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Psychology

Why The Incompetent Think They’re Geniuses and The Geniuses Think They Are Incompetent

November 6, 2012 by Andrianes Pinantoan in Psychology with 1 Comment

man and woman looking into mirror

Life is full of paradox. One of the greatest is the unequal distribution of intelligence, not across the population, but within an individual.

How often have you heard about the unbelievably academic bookworm with no common sense, or the drop-out with street smarts, or the alcoholic who gets every trivia question correct? How often do you hear a pro athlete exclaim, “Well, it was either football or first chair in the orchestra?”

As a species, few of us are universally intelligent. Few of us are Machiavellian.

When intelligence was first conceptualized, there were two main components that were taken into consideration, verbal and spatial abilities. “Intelligence” was characterized by an ability to reason verbally and express oneself in a way that others could understand, and an ability to create and generate concepts or mechanisms that could manipulate or describe physical properties, theories, and relationships.

If an individual could do both, he or she was intelligent. But as we tend to do, we couldn’t leave it at that. Theorists of the mind have a propensity to expand further, dig deeper, and define more specifically.

What Exactly Is Intelligence?

Intelligence is now a descriptor based on varying sets of parameters. What used to be considered talents and skills can now be attributed to differing realms of intelligence.

Kinesthetic intelligence describes one’s competency in behavioral movement responsiveness. Emotional intelligence describes the level of awareness one has for emotional states in relation to contextual variables.

Just as the Eskimos have a significant number of words to describe varying types of snow, theorists of the mind have different conceptualizations, theories, and metrics for intelligence.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that intelligence defines our inborn, God given capacity for aptitude within a particular brain driven realm. Now let’s factor in education. Let’s define education loosely as the ability to take advantage of accessible resources in order to improve.

Life is too fluid, the world is too small, and technology is changing too quickly for those who are smartest today to still be smartest tomorrow.

Education does not have to take place in a classroom. Given that we have so many different intelligences that we can speak of, how can we put parameters on what education is?

The point of education is that it takes a person from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ in an advancing direction. There are those among us who become smarter by virtue of the fact that they take full advantage of educational situations, thereby increasing their ‘smarts.’ Those who do not take full advantage of educational situations because they deem themselves to already be smart end up incompetent.

So what’s the point? The point is, as humans, we have a need to quantify and compare, setting normed parameters and measuring intelligence based on comparison.

People with drive educate themselves and often become specialized in order to achieve competency in spite of a score on an I.Q. test. The more they learn, the clearer it becomes that there is more to be learned; we are most obviously ignorant beings.

The smartest among us all share a common realization: we know how stupid we are.

Self-Deprecation and Genius

Ironically, it is the complete ignorance of those of us not living under a black cloud of intelligent self-deprecation that blissfully pass through life thinking we’ve got a handle on things and are really smart.

Don’t knock the self-deprecation. It serves a protective function for the intelligent. It is only through a clear understanding of our lack of understanding that we can plod on, searching for the elusive cure for cancer, energy breakthrough, or universal theory of explanation.

Ego can compromise and derail motivation. Setting personal expectation too high can lead to a devastating discouragement. However, the recognition of limitations, both of our own capacity for understanding and of the known constructs that define us, creates an environment conducive to greatness.

Discoveries are based on taking what is known and going further.

Those who we consider to be most intelligent are those who understand the limits or parameters, and then change and redefine them. The most intelligent people recognize that there is a fleeting moment when variables might merge in just the right way to maximize potential and give us that glimpse of the next reality changing event.

The most intelligent also recognize that they may spend a lifetime in pursuit of the visionary moment that may never come.

Ignorant Confidence

Then there are those who score high on an IQ test taken at 8 years old and regard that as the measuring stick of “intelligence” for the next eighty years. Those people who hang on to a number as indicative of genius are the truly ignorant.

Life is too fluid, the world is too small, and technology is changing too quickly for those who are smartest today to still be smartest tomorrow.

However, as humans, we continue to live within the biases and hold on to the truths of our past to keep blissfully unaware of how stupid we are.

These biases we live under are protective to our psyche. Consider for example, the fate of child stars, professional athletes, and chess geniuses who outgrow, outlive, or blow out the value of their particular talent, worth, or measurable intelligence.

Many flounder in an attempt to reconstruct their lives in a meaningful way. When stripped of the identity that serves as verification of our intelligence, we fall apart. We create symbols to serve as proof of our aptitude so that we can continue to turn to them as verification of personal value: the Super Bowl ring, Emmy nomination, or championship trophy.

The beauty of biases is that we can continue to believe in our intelligence even in the face of our obvious decline. That is not to say that there aren’t many who stay sharp well into their old age.

These pillars may be looked to for the wisdom that comes from living long enough to see the relationships between experience and time. The perspective is unique to those who see generations that make the same mistakes as those that came before.

This wisdom comes from watching universal truths guide our behaviors through time.

However there is a difference between wisdom and intelligence. Intelligence declines as we age. We lose the ability to interact with the world at the speed of information processing.

We move from the intellectual superhighway into the slow lane. The smartest among us realize that we no longer have the integral resources to learn and understand as the new intelligentsia does. Instead, we must step aside to make way for the visionaries

We can continue to learn, but our slowed responsiveness makes it impossible to use resources the same way as we did when our brains were young.

And as we sit in our rockers having made way for drones who think they are smart and ground breakers who know they are not, we can take comfort in the idea that our moments of intelligence have been supplanted by a relaxed wisdom that cannot be learned, but instead must be earned with time.

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About Andrianes Pinantoan

Andrianes Pinantoan is a long time blogger and an avid student of the brain. He's fascinated with how the mind works and its application in everyday life. When not working, he can be found behind a lens.

View all posts by Andrianes Pinantoan →

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One Comment

  1. bobMay 23, 2013 at 9:21 amReply

    Well written article :-) I agree with what was said. It makes me happy to continue struggling through my studies haha.

    I think it’s very important for oneself to be humble with what they do, since there is too much to learn so you must therefore continue striving instead of becoming content/comfortable and stagnating at a particular point in time.

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