Arman's stuff
Intelligence and Smartness

(Tue Jan 12 15:55:56 2010)

Rather a lot of people don't know the difference between intelligence and being smart.

Nor can they tell you the difference between being humble and not being able to take compliments well. So, I'm going to explain it. You probably already know, but at least this will be here for a reference should this topic ever come up again.

Some people are smart. Some people are intelligent. Some people are both. This is a sad fact; few people realize that it's better to be smart than it is to be intelligent. Intelligent people can solve problems, work complex equations, and generally figure out things others cannot. Let's put that on a scale; unintelligent to the left (your left, my right), and very intelligent to the right:

Now, what would you say this scale represents?

This person (let's call him Joe) is very intelligent. Now, let's add in "smart." Smart people have a broad range that they can understand and communicate; they can talk to people much less intelligent than themselves, and still make sense to them. If Joe isn't very smart, the graph would look like this:

Here's another person:
This person, Bob, isn't nearly as intelligent as Joe, but he's much, much smarter. In fact, while Joe can't make Bob understand him, Bob can make moderately intelligent people all the way down to complete idiots understand him.

Here's a third person, Jill:
Jill isn't as smart as Bob, or as intelligent as Joe, but she's much smarter than Joe, and only a little more intelligent than Bob. She and Bob should get along well, at least intellectually, because they can understand each other (though it's close; Bob is just at the cutoff). If Joe were to explain a point - even if it were a very simple point, easy for anyone to understand - chances are, most people would struggle to understand him, both those more and those less intelligent than himself. On the other hand, Bob can explain fairly intellectual ideas to a base idiot (or simple ideas to a genius), and still manage to be understood.

Here's the trouble. Far too many teachers are intelligent, but not smart. As long as their entire class is as intelligent as they are, there's no problem, but as soon as someone who is a little slower (or a lot faster) comes along, everything breaks down. They just can't explain simple concepts. Scientists frequently suffer from the same problem; as long as they're in the lab, they do just fine, but as soon as they have to speak with (let's face it) less intelligent reporters, they get taken completely out of context because they just weren't smart enough to say it the right way. No matter how intelligent you are, if you aren't smart enough to make your ideas understood, you won't get anywhere.

Being smart isn't all about communication, of course; the smarter you are, the bigger the problems you can solve. The most brilliant people on the planet may be very intelligent, but they are smart, too. If you have the ability to break hard problems down into bite-sized chunks in communication, you can do it with ideas and theories, and if you can do it with ideas and theories, you can understand anything. Being smart is all about making the difficult simple; if you can make a problem you find easy into something that someone with half your IQ could also understand, then you should be able to take a problem that's way above your head and break it down into pieces small enough that you can understand them. It's not easy, of course; when you're in grade school, you're given a simple problem to solve, and as long as you can wrap your head around it, you can solve it. What's 5*7? If you can figure that out, you should be able to figure out 57*57 (with the help of paper and pencil, perhaps); it's just breaking it down: 57*57 is just 50*7 + 7*7 + 50*50 + 7*50 (which equals 3249, if you want to check your math). Instead of needing to wrap your head around the whole piece, you just break it down until the pieces are small enough to fit.

Not everything is possible with smart, of course; there are some things that just don't break down. Calculus is a pretty big chunk, and it's very difficult to break it down into anything meaningful.
So there's another way to look at it - intelligence is a measure of what size chunks you can wrap your head around, and smartness is a measure of how small you can break those chunks down. Brilliance is simply being able to break chunks down very small, while still being able to process fairly large chunks - and most importantly, being willing to break pieces down smaller than necessary. You might be able to work around a big problem, but you can find interesting solutions by breaking it down even smaller...

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This blag is tagged: Brilliance, Intelligence, Smartness, All