So this is another example of me having a couple posts ready and not liking any of them. This is also an example of me actually taking a serious stance on a topic. Yes, I will make an attempt to keep it light and humorous (read: not preachy) but everything has a place and I feel that bouncing Katy Perry boobs just wouldn’t fit here. End of disclaimer. Buckle up.
How do we define intelligence? Are there different social/cultural definitions compared to academic statistical analysis of accrued knowledge?
I have a pretty huge issue with the current state of the American educational system, that’s no secret. The angst I hold toward said system stems from almost everywhere (issues with the current tenure system, issues with testing and evaluation, etc) but my biggest one is a fundamental issue with how we define intelligence. The executives right up the road at ACT would tell you that their test, while not a strict definition of intelligence, is an indicator of academic performance and future success. That’s a fancy way of dancing around a direct question that, if answered incorrectly, could potentially cause a lot of financial troubles for a COMPANY that runs an academic evaluation system. I’d rather them just be frank and say that their tests consist of pages of dots that serve to evaluate the rote memorization and recall skills of an individual and have very low level issues of application (of said knowledge). If that is how we are defining intelligence as a society, why are there not more Idiot Savants in college?
So we’ve ruled out that as one definition. Unfortunately, that is the one that labels people as either “smart” or “not smart” by social standards. Our entire evaluation system straight up sucks. We are assigned a letter or score and serves as an identifier. Like Hester Prynne, how we do on these evaluations of our memorization skills will set us into a category of society, with that mark metaphorically searing into our chest and labeling us while only telling part of the story.
Now I’m not saying that memorization or the accumulation of knowledge is not an important part of what true “intelligence” is, nor am I claiming to know exactly what components make up “intelligence” (but if I could, oh you better believe I’d want a Nobel Prize for it). I know enough and have enough experience in academia to be able to question our evaluation system. I can even make suggestions about revamping our concept of intelligence (though I am a mere student… said suggestions will fall on the deaf ears of those profiting from our current system).
Let’s try this: True intelligence has something to do with the application of knowledge in a creative way to resolve a conflict in an unfamiliar or alien situation.
There are two major problems with this. One, it is still incomplete. Just like Unified Field Theory, it doesn’t tie everything in. For one thing, it fails to define “creative” within the “worded algorithm” above. Something must have definable parameters in order to have an effect on the world around it and as written above, “creativity” is an undefined x-factor. We can attempt to define it by saying creativity is really imagination but then one must ask what allows us to imagine? How can we concoct situations in our minds that have not ever happened and how does the application of said ability affect all the other factors that go into defining intelligence? For another thing, we have to face the question that some people struggle with creative thinking more than others and the variance, when compared to the variance with memorization skills, is far greater. For a third problem with the “creativity variable,” it is not the end all of x-factors in that it does not exclusively delineate between an “intelligent person” and an “unintelligent person.”
The second problem with the proposed redefinition is one of human stubbornness. At least in America, we have a social concept of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “Broke,” first and foremost should be “BrokeN,” and second, only really seems to mean that something cannot function at all. Worn down and decrepit but still moving is considered “working.” Hell, we have an issue proclaiming individuals who are medically “Brain-Dead” as no longer living, even though they cannot survive without external help. Now most people would consider our current system “flawed” but still successful enough to allow for an expedited application process when it comes to work or schooling. Until someone can prove that the system does NOT work, nothing will be done. Well, here’s my proof:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Blue_(chess_computer). This computer is a chess genius. It is capable of reviewing almost a million chess moves and referencing almost as many games stored in its memory within the allotted window of time for each turn in chess. Deep Blue’s skills of evaluation within the confines of a chess game are unsurpassed, even by a human. That sounds pretty smart to me. Humans are unable to review as many situations at once and often run on instincts and reading body language of their opponent to remain competitive in the “intellectual sparring” that is a game of Chess. So this is a smart machine… right? Well, I would dare you to ask Deep Blue to create a new dish totally from scratch or ask it to write a mystery novel. Without assistance (and massive amounts of reprogramming), Deep Blue would not even be able to respond to these requests and yet it is insanely good at one specific thing. We would not call this machine “intelligent.” We would call this machine a “Chess Master Machine.”
What leads me to believe there is more to intelligence than knowledge is the fact that, despite our best efforts, we have not recreated consciousness in a computer and without consciousness, we are unable to create machines that learn at exponential rates like humans do. Our “Artificial Intelligence” that we have today is no smarter than a puppy. They possess vast arrays of “knowledge” and yet cannot identify themselves in a mirror. Scientists are still searching for that missing link that connects all the facets of the human mind and allows for conscious thought to exist.
How can we expect to define “intelligence” when a HUGE part of it has yet to be defined? I’m not advocating that we completely do away with any evaluation system until we can make that leap but I am advocating a fundamental change in our evaluation system of students. I am also advocating for a fundamental shift in our understanding of what intelligence is.
Think of Albert Einstein. The man was a genius theoretical physicist. Today, there are some who believe he discovered the theory of relativity at least a decade ahead of when we should have discovered it (based on statistical projections of the expansion of human knowledge). He also had problems spelling and doing simple arithmetic. We would still consider him a genius. We need to fundamentally rethink everything about our notion of “intelligence” and it starts in the classroom.
See ya, Space Cowboy.