What is intelligence? I know I have touched on this before. Traditionally we define intelligence as IQ, or Intelligence Quotient. This is something inherent to us that does not change within our lifetime, or at least that is how it is thought of. IQ is a way that we are all assigned a number that puts us on a line from less intelligent to more intelligent. There is no second dimension to it. More or Less, that is all.

But I believe that there is more than that. Think of it as the difference between plotting a point on a one dimensional number line and plotting a point in three dimensional space, except that I want more planes than even that and adding time (as a fourth dimension) would allow. There are so many different ways that people (and animals) can be intelligent. This is how we generally think of animal intelligence.


But not only do they probably think the same of us, but what if they are the smart ones? All it takes is a small perspective shift. They have figured out a way to let us do the work while they reap the rewards. Pretty smart.

In my opinion, intelligence is made up of many things, including some that cannot be tested for. I don’t really see the point of testing for it anyway. As I see it the point of testing is to see who is superior, and I would argue that no-one is. Everyone has their own strengths, and beyond finding a way to discover those, testing is superfluous.

Children are a perfect example of this. People often laugh at children because they believe the things they say are stupid. When I was young I put together the fact that I saw the world as flat and the fact that I knew there was another side of it and imagined that the world was a cube. Obviously my conclusion was incorrect, but you cannot fault the logic. I had used the information available to me to come to a more accurate representation of the world than man had for centuries. Intelligence, in this case, is about taking pieces of information and putting them together.

My son still has a very limited vocabulary, but he is figuring out ways to tell a story. Sometimes he will say ‘hot’ and ‘mom’ while pointing to the kitchen. It is pretty clear at that point that he wants a meal. He is communicating not only that he is hungry, but he wants hot food, or a meal. One time I came home and he said ‘eye’ and ‘ear’ and pointed at a wall. I was a bit confused, until my husband told me that they had been pointing out the eyes and ears of the girl in a picture on the wall. My 18 month old was telling me what they did while I was at work.

I know that may not sound like much, but one of the smartest things about kids, and this applies double to babies, is that they soak up information all the time. Learning itself is a part of what intelligence is. And, as many parents have discovered, they don’t only learn what you try to teach them. Many parents find to their dismay that the kid has picked up curse words. This is for the same reason that many babies first word is ‘no’. Kids say what they hear.


These type of images are all over the internet, and people laugh at the dumb little kids. Really though that is a very smart kid. He knows that he is hungry, and food comes from boobs. He is just missing some information that led him to a false conclusion.

All the time kids fall down because they are still learning physics. If a kid learns to walk in a room with a perfectly flat floor and nothing on it, they will stumble when he gets on a ramp or a hill. But the younger they are, the quicker they are able to learn to compensate.

Another group that is often mocked for low intelligence is older people. When someone with Parkinson’s shakes and drops something they are called ‘retarded’. (We will address that in a minute.) The person’s mind can be as sharp as ever, but if the motor function starts to drop off, the labels fly off the shelf. In many cultures, and I am sad that mine is not one, older people are respected for their wisdom.

I completely understand that it can be very frustrating to try to teach someone who did not grow up using a computer how to do something that my generation regards as basic. But all it means is that the person’s mind is less malleable. They have more information stored in their brains than we do. Their intelligence is generally called ‘wisdom’ and it comes from the build up of all of the information that they have accrued in life.

Even people with what most people would consider ‘diminished mental capacity’ are intelligent in their own way. Today Einstein would probably be diagnosed with half a dozen learning disabilities. The reason that we think in terms of higher and lower intelligence is because we are giving the fish and the birds the same test as the monkeys and the elephants.


This image has been used as a mockery of our current educational system, and it is. But the problem goes deeper than that. While many kids can excel at reading, teaching a dyslexic student in the same way can be disheartening, and make them wary of not only books, but the information contained in them. While trying to teach an autistic child to read can be completely futile. (And yes, under No Child Left Behind they are held to the same standards of ‘proficiency’ as anyone else in their grade).

That same autistic child might be a savant at something else. For some it might be advanced mathematics, another might be just obsessed with trains. While some teachers might try to use that obsession to motivate the child, (nothing wrong with that) I would suggest going even further and trying to figure out what it is about trains that they love so much. It might be that she is interested in creating the path for them because in their mind they can instantly see the most efficient route, or maybe it is the idea of multiple things following in the exact same path.

Sensory Processing Disorder is diagnosed when people’s sensory perception is abnormal. It is often described in terms related to ‘broken’ but what if some of them feel the need to re-confirm the solidity of objects because they somehow subconsciously know that atoms are mostly empty space? When Earnest Rutherford first discovered that fact, he is reported to have been afraid to get out of bed in the morning because he did not want to fall through the floor.

I am not presenting any of these ideas as fact, but as a thought exercise, a reminder that things are not always how we perceive them. Something that we see as stupid can, in fact, be signs of intelligence. It just means that we not see something in the same way as someone else. Rather than judging in the moment, we should give some time to consider how they came to that conclusion. It might just be that our own understanding of the situation is missing some information, or that they understand something better than we do.


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