Being Stupid about Intelligence

Back when I was in school my perception about intelligence was that only a few people were given this great gift that made them succeed in class tests and exams with flying colours. I felt that a person could be only a jock or a nerd,this idea fueled by too many teenage American movies. See, being in India, we don’t really have ‘Jocks’ i.e extremely handsome guys who could only play a sport well and have cheerleaders swooning over them and ‘Nerds’, people who coded for breakfast, lunch and dinner and developed apps in their free time. (Cheerleaders? Being in a boy’s school, the only females we ever saw were scary beings who cared more about our homework than our well being, these two quantities often directly proportional i.e incompetent homework meant our well-being was in danger.)


               But we did have people who were brilliant orators or great sportsmen but were bad in studies and people who were brilliant at studies but didn’t really have the coordination for sports. Or maybe it was just me who divided them up that way. So in essence my idea about intelligence was like this.


             Now obviously I was dead wrong but it served to make my life easier. This explanation worked in my favour and so I accepted it blindly. I was favourably decent in studies, coming around the 15th rank of my class of 60 students, which changed every year. (As I realize now ,rank is a very bad measure of intelligence. No wonder it pisses so many people off.) So it was okay that I wasn’t great at sports, didn’t participate in extracurricular activities, and basically was perfectly comfortable in my comfort zone.( Like really comfortable, you have no idea)


But then I got into an engineering college, and my juvenile perceptions were blown out of the water. I met so many people who were open exceptions to the graph above. There were people who were 9 pointers and in a band. There were 7 pointers who created amazing projects and hacks. There were people who sang well, played instruments and were leaders in their extracurricular pursuits and scored well. (Turns out the secret is Time Management, an old enemy of mine)

So I figured, okay, intelligence can coexist with other qualities. But I still thought intelligent people were people with high IQs. Those who could code entire apps overnight or create line tracer robots. The theory of relating IQ to intelligence was drilled into me even more when placements started during my seventh semester, the first criteria being GPA. After which was the written test which covered, of course, quantitative aptitude, coding, data structures, etc. Actually let me deviate here a bit to talk about IQ tests and how they have warped our perception of intelligence. I would recommend you read this book, ‘How would you move Mount Fuji?’ for a better understanding but I will paraphrase.

In 1916, a psychologist of Stanford, Lewis M. Terman, himself of an unusually high IQ, created the first IQ test. The origin story of the IQ test is actually quite ironic. What was originally a test to identify mentally handicapped children, called the Binet test, was modified by Terman to do the exact opposite. To weed out the ‘Gifted’ children. This was called the Stanford-Binet test. This was the first official IQ test. It worked on the principle that “Intelligence is not knowledge of facts but the ability to manipulate concepts.” It was the first way to measure intelligence quantitatively and spat out a neat little number one could carry around to show off how smart one was. Obviously, it caught on like wild fire. And still does to this day. Check out the info graphic below  if you’ve given one.


                    I mean it makes sense, a person with a high IQ is obviously going to succeed in life. Intelligence is the end all and be all of success. But wait…is it? How do I test this? I wish I could take a bunch of high IQ people and check out how they do in life. Don’t worry. It’s been done. And the results may surprise you. Check this out. This is a study which checked out if children with high IQs became successful in life. Over 1528 children were studied (856 males, 672 females), all with IQs ranging from around 140 to 200.  I would like you to focus on this sentence,

However, the majority of study participants’ lives were more mundane. By the 4th volume of Genetic Studies of Genius, Terman had noted that as adults, his subjects pursued common occupations “as humble as those of policeman, seaman, typist and filing clerk” and concluded:

“At any rate, we have seen that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”

So okay, if a measure of the analytic measure of a person’s reasoning skills is not true intelligence, then what is? Here is where I bring in a concept called EQ or Emotional Quotient. EQ is a kind of vague measure of how determined, passionate, temperate and emotionally controlled you are. And it plays a very huge role in your intelligence. It was found from the study that people who displayed a high Emotional Quotient were usually the ones who succeeded . So basically being motivated, passionate and a high IQ are the components of success. Drawing a Venn diagram of what would constitute intelligence would now look like this.


The thing is we don’t really count being social or being good at designing or dancing gracefully or being street smart or multilingual as being intelligent. It is, just another form of it. But we count it as important all the same. Just as we would assume a person is not that intelligent if he can’t solve a simple math problem, we say a person is socially awkward, has no sense of design, has two left feet, is inept to deal with the real world and bad at languages if he doesn’t possess the above skills. I don’t agree with this Venn Diagram. Should Intelligence be so limited?

A Classic Moment

And here it comes. The ultimate truth (well, according to me). Everyone is Intelligent. I mean Everyone. Does this sound like some vague ZEN saying? Some spiritual crap? Let me explain. Everyone is equipped with different levels of different degrees of intelligence. Confused? Oh use your intelligence.

In 1983 a man called Howard Gardner proposed that there are eight types of intelligence. Lets go through them.

1. Linguistic Intelligence: The ability to master languages easily. Being good at verbalizing, at reading, writing, telling stories and other aspects of language.

language joke

2. Spatial Intelligence: The ability to visualize stuff in 3D and have a clear mind’s eye when analyzing problems with respect to dimensions or perspectives.

Spatial Intelligence

3. Logical-Mathematical: Obvious. Forget Spatial, a Logical Mathematical would love to solve that shit above.

4.Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence:  Smooth control of one’s bodily motions and capacity to handle things skillfully. Dancers, Actors, Athletes and even Soldiers.

The art of Dance

5. Interpersonal Intelligence: How well you communicate with others.It encompasses your social skills, the ability to empathize, the art of being social.


6. Intrapersonal Intelligence: The art of conversing with the self, the inner self, being self aware. Looking into oneself. How well you really know yourself. How well you know how you would react in a certain situation.


7. Musical (Rhythmic and Harmonic) Intelligence:  People with a high musical intelligence normally have good pitch and may even have absolute pitch, and are able to sing, play musical instruments, and compose music.

                       So, what happens here is everyone has these intelligences but in varying degrees. So a an actor may fail a math test but be extremely high in bodily-kinesthetic. A geek may lack in bodily-kinesthetic but be excellent at mathematical-logical. An excellent teacher scores high in interpersonal ,linguistic and mathematical-logical. Thus we are but a composite of different degrees of these intelligences. Thus my conclusion, everyone is intelligent but in different ways.

Well that ends this kinda long post on intelligence (really sorry about that). If you have stuck with me to the end, I thank you. Now go feel intelligent, you Linguistic Intellectual, you.


Frustrated individual in a world with lots and lots of other similarly frustrated individuals.

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Posted in Deconstructed
4 comments on “Being Stupid about Intelligence
  1. Pramath says:

    I am a person who does not read any books. But I do not what was that interesting thing that made me to go through your entire blog.
    Anyways its damn catchy, keep putting up your stories.

  2. 1234 says:

    Wonderful and well written article on the diversity of intelligence. It has always bothered me how people compare their intelligence to others via grades and results. People are skilled and mentally focused on different aspects of life; maybe schools and universities all over the world are getting it wrong?

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