    I bet the apple didn’t drop too far from the tree, bud. How can it? I do believe, in some senses, intellect is genetic. I surpassed my parents in many ways; I hope my kids will blow me out of the water.

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