What Really Is Intelligence — Different Perspectives

What is Intelligence? Should there be a common scale, and would that scale be valid? Before I begin, tell me, do you give in to and stay hung up on one idea or one perspective that you find most convincing, or do you enjoy feeding your brain with multiple perspectives? I certainly enjoy learning about different perspectives and theories, and if you enjoy brainstorming, healthy debates, and “intelligent” discussions (got you there, didn’t I?), I hope you’d enjoy this read.

From a very young age, we started becoming familiar with words like “intelligence”, “wisdom”, “common sense”, “genius”, and such. Starting from probably the times of millennials, I suppose intelligence became just as popular and loved as “alpha-masculnity” on mass media. (That was just a personal opinion.) The Big Bang Theory, a highly popular comedy series, is all about the events that take place in the lives of four nerds. “Entrepreneurs” or “startupreneurs” get to boast about their novel ideas and have thousands of followers. Talent is welcome, irrespective of where it comes from, and is well-paid in the market. Researchers get to connect better and interesting papers are read by at least hundreds of people, all thanks to the rise of the Internet. Beyond a point, people start taking interest in subjects that they consider as beyond their knowledge, and try to learn about spirituality, health and fitness, mental wellness, investments, foreign languages, and more.

With all this happening around us, what do you think “intelligence” means to you? Apart from Albert Einstein (the dude is said to have been misogynistic and racist, so can we leave this stereotypical genius out?), who crosses your mind when you think “intelligent”? Your school topper? The international hackathon winner? The entrepreneur you look up to for inspiration? The TEDx speaker whose words you could easily relate to? The founder of WhatsApp? Your favourite spiritual leader? A chess champion? That one person you follow on social media whose tweets you RT often? Elon Musk? Sherlock Holmes? A scientist with decades of experience? What do you think, are all of them “intelligent” or do you think some of them are deemed intelligent because people don’t understand what intelligence really means? As mentioned earlier, there are different perspectives. Let’s check them out.


A Classic Psychologist’s Perspective on Intelligence: We must all be familiar with IQ tests. If you ask a psychologist for an objective score of one’s intelligence, it’s the IQ test that will help determine the answers. These tests usually measure memory, verbal skills, reasoning, spatial intelligence, quantitative reasoning, etc. Without a doubt, IQ tests are one of the most objective ways to measure intelligence that we have till date. People like Judit Polgár and Marie Curie are proof that a high IQ is closely associated with great skills, rather outstanding skill levels. While psychometricians generally regard IQ tests as having high statistical reliability, it is believed that Stephen Hawking replied, when asked about his IQ, “I have no idea. People who boast about their IQ are losers.”

What Does Intelligence mean to You? A High IQ?

Emotional Intelligence: EI (emotional intelligence) is another buzz word in the world of psychology, like artificial intelligence is in the world of technology. While people use it in various contexts and give it different meanings, some professionals strongly believe in the concept, and some others criticize these theories, saying it can’t be deemed as “intelligence”. Some believe that emotional intelligence should be regarded as more important than intelligence quotient (IQ), and some others disagree.

The Artist’s Perspective on Intelligence: While I very much enjoy giving IQ tests and other psychometric assessments (it is fun), I, for one, think that these IQ tests miss out on a major factor: creativity. I’d consider myself a creative person, and I think that there really is no objective way of measuring creativity. Because we probably don’t have a solid collective understanding of what creativity really means. There are several domains in creativity, too. Ilaiyaraaja is called “maestro” for a reason — his songs can cover almost every human emotion and experience possible, and include a range of genres, such as classical Indian music, pop, folk songs, devotional music, soft rock, etc. But can he write stories or paint? If not, why not? If you give it some thought, you’d understand that you love most of your favourite fictional characters, dramas, series, books, and such because it’s the writing that is truly brilliant. And without creativity and originality, is “intelligence” really as great or advanced as you might think it is?

The Philosopher’s Perspective on Intelligence: While philosophy is regarded as one of the least objective subjects, could it be possible for a being to be “intelligent” and not lean towards philosophy at all? Which philosophers do you think have been wise beyond their age and time? How did they contribute to the world?

The Scientist’s Perspective on Intelligence: Most scientists would agree that if something can’t be proven, it is just a theory or hypothesis, and not factual, not something you can completely rely on. This is the beautiful thing about science — how people with different values, beliefs, and opinions can come together to respectfully agree or disagree on things. Another beautiful thing is that science is ever-growing, at least our knowledge of science is ever-evolving. But even after millions of years, our “highly evolved” species is still unable to answer complicated questions objectively, questions like where “life” came from, is there life only on Earth, how and when was the universe created, how many universes exist, do aliens exist, if aliens do exist, when can we expect to make contact with them, etc.?

How correct are we in our understanding of intelligence?

The Spiritualist’s Perspective on Intelligence: Spirituality, again, is not something that can be objectified. The word varies from person to person; it is subjective. But again, there are people who believe that it’s reaching spiritual heights that can be considered as the height of intelligence. Should spirituality and intelligence be seen as two separate sets, or is there a link, you think? What about people who are not spiritual, and how would you estimate their “intelligence”? Are spirituality and being religious the same to you? If so, well, understanding this version of ‘intelligence’ just gets more complicated! Phew! (Also, there are many people cheating the general public openly in the name of offering “spiritual guidance” — if they are able to fool that many people, would you regard that as intelligence, even when their IQ might not be all that high?)

The Vegan’s Perspective on Intelligence: Veganism is all about treating non-human animals with respect and dignity, and avoiding harm to non-human animals as much as possible. While there are many arguments against veganism, in the context of intelligence, anti-vegans and non-vegans argue that it is perfectly okay to (ab)use animals for all our wants and needs because animals are inferior to humans and that’s just how nature works! <shrug> Don’t you think this is similar to being ableist if you look at it from a moral perspective? Vegans call this “human supremacy” — that humans engage in all forms of exploitation simply because we consider ourselves to be superior to all other forms of life and deem non-human animals unworthy of basic rights. We believe animals have only five senses, then how can we explain animals performing cognitive tasks with ease?

Now what really is the point, why are we considering all these different descriptions and aspects of intelligence now, you’re asking? Well, the point here is that we ourselves have not established clearly what “intelligence” includes and what it does not (the irony, we call ourselves “intelligent”!), so when we say “artificial intelligence”, what are we aiming for and dreaming of?

So what is expected on Artificial Intelligence?

We will brainstorm a bit more in the following article! See you then, intelligent being! :)



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Lakshmi Prakash

Lakshmi Prakash

A conversation designer and writer interested in technology, mental health, gender equality, behavioral sciences, and more.