Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Intelligent or Smart?
I've often wondered about the intelligence of smart people.
For years, I've wondered why many of the people who are considered successful do not always appear intelligent or act intelligently proportional to their perceived success; yet, their success indicates that they are smart.  How can that be?  In (at least American) English vernacular, intelligent and smart are used interchangeably, as are unintelligent and stupid.
I began to see a distinction between the concepts, intelligent and smart, and conversely, unintelligent and stupid.  The reason for using the term, intelligence, is self-evident, indicating an objective quantification of an individual's intellectual faculty.  The words, stupid and smart, are natural choices, given common use and understanding, to indicate an individual's usage of given intelligence, low or high.  Other words for stupid, e.g. dim, thick, obtuse, can involve irrelevant connotations.
Further, intelligence is relatively lasting, given its biochemical source, barring the effects of aging or brain trauma, whereas stupidity and smartness can be fleeting, lasting for seconds or a lifetime.
That is not to say that successful (read smart) people cannot also be intelligent.  Carl Sagan, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and many others are/were intelligent and smart.  But, anyone who would argue that all successful people are necessarily, or by definition, highly intelligent would need to explain to me apparently successful people such as Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, any Kardashian, and many others.  Of course, some would further argue that those people are also intelligent, requiring the results of intelligence testing to be convincing.
Conversely, the concept does not imply that intelligent people are always smart.  An intelligent person can design and build a fully functional and innovative jet-powered skateboard and stupidly decide to immediately test its feasibility on a busy highway or over the Grand Canyon.
Intelligence is innate, relatively stable, objective, and measurable by proven and continually updated methods[1].  Smartness, like stupidity, is not innate but is the result of a conscious decision and is therefore subject to capriciousness.   Smartness/stupidity is subjective and not measurable by anyone's behavior which can change in an instant and is seldom, if ever, admitted or discovered for reasons implied below. 
Smartness and stupidity cannot be measured.  It cannot be quantified by tests or by bank accounts, for example, since bank balances are affected by inheritances, mistakes, and intelligent or unintelligent decisions.  However, smartness/stupidity can be judged, albeit without great accuracy, using success as an indicator.  There are several forms of success, e.g.  affluence, notoriety, power (pull, authority).  
If viewed philosophically, i.e. without moral judgment, there are many identifiable behaviors that can be used to gain success: deceit, lying, self-discipline, theft, manipulation, education, flamboyance, fraud, forgery, intimidation, tenacity, coercion, among others.  (See?  Not all those traits are, even in the non-philosophical sense, negative.)  The biggest difference between any two humans lies in what they are willing to do to get what they want.
I submit that using the words, intelligent and smart, or unintelligent and stupid, interchangeably serves only to confuse. The practice leads us to assume that, because someone is successful, regardless of their methods to achieve success, they are also intelligent enough to head corporations, serve in significant elected positions, or make momentous military decisions.
In the case of elected office, the more (financially) successful person can afford to spend vast sums on advertising and an entourage to maximize their chances of being elected.  Ultimately, their success depends on the intelligence of the American electorate, but that's a subject for another time.

[1] There are, of course, arguments against IQ tests, asserting that they are inherently biased, inaccurate, and meaningless.  There are also arguments against evolution and for creationism.  I suspect that there is a correlation somewhere.

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