#12 In the Classroom

A practical theory of intelligence

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Nic Peterson

"A rich mental simulation of the future that allows you to get what you want"

-Michio Kaku's definition of intelligence

Friday night, after the Certainty Summit, a CCA graduate asked my opinion on whether they should pursue a doctorate.

It might surprise you to hear that I think it's a great idea.

I have considered, over the years, getting a Ph.D. It's something I've discussed with Dan Nicholson and Dr. Jeff Spencer a few times and it typically sits in the back of my head as a "later" thing. Every now and then it creeps back to the forefront of my mind because, while tedious and time-consuming, the process is a force multiplier.

I am pretty open about how I feel about academia, in general:

To be clear, I am not throwing stones at all academics or intellectuals; only those that remain ignorant of the fact that the classroom and reality are different, that theory and application are different.

And while they can coexist they must be prioritized.

If professional athlete was unable to tell the difference between practice and a game, they wouldn't remain in the pros for much longer. If they could tell the difference between the two but operated as if performing in practice is more important than performing in a game, they're not likely to get much playing time when it counts, if any at all.

Prioritization informs both practical definition and direction; ie: we practice so that we're better in the game, not the other way around. We learn in a classroom so that we can function better in real life, not the other way around, etc.

A series of questions to ponder:

Who is more intelligent...

  1. The student that can recite the Good Samaritan perfectly to a captivated audience but treats his waiters like garbage or the student that keeps forgetting the words to the sermon, but always treats his waiters with kindness?

  2. The college student that understands the various theorems of thermodynamics so well he is asked to help teach it but can't ride a bike, or the college student that is barely passing but rides his bike everywhere?

  3. The group of scientists that are experts in germ theory but forget to boil their water when they travel to a small, 3rd world village or the villagers who boil their water because they've been told stories about how the gods will be angry if you disrespect them by not making water hot before drinking it?

Who do you consider more rational or intelligent?

It depends on what they want.

  1. If the priority is to be a good person, the student that can't seem to remember the sermon is far more rational/intelligent. If the priority is to sound like you're a good person, the student with the golden tongue steamrolling strangers is more rational/intelligent.

  2. If the priority is to be able to ride a bike, the student that can ride the bike is more intelligent than the one that can explain why the bike works. If the priority is to sound smart to others or to consult on physics-related things, the student that has mastered the theorems of aerodynamics is clearly more intelligent.

  3. If the priority is survival, the superstitious villagers are far more intelligent and rational than the hyper-educated scientists.

Nearly every literate person in the United States would agree that scientists are more intelligent than the villagers in the example above.

Reality disagrees.

This has been and always will be the issue I have with academics and intellectuals; they remain ignorant of the fact that theory and practice are different things and that practical application must come first to be considered rational or intelligent.

[Finally] A Practical Theory of Intelligence

If what is good for survival is rational, what is intelligence?

Near the end of the Certainty Summit, Dr. Todd Snyder gave his graduate presentation called:

"How To Upgrade Your Intelligence"

It started exactly how I would expect an academic to start a presentation; a lot of words, definitions, facts, and theories. Here is the third slide:

Typical classroom stuff.

But Todd quickly diverges from the expected path and goes on to tell two stories:

Story 1: Working with a kid that was low intelligence by nearly all testing types, he noticed that even though the kid didn't know the answers to questions he was being asked, he could answer them correctly by listening closely to Todd's voice as he asked the questions. This kid was able to recognize that if he answered correctly he could get what he wanted, and figured out a way to do it.

Story 2: Working with a kid that was high intelligence by nearly all testing methods and types he noticed that the kid was extremely OCD. He wanted everything perfect, and he wanted to pass his tests so badly that he couldn't finish any of the tests he was taking. His extreme perfectionism caused him to keep circling back to each answer multiple times to make sure they were perfect until he ran out of time to take the test. This kid recognized that by testing well, he would get what he wanted, but was unable to do it.

Todd asked himself a better question, a version of:

"Who is more intelligent...The kid that has figured out how to get /craft the future he wants or the kid that can't?**

**This is a question that one would ask only after contact with reality. A true academic or pure intellectual wouldn't even consider something that might threaten their position of intellectual superiority.

And then proposed the single most practical unifying theory of intelligence I have ever heard:

"Intelligence is the ability to get what you want."

This is practical

It's saying: "you can find a million and one ways to convince yourself and others that you are intellectually superior to someone else, but if you can't get what want, who cares?"

And it brings us back full circle to "it depends on what you want".

Remember the villagers from the example above? Let's assume they don't understand germ theory and what they want most is for their children to stop getting sick and dying. When the scientists arrive they start telling the villagers to stop being superstitious, they aren't being punished by the gods, and start explaining microbes and germ theory.

The villagers do not have the base knowledge to even begin to understand that there are invisible things in their water making them sick, or that their traditions and superstitions are invalid; it's all they've ever known. So they don't listen because it doesn't make sense to them.

You come along with a group of friends, realize all of this is going on, and tell the villagers "Yes, you must make this water hot until it bubbles or the gods will be very angry." And then you create compelling and captivating stories and put together groups for the families to hear these stories about why they should make their water hot until it bubbles. These efforts lead to more families more consistently and thoroughly boiling their water before drinking or making food with it. Consequently, the children in the village stop getting sick as often.

If what the villagers really want is for their kids to stop getting sick and dying - who made them more intelligent, the scientists who failed to give them the ability to get what they want, or the group that gave it to them?

The intellectuals in the classroom would tell us that the scientists were making the villagers more intelligent and maybe argue that your group made them less intelligent by reinforcing an incorrect view of the scientific world.

Just like the lower middle-class MBA believes Elon Musk is incorrect and doing everything wrong and just like every Ph.D. that proved, with their fancy financial models, that Google would never be profitable and free shipping would be the death of Amazon...

Reality disagrees with the merely intellectual.

In reality, intelligence is the ability to get what you want.

If the villagers want healthier children and safer families, whoever gives them the ability to have healthier children and safer families has made them more intelligent.

"If intelligence is the ability to get what I want, CCA has increased my intelligence"

Dr Todd Snyder

Does higher education make you more intelligent?

It depends on what you want.

Does a lack of higher education make you less intelligent?

It depends on what you want.

Do things that make you more intelligent, and increase the probability that you get what you want or have the future that you want.

Simple. Practical. Profound.

Try it on.

Nic

Ps. I probably botched most of the stories, but you can see the full presentation above. The replay and his slides are available here along with other graduate presentations.

PPS. Why would I consider getting a doctorate or encouraging someone else to do so? In both cases, we want the same thing; training in a more robust and rigorous process plus access to resources that are typically only readily available to doctorate students. The process of getting a Ph.D. would make us both more intelligent because of what we want.