Thursday, November 4, 2010

i started talking about intelligence, and then my thoughts went on a walk

At dinner, my roommate (J) said this:

Quote: Intelligence does not exist. End quote.

Then she said it again.  Four more times.

J says that everyone possesses the same capacity to learn, and that if, for instance, someone has trouble with algebra it's not because they can't solve algebra problems but because they don't have the time/motivation/perserverence to solve algebra problems.  She mentions a case study in which two classrooms full of kids were each given easy puzzles.  When they completed the puzzles, the teacher in one room congratulated them, saying they must be smart, while the other teacher congratulated the students on how hard they must have worked.  When they moved on to harder puzzles the classroom full of kids who had been told that they worked hard outperformed the kids who had been told they were smart; more, they enjoyed the challenge.  Finally, the kids were given easy puzzles again.  The "hard working" students enjoyed the puzzles, completed them quickly and easily, and even wanted to take some of the puzzles home to work on them.  The "smart" students did badly on the puzzles, even though they were at the same level as the first set of puzzles; furthermore, they did not enjoy these puzzles.  This study shows that everyone can perform equally well, and that even a small turn of phrase has power on a person's "intelligence."

I talked about the power (and its flip, the lack of power) of words earlier, although in a different context.  But really, the context is the same in the end.  I think the confusing part about my assertion that words are not powerful if they are not given power is that in many situations we do not have the power ourselves to deny words power.  Let me try to clarify that.  I said that words don't have power unless the hearer gives them power (eg hurtful words are only hurtful to those who are hurt by them).  But there is (I think) a general consensus that our emotions are not under our control, or perhaps our conscious control.  Whether or not we have the strength to consciously dictate our own emotions, we do affect them.  We are in control of them.

A lot of times it doesn't seem like it.  I have a lot of experience with emotions getting out of control, for better or [mostly] worse.  I have long struggled with severe depression, and while I have never actually attempted to kill myself, I've gotten pretty damn close and used to think about doing it every day.  I will be the first to admit (advertise, shout on the rooftops...) that I do not always have conscious control of my emotions.

The difference in my way of thinking is that "control" is not synonymous with conscious decision.  (Maybe more on control later...)  But because the human is the one "having" the emotions, they [the emotions] are within one being.  They are internal, though they can and often do have external effects.  I think we can all agree (maybe? plz?) that we cannot share emotions, in the sense that even if two people are having similar emotions (because by this logic no one can have the same emotions) they are each having their own separate emotions, not some sort of group emotion.

So, let me try to bring it back to intelligence.  I totally agree with J's interpretation of the case study, but I'm not so sure about her assertion that "intelligence" as a concept does not exist.  A concept?  By definition, a concept exists.  I guess she's talking about the nonexistence of "intelligence" as...  What is intelligence?  Wow.  J says that she is equating "intelligence" with "IQ."  IQ is certainly changeable, and totally bunk as a method of measuring "intelligence."  But in light of that (my immediately proceeding statement) I do not equate "intelligence" with "IQ."  (see Beyond IQ and IQ Paradox @ SciAm)  Hmmm.  I guess I believe that intelligence exists, but I define it differently.  As with everything, I believe that intelligence is relative.

I shall revisit these subjects at a later date, but for now... physics...

1 comment:

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