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poofandmook's avatar

Is "smart" too broad a term?

Asked by poofandmook (17272points) June 3rd, 2010

Last night I watched Rain Man for the first time (yeah, I know, I’m late to the party). That and this question made me think. Is “smart” a blanket term? Subjective?

In the movie, Raymond was brilliant with numbers. But he had no concept of pretty much anything else. If you said he was stupid, that would be wrong, because he’s brilliant with numbers. If you said he was smart, that’s also wrong, because he’s only smart about one thing.

Same with the dog question. The dog might not be able to get out of a blanket quickly. Or he may just like to be under it. Or maybe he’s playing. But he can get to that treat under the bucket in half a second after he was shown where it was.

What makes one smart, and who decides what the criteria are?

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13 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Intelligence is subjective. There are various criteria for measuring IQ, but that does not equate to smart.

Take dogs for example. We measure their IQ based on some dumb criteria we make up, but it does not measure what dogs are great at.

janbb's avatar

There certainly are many different ways of being smart; for example, booklarnin’, wisdom, mathematical ability, spatial ability, emotional perception and – um, “pengy smarts.” We use simple catch-all term that does a disservice to the distinctions and to many children with differing learning styles.

The term for a person like Rainman who has preternatural ability is some area but is otherwise severely limited is idiot savante. I’m not sure if that term is still in vogue, however.

poofandmook's avatar

@janbb: Well, as of the movie in 1988 it was “autistic” savant. But for the most part, I hear just “savant” these days.

janbb's avatar

“Savant” would be someone who is all-wise or all-knowing or a scholar; you need some additional term to indicate the limitation.

Cruiser's avatar

Smart is certainly subjective and IMO depends on how well you use your smarts will determine your true smart quotient. A childhood friend was the smartest kid in school in elementary school…brilliant mind who turned into the biggest slacker and down and out loser in life. Got into drugs, just didn’t care a damn.

Smart is also relative in terms of how you apply the term smart. To me smart is how you make the most of any situation for the best possible end result and best possible then becomes subjective.

Jeruba's avatar

I’m having difficulty wrapping my mind around the notion that intelligence could be seen as subjective: a matter of personal experience, literally all in your mind. As if other people could not recognize it in you unless you chose to disclose it, as if it couldn’t be demonstrated by actions, as if it did not correlate to any externally observable or verifiable phenomenon. As if some people couldn’t solve puzzles faster than others or see uncommon solutions. As if people who struggle in school couldn’t be identified by a teacher. As if it were on a par with sadness or nostalgia, paranoia or belief.

If this is how we’re defining intelligence, or smartness, then yes, I’d say it’s too broad.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@janbb @poofandmook The current PC term is “savant”. It’s used to describe a low-functioning person with Aspergers Syndrome; being able to do one thing exceptionally well. AS being distinguished from classic autism mainly by the high IQ. We “aspies” cover a wide spectrum: from the character Hoffman played in “Rain Man” to people whose behavior is almost indistinguishable from neurological “normals”. The most obvious disability is dealing with other people, especially in an unstructured face-to-face social environment.

The main reason behind the disability is inability to “read” nonverbal social cues: body language, facial expressions, eye contact. Skills that neurotypicals learned without formal training in childhood, we can sometimes learn by difficult rote memorization, but often cannot learn them well enough to “pass” for “normal”. We tend to take things literally, often can’t distinguish serious from sarcastic and tend to follow instructions literally (especially written instructions). We also tend to bore the hell out of people with lengthy discourses on obscure topics.

The term “smart” is overly broad. I for example have a measured IQ in the top 0.1% of the population, four college degrees, but socially am an idiot studying to become a moron.

DominicX's avatar

“Smart” is a very broad term. While I don’t necessarily agree that it’s “subjective” since there are ways of measuring it under some circumstances, I don’t believe there is any absolute answer (clearly), especially when you factor in the fact that most people believe they’re “smart”.

I personally am fond of Gardner’s theory of “multiple intelligences”, which states that intelligence exists in different fields: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. Obviously, this is just a theory and it’s “controversial”, but it goes on to say that schools focus mainly on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence (as does the IQ test) and while that works for many people, it doesn’t explain the intelligence of all people.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@DominicX I like Gardner’s ideas also. In my day the schools focused almost exclusively on IQ. “He can’t have a problem, he’s got an IQ of 188”.

marinelife's avatar

@Jeruba. Intelligence is subjective. It depends on who’s doing the measuring and what they are measuring.

Can you apply a yardstick to certain skills? Yes. But all that really says is that the person takes tests for those types of skills well.

anartist's avatar

Not any broader than cute, which once meant “acute” [sharp, smart]

Jeruba's avatar

@marinelife, now, if you had said that the measurement of intelligence is subjective, I would have agreed with you, qualifying it in relation to the use of so-called standardized measures. But intelligence itself is a personal attribute involving an ability to reason, learn, comprehend, etc., don’t you agree? I don’t see how that could be said to be subjective.

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