Source: Hermit Musings (author)

What’s Intelligent?

One byproduct of choosing to live as a hermit is an ongoing parting of the ways with mainstream culture. By virtue of being rather out of touch with society—despite my maintaining some contact through the Internet—I find that I’m able to “speak the people’s language” less and less. Society moves on, changing its fads and trends, leaving me by the wayside. Alternatively, I find that I increasingly follow my own peculiar path, as I develop a new outlook on life.

A particular deviation that I often experience is noting how differently from society I begin to interpret and use some words. Words can acquire new connotations for me, as I begin to alter my perspective. One of the reasons I took up the life of a hermit was to slow down and examine the multitude of beliefs and perceptions I’ve acquired over the years. When I do so, I’ve found that many of them no longer seem relevant to me. I can let many of them go, cast off their respective shackles, and open up to new realizations.

An example of a departure that I’ve experienced is how the word “intelligent” is employed and implied by people. I’m less and less inclined to be able to relate to everyday usages, which imply that intelligence is the exclusive domain of humans, or that it can reasonably be measured by an IQ test, or that it is correlated to higher education or material success. When used in this way, for example, granting intelligence to one person rather than another can become a hierarchical or even a classist process.

When I get this feeling that I’m out of step with society on word usage, I like to go back to its roots and recalibrate myself. So, digging in the dictionary, I find that the Latin root of “intelligent” is to perceive, to understand, to comprehend. This tells me that intelligence can be more a matter of understanding things, than it is knowing facts, or doing well on a test, or even getting an advanced education.

The fact that intelligence means understanding more closely fits my interpretation of the word, since I’ve sometimes watched well-educated people exhibit a poor understanding of their world, in the harmful ways that they act. In contrast, I’ve watched what are considered simple-minded people act very intelligently, demonstrating their good understanding of their world. Even a squirrel—when very attentive to its environment—acts intelligently.

Thus one way I’ve come to view intelligence is how well one pays attention to one’s surroundings and how appropriately one then takes action, based on that accurate perception. I think intelligence is less what one knows than what one does. A person with an IQ of 150 who abuses his world may be regarded as intelligent by culture’s standards, but his actions display an elevated level of ignorance and foolishness. It is this type of irrational behavior that has led us to the current mess the world is in. That surely isn’t smart!

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