Friday, June 30, 2006

Get Smart

What qualifies someone as intelligent? Fluency with language? An ability to do calculus? A powerful instinct for self-preservation?

Intelligence these days tends to be gauged by success on standardized tests. A smart kid is one who fills out all the right bubbles on his Stanford-Binet examination. But drop that same kid out in the woods alone and he probably wouldn’t last a day; that seems to indicate that he’s not even as a clever as a fruit fly, which is going to make it at least 48 hours.

Socrates was famously considered the wisest man in all of Athens because he alone knew he didn’t know anything. But apparently, he knew that so doesn’t that wreck things? Wouldn’t I be wiser if I knew I didn’t know whether I knew anything or not?

I used to think I was pretty smart; I always did well on standardized tests anyway; now, though, I’m not sure; sometimes it’s all I can do to make sense of the directions on Jiffy-Pop. And forget trying to assemble lamp from Ikea; I get a headache just reading the packing list.

Maybe I've got some emotional intelligence. On the other hand, my feelings are no better at calculus than my mind. And would it be cheating to look into the heart of the person sitting next to you on an emotional intelligence exam?

I’m not sure who's the smartest person I ever met. One of my professors in grad school? Some kid I taught in the “gifted” program at the UW/ The Hadza tribe member Alito who I went hunting with in Africa? They all knew lots more than me, that’s for sure, but also damnation by faint praise.

Most people think that if you're smart, you should be rich. But are they smart enough to see that this doesn't imply being rich implies being smart?


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