Thursday, August 20, 2015

Intelligence, Wisdom, Cleverness

There's a new Quora thread - How do you teach children to differentiate among cleverness, intelligence and wisdom? .. There are some interesting answers there, as is usual for Quora. But also as usual my approach seems out of tune with the rest.

First what they are, and only then how to explain to a child:

Intelligence is the ability to apply rules to situations. That is largely how IQ tests work.
(Mathematics consists of systems of rules for converting axioms and postulates into theorems. Psychometrists often say math tests tend to be the most highly "g-loaded" type of test, where g is the general intelligence factor.) The best short definition I saw of intelligence (on a gifted education email list) was the number of times a person has to work a type of problem before it becomes easy for them.

Wisdom seems to generally be the absence of cognitive biases. (Wikipedia has a very long list.) One very common bias is thinking of yourself as more expert at something than you really are. (See the Dunning-Kruger Effect.) Freedom from cognitive biases is developed slowly over decades of experience. Intelligence along with experiences and the personality dimension of Openness probably help wisdom develop.

Cleverness, compared to intelligence, is seriously under-rated for most circumstances. Intelligence along with other things such as doing lots of homework will make you a success in the academics of math or physics but without cleverness you might never have an original thought. When the axioms, postulates, and rules are vague and uncertain, the ability to zero-in on possible solutions, the ability to generate plausible hypotheses for rules and then make those hypotheses work together toward solutions - That's cleverness.

For six year olds:
Intelligence helps you win chess games.
Wisdom is what you gain when you lose chess games.
Cleverness is designing new and interesting games.

(So cleverness relates very strongly to creativity and insight the way I've defined it here.)
(There's an old spy movie where a main character put little postage-sized photos of people onto chess pieces.)

August 20th 2015. rjh.

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