Friday, August 07, 2009

Definition of intelligence and responsibility of a scientist

I am sorry if I sounded too revolutionary in this lengthy message. I do not think anyone in this world is just average. Everyone have some great talent. It’s up to right grooming and providing right environment that help discovering and then developing such talents. When I play with my very young son, I try to see the world through his eyes and then try to understand the problem he might be facing before asking him to do something different or the same thing differently.

I have doubts about the way IQ is measured and how people are branded intelligent or not. How can one say that Einstein is the greatest genius when he could not do many things that a common Joe can do without much problem, e.g maintaining a healthy family relationship, respect his wife or not sidelining his wife for his personal fame, inability to foresee how his and many other research were about to be used by policy makers (yes, I am talking about Nuc bomb) and so on. Einstein surely was genius so far physics and mathematics is concerned. But that is not all about life or the world. Let me quote, “…wherever possible, scientists took advantage of the nation’s appetite for heroes.… Social surveys demonstrated that industrialization had not eradicated poverty and the heroic rhetoric of invention had served its purpose” (source: “The invention of heroes”: Nature 30th July, 2009, pp 572-583).

People like Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey may not be excellent in using latest technology or great in doing complicated physics problems in chimpanzee or gorilla research. But I consider them as one of the finest human being ever lived in this planet. Or how can you compare Vivekananda or Rabindra Nath Tagore or Nelson Mandela with Newton or Edison so far “intelligence” is concerned? Let me phrase my wordings differently: If the ultimate target of science is to make this world a better place (through technology and knowledge) then who is more important, among those people? Some may say these are all irrelevant for a scientist to think about, many say “it’s not our (scientists’) duty to decide how our work is being used by policy makers”, some may agree with me that our ultimate target is to make this world a better place. Some bright medical scientists are very against doing more research to lengthen human life span, as “if we can not control birth then we must not control death”. The consequences are in front of us, mainly in developing countries like India with its high population growth and increasing life expectancy without supporting resources and governance to sustain such a huge population. We also can see huge socioeconomic problems associated with rapid increase of old people in developed countries, without proper care (both mental and physical), living almost meaningless lives.

I am trained (I am avoding the term “education” here) in some specific subjects; know some specific techniques and now trying to solve some of the earthly problems using those. But am I a good “scientist” if I forget where to go, what is the main objective of all these “research”? Once Ex-British PM Tony Blair said something like this, “money was invented to quantify happiness in ancient time but now even economists have forgotten the basic objective and we all are busy in measuring and maximizing money and most of the time it translate into sacrificing happiness”. Deterioration of social values and happiness is a direct consequence of deterioration of our basic education. Have you heard of the term "happiness index" or "happiness quotient"? (you can check: Science of happiness and Politics of happiness).

In other words, introduction of corporate education (invented in the western world, mainly in USA) and adoption of US system around the world made the situation worse. We talk what others want us to talk, we think as others want us to think. It's becoming more and more tough to remain different, think differently, act differently. We are loosing our personality, our creativity, and above all sacrificing our own happiness in the process. Nowadays we hardly do what makes us happy, but we try to justify what we do. That’s why so many people flock to a profession that can give them money while majority of them could be better in many other professions. Everyone does not have to do IT or biotech or genetic engineering or work on string theory to become intelligent. The situation is far worse in developing countries like India where people face harder challenge to sustain basic survival, pay higher price to remain different. 

I am not an economist. I do not have in-depth knowledge how the society and mankind will be affected if we, majority of human beings, start doing what we love. Will that be good or bad? What is the actual value of an art work (other than box office or business earnings)? Will it be a great idea to allow bees to become extinct and then invest billions of dollars to invent on a technology to pollinate plants or producing industrial honey by chemists! I think the world will become more boring, monotonous and much less productive (even for a genius) if love for doing something is not maintained and encouraged. Supply of factory workers and industrial managers should not be the main target to educate our future generations.

It is the conducive socioeconomic environment that allow people to do what they love and that ultimately groom talents. Scientist (I mean, logical people) should actively take part in framing those policies. We, the scientists, have a bigger responsibility. People with vision must get involved. Some can do it directly while many others can try to build public (Scientific?) opinion for a bigger goal towards a better society.

Pic: Jane Goodall with one of her Chimps

1 comment:

  1. After scratching my head for sometime I came up with this one:
    Intelligence is the ability to analyse and understand the consequences (both short term and long term) of our actions and polices (individually, part of a group and Governmental) and then ability and desire to do the "right" thing, through "right" way. I think, there is a difference between "talent" and "intelligence".

    An intelligent person will not support any act that will have a negative or destructive consequences- even if that means short term benefit. A scientist who invent a bomb but can not ensure its "proper" use is also not intelligent. Ability to satisfy personal ambition, ego or even "creativity" does not necessarily indicate intelligence unless their actions have a net positive impact - preferably in both short and long term and strictly in the long term.
    In that sense, the Banks and other financial institutions who offered huge benefits to its executives for fraud mortgage or short term benefit can not be considered "intelligent". They just exploited ignorance and /or trust of their customers or loopholes of the existing system with a severe negative impact.

    There are few reported scientific definition of intelligence.

    Groups of scientists stated the following:
    1) From "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (1994), an editorial statement by fifty-two researchers:
    "A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—"catching on," "making sense" of things, or "figuring out" what to do."

    According to me, that "figuring out what to do" is the most important part.

    2) From a report published by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association (1995):
    Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person's intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of "intelligence" are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena. Although considerable clarity has been achieved in some areas, no such conceptualization has yet answered all the important questions, and none commands universal assent. Indeed, when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen, somewhat different, definitions.


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