How is intelligence defined?

Originally Answered: How can intelligence be defined? · 


I was writing a book about children’s intelligence. Then, in some moment I needed to define intelligence, for in spite all my readings on the subject, I never read a definition of intelligence. It is amazing that such a common word is so rarely defined.

I remember some 50 years ago, I asked for the IQ Test of Lewis Terman of Standford in a public library . I was shocked when I read the author saying

I am not going to define intelligence.

It looked absurd to me that the author of an IQ test would decide not to define intelligence. Perhaps he has some political reasons, for he was saying that intelligence innate. If you define what is intelligence it does not make any sense to say it is innate.

I contented myself with the negative of Lewis Terman by thinking, I would get what idea the author has about intelligence by watching the items contained in the test.

The first thing I observed was that the IQ test of Lewis Terman was measuring the language of the child. Nothing less. Why the language? Language was a necessary ingredient of the test, for the examiner was presenting questions to the child. Then, it was obviously a test of language. If the child is unable to understand the question, he cannot reply. But the child can apparently understand a question, but could be unable the reply for he does not know some word. I live in an island that has not trains, and most people had not yet TV as to see a train. only people a little older that was given money to watch movies would had an opportunity to watch a train. But he could had missed perhaps the word train if nobody was telling him. One of the questions was “what is a train?” Other question was about the word lawn. If you ask a child what is a lawn, perhaps he can ignore the meaning of this word. Unless the family has a garden with a lawn, the child cannot understand the word. I have a grand daughter of 25 months of age. We have a lawn but she does not know this word yet. She knows this is grass, bothy in Spanish and in English, but the word lawn had not come out yet in her universe. A child living in a poor family that had often crossed a park, needs his mum to inform him, this you see here is grass, but it is also called a lawn. In a test if the examiner ask a child what is a lawn? The child would be unable to reply if he had not learned yet this word. This do not mean he has some innate ignorance. We all are born ignorant. It is with time that we learn.

Well, I had been arguing with some people in some places about intelligence, and it is rather rare the person arguing with me would know that intelligence is mostly language. Someone was disputing my argument, then I consulted the Concise Oxford dictionary.

Intelligence: Intellect, understanding. 2 Quickness of understanding, sagacity.

In case we have doubts about intellect, it is easy.

Intellect: Faculty of knowing and reasoning, understanding.

You cannot know most questions if you lack a language. To know is to understand some statements, and reasoning is the capacity to discern if some statements are false or true. Reasoning is also the capacity of arriving to a conclusion if some statements can not be verified.

The main purpose of language is to learn things or questions. A part of language is related is mostly to reasoning and it is cognate to doubt. Doubt must be then a component of language.

Some people had tried to befog me by telling intelligence is how fast a person is learning. I replied with the simile of someone playing tennis or playing the piano; the more practice have had this person the faster he learns. A person that never had played tennis or a piano before would have a dirty half hour learning the first steps of those plays. The same happens with language. The more trained is a person with language, the better and faster he understands a relatively complex question. A child with only a poor level of language cannot understand complex phrases or arguments. Like many persons that were arguing with me, they do not understand the meaning of intelligence. But they are able to repeat a lot of classifications of intelligence, like naturalistic, musical, logico-mathematical, existential, interpersonal or social, kinesthetic, linguistic and others.

Basically anything we learn, including language, is not other than a set of “conditioned reflexes”.

We can understand well what it means conditioned reflexes if you watch someone playing tennis. The ball comes to your side, and you must run with the racket in a hand to hit back the ball towards the other player. You can do this better or worse. The more you practice this game, the better you can do it. It is not different to play the piano. You see some notes printed in a paper, and you had learned where to put the fingers to play those notes. In advanced stages you can be able to memorize the whole sequence of a melody and play it. It takes a lot of work to learn this. The more you practice with the piano, the better you play. The same can be said of playing chess, or whatever.

I was talking one day with someone that told me I do not know what mathematics is. I told him, mathematics is not different to playing the piano. You have to build a powerful set of conditioned reflexes.

I remember when I was in a religious school as a child. One of the things I had to learn was the catechism. It started with a small booklet of only 150 questions and replies. Later as you were getting older, the catechism had 3,500 questions and answers. The quid with the catechism was not to confuse the questions, for some have some similarity to others. In maths is not different. You must memorize many hundreds of thousands of algorithms and questions, and you should not to confuse the sheep with the goats.

Anything you would learn needs a lot of work. The more complex is something you have to learn the more work you need to master it. And work means time.

Then, it does not make any sense to speak of different forms of intelligence. Intelligence is what you had learned to do. If you play chess like a grand master, your main intelligence is to play chess. If you are on your way to win the Roland Garros trophy this is your main intelligence, and so on.

Our capacity to know is limited, thus our intelligence is also limited. The more you want to know the more time you need. And also, the more you know in general, the more wrong ideas you can have stored in your brain. To reduce the common situation of committing errors, all sciences had been divided in many different specialties. Nobody has an infinite capacity to memorize.


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