Monday, August 18, 2008

IQ versus W

My brother and I have been engaging in a long running debate. My brother seems infatuated with the concept of intelligence, while I place far more emphasis on commonsense and wisdom. Of course, as a participant in this debate, I'm not providing you with an objective assessment; I admit that I can only offer my subjective viewpoint. Maybe Sean will chime in to better elucidate his perspective.

For me, intelligence doesn't really tell me a lot about a person. Most intelligence tests are racially and ethnically biased. They also contain knowledge that the reigning oligarchy deems important at any particular time. So, garnering a high score on such a test could simply mean that a person is of the "proper" racial/ethic background and the person knows well the kind of information the powers that be want a commoner to know!

For the sake of argument, however, let's pretend that there IS an IQ test that evenly measures anyone's rote intelligence. I would still argue that such a test doesn't mean all that much.

I think all of us have known one or more individuals who are considered smart, intelligent and bright, yet many such people seem to lack any modicum of commonsense. Such people can expound at great length on the formulation properties of isosceles triangles, but such a person can't figure out that plaids and stripes clash or that one shouldn't try to operate electric appliances in the rain.

Even worse than a lack of commonsense, these poor unfortunate blokes seem to have an incapacity for obtaining wisdom. For all their smarts, they simply can't seem to learn from their own mistakes.

Again, I'm sure we all know these kinds of individuals. Their social relationships can only be described as one mess after another. They may earn a pretty paycheck, but they squander their money time and time again. For all their immense knowledge, they can't find any traction in the world because they keep falling over their own feet.

Now I'm not suggesting that all brainy people are wisdom-challenged. Many are blessed with sharp minds and keen insights. But if I was given the choice of having great intelligence or supreme wisdom, I would choose the latter every time!

There's a big difference between book smarts and native intelligence. I know of many people who never graduated from high school who I consider to be quite smart -- they may not know how to measure an isosceles triangle, but they ARE smart in the ways of the world. In such cases, the proverbial IQ test will be unable to quantify their innate abilities.

As the Tao Te Ching teaches and many other belief systems agree, knowledge isn't all that it's cracked up to be anyway. Knowledge often gets in the way of truly understanding the nature of things, the mysterious Tao. It blinds us to the rhythms of the universe and it often retards our growth in wisdom.

'Tis better to be a sage than a genius.


  1. I find your blog very calming and uplifting.

    With regards to the subject matter. There are different kinds of intelligence. Wisdom and common sense are 2 different and seperate kinds. In addition, intelligence -regardless of the different kinds of intelligence is only a relative concept.

    People value others who are intelligent in some way or another very often because that person has the power to achieve his or her goals more effectively and efficiently relative to others.

    If you dont really care about what others think of you or if you are not particularly goal oriented - then perhaps being smart is not crucial in your life.

    In addition, morality and intelligence are not necessarily corelated. There have been many very intelligent people who have done great harm to others.

    All this being said - I divide intelligence into the following categories as it relates to their importance in my view and their relative worth in terms of raw performance power:

    (from least to greater importance)

    1. Memorization (aka book smart)
    2. Analytical
    3. Common Sense (analytical not only with respect to a particular subject but in a general way)
    4. Wisdom (the ability to apply morality and take into account qualities of the human or sentient heart when making decisions. This is also a type of analytical ability but is wholistic in its application in an almost cosmic sense.

    Normally I do not like to use the word "cosmic" but its application I believe makes sense in the above paragraph.

    Anyway thats my view.


  2. Thanks for the wise and insightful comments, Jon.


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