More Information ≠ More Intelligent


6/1/11
by Rodimus Dunn

 

After the world didn’t end on May 21st, I started to think about how so many people could think one man was that much smarter than everyone else.  Harold Camping completed some very complex calculations derived from historical findings and bible scriptures, and determined when the world would end.  Amazingly no one else who has ever lived was smart enough to come to this conclusion before.  Is this because previously no one was sharp enough to figure all of this out?  Magazine articles, online postings, and books everywhere shout that this generation of individuals is significantly smarter than previous generations.  Ubiquitous access to information, the speed of access to this information, and the amount of multitasking required to keep up in America is unparalleled to any other time in history.  Is it true, we are really smarter than ever before?

 

 

According to the Flynn effect, IQ averages in the United States have consistently been rising linearly.  In other countries developed countries researchers have seen a plateau, or even a drop in IQ in recent studies.  Not to be a pessimist, but I’m not sure if I agree with US intel or the foreign studies.  If one thinks about the last several decades, who has been lauded for their intelligence?  Stephen Hawking probably qualifies. Bill Gates?  Steve Jobs? Both of these software magnates are probably MENSA material, but they are more known for their business ventures as opposed to their massive intelligence.  The 1800 and 1900s had luminaries like Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla.  The 1700 and 1800s had musical geniuses in Beethoven and Mozart.  Going back further, Sir Isaac Newton provided amazing intellect to the 1600 and 1700s.  Current culture isn’t optimally designed for great thinkers and philosophers, because the focus of society now is significant financial windfall.  There is no impetus for someone highly intelligent to just be a great mind, because they’d end up being homeless.    Furthermore, musical genius isn’t promoted because it’s too time consuming and doesn’t pay as much as making a pop song with a beat that comes from pressing the jazz button on a keyboard.  No disrespect to those who are affluent despite no discernible skill (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian), but we used to lionize the great minds of yore.  Presently only wealth provides influence, so one has to appeal to the masses (even if it means dumbing down the outcome) in order to secure any type of authority.

 

 

Even if the world produces no more great thinkers, the Flynn effect still says people as a whole are getting smarter.  There’s instant access to information from multiple sources, children are computer proficient before even starting elementary school, technology progresses at a rate previously never seen, and healthcare advances keep even the most skilled scientists from resting on their laurels.  Flynn’s studies show that the IQ is rising, but is every aspect of intelligence increasing?  There is no standard definition of intelligence, but common attributes are the ability to reason, solve problems, grasp complex ideas quickly, successfully adapt to one’s circumstances, and lay the groundwork for acquiring new knowledge.  The information age in some ways attenuates intellectual intelligence.  For example, prior to cell phones, it was necessary to memorize scores of phone numbers to call family, friends, businesses, etc.  Now it just requires a few button clicks, and there’s access to hundreds of numbers in the stored phone book.  The brain doesn’t need to lay the groundwork for acquiring new phone numbers, because it’s a waste of space if the phone already has them.  Moreover, with electronic calendars, GPS and spell checkers, there’s no need to pay attention and memorize when we need to do things, where we go and how to spell.  Many will say that memorizing of extraneous information is frivolous, and not a marker of intelligence, but if the brain isn’t forced to make new connections, would that promote dormancy?  The answer to basically any question every asked is available via Wikipedia, but just because someone can access it quickly doesn’t make them more intelligent.  Internet use can promote reading, which is obviously a positive, but it can also stunt the desire to create, as it can encourage the idea that every initiative has already been discovered.  Not to be a complete Luddite, but inventions such as mp3 players and tablet computers provide an easy access to music and movies, as opposed to reading and socialization.  Reading and conversation helps one adapt to circumstances and grasp new ideas, significant markers of intelligence.  One the other hand, devices and apps that utilize e-books may help attenuate the potential negative effects of the music players.

 

 

It’s exceedingly obvious that the flood of information isn’t going to lessen any time soon.  If the wealth of information is available, we have to find a means to ensure that this information and technology is actually making us smarter, not just lazy and completely reliant on better products.  Francis Bacon famously said, “Knowledge is power,” notice he didn’t say information is power.  Knowledge does not equal intelligence, so if one follows the simple algebraic principle of transitivity we must realize that more information does not equal more intelligence.


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