Finding the Real Meaning of Intelligence

Judging intelligence by looking at an IQ score, is akin to judging illness by looking at one’s temperature on a thermometer.

They both say *something* about the person who the number is about, but the number is definitely not the person. Nor do those numbers tell much about the nature of that person’s intelligence or illness.

A thermometer reading of 4 degrees above normal lets us know the person is sick, but tells us nothing of the nature of that illness, nor how to treat it. A thermometer reading of exactly normal does *not* tell us that person is healthy.

Intelligence might refer to capacity, application, or situation. An Oxford graduate who is suddenly dropped into the Brazilian rain-forest might not have much opportunity to look intelligent! An IQ score of 145 shows definite intelligent in the realms measured by that test, but doesn’t let us know anything about areas not measured by that test. Similarly, an IQ score of 108 does not confirm mediocrity; it tells us only that the person achieved a mediocre score on that test at that time.

Here are the definitions of INTELLIGENCE from two dictionaries:

1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
2. manifestation of a high mental capacity
3. the faculty of understanding.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2006

1 a : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations b : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)
2 : mental acuteness

Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary, 2002

All packaged intelligence tests (IQ tests like Stanfor-Binet or Wechsler) are looking at what the testee can do on that test. They say nothing of how quickly that person can learn in a new environment, their ability to understand what is going on around them when confronted with an unknown set of circumstances, their ability in music, or a whole host of other basic abilities generally associated with “intelligence.”

Perhaps the real meaning of the word intelligence is as subjective as the real meaning of the word power.