Defining Intelligence.

Here’s a curious thing regarding intelligence: It’s a theoretical construct. I’ll explain.

Here’s is my definition of intelligence, for anyone curious:

Intelligence is the ability to manipulate people, with varying but usually low levels of effort, into making a verbal note of your intelligence to you.

It includes everything! Planning, abstract reasoning, talent, hard work, thought speed, eloquence, wit… In the end of the day, the reason why so many different things are grouped in the same pile as “intelligence” is because they all, in some way or form, produce a reaction on fellow people. It’s rather curious when you realize, for example, that someone who is very eloquent but not particularly good at spacial reasoning is said to have the same quality as someone who is great at spatial reasoning but terribly ill-spoken, and that person is said to have the same quality as someone who can spot holes in arguments, and that person is said to have the same quality as as someone who is good at predicting what someone will do. The truth is that those are all different things, done by different parts of the brain, with different levels of malleability, that different people will find easier or harder. Intelligence is not any one of those things. It’s the ability to use them to obtain a remark on your “intelligence”.

At the end of the day, when people say “you’re very smart” (unless they’re being sarcastic) they usually mean something along the lines of “you have a set of skills that allow you to do this thing that I or society at large think to be difficult, and that are agreed upon to be related to cognition”. So, someone who can do very careful handiwork work isn’t necessarily intelligent, they just have “steady hands”, because fine motor skills are agreed to be in some way not cognitive, despite involving nerve cells and thought. I’ve been thinking about intelligence a lot because I am in the privileged position of having it, in the sense that I regularly obtain remarks about my intelligence with little to no effort. While I will acknowledge that being in the opposite position, whereupon using great effort you still obtain zero verbal notes about your intelligence, is probably super shitty, I cannot speak for such an experience because I do not have it.

What I can speak for, however, is the the harm that can come from being in such a position–harm that I would suppose is analogous to the harm that comes to men by way of the patriarchy–and how it has been a source of stress throughout my life.

When you are routinely taught to be proud of your place in the bell curve, regardless of what that place is, you inevitably tie your self-worth to it. Which is absurd when you realize that your place in the bell curve is not really tied to how good you are at anything, it’s tied to how good you are in comparison to other people, and different sub-populations will place you in a different place in the bell curve.

Something that I have, or at least seem to have according to others (because people are never shy about evaluating me), is not a property of me. It’s a property of everyone else.

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Defining Intelligence.

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