What IS intelligence? It’s definitely more than IQ, logic and memory. Is intelligence the ability to think outside the box? Is it the ability to empathize with those outside of your circle or experience? Is intelligence the ability to hold multiple perspectives in mind at the same time?
A recent study has shown that people with high IQ’s are not so smart after all. Take this simple arithmetic question; a bat and a ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Most people answer confidently that the ball costs ten cents but in fact the correct answer is 5 cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.
Get this- more than fifty percent of students at Harvard, Princeton and MIT gave the incorrect answer to this question.
So what’s the problem with intelligent people?
Journalist and author Jonah Lehrer has an interesting theory. He says that smart people can be too smart for their own good. They have the ability to rationalize their own blind spots while being very critical of the blind spots in others. Intelligent people have the ability to create a story that prevents them from seeing their own prejudices. In effect they outsmart themselves.
Incidentally, Lehrer himself was in hot water last week for self plagiarizing. He was reusing material in different publications putting his new job at The New Yorker in jeopardy. His attempts at efficiency may be a prime illustration of his own theory. He may have outsmarted himself.
The philosopher William James famously said,
A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.
Two people are sitting next to each other on an airplane. One asks if the other wants to play a game. She says she’s tired and wants to sleep. He is persistent. “I will ask you a question”, he says “and if you get the answer wrong you give me $5. You ask me a question and if I get the answer wrong, I give you $5.” Again she declines. “Okay”, he says, “Lets raise the stakes. If I get the answer wrong I will give you $500. If you get it wrong, you only give me $5. She gives in just to shut him up.
He asks the first question, “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?”
The women reaches into her purse and hands him $5.
“Okay,” says the man, “your turn.”
She asks him, “What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four legs?”
The man puzzles over this. He gets his laptop out, googles it, calls a friend on the in-flight phone and after an hour finally gives in and hands the woman $500.
The woman says, “Thank you,” and turns back to get some sleep.
The man turns and asks, “Well, what’s the answer?”
Without a word, she reaches in her purse, hands him $5.00, and goes off to sleep.
No doubt she had sweet dreams on that flight. She was wise. The man thought he was being smart but may have outsmarted himself. As Jimi Hendrix said, “Knowledge talks. Wisdom listens.”
It’s great to be informed and as intelligent as possible. But we want more than IQ, and we want to guard against the blind spots of intelligence.
My favorite description of wisdom comes from the German theologian Dietrick Bonhoeffer. He spoke about finding the significant in the factual. I love this because it acknowledges the factual but says that finding facts is not the end of the story. To think that Bonhoeffer said this at the height of Nazi dominance, with their advanced technological intelligence but lack of moral intelligence, is mind blowing.
Being informed is necessary. Being intelligent is helpful. Being wise is essential. Wisdom is a deft combination of multiple intelligences.
IQ is head smart. Emotional intelligence (EQ) understands the feelings behind facts. This is heart smart. Spiritual intelligence (SQ) is the mind’s meaning maker. It connects IQ and EQ by discerning what is significant and why. This is where moral intelligence comes from, as well as a sense of purpose. Another name for SQ is wisdom. Wisdom is street smart. It has its own way of knowing that combines all your years of experience and marshals the best team of feelings, skills and knowledge for each occasion.
This has practical application in any life situation. Whether you are solving a mathematical puzzle, a relationship challenge or a personal crisis, apply your full arsenal of resources. Think of it like a police lineup.
Line up all the factors as you see them, all the facts, feelings, perspectives and questions. Watch that you don’t just pull the usual suspects, because then you are just rearranging your prejudices. See the whole line up, listen to what ALL of them have to say, discern what is significant and why, and then let your intuitive wisdom do its thing.
Your body’s wisdom is instinct. Your heart’s wisdom is emotion. Your mind’s wisdom is knowledge. Your higher self’s wisdom is intuition. Intuition works with, beneath and between the facts.
The great concert violinist Isaac Stern was once asked why musicians who play the same notes in the same order can sound so different. He said
It isn’t the notes that are important, it’s the intervals between the notes.
Intuitive wisdom often comes from noticing the spaces between events, words, feelings. That’s where wisdom gets her larger perspective. She defocuses your habitual sight, such as when you look at a 3D image. With wisdom, you wait for clarity, rather than forcing it. This takes you out of your logical mind and leaves you receptive to whatever arises.
Lao Tzu said,
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.