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.