Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Personal Theory of Intelligence

Repeat after me:  “I can learn anything with enough time and effort.”

This is the core of my theory of intelligence.  The theory comes from my studies of cognitive science, neuroscience, and philosophy, as well as my personal experience.  Let’s work through this in more detail.

The brain is broken into regions that roughly correspond to various cognitive and behavioral functions. Some people may have a region larger than average or smaller than average.  Einstein had a smaller than average brain, but the region associated with visualization was larger than average.  He was well known for visualizing his theories, such as when he asked, “What is it like to ride a beam of light?”  Part of this is from genetics while the rest if from his environment. 

Genetics tells the body how to develop in general.  But that’s not where things end.  Studies have shown that cab drivers have a larger special recognition region of the brain, but only after years of driving.  Before the experience, their brains were back toward the average.  Their brains changed over time through experience.  They were not stuck with what their genetics gave them.

I will say that genetics can give someone a leg up, a head start.  A child who is a virtuoso on the violin at age five likely had a genetic disposition toward musical patterns and fine motor skills. Someone who has an easy time with math and science is predisposed toward mathematical (abstract) patterns.  This doesn’t mean that if you aren’t predisposed you can’t learn it.  It just means that you’ll have to work longer and harder to keep up. 

How do we measure, generally speaking, how much time and effort?  There is definitely no specific way to do this, as there are far too many factors, but there is something we can look at:  IQ.  Yes, there is an actual use for IQ.  If you have an IQ of 100, you would generally take an average amount of time and effort to learn something.  If your IQ is lower, it’ll take longer.  If it’s higher, it takes less time, so you can learn more things and be ‘smarter’.  

As a quick aside, some studies have shown that the average IQ is actually higher than it was 50 years ago; we just keep the average at 100 to make things easier.  What does this mean for my theory?  I would think that people are getting better at learning while there are more and more things to learn every day.  If a person's ability to learn didn't increase over generations, then humanity wouldn't be able to keep up with technological advances.  People who can keep up, learn the new things to be learn, and are typically more successful, would be more successful in romance.  Evolution is allowing us to keep up.

Just to make clear, someone with a lower than average IQ (I'll arbitrarily choose 85) could still learn something along the lines of quantum physics, but the amount of time and effort would be more than available in a lifetime.  At the same time, someone with a very high IQ (we’ll use 160, just to throw out a number) could spend longer than a lifetime trying to create a mathematical theory of language by themselves.  This would tell us that human life expectancy is a factor.  Other factors would include availability of learning material, enough time to spend at all (if you live in a war zone, staying alive is much more important), and the choice to spend the time and effort.

Person choice is a major factor.  I have a lot of personal interests, as anyone who has read my blog could tell you.  I would need multiple lifetimes to learn everything that I want.  As such, I need to choose what to put my time and effort into.  This is why I donated my piano to a good cause recently.  It was an investment that did not pay off for me, as I choose to spend my time and effort elsewhere, but will hopefully pay off for someone else.  My choices are also why I choose to spend more time and effort in learning Japanese (I’ll talk about this in a future post). 

Let’s look back over my theory and try to summarize it.  Anyone can learn anything, if they choose to and are able to spend the time and effort to do so.  Ok, I was able to summarize it all in a single line, after all.  That’s works for me. 

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