How to be smarter

Undersigned is not the sharpest pencil in the box, but I have had the pleasure to meet some real smart individuals. They inspire me. It is pure pleasure to talk with some of them, and it’s really really awkward and challenging to talk with the rest of them.

So naturally the question arises, why is it so awkward to communicate with some of them intelligents.

First, let’s try to find out what intelligence actually is.

Intelligence is both the rate of learning and accumulated knowledge

Mankind has cracked the human genome code, been to the Moon. Flying across the world is like taking a bus and we are drilling for tiny tiny pockets of oil thousands of meters below the seabed under the deep sea. But we do not know much about the internal works of the human brain.

Still, it has been proven that frontal gray matter volume correlates with something called general intelligence, or g-factor. Now this “general intelligence” is a metric to measure all of our brainpower. Hierarchically, we can split this brainpower into two factors or ten broad abilities which can further be divided into 69 narrow abilities.

Let’s take a closer look at the two factors of the general intelligence, the fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.

“Fluid intelligence or is the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. It is one’s lifetime or intellectual achievement, as demonstrated largely through one’s vocabulary and general knowledge.”

So, in a nutshell, the fluid intelligence is the ability to learn and understand, the cognitive ability, whereas crystallized intelligence is the acquired knowledge, the result of all previous learning and understanding. Fluid intelligence is the horsepower of a car (=brainpower), crystallized intelligence is the distance driven (=accumulated knowledge). More powerful the car, more distance can be driven during a lifetime. The only question is which road should one drive.

Intelligence can be increased by training

The good news is that the fluid intelligence (=brainpower) can be increased by training!

Without going into too much details, one can train with multimodal working memory tasks (the dual n-back). Now, this is very different than playing Tetris or Sudoku. Playing Tetris and Sudoku, only makes you better in those games. The dual n-back training gives you significant improvement on a completely unrelated cognitive tasks.

Andrea Kuszewski summarised very nicely that to become more intelligent, you need to:

  • Seek Novelty
  • Challenge Yourself
  • Think Creatively
  • Do Things The Hard Way
  • Network

So yes, it is possible to increase the amount of raw brainpower you were born with.

Intelligence is not only logical-mathematical talent

Theory of multiple intelligences argues that rather one single general ability, there is wide range of cognitive abilities, with little or no correlation between them.

  • Spatial
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic

The big revelation is that what most people think of as intelligence: logic, abstractions, reasoning and numbers, is just one of the eight abilities. Another important finding is that “Individuals rarely perform equally well on all the different kinds of items included in a test of intelligence.” (ref. Neisser et al.)

Intelligence can be measured

Of course people have been trying to measure intelligence and various tests do exist to find out the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of a person.

IQ is a normal distribution meaning that average Joe has IQ of 100 and 50% of the worldwide population is smarter than he is. And if you are smarter than 98% the population, your IQ is over 131 and you can join the high-intelligence society Mensa.

Ultra high IQ society, Mega Society (IQ>171, smarter than 99.9999% of population), challenges timed, supervised IQ tests, stating that they do not accurately measure at the one in a million level, and therefore they have their own super difficult tests. Get 6/48 correct in the Titan Test and you are in Mensa. Get 43/48 correct and you are invited to Mega Society social events drinking tea with Chris Langan.

It is widely agreed that standardized tests do not sample all forms of intelligence. But surely it is possible to measure the part of intelligence that is processing logical puzzles fast. And who knows, maybe there is correlation to raw intelligence (=brainpower).

High intelligence does not guarantee success in life

In my books, a very smart person has accumulated knowledge and has excellent communication skills. And he/she is able to simplify complicated things for us lesser beings. Think Richard Feynmann, man with great logic, imagination and communication skills.

So what makes some of them smarts so enjoyable to talk with and others so annoying? Attitude.

Let’s step into smart peoples boots for a while and try to figure out why they behave the way they do.

The schooling system is designed for average people. Smart ones do well in school with virtually no effort and hence might learn to be lazy. They might be perceived as non-social as they might not have interest in talking about sports, reality TV, but rather higher concepts like cosmology or socioeconomics.

Later they enter the work life, just to find out that most office jobs consist of easy routine tasks. Their full potential and talent is not needed and hence they do not receive recognition and get frustrated.

They will realize that in work life things progress slowly and it takes time for a group to come to the obvious conclusion that the smart one did figure out right away when introduced to the issue at hand. They might become reluctant explaining things and co-working with colleagues who don’t grasp new concepts so easily and are not talented in using abstraction. They might feel superior and others perceive them as arrogant.

Summa summarum

Intelligence is both the rate of learning (=brainpower) and acquired skills and knowledge. High intelligence does not guarantee success in life. Real life needs specific skills (f.ex. personal finance and relationships) and unfortunately not all of those skills are taught in schools.

Recommended reading

Andrea Kuszewski on Robopsychology

Core Human Skills needed for success

Steve Pavlina on how your mind really works article on memory training software

Android application for dual n-back memory training

Bonobos might have something to teach humans

Sex makes you smarter


posted: 12 February 29
under: Lifestyle