What makes us ‘smart’?

The Distinction in Intellect

Have you ever read a novel so well written that you have to pause to appreciate how each sentence somehow transcends the previous? Or have you seen a painting that was so beautifully done that it consumes your every thought for the next 8 weeks? How about that time the boy from your english class captured the attention of every student in the room, even the boy who watches lacrosse videos all period, with an explanation on how well the journalist uses commas?

We all have this quintessential image of a ‘smart’ person. Our definition of a ‘smart’ person changes as we move throughout our schooling years and eventually our professional lives. You start to realize that being able to do the whole times table in less than 5 minutes doesn’t make you smart. In high school ‘smart’ is having a 4.0+ GPA or getting a 2300 on the SAT. But the problem with these definitions is that a. they’re one dimensional and b. so many people can reach this level through tutors and hard-work. Not to belittle these methods because they are most certainly understandable and acceptable ways to get ahead, but it’s not genuine intelligence.

We can all be book smart to some degree, granted some will be more book smart than others, but we can all know what the square root of 4 is and the correct spelling of ‘conscience’ (I just had to use spell check for that word if you must know). It’s all accessible knowledge. These people are those who became our class valedictorian and the ones that got into Stanford. You go about your whole life wishing you were them, but then you come across a person who is on a whole other level of intelligence.

It’s truly humbling when you find yourself in the presence of a genius. It’s like every single cell of your body realizes how inferior they are and how they’re all okay with it. It’s fascinating that an experience so rare can be so universally recognized. We must establish something though: this feeling isn’t produced every time you stumble across an above average intelligent person and it’s not only unique to those who can get into an ivy league college.

Intelligence isn’t something they have to work for. It just is. Some do things with their gift and some don’t. Being exceptionally smart is just another trait that some are lucky enough to possess, like beauty or a natural singing voice. But with this realization we must understand that being this ‘natural smart’ doesn’t make them better than the person whose textbook is their bible.

 

Dedicated to the boy in my english class who is so humbly brilliant. You somehow awe me each day. Your wit, wisdom, and unmatchable control of the english language is something I appreciate everyday.

AH! A Bear Attack!

Who’s the Best?

Eliud Kipchoge vs. Usain Bolt; who’s the better runner? Pernille Blume vs. Katie Ledecky; who’s the better swimmer? One athlete finishes their race in less that 10 seconds, the other takes far longer, but maintains an equally impressive pace. Clearly all four of these athletes are worthy of their olympic titles, but who is better? In order to answer this question, I think back to a time when there was no competition to measure an athlete’s talents on the track or in the pool; a time where there was no such thing as an athlete, only a particularly strong individual able to run for a really long time or swim wicked fast. Back then, being the best at something didn’t mean that you might one day win a medal at the olympics, it just meant that you could survive another day.

If we take this universal concept of survival and use it as a means to measure how good someone is at something, then perhaps we can determine which runner or swimmer is better. That being said, we would still have to figure out what is more important, speed or stamina? Who can outrun a bear or swim to shore if they’re stranded in the middle of a lake?

Runners and swimmers are easy to evaluate on this primitive aptitude scale, but there are some talents that prove to be more tricky. What about a writer? There are millions of amazing writers that excel at their disciplines across the globe, but which is the most adept to survive? Is it the world renowned scientist who writes books that explain complex astrophysics, or Anthony Doerr, the author of All the Light We Cannot See, a haunting work of historical fiction? Does the president’s speech writer have a better chance at survival than a journalist from the New York times?

If we turn back the clock to a time before newspapers and presidents; before astrophysics and novels, what disciplines of writing are we left with?

One man’s words rally his warriors before a grueling hunt while his friend watches closely, ready to relay the details of that expedition to the leader’s wife who waits by the fence, fearing that this time her husband won’t come home. There’s a woman explaining how to build a fire while another enchants the children of their village with a story of how their mighty ancestors battled the vicious saber-tooth tiger.

Motivator, messenger, teacher, and entertainer: who will survive?

Our instinct is to respond with “depends on the situation”, and perhaps that’s true, but what sorts of situations were you likely to find one thousand years ago, and what situations do you often come across today?

We like to label people as being the “best” at what they do, but we’ll never really know who places highest on this primitive aptitude scale until a bear decides to attack the stadium. We worry that we’re not good at anything, but having made it to this moment proves that you are good at something, keeping yourself alive. How did you do that? You used your unique skill set the persevere through life’s obstacles. You may have run, swam, or written a kick-ass english essay, but all that matters is that those talents brought you to this moment. Go you!