Intelligence is an interesting concept. Not until I read Chapter 11 of my Psychology textbook that I know there are alternate definitions to this word. To tell the truth, I had never even thought that definition of intelligence could be culturally determined; I thought the concept was universal. It is because in Vietnam, the definition is essential the same as that used in the West. Hence, there is an exact translation for it, sự thông minh. In addition, from what I understand, intelligence and wisdom are closely related both in English and Vietnamese. However, I do not know why that is, whether it is merely a coincidence or a (French) colonial heritage.

Nevertheless, given the conspicuous difference in terms of education, there could potentially be a subtle yet significant deviation. At least in the US system of education, critical and creative thinking are encouraged. In the current Vietnamese system, in sharp contrast, such acts are not welcome, at the very least. Students are supposed to accept whatever their teachers told them then regurgitate during an assessment. Politics is an extreme case. Strangely enough, history textbooks serve as propaganda tools for the Politburo. Given the political situation in Vietnam, those to criticize the “facts” presented to them risk severe consequences. As a general result, most people resort to silence and obedience, which, incidentally, is a cultural norm.

Interesting enough, intelligence is not included as a technical term and thus there is not an academic definition for it. Instead, our AP Psychology textbook presents four difference theories of intelligence. Personally, I find Howard Gardner’s theory the most appealing. While I remain unconvinced that naturalistic, spiritual and existential intelligences exist, I do believe that we can indeed break what Charles Spearman would call general intelligence, i.e. the g factor, down into more specific units. I have contemplated Gardner’s theory and find it a good generalization of natural phenomena related to human intelligence. While it is almost undisputed that linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial and musical intelligences occur in nature, in my considered opinion, it is rather likely that bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences exist as well. I shall provide a few illustrations of my own.

101st Airborne

101st Airborne Insignia

From documentaries I watched and stories I have been told, paratroopers definitely possess a high degree of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. This is at least true for the armies of France, Germany, Great Britain, the United States and South Vietnam but is probably so internationally. That makes very good sense. Whenever they jump out of an airplane, they are literally on the border separating life and death. As a result, they need to be able to skillfully control their bodies, as well as their parachutes, in order to land safely and correctly. Interpersonal intelligence – the ability to understand other people’s intentions, emotions and motivation and to effectively cooperate – appears to be closely related to emotional intelligence, whether they are the same or not. Some people exhibit remarkable interpersonal intelligence while others do not. Examples of those who command above-average interpersonal intelligence is Allied/NATO high ranking officers. As part of their jobs, they need to smoothly collaborate with people from a variety of different nations and look pass the language barrier (some may not be particularly fluent in English).

Our AP Psychology textbook goes to great length denying the existence of differences between groups. This makes much sense. All humans share up to about 99.9% genetic material. Only a tiny fraction of a percent accounts for mostly the differences in appearance. For these reasons, it is natural that there are not any significant differences, such as in intelligence between groups. The reason why early IQ tests suggested a difference in terms of intelligence between groups is because they were biased towards middle class Caucasian individuals. Those with other ancestries lacked the education and opportunities they enjoyed. As a result, early IQ tests were not valid; they did not measure what they claim to measure. Therefore, any significant differences between groups, such as IQ, are non-existent. Modern IQ tests, fortunately, have had much-improved validity and reliability. Not surprisingly, they show that the normal range of intelligence is about 100 for people from all kinds of background an ancestry. The use of IQ tests to justify racism is thus unsound.

While there is only negligible differences, if any, between groups, it is most likely another story for individuals. True, overall, most people tend towards the center of the distribution curve of human intelligence. However, for individuals, there could indeed exist major differences. That explains why history has seen so many brilliant minds and psychologists have seen the mentally challenged. To me, the boundary between group differences and individual differences is clear. In my opinion, the graph below is a wonderful piece of art as well as mathematics.

IQ curve

The Normal (Gaussian) Distribution Curve of Human Intelligence. (from Wikipedia).


2 responses »

  1. […] On Intelligence – Week 21 (26 – 30 March) ( […]

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