The New York Times recently turned to a group of noted scholars to find out what they considered to be today's most overrated idea. The first choice of Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, was that of intelligence testing.
"The most overrated idea," argued Dr. Gardner, "is that our intelligence is an entity we can measure by sticking a mental dipstick into our mind/brain." He observed that once we've attached a number to it, we believe that we've actually captured the essence of intelligence. Then we make the easy leap and conclude that many of the problems society faces result directly from the intellectual shortcomings of that segment of the population which falls below a certain point on some arbitrary numerical scale.
Yet such an arbitrary measurement doesn't come close to quantifying what it means to be "smart."
Gardner contends that this kind of "unitary notion of intelligence" has, in fact, amounted to a conspiracy against the proper recognition that intelligence is surely expressed in many different, unique ways.
Another question might also be raised at this point. Is intelligence really quantifiable by material measures at all? Perhaps intelligence is as individual in its expression as each of us is individual in the way we express anything else. The way we express joy, for example. Or love. Or integrity. Or peace. One person's intelligence isn't really better than another's, any more than one person's joy is "better" than another's.
Intelligence - like joy, integrity, love, peace - is a quality, not a material quantity. From a spiritual perspective, it's a quality of God, which each of us naturally expresses as God's reflection. A metaphysical, rather than a physical, explanation of the source, substance, and scope of a person's intelligence reveals that God is both the creator and maintainer of intelligence and that God, all-embracing Love, created us in His own image and likeness - to reflect Him. God is infinite Mind. This divine Mind is the source of all intelligence. The substance of all intelligence is entirely spiritual. And because we reflect God, the divine Mind, the scope of our intelligence is likewise infinite - without bounds, limits, restrictions, deficiency. It's impossible to conceive of any kind of "mental dipstick" that could reasonably measure infinite Mind or its reflection, which is who each of us truly is. The Christian Science textbook states: "Unfathomable Mind is expressed. The depth, breadth, height, might, majesty, and glory of infinite Love fill all space. That is enough!" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Pg. 520)
All of this may at first appear to be little more than an interesting but impractical philosophical abstraction. An ideal perhaps, but certainly not realistic. Yet that's only what a strictly material perspective argues. And this is the very perspective that has bought into the assumption that an "IQ" actually matters. This shortsighted view presupposes that intelligence is a function of brain chemistry or merely physically constituted, and consequently that it can be tested, measured, numbered, quantified.
The value in understanding the radical spiritual perspective, however, is that it not only turns on end the materialistic notions, it frees us from them. It frees us from prejudices and stereotypes, from self-imposed limits, from ignorance itself. The spiritual understanding of our intelligent relation to God shows us how absolutely liberating and invigorating it is to know ourselves as God truly created us to be. Christ Jesus told his followers, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
That's real intelligence - to know and understand the truth of God. That's what really matters. It makes us free.
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