What does it really mean to be intelligent?

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”


Have you ever wondered what is meant when someone calls you smart? What goes through your mind when you subconsciously regard an individual as intelligent?

More specifically, what is intelligence? And how do our perspectives affect our definition of intelligence?

It seems there isn’t a consensus as to what constitutes intelligence.

In 1904, Charles Spearman proposed that there are multiple types of intelligence.  However, he argued that they are all correlated.  In other words, he predicted that those who tend do well on some sections of an IQ test, will tend to do well on all of them.  Spearman argued for a general intelligence factor called “g,” which has remained controversial to this day.  Decades later, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner revised this notion with his ‘Theory of Multiple Intelligences,’ which put forth eight distinct types of intelligence.  Gardner claimed that there was no correlation among them; arguing that a person could possess strong emotional intelligence without being gifted analytically.  Later in 1985, Robert Sternberg, the former dean of Tufts, put forth his, “Triarchic Theory of Intelligence,” which argued that previous definitions of intelligence are too narrow because they are based solely on intelligences that can be assessed in an IQ test.  Alternately, Sternberg believed that types of intelligence must be broken down into three subunits: analytic, creative, and practical.

It was Einstein who said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”  The more you learn, the more you should realize what you didn’t know. If you learn things that do not make you realize how much you didn’t know, or if learning doesn’t make you realize how much is still left to know, then did you learn anything valuable or relevant? It seems that wisdom does not come with age, but rather from from learning.  If learning does not increase your understanding of yourself and the world around youis it learning? Or is that just memorizing? Arguably, ten people can experience the same thing but each take out something different.

Socrates once stated, “I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.”  To say that you are educated does not mean that you are competent, intelligent, or even fully aware of yourself and the world around you.  The amount of knowledge or schooling one has does not guarantee that they are smarter than you.  Typically, it comes down to who has the right information at the right time, and if you are doing more harm than good. So don’t ever underestimate your value, and don’t ever underestimate the value of learning, because the more you know the better your odds will be at making better decisions. So choose what to learn and when to learn it wisely.

Understanding is to know and comprehend the nature or meaning ofto become aware of through the senses; characterized by understanding based on comprehension and discernment and empathy.  It is to perceive an idea or situation mentally.  It is the trait of judging wisely and objectively.   Knowledge should be assessed through someone’s actions, yet so often we deem people superior to ourselves intellectually and then watch them make crude statements, poor decisions, and commit illegal actions.

So when you call someone smartthink.