A similarly narrow view has been taken toward the idea of intelligence in the past century. While the word “intelligence” entered the English language in Europe during the early Middle Ages, it has become a synonym for IQ or intellectual quotient. This one kind of intelligence has dominated our experiences of schooling and influenced many of the psychometric tests we undergo and use at work.
Invented by Alfred Binet and William Stern at the beginning of the twentieth century, IQ’s influence has been pernicious, artificially inflating the importance of language and figures and taking no account of creativity, common sense, or the ability to manage emotions.
Yet, we know now that intelligence involves a combination of “know-how” and “know-what” across a multitude of contexts. If you are intelligent, you are good at using your mind in many different ways. If your mind is working well, you are able to learn to do many things that you did not think you could do. Nurture not nature is in the ascendency.
For most of the time that it has existed as a concept, intelligence has been linked to the brain. Interestingly, the ancient Egyptians believed that a person’s ability to think resided in their heart, while their judgment came from either their brain or their kidneys!
One of the most compelling accounts of how the human brain has evolved is contained in Steven Mithen’s, The Prehistory of the Mind. As an archeologist, Mithen charts the development of the brain in pleasingly accessible ways. He describes three clear phases. From six million to four and a half million years ago, human beings had a smaller brain, about a third of its size today, which was capable only of displaying limited intelligence. It could take simple decisions according to simple rules, for example about food, shelter, and survival.
In the second period, from four and a half million to about 100,000 years ago, much more specific kinds of intelligent activity developed. The beginning of language during this period is an obvious example.
The third period, from 100,000 to about 10,000 years ago, sees the emergence of a much more complex brain and more generalized types of intelligent activity. Key in this last period are the development of culture and religion.
Not surprisingly, scientists have for some time tried to link particular intelligences or attributes to particular parts of the brain. The most famous of these is the idea of phrenology, which grew up in the nineteenth century, originally developed by Franz Gall in Germany. Gall imagined that you could draw a map of the mind and identify different areas, each responsible for a specific aspect of our life.
By the 1920s, famous French psychologist Jean Piaget could say that intelligence is “what you use when you don’t know what you want to do.”
In the last two decades, we have found out an enormous amount about intelligence. Many books have been published on the subject, some of them becoming bestsellers. They have shown us that there are many different intelligences, not just the one that most of us grew up with, IQ. And in doing so, they have released us all to begin to recognize our potential across all our talents.
Psychologist Howard Gardner, more than anyone, has revolutionized the concept by introducing the idea of there being not one but eight intelligences. Interestingly, he started in the 1980s with seven, introduced an eighth, the naturalist intelligence, in the 1990s, and has recently been toying with a ninth, existential intelligence.
Daniel Goleman has explored one area in particular and coined a new phrase, emotional intelligence or EQ. Writers like Charles Handy and Robert Sternberg have pondered the existence of many more than eight intelligences. Recently, Danah Zohar has invented the concept of spiritual intelligence, SQ. John Guilford would have us believe that there are 120 different kinds!
Learning is learnable. Learning to learn is a kind of “learnacy” that we all need to acquire. There are three important stages to learning to learn, each one of which is explored in a separate part of the book:
Before you can start learning you need to be in the right emotional state. The environment around you needs to be conducive and, most importantly, you need to have actively switched on your mind.
As you learn you need to be able to use a wide range of different techniques. You need to understand yourself as a learner. You need to be able to know how to release your own creativity. You need staying power, and you need to know how to deal with both success and failure.
When you have learned something, you need to be able to reflect on it and apply it in your own life, changing and adapting the way you do things accordingly.