Real Intelligence

Real Intelligence

A reader asks what true intelligence is. This is a good question and one I do not recall answering in full though I have made brief comments on it.

Many of my readers see me as a fairly intelligent person but I did not show any sign of being above average in my youth.

I was born prematurely to parents who both drank and smoked to excess and this may have given me a slow start. My mother told me that she wondered if I was ever going to learn to talk as I didn’t do much more than grunt until I was three or four. Then after I did learn to speak, I never pronounced my sounds correctly and everyone wondered if I was from another country. Up until I went to college, I often was asked which country I was from because many thought I had a strange accent.

In the fifth grade however I went to a speech therapist that helped considerably.

Until the fifth grade I got the equivalent of a C in everything. I never got a D, F, A or B, but only C’s. I figured I must the most average person in the universe.

It wasn’t until the middle of the fifth grade that I received my first B.

That year we moved from Boise to the farm city of Letha, Idaho. It had 50 people in the actual metropolis and I used to brag that I made up 2 percent of the population. I was warned about the teacher I was going to have. Her name was Mrs. Burke and she was indeed a hard taskmaster and it was supposed to be difficult to get anything above a C with her. Then to top things off I found out that in most classes Letha was a year ahead of Boise.

Catching up seemed a challenge to me and I did so in about a month and on top of that received A’s and B’s for the first time in my life. I was quite proud of myself.

But then after the fifth grade I went back to getting C’s again. My grade point in high school and college was just a little over 2.0 – around 2.2.

All the data said I was as average but I didn’t feel average. For one thing I studied a lot of things on my own initiative and had knowledge of many things that were not taught in school. I also felt I had many insights that went over the heads of average people.

Then in 1964 at the age of 19 I went on a two-year mission to England for the LDS [Mormon] church. This was my first opportunity to actually use various forms of intelligence in practical application.

We had six one-hour lessons that we had to memorize word for word. Even though in school I couldn’t seem to memorize anything for a test I was the first in my group to memorize the lessons. Maybe I wasn’t so average after all I thought.

Then when confronting people of all kinds of beliefs I found that none could get the best of me with an argument or jousting with the scriptures. I could hold my own with Jehovah Witnesses who had assiduously studied the Bible for 40 years.

Maybe I wasn’t so average after all.

Then something happened that really made me rethink intelligence. On a mission you are given a “companion” that you live and work with 24 hours a day. On my mission I was given a new one about every two months. Then on one occasion I was assigned a new companion and one of the first things he told me was he had a 4.0 grade point, which, as you know, is a perfect record of nothing but A’s. Schools are more generous about handing out A’s now, but you had to earn them back then.

Then I told him that the first thing we had to do work wise was to teach lesson three that evening. He said that he would pull out his lesson manual and review it. I didn’t say anything, but I was astounded. When I gave any of the lessons I just gave them with no additional preparation because I had them memorized and rarely reviewed them. But this guy with a grade point average twice mine had to review his.

Then I found out as we worked together that he had to review every lesson before we gave one and I never had to. Not only that but when he gave the lessons he could not give them word for word the way that I could. In addition, his delivery was not smooth and he had difficulty in answering questions. I had to carry the ball when working with him.

In addition, we were sometimes given auxiliary lessons not to memorize but to study and give to new members. I could read one over one and give a lesson, but my 4.0 companion had great difficulty in giving any of these even after intense study.

It was funny, I thought to myself. If he hadn’t told me of his grade average, I would have considered that he had a learning problem and was a little slow.

It was about this time that I began to seriously ask myself what true intelligence was. It was obvious that the school system which proclaimed my companion as far superior to me had something missing from its assessment.

Here is what I came up with. The system we are in grades intelligence based on the equipment we have. Our brains are really sophisticated computers and some of us have upgraded ones with lots of RAM and speed whereas others are working with older slower models.


The real intelligence comes not from the computer but the person operating it. A savvy person can do much more with an older slower model than a novice can do with a supercomputer.

I concluded that the equipment I was given at birth was not that well equipped for learning in public schools but that my intelligence that was operating my brain could make better use of it than — say a person who gets a 4.0 but isn’t aware how to make the best out of what he has.

There’s another thing I discovered and that is we are not stuck with outdated equipment indefinitely. When effort is made the brain upgrades itself so with effort those who get off to a rough start with backward equipment can improve their equipment.

In addition to intelligence manifested through the brain there are other types of intelligence that is now being recognized. Some time ago someone coined the term “emotional intelligence” and wrote a book about it. He pointed out that often people who did not get very good grades still succeed in life through intelligent use of emotion and interrelationships.

I would submit the list does not end there. I would also say there is a thing called political intelligence. Intelligence is also applied to physical coordination. Common sense could be another category as well as the field of philosophy itself.

If I had to sum up intelligence in a nutshell, I would say it goes back to the principle of who we are which is Decision. The intelligent person is capable of making a higher percentage of correct decisions than the one of lesser intelligence. He then follows through until the decision is manifest.

Even more basic than this is the intelligent person is capable of making decisions, even the difficult ones. Think back to The Parable of Decision in Book I of The Immortal. Those two who made decisions to move ahead on the path were more intelligent than the other two who were unable to decide.

The glory of God is intelligence. — Joseph Smith

Nov 16, 2007

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