Saturday, 26 April 2014

How smart is "smart"?

Many people tell me that I'm smart. Given the length of my life, up to the present, just as many people have told me that I'm not smart (to put it politely). Using a double-entry accounting method, I'd guess I'm pretty close to zero either way.

I'm not being self-denigrating; looking at life processes or quantum physical principles, I'd say all is well; at the very least, I have a pulse.

There is currently a promotional on CBC that says: "It isn't how smart you are, but how you are smart" that got me thinking about the subject of this entry, about the nature of intelligence.

To be sure, there are many different types of intelligence, many of which I fall short of being called "smart". I'm good at abstract thinking, not so good with emotional thinking. I'm good at formulating questions and phrases, but I have found this is often not enough.

Much like the Sheldon character in the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, I can appear "freakishly" smart sometimes. Unlike Sheldon, I don't have eidetic memory. Over the years of studying whatever interests me, I've learned to use an organic, idiosyncratic logic to draw out aspects of "knowledge" which often appears as eidetic memory (to a limited range of topics). I can even pull of a trick of generating original insights, given enough time.

I'm a great admirer of Shakespeare and of the enlightenment writers/thinkers. The world of knowledge that captures my imagination tends to the "classical" including the phraseology and humanity of the Bible. I believe in the ancient methodology of teaching called, the liberal arts. The aspect of the liberal arts that I believe in completely is the study of "first principles". It is what I seek out in the study of music, literature, mathematics, etc.

The study and contemplation of phronesis (or, ethical thinking) is to me my current obsession. This is where I've come to realize the single dimensionality of my kind of smarts, that I sorely lack perspective and depth. In a couple of words: I have a highly developed sense of aesthetics (formulation of ideas), but a pathetically poor developed sense of perspective (phronesis).

Since wanting to become a disciple of Christ's principle teachings (Mark 12: 29-31), I have come to find that inserting compassion, humility and agape into my relationship with social/ecological reality a real struggle, to live the talk. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" is not just a beautifully-phrased string of words but a spiritual challenge to admit to self (ie, vanity and pride) there is much that is bigger and deeper outside of us; that we are subjects to lessons that may break and destroy us if we do not have the proper perspective for the precise reason that humility is not a natural thing for us.

Andrew Murray, one of the Christian thinkers I take seriously, wrote a whole series of devotionals on the humility of Christ. In another work, he says:

Anyone grasping the promise only when he wants something very special for himself will be disappointed, because he is making Jesus the servant of his own comfort. (Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer)

It is often observed that the culture of Jazz is an all-encompassing attitude. Another American strand that I deeply admire is what is all-purposely called, the American Gothic. It isn't just the literature I'm talking about here, but the culture in which Johnny Cash, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc. belong: a personal journey of discovery of the limits and consequences of self-indulgence to the attitude of love.

The choice of subject matter of these artists changes and evolves in the course of their careers. An exquisite sense of irony and humility (cannot think of a better term) becomes apparent in their craft: their impressive talent takes on a greater depth. A personal reflection leads to a choice: seen-it-done-that, or realizing that a persistent insistence on self-will leads only to undignified parody of self.

In the Murrayian interpretation of Christ's lessons to humanity: "Humility is simply the disposition which prepares the soul for living on trust." (Murray, Humility)


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