Posted by: nhfalcon | September 24, 2007

One For You Educators Out There…

So what is intelligence, anyway?

A few days ago I was cleaning out the storage unit underneath the apartment and stumbled across a bunch of papers I had written during my quest for a Master’s degree (which I successfully completed last May, btw). One of those papers was for my Human Development and Learning: Educational Psychology class in which the question we had to answer was what we thought intelligence was. We had read the ruminations of many experts on the subject such as Arthur Jensen, Howard Gardner, Charles Spearman, and Robert Sternberg, just to name a few. We had to consider several aspects of the question, such as whether or not intelligence is one thing (like Spearman’s “g” theory) or several things (like Sternberg and Gardner), whether it is fixed or malleable, and whether it is determined by genetics or the environment.

I won’t bore you with the entire three-page paper here.* I will, however, present for your review and commentary the concluding paragraph:

“In summation, I would again state that I believe intelligence can be defined as the ability to process (and by process I mean absorb, remember, define, analyze, and react to) information. I would hold that it is a singular thing, at birth rooted in genetics, yet subject to environmental influences (though I admit that I could not even try to quantify to what degree those influences can change it), and therefore malleable. To try to better explain my positions, I would draw the analogy of the human brain to a computer. One’s intelligence is the computer’s processor, the speed of which is fixed when bought, yet can be upgraded over time, making it both malleable and subject to changes in its environment (the purchasing of additional RAM, for example, is an external, not innate change). Gardner’s and Sterberg’s and others’ multiple intelligences can best be described in this analogy as software packages – they change what one does with the processor, but do not change the processor’s speed (so with Gardner one may be better at things requiring linguistic intelligence than logical-mathematical intelligence, but that does not change one’s g). The only thing I believe is fixed and is purely genetic is one’s capacity for knowledge, one’s hard drive, to continue with the computer analogy. I believe each individual is capable of holding only so much information and that this limit varies from person to person. I also believe that no individual has ever reached that limit, nor will in the forseeable future, and that is why we have not been able to measure it.”

* – if you want to read the entire paper, give me your e-mail address and I’ll be more than happy to send it you.



  1. I like your analogy and agree with your assessment. I would go so far as to add the variable of motivation to the mix, though – I know a lot of people who have the CAPACITY to increase their knowledge base, but lack the DESIRE. If one can’t be bothered to put in the effort to upgrade the hard drive, one will forever be stuck running old, slow, outdated programs….

  2. I see where you’re coming from, Mrs. C., and wholeheartedly agree that motivation (or lack thereof) is a major issue with which the educator must contend, but within this context I would consider it part of the environment that affects the development of intelligence, rather than an intrinsic part if intelligence itself.

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