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Friday, September 5, 2008

Intelligence and Reality

There is much to read on the topic of intelligence as it relates to education.  Individuals are measured by many tests - to derive their IQ, EQ, and many other quotients we deem important for learning.  Is intelligence a pure number?  Is there an algorithm that defines one's inner workings of the mind?  How does intelligence impact reality?  Here is the beginning of a much larger thought...

As I perused my graduate school books on the subject, I found thirteen definitions of intelligence ("Psychological Testing - History, Principles, and Applications (2nd Ed.)" by Robert J. Gregory  p.152-3, 1996).  I know, it is an old edition, but that's what I have.  Before reading the following definitions, write down on a blank sheet of paper your definition of intelligence.  (...done?)

Okay, now take a deep breath and read the definitions
from the aforementioned book and compare them to yours...

"Spearman (1904, 1923): a general ability which involves mainly the education of relations and correlates.

Binet and Simon (1905): the ability to judge well, to understand well, to reason well.

Terman (1916): the capacity to form concepts and to grasp their significance.

Pintner (1921): the ability of the individual to adapt adequately to relatively new situations in life.

Thorndike (1921): the power of good responses from the point of view of truth or fact.

Thurstone (1921): the capacity to inhibit instinctive adjustments, flexibly imagine different responses, and realize modified instinctive adjustments into overt behavior.

Wechsler (1939): the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with the environment.

Humphreys (1971): the entire repertoire of acquired skills, knowledge, learning sets, and generalization tendencies considered intellectual in nature that are available at any one period of time.

Piaget (1972): a generic term to indicate the superior forms of organization or equilibrium of cognitive structuring used for adaptation to the physical and social environment.

Sternberg (1985a, 1986): the mental capacity to automatize information processing and to emit contextually appropriate behavior in response to novelty; intelligence also includes metacomponents, performance components, and knowledge-acquisition components.

Eysenck (1986): error-free transmission of information through the cortex.

Gardner (1986): the ability or skill to solve problems or to fashion products which are valued within one or more cultural settings.

Ceci (1994): multiple innate abilities which serve as a range of possibilities; these abilities develop (or fail to develop, or develop and later atrophy) depending upon motivation and exposure to relevant educational experiences."

These are but a few definitions of intelligence.  The concept of intelligence has been framed using other words as well, such as emotional, social, multiple, and artificial.  My current preferred definition of intelligence is one that includes all aspects of one's ability to comprehend a reality and create new meaning.  'Meaning' itself has multiple definitions - 1, 2, and  3. Take a look at each linked set of definitions of 'meaning'.

An inventor is typically referred to as intelligent.  Inventors comprehend the properties of items in reality - their physical meanings - and combine these various items to create new meaning, new reality.  New properties emerge from combinations that never existed before.  It is astounding to think that we have the ability to transform the physical reality before us into a new reality.  Remove certain items from your current reality - the computer in front of you, the phone (most likely a mobile phone) nearby, the variety of machines that lessens your daily work, indoor plumbing, and even the materials with which the clothes, fabrics, furniture, and walls that surround you and what is your reality without them?  If you had no contact with such items before and you were provided them all at once, then would you be dumbfounded?  Would you be less intelligent for not comprehending them?  Would the world be anew?

Nature does this all of the time on a geologic time scale, but we do also have examples of items transforming with whole new characteristics.  What is an acorn?  What is an oak tree?  Is an acorn not an oak?  What is the difference between them - time? potential?  Add intelligence to this capacity of nature to transform and we have the ability to transform reality itself.

"The power of the Holy Spirit, enlightening man's intelligence, has enabled him to discover means of bending many natural laws to his will.  He flies through the air, floats on the sea, and even moves under the waters.  All this proves how man's intelligence has been enabled to free him from the limitations of nature, and to solve many of her mysteries.  Man, to a certain extent, has broken the chains of matter.  The Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavour to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love." - Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 37-38.

We have the intelligence to break 'the chains of matter' (with the clarification - 'to a certain extent').  We understand quite a lot about the development of an acorn to a mighty oak.  But, what are these 'greater powers than these' that are gained once we 'attune (our) heart(s) to the Divine infinite love'?

"The Heavenly Father gave the priceless gift of intelligence to man so that he might become a spiritual light, piercing the darkness of materiality, and bringing goodness and truth into the world." - Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 113-114.

Intelligence is not merely for material transformations, it should be used to bring 'goodness and truth into the world.'  So, when I write that intelligence "includes all aspects of one's ability to comprehend a reality and create new meaning" - it includes spiritual transformations.

"Progress is the expression of spirit in the world of matter.  The intelligence of man, his reasoning powers, his knowledge, his scientific achievements, all these being manifestations of the spirit, partake of the inevitable law of spiritual progress and are, therefore, of necessity, immortal.  My hope for you is that you will progress in the world of the spirit, as well as in the world of matter; that your intelligence will develop, your knowledge will augment, and your understanding be widened." - Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 90.

Intelligence and its application is a manifestation 'of the spirit' in our reality.  Even by the act of writing, it is "in itself, a sign of the writer's soul and intelligence." (ibid, pp. 91-92).

If we are to use the concept of intelligence to inform educational practices though, we must find a way to measure it, no?  How does one measure intelligence?  Can it be demonstrated by a student that is given a task to devise an answer to a mathematical problem?  Can it be demonstrated by a student when handling a dispute between classmates?  Can it be demonstrated by a student that provides help to others?  Can it be demonstrated by a student who collaborates well and uses creativity and critical thinking to organize information in a new way?  

The data we collect from such demonstrations will be dependent on our creativity in assessment. We collect data that is informative and leave the rest behind.  Therefore, not all data is collected.  So, if intelligence can be demonstrated in so many different ways, then to which data do we give priority?  Being self-aware that there is a limitation in this prioritization, then we must choose wisely.  A multiple choice exam for intelligence provides one data point, a portfolio another, a presentation another, a behavioral rubric another, etc.  But the prioritization will dictate the measures we record and therefore the category of intelligence in which we place the student.  We must be mindful of how that categorization of intelligence changes the ways we interact with a student.  Imagine if you label a student as highly intelligent and another as having low intelligence.  Do you challenge them differently?  If so, how?

Our expectations, as research shows, will be a force in determining the student's intellectual growth.  Educational practices impact our reality and the future reality of humanity - one person at a time.

I wonder...what are those "greater powers than these" mentioned earlier?  Perhaps they are something more than the material reality alone.  Perhaps, they are an illumination based on comprehension of the material world in light of virtuous teachings.  For example, imagine a world in which universal education promotes unity in diversity and oneness of humanity intertwined with the arts and sciences - what new realities would we create?

1 comment:

Phillipe Copeland said...

An excellent post. Just in time for me to be back in school!