Intelligence and Desire–“I’m Smart”

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πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει.

People in their deepest core desire knowledge.

–Aristotle, first line of the Metaphysics.

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Epiphanies are a more motley experience than often supposed. They can come at any time of the day–say, 3 am in the morning while you’re fixing a Dagwood sandwich–and they can appear crisp, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed (ready for a good day’s work) or bedraggled and apologetic (they didn’t make it across to the other side). Yes, sometimes the recipient must do some extra decoding to make the final connection(s).

So here is a epiphany RT received a couple of nights ago (he can’t even remember what he was reading at the time). The message? Intelligence doesn’t reflect any special accomplishment (and in this regard RT remembers that there’s a book out there that contains more than 500 proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem), but rather the desire to know.

In other words, Einstein was certainly intelligent, but it was his deep desire to understand, to go beyond the accepted theories of the time, that enabled him to achieve the fundamental insights that he did. Can the two–desire and achievement–really be separated?

And who doesn’t want to know? Everyone wants to know how the story turns out, and why. Intelligence manifests itself in so many ways–a child’s decision to climb a tree, the ability to tell a particular wine’s origins by sampling its bouquet, the ability to mimic someone’s mannerisms–that we tend to dismiss many indications of the mind’s activity as “normal” or “common.” So much the worse for us.

People alienated and outraged that their worth in the world has been overlooked or ridiculed–that is what we want to avoid. The answer? To get people to acknowledge, “I’m smart.”

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And here is the connection that RT had to make: that the RT thread, “The Alphabet and Redefining Intelligence,” is one way of helping people to see themselves as fundamentally intelligent–in this case, by adopting an alphabet that is more truly phonetic and taught in a more logical way. A 6-year-old’s comment, “I like learning to read and write,” is what we’re aiming for. Teaching must first uncover the desire for knowledge, then proceed to teach the specifics.

The great majority of us are smarter than we realize.     RT

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Photo: Bridge in Use During the Rainy Season (2008); Rutahsa Adventures. WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Generic.

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  1. August 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Facts are nice; they are, in fact, delightful little baubles that can bring us much joy. Collecting them takes memory, dedication and patience. But finding them takes a desire for discovery, the intelligence it takes to follow and the type of stubbornness you would find in a badger digging for food. In a way, that is what intelligence is – sustenance; so by the way, what was in that Dagwood sandwich? Aubrey’s lunch was not satisfying at all.

    • August 8, 2013 at 8:43 am

      aubrey: i cannot tell a lie: Dagwood was just an exaggeration; in real life it was chicken & rice leftovers from that evening’s dinner. had it been the real deal, i would have put together a club sandwich with lots of greasy bacon (cut small, almost crumbled), non-iceberg lettuce, tomatoes that taste like something, lots of mayo–yeah, the classic BLT. (on second thought, add some avocado slices). about intelligence and desire, we can always motivate people to try harder with an attractive reward system: get your HS diploma, and we’ll give you an apprenticeship with a reputable firm, a starter house, and a spouse. that’ll rock some socks in teen-land. the problem, of course, is how to deliver on the promise… RT

  2. August 7, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Where’d you get that translation of Aristotle? A better translation would be “All people by nature yearn to know”. And, to make it a bit more complicated, Greek diction distinguishes between “knowing” (as in seeing something) and understanding…

    (sorry to be pedantic, I have been teaching Ancient Greek for many years…)

    • Cathay12
      August 8, 2013 at 1:52 am

      tej: it’s been a while, but i studied ancient Greek in college and read Aristotle to boot. the Greek verb as i recall is “hunger” or something similar, but i had forgotten about the distinction between knowing and understanding. thanks for reminding me, and i’m the first to say that my translation is loose: “people” for “all men” is another liberty, but follows the sense, anyway. and i remember a fellow student who, feeling frustrated, remarked: “phooosis…give me a break!” Still, from my perspective, Aristotle’s remark is one of the most powerful insights from a man famous for his wisdom. RT

    • August 8, 2013 at 9:11 am

      tej: a teacher (7th-grade art) i know tells me a third of his class is hopeless (doesn’t care), a third wants to learn but has trouble understanding, and a third teaches itself. if we tied academic performance to tangible rewards after graduation, that would take care of the motivation problem. understanding, as you point out, is something else. Different brains develop at different rates, when is it appropriate to use medication to make someone “smarter,” and what can we do about people who just don’t seem capable of learning?

      and i didn’t mean to sound flip about the line from Aristotle. if there’s a place where precision is necessary in translation, it has to be translating Aristotle and Plato. RT

      • August 8, 2013 at 8:50 pm

        No apology for flippancy necessary. I was the a-hole who hassled you about an Aristotle translation.

        I think that it was Heraclitus who stated that knowing many things does not make you wise which is in part why I worry about the current education educational climate whose testing regimen values trivia and immediately quantifiable ‘knowledge’ over skills etc.

        And, of course, that regimen is ill-fit to your concern about different learning paces, styles and more.

  1. September 22, 2013 at 3:26 am

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