What is Intelligence?

Aizaz Baqir
10 min readApr 16, 2022


How does a talent develop? Unfortunately, lay people have a poor or an overly simplistic understanding of talent. Like many other English words, “The word “talent’ is derived from the Greek word ‘talanton’, which means “balance, sum, weight,” and thus it was also a unit of weight, in gold and silver, which was used as a legal tender in the trading transactions of that era.” And thus we can say that basically talent means to maintain balance as Leot Felton (an author) has put it very aptly:

“The universe is about maintaining a balance, not fairness. It is by means of balance that true fairness exists in the universe.”

Typically intelligence is defined as the “ability to solve complex problems” or “capacity to deal effectively with (unexpected) situations” as well as “ability to adapt to the (rapid) changes.”

Intelligence has also been defined in many other ways: the capacity for abstraction, logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving etc.

However, according to Daeyeol Lee (Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and Psychological and Brain Sciences), “Intelligence is hard to define, and can mean different things to different people. Once we consider the origin and function of intelligence from an evolutionary perspective, however, a few important principles emerge. For example, different lifeforms can have very different types of intelligence because they have different evolutionary roots and have adapted to different environments. It is misleading and meaningless to try to order different animal species on a linear intelligence scale, such as when trying to judge which dog breed is the smartest, or whether cats are smarter than dogs. It is more important to understand how a particular form of intelligence evolved for each species and how this is reflected in their anatomy and physiology.”

Similar view had already been expressed by Albert Einstein (a theoretical physicist) nearly a century ago.

Thus some experts or psychologists are of the view that Intelligence isn’t a set trait, though. It’s a changeable, flexible ability to learn and stimulate your brain that can improve over time. In other words if your think or feel or are labelled by others as not a born genius, you can practice to become one. In short, talents are not packaged at birth, but take time to develop. The key is to practice lifestyle habits that support and protect your brain. For instance, regular (physical) exercise, good sleep, meditation, practising a hobby (some experts are of the view that the breadth and depth of expertise is typically acquired through (an average) of 10 years of deliberate practice, where a motivated individual constantly strives to learn from feedback, and engages in targeted exercises provided by a supportive, knowledgable mentor to push beyond his or her limits), and healthy drinks and food, extensive reading, socializing (are believed to) play instrumental role in boosting your intelligence.

Similarly, Thomas Alva Edison (American inventor and business man of 19th century) is believed to have once famously said that Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

what the quote is conveying is that you achieve success (whatever concept of success you have) primarily through consistent hard work rather than just through your natural mental ability.

However, before going any further I would like to reproduce below a wonderful story, ascribed to the American inventor, that will not only prove talent or “intelligence” is not just a (natural) biological trait (a scientific as well as societal stereotype) and that “practice and our genes are not the only factors when it comes to developing special abilities,” but also give us new insights into the psychology of human beings who are not just dead machines:

“One day Thomas Edison came home and gave a paper to his mother. He told her, “My teacher gave this paper to me and told me to only give it to my mother.”

His mother’s eyes were tearful as she read the letter out loud to her child: Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him. Please teach him yourself.

Many years later, after Edison’s mother died, Edison had become one of the greatest inventors of the century. It so happened that one day, while looking through old family things, he suddenly saw a folded paper in the corner of a drawer in a desk. He took it and opened it up. On the paper was written: Your son is addled [mentally ill]. We won’t let him come to school any more.

Edison cried for hours and then he wrote in his diary: “Thomas Alva Edison was an addled child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.”

However, Following the creation of the so-called Binet-Simon scale in the early 1900s, intelligence tests, now referred to as intelligence quotient (IQ) tests, are the most widely-known and used measure for determining an individual’s intelligence.

Although these tests are generally deemed reliable and valid tools, they do have their flaws as they lack cultural specificity and can equally evoke stereotype threat and self-fulfilling prophecies.

Keeping these flaws (of IQ) in view, In the mid-1970s, Howard Gardner (American psychologist) introduced the idea that intelligence was more than just a single, general ability. It was not until 1985 that the term ‘emotional intelligence’ or “EQ” was first used in a doctoral dissertation by Wayne Payne (also author of the book, “A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence, Self-integration, Relating to Fear, Pain and Desire, UMI, 1986, 934 pages)

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. It is also defined as the “ability to understand and manage our emotions as well as those around us.” Further many claim that it is not only more important than the IQ but the real key to success in life.

It was with the rise of “humanistic psychology” in 1950s that people like Abraham Maslow (another American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization) focused on the different ways that people could build emotional strength. Eventually, in the mid-1970s, Howard Gardner introduced the idea that intelligence was more than just a single, general ability. In 1995, the concept of emotional intelligence was popularised after the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’ which we have used as the basis for EI content in our Organisational Leadership Skills course.

Thus due to the very important nature of emotions, scientists started studying the abilities and capacities of humans to reason and understand their own emotions, to effectively perceive emotions as well as to regulate and control them (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). They called it emotional intelligence and since then the term has reached almost every corner of the world.

Psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, who are also credited with coining the term “Emotional Intelligence” are said to have defined Emotional Intelligence as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions (as in the case of Thomas Edison, her mother provided her wonderful emotional support), to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Thus, according to experts, ‘what differentiates EI from the ‘personal’ intelligence is that EI does not focus on a general sense of self and the appraisal of others — rather, it is focused on recognising and using the emotional states of the self and others in order to solve problems and regulate behaviour.’

From the above we can conclude that in comparison to EQ, main focus of IQ is “self’ or “ego.” And as some scholars postulate, ego proves destructive as its core emotional values seem ludicrous at best and insanity when taken to extreme. One of the central themes of the ego that has to be dispelled first and foremost is that it believes that it is the centre of the universe and importance of everything else pales in comparison . This is the core foundation from which our ego-based identity is driven. Who in their right mind could possibly justify that their ego needs are more important than the entirety of humanity? No one in their right mind could be but everyone in their wrong mind could.

On the contrary, EQ theory focuses on all aspects of human behaviour. Understanding ourselves as well as other others requires understanding emotions. The most important part of emotional intelligence is recognising how the emotions of our egos can rule us if we are not aware of their controlling nature. Thus it is (rightly) believed that real intelligence can’t be achieved until one has their egos under a certain amount of control.

Daniel Goleman (Scientific journalist, author and psychologist) in his emotional intelligence theory outlines five components of EQ: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Moreover, emotional intelligence can be applied to meet goals and targets, as well as create a happier and healthier working culture.

After having made an effort to cIarify the concept of intelligence as best as possible, I will finish this article with two of the most glaring examples (in addition to the above mentioned story of Edison) of emotional intelligence that will lucidly prove the essence of the whole debate:

“We are not being intelligent when totally run by our egos no matter how high up the mainstream ladder of success we climb.”

Here we go:

I) Two Neighbors

A wise and successful man bought a beautiful house with a huge orchard. But, not all were happy for him. An envious man lived in an old house next to him. He constantly tried to make his fellow neighbor’s stay in the beautiful house as miserable as possible. He threw garbage under his gate and made other nasty things.

One fine day the wise man woke up in a good mood and went into the porch to notice buckets of garbage thrown there. The man took a bucket , cleaned his porch. He carried a bucket and went to knock his envious neighbor‘s door.

The envious neighbor heard a knock at his door and gleefully thought, “ I finally got him!”. He answered his door ready to quarrel with his successful neighbor. However the wise man gave him a bucket of freshly picked apples saying, “The one who is rich in something, shares it with others.”

II) Allegory of long spoons

What is heaven? What is hell? The parable of the Long Spoons explains very well what heaven and hell truly are.

One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”

God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of vegetable stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”

Now the man wanted to see the heaven. And God pointed to the second door. Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful vegetable stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The man said, “I don’t understand.”

God smiled. It is simple, he said, Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves…

What we can conclude from the above is that being exceptionally cunning and competitive when it comes to getting what one wants doesn’t mean that they are truly intelligent. They are working off a flawed model. Getting becomes a win/lose game in life and one’s focus on getting usually mean someone else will lose. You are not of support to the whole of humanity but are in competition with everyone else. Just because you win the game you are playing doesn’t mean you are the most intelligent. Instead it could mean that due to being obscured by your ego you aren’t seeing the big/whole picture and have chosen the wrong path.


i) https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/qa--what-is-intelligence

ii) https://www.pinterest.com/pin/408490628692709252/

iii) https://www.simplypsychology.org/intelligence.html

iv) https://impellus.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Emotional-Intelligence-background-reading.pdf

v) https://englishbookgeorgia.com/blogebg/thomas-edison-mothers-letter-changed-the-world/

vi) https://alltimeshortstories.com/short-stories-about-life/



Aizaz Baqir

I am a freelance writer and translator based in Multan, Pakistan having interests in reading, writing, travelling and social services.