Sunday, December 14, 2008

Intelligence; what is it?

What is actually being measured in IQ tests? Can intelligence really be measured all? Is there a correlation between IQ scores and valued behavioral outcomes? Is our definition of intelligence prejudiced by our cultural values; independent thinking, creativity, individualism? Are there other values in other cultures that might equal "intelligence" in those cultures? Things like traditional beliefs and practices and participation in established life-ways? We assume that higer IQ results in better performance. But is that true across the board? Are the best hunters in primitive cultures the individuals with the highest IQs? Are shamans with high IQs more effective in the application of their skills, or more socially influential? Are the individuals with higher IQs more effective parents?

Is there a high correlation among rural Mexican farmers between high IQ and yield per acre? Or is there a higher correlation with family size or social-networking skills?

In your studies, is there a high correlation between resilience and IQ? I guess what I'm asking is, is IQ good for anything other than an ability for abstract thinking? Is it an important attribute in terms of social success, circumstantial adaptation and survival?

Maybe the concept of IQ itself is too abstract. Maybe it is measuring the wrong thing. It would seem that it is a measure of input rather than outcome. A fundamental issue in the definition of intelligence is the question of whether we are talking about innate cognitive capacity and potentiality, (input) or about actual ability and competency, (output.) Howard Gardner defines intelligence as "the ability to solve problems that have value in at least one culture." That makes some practical sense. The definition sounds more like applied intelligence. Innate intelligence is recognized as being of value to the degree that it is applied to culturally identified problems. But Gardner's ideas about multiple intelligences are not really the mainstream understanding of IQ. The more orthodox understanding of IQ is that it is supposed to measure cognitive or mental capacity, without regard for whether or not intelligence is applied to culturally valued problem solving, or applied to anything at all.

Gardner's multiple intelligences; Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Verbal-Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Naturalistic, Intrapersonal, Visual-Spatial, Musical, are more like competencies than some native mental capacity. It seems fairer and less biased, but is it really a measure of intelligence?

I suppose one way of thinking about IQ is that it is a potentiality, like muscle mass, or lung capacity. We can measure muscles and lungs and perhaps conclude that an individual has the capability to be a good distance runner, or that a group should do well at high altitude agricultural work. But is there a correlation between physical attributes and performance? Likewise, is there a correlation between intellectual capacity and meaningful outcome? In our culture, there is, because we value a particular kind of abstracting thinking and we recognize the act of thinking (and writing and planning and the development of programs to think and plan things), and we reward it. So in our culture there is a correlation between IQ and performance.

Outside of academia, I wonder what the optimal IQ is, in terms of performance. Maybe, if you are looking for a good worker on an assembly line, the optimal IQ is 100, or 75. I can imagine that the higher the average IQ on an assembly line, the lower the production. Unless, of course the assembly line is organized in a way that mobilizes the intelligence of the workers in some atypical way. What I'm getting at is that you can't necessarily say that all of the problems of Africa can be attributed to lower IQ scores. There may actually be some things that benefit from lower IQs. And there may be other kinds of intelligence that are of equal or greater importance.

I guess that in addition to the questions of what IQ is, is the question of what good it is. Does it give us useful information? Does it help to understand that Africans have lower IQs than White Americans? Are there other measures that are equally or more useful? I know of a couple of times in my life when I was benefited because of having a high IQ score. It wasn't because I actually performed better.

When I was in the Coast Guard I was a flunky. The way that the system worked was that a person advanced from an E1 on up by taking a series of tests. They were pretty easy tests, but for some reason I passive-aggressively refused to even look at them. So I didn't advance. After three years I was still an E1 while my peers were E3s and E4s. It was pretty dumb of me; I was scraping paint and swabbing decks. But then my boss, a lieutenant, saw my IQ score and gave me a job as a radarman. Everyone that I worked with was at least an E3. I was advanced ONLY because of my score.

It doesn't seem fair if we make positive assumptions about individuals or groups of people based upon their IQs and open or close the doors of opportunity on that basis, especially if there are other factors that are of equal or greater importance. (Of course there are lots of other factors that give people an unfair advantage as well; good looks, gender, inherited social status.)

So what about "Group Intelligence?" Is there such a thing? It's a little embarrasing to talk about it. It reminds me of force-fields and juju. But I think there is such a thing. It exists at all levels of reality. From the molecular level through cell-life and insects, to the planet, there are systems that somehow "know" how to behave together. It's not just individual molecules or cells or bees or celestial bodies, acting autonomously. There is systemic intelligence. And in human societies, I'm wondering if there might be an inverse relationship between individual intelligence and group intelligence; the higher the individual IQ, the lower the GIQ. It seems to me that there is a correlation between high IQ and individualism. Does IQ work against socialization? Does high IQ contribute to isolation? Does the emphasis on functioning within a social body, subjecting personal ambition to ones family, clan, or village work against the advancement of IQs? What about the autistic savants? Certainly there is high intelligence, but low social intelligence. How many functional, but mildly autistic-savant, anti-social people are out there in our culture? I've heard that the Silicon Valley has a high incidence of Asbergers. Okay, I'm in over my head now. I don't know anough about these conditions to be discussing them.

It seems like most all measures of intelligence aim at quantifying individual intelligence. I'm wondering if there might be another kind of intelligence that operates beyond individuals, in social groups. In other words, individuals live and operate within a shared intelligence as well as intelligence residing and operating within the individual. Perhaps this would explain the lower IQ scores among individuals living in tribal and traditional cultures. Maybe there's a trade-off. The more immersed a person is in the shared, group mind, the less exercised and developed is their individual intelligence.

We know that insects like ants, bees and many other animals operate within group intelligence. It is the intelligence of the swarm, the flock, the herd. This sort of intelligence is systemic, interactive and dynamic among individuals, rather than residing within an individual. Perhaps a similar kind of intelligence functions as coherent functional global patterns which have emerged and become established norms in traditional societies. It's a different kind of decentralized intelligence. It may be a very important part of our own reality as well, of which we are largely unconscious.

I'm not so sure that measuring individual IQs really gets us a very useful measure. Individuals rarely operate in isolation. Perhaps we should develop tools to measure group intelligence. Problems are solved when people work together collectively.

It seems to me that the human body is an example of systemic intelligence. The cells function collectively, not individually. We may try to impose a hierarchic model upon the body, with the brain behaving like the king, overseeing his body/kingdom. But that's not really how it works. Our bodies are really swarms of cells, working things out together. And it's not that all of the cells of our bodies love each other. We have all sorts of oppositional stuff going on. Dynamic tensions exist between extensors and contractors, excitatory and inhibitory functions. It seems to me that measuring individual IQ is like measuring the functional capacity of an individual cell, rather than the health of an organ or of the entire body.

If we accept that some sort of transcendent, shared group intelligence exists among insects, then the questions becomes; is this a more primitive kind of intelligence? Are we evolving from a lower-order, group intelligence toward a higher-order, individual intelligence? It's probably not either-or. I'd say both individual and group intelligences are real and important, but are we largely unconscious of our hive-mind? Do we value it? Do we understand it and cultivate it? And is there a way to measure it?

Has evolution been happening by virtue of the survival of the fittest individuals or the fittest groups? I think the latter. Individual Paleolithic humans would not have survived, regardless of their individual intelligence. Survival depended upon the viability of the clan; what might be called "group intelligence." Paleolithic hunters stalked and killed their prey in coordinated groups, not as individuals. And it is doubtful that these hunting tactics were devised by an individual of superior intelligence, but rather by a group intelligence.


We have, in Western Culture, and perhaps as a species, become less identified with the group or clan that we belong to, and are becoming more and more individuated. Throughout most of history the group, not the individual was emphasized. Throughout the middle ages individual expression was discouraged. It was viewed as an expression of the sin of pride. Individuals were supposed to sublimate themselves to the good of society.

I saw this in Mexico. The suppression of individual initiative was evident in the little village of Los Ricos where I lived and worked for a year. Being exceptional was not valued. Instead it was valued for a person to fulfill traditional roles within the community, like worker bees. In fact, there were traditions which ensured that no male, (women didn't even consider such things) would differentiated himself through his excellence or personal initiative. Each year the pueblo selected a Mayor Domo. It was a recognition of superiority but also a mechanism for bringing the superior individual back down to the norm. It was an honorary position accompanied by an obligation to finance all of the fiestas throughout the year. So the richest, (most exceptional) individual in the village was brought back down to the economic level of everyone else. Nobody could ever break out and become "an outstanding individual."

I'm realizing as I write a flaw in my thinking. People don't decide to be smart. An intelligent individual in Los Ricos is not going to say to himself, "It's not worth it to be smart and get rich. They'll just make me Mayor Domo and I'll lose my advantage. I think I'll be dumber and more social instread." No, that isn't it. But maybe there is something bigger than that, in the group mind, that distributes intelligence within the group.

We talked about the theory that there may have been a self-selection process in the establishment of Americans. The individuals who migrated to America in the 15th through the 19th centuries were unique. They were willing to leave their homes, their land, their loved ones, forever. They were strong individuals who were not so invested in the group mind or social identity that they were prevented from leaving. This self-selection continued in the westward migration on the American Continent with the emphasis on rugged individualism. I would be interesting to know if they also had higher IQ scores than other Europeans.

You raised the issue of new immigrants. I think you are right that the contemporary situation is different. Mexicans move back and forth between their jobs in the U.S. and their homes in Mexico. It does take a certain degree of initiative, but not at all like it was when there was very little possibility of ever returning.

Humanity turned a corner during the Renaissance when it started to evolve in the direction of the individual. Since that time art (which is really all I know about) has been become increasingly about the individual artist, their unique vision and creativity; their self-expression. Prior to the Renaissance, art was about self-effacing service to social values, mostly religious. We know the names of very few artists from the middle ages because individual artists didn't matter. It wasn't about them.

But we have seen this emphasis on the individuals ever since the Renaissance. Individual achievement is very important to us today. We try to teach our children to "play nicely." We want them to function well within their social identity. But we don't grade them on it. We don't emphasize it. We teach them to excel as individuals, in competition with their peers. I'm not saying that social or group intelligence is superior to individual intelligence. Only that it exists and has been neglected. Both should be understood and cultivated.

Everything in our modern world perpetuates the illusion of the preeminence of the individual. In popular culture, the media and in sports we have the illusion of the "star." We all know that it takes a lot of people to make a movie or put together a winning sports team. But there is something in us that wants it to be about the outstanding individual performer or athlete. I think it's a hang-over from the idea of the king as a god, an ideal human who can show us the way. This ancient idea that the Pharaoh or the King was a super-human being was the beginning of the concept of the exceptional individual. It has grown over time so that we now each aspire to become such an exceptional individual.

As I think about it, the idea of the unique, superior individual has always been there. It's just that the idea of the superior individual has been democratized. The Greeks had the idea of a group mind comprised of an intelligent body of superior individuals, an oligachy.

They also had the concept of ideal proportion, a Greek Polis of 5,000 households. I think they were trying to get at the balance between the individual and the group; the proper scale where the individual could effectively operate in society. Aristotle felt that in a polis each citizen should know the others by sight. Pericles described it this way: "Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics... we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all." Of course, this is where our concept of democracy comes from; the idea that there is some sort of superior wisdom in the group mind.

So it's not the individual versus the group. It is a question of finding the appropriate human scale in which individual identity is meaningfully derived from engagement with the group, and the group positively benefits from the individual's contribution and participation in the group-mind.

What I'm suggesting is that social intelligence isn't just the sum of the contributions of all of the individual intelligences involved. It is another kind of consciousness, similar to our body awareness, a decentralized competence, a systemic intelligence.

We need to reclaim and value this group intelligence. We lost the remnants of it during the industrial revolution when individuals served as operators of machines rather than participants in a social intelligence. Today we function as consumers more than citizens participating in society. I think that Obama may be trying to change the paradigm. The way that he built his campaign from the ground up with house parties, inviting people to identify with his campaign by becoming engaged with a small group, may be the beginning of a whole new awareness of this group-mind.

There are some lofty versions of this idea of group intelligence. Some people look forward to our evolution toward a planetary intelligence; the whole of humanity on planet earth thinking together, as one. It may be that our ultimate destiny is our participation in a universal, global intelligence, but we are long way from that. I suppose that would be a sort of Second Coming of Christ. But we are not there yet and I'm afraid that we getting ahead of ourselves. The state of the global economy is evidence enough that such thinking is premature. It is beyond our current capacity. The global economy transcends the appropriate human scale. We are completely lost in it, overwhelmed by it.

I guess that the most important and neglected intelligence is social-relational intelligence. Personhood is related to the efficacy of relationships. We feel effective, powerful and free to the degree that we are able to engage meaningfully with others. We feel prosperous and empowered or poor and powerless in "relationship" to others. Our definitions of power and freedom have a lot to do with our social intelligence. To the degree that we emphasize individual intelligence, we define our freedom in terms of being left alone to think and act as we choose. As we come to understand group intelligence we come to define freedom as our ability to engage meaningfully within a social context?

This doesn't mean that "we all just get along." I'm a big believer in dynamic tensions. It is the complimentarity of opposites that stimulates creativity, and life itself. Our bodies are comprised of opposing muscles, excitatory and inhibitory neural transmitters. So this group intelligence is works itself out just like the complimentary opposites within the systems of our bodies. We fight it our among ourselves, for the good of us all.

All of this relates for me to the Christian idea of the Body of Christ, "the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ… we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4

Okay, these are VERY undeveloped ideas and I feel a little embarrassed, a little nerdy that I have gone on at such length. I don't expect you to respond to all of this disjointed thinking Lindsay. I'm on Fall Break and have time to explore these ideas, but I know you have other things to do. I just got intrigued by this and had to work on it a bit. Thanks for getting me thinking about it.

1 comment:

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