How Can We Measure Intelligence?

In our society, some people are considered more intelligent than others. But what exactly does this mean, and how can we measure intelligence in an individual?

There are many useful — and several not so useful — skills that individuals possess. For example, one person might be very good at thinking abstractly. Another might be good at reasoning. Yet another might make connections between seemingly disparate things.

All of these things might be considered intelligence. But what of other skills? Does athletic ability make someone intelligent? Artistic creativity? What about someone with social skills who can get along with anyone? If these skills, and others like them, aren’t a sign of mental acuity, then what are they? And if they are, then how might we manage to measure that in a concrete way?

Currently, intelligence is measured primarily through the IQ test, where IQ stands for “intelligence quotient”. However, other than scoring well on a test, what does a high IQ actually enable an individual to do? As the example illustrates, if you test a fish on it’s ability to climb a tree, it will fail every time.

An interesting wrinkle in this problem comes in the form of artificial intelligence, and various efforts to rate just what makes a machine intelligent. Would you consider Watson, the computer that won at the game show Jeopardy!, to be intelligent? How is it different from human winners?

How would you define what it means to be intelligent? Can we measure intelligence? Or is it one of those things we just know when we see it? Alternately, might it be present and we simply don’t recognize it?

Related questions: How important is intuition? How do you judge yourself? What is intelligence? How do you define success?

1 thought on “How Can We Measure Intelligence?”

  1. I would offer a simple definition of intelligence: the skilled and reliable ability to negotiate certain situations or problems. This definition removes the aspect of luck in making your way through an issue.

    Some would have a problem with my definition because there’s no standard way to measure intelligence. After all, I allow for there to be different forms of intelligence. Someone’s intelligence may fit into the usual categories:
    • Solving mathematical and logic problems.
    • Having and using an extensive vocabulary.
    • Your quick recall ability (a measure that is biased against many introverts).
    • The skill at figuring out what is valuable information or not in a written passage to predict a particular outcome.

    Intelligence could also be more specific. Someone may be an adept negotiator. Another person may have the social skills not just to win an argument, but convince the other side that they are wrong. Still another person may have the ability to scale a cliff. Or someone else may be good at determining the feng shui of a particular environment. Another person may be a skilled farmer.

    None of the examples listed above would fit into successfully completing standardized testing. But I would hazard a guess that a person with enough proven ability within any of these situations could make a living. Of course, the measure of someone’s ability based on making money falls short, I believe, because while some may have a skill, it doesn’t compare well enough with the highest-skilled practitioners.

    And there’s my rub. Intelligence is often measured competitively: a few excel while others with a decent capacity are still viewed as “less than.” But the very best can’t be everywhere winning or using their talents. Those with a decent amount of skills or talents may use their abilities where “the best” is not required.

    Do we need to measure intelligence? Or do we need to measure particular intelligences? Sure. I guess. But we need to recognize there are biases in any testing or measures. And we must acknowledge that we are not measuring all useful abilities.

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