I can sit on the sand for hours if left alone. I run my hands through the grains, feel the ocean break. I watch the gulls and sea eagles drift by.
Silence comes and goes in rhythm with the waves. The silence in my mind sometimes matches it. Thoughts swim by, in and then out of my field of view. At other times they will stick around while I turn them over and over like a seashell in my hands, running my fingers on every curlicue and ridge upon it.
I jump in the cool ocean. No matter the weather, save for a scary stormy sea, I’m in there in the morning. Sometimes I stand only knee deep after a quick soak. Sometimes I drift with the current in a clear turquoise sea, looking towards the headlands and the secrets they enclose, then seawards towards the rising sun. I squint from the salt and brightness, feeling the soothing bath of the elements relaxing and yet somehow energising me.
I look towards the house where my family is staying. We come here a couple of times a year in various seasons. My family is asleep still, rocked by the sound of the crashing surf.
We live the mountains a couple of hours away, but the beach is where I feel refreshed and reawakened. I bring problems to the ocean for solutions. The ocean brings perspective. In some primal amniotic way the ocean either integrates or flushes the problem, leaving it for the scavengers in the deep.
I want to buy a beach house. I want to have a place to bring my family whenever I want. I spend some time each day looking in the real estate windows, dreaming. My wife and I sit at the table with the ocean outside, and discuss the potential for buying, re-mortgaging, borrowing, finding an investor, buying and renting through Airbnb. We lounge on the deck with champagne and measure the costs, imagining how we can pay the rates, the electricity, the water. We muddle in the sand and dream our little dream of being at the beach with our family and each other, warm in each other’s embrace, cuddles on the couch and adventures by the sea. We imagine our boys catching puffer fish in the rock pools and fishing off the headland, cooking their prizes in butter and lemon, flour and salt.
I wake up and head to the beach. I feel the sand between my toes, grainy and cool. I walk straight into the water and she welcomes me, swirling between my legs, drawing me gently in to her cool enclosure while I take long breaths in and out, feeling the joy of my aliveness.
I look towards our house, where we stay each year. It’s a beautiful mansion to us. Our friends own it and we stay here for free, a week at a time. We pay no rates, no bills, no maintenance fees. We spend no time checking Airbnb to see if anyone is staying this week, if we can afford the mortgage. We have no stress over having two properties miles apart.
I got called “smart” a lot at school. It was not usually meant as a compliment, nor as an insult. It was just the way it was.
My father often commented on how much smarter I was at my age than he was. I liked it when he said that. Unfortunately it really didn’t mean as much as what you might think.
Being smart is not hard. Being smart means two things: having a decent memory, and being able to manipulate symbols in a culturally useful way. Both of these things are relatively easy to practice.
To improve memory one must practice remembering things: facts, trivia, poems, songs, or, as in my childhood experience, bible verses. To manipulate symbols effectively, one must read, write and speak often enough with appropriate feedback to ingrain the symbols.
Most children without learning difficulties or brain damage are smart. My boys can rattle off more dinosaur names than David Attenborough. They can memorise song lyrics after one or two listens. My five year old can write his name with ease. They are classically smart for their age, and their grandmother (to my disdain) reminds them to the point of ridiculousness.
But would you call them intelligent?
I have spent a lot of time trying to define what I mean by intelligence. The current dictionary definitions do not capture the specificity of it. They tend to list popular meanings instead.
The Random House definition:
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths,relationships, facts, meanings, etc. 2. manifestation of a high mental capacity 3.the faculty of understanding.
The Merriam-Webster definition:
(1): the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations :reason; also: the skilled use of reason(2): the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)
The closest they come to my definition is “aptitude in grasping relationships”.
The ability to correlate at least two previously unconnected points.
Timothy Leary described the growth of a child’s symbol manipulation skills as laryngeal-manual development, referring to the use of the voice and the hands as the primary conductors of symbolism. Many people use the word intelligence to describe how well a person uses these muscles.
How well a person communicates will certainly limit the quality of the information being transmitted. However, it’s fairly rare that an adult human encounters a situation where he requires intelligence.
Memory and rote learning are usually enough to get us through the day. Most workplaces these days are the homes of automatons, with systems inserted to prevent thinking. Schools reward high levels of smartness, but don’t often seem to know how to improve intelligence.
True intelligence on the other hand describes the ability to take two ideas or actions, and put them together in a way previously unknown to you. It is an act of creation, and is usually accompanied by a small “aha!” moment.
What are some examples of intelligent action?
When playing football, you keep putting the ball over the crossbar when taking shots on goal. You find that your successful shots depend on you placing your left foot next to the ball, and keeping your right foot toe down. These two bodily movements have now been correlated with successful goal-shooting. This can be committed to memory to consistently improve your shot.
Einstein drew new correlations between mass and energy, space and time. He literally imagined himself on a train approaching the speed of light. This metaphor brought so many previously unconnected points of data together that it changed the future for all of us.
C.L. Sholes found a relationship between the arrangement of letters and typing speed on mechanical typewriters, thus creating the QWERTY typewriter.
Then Shai Coleman decided that QWERTY didn’t make any sense in the modern era, as there were no more mechanical typewriter arms to get mangled. He created Colemak and made typing
Ergonomic and comfortable – Your fingers on QWERTY move 2.2x more than on Colemak. QWERTY has 16x more same hand row jumping than Colemak. There are 35x more words you can type using only the home row on Colemak.
Easy to learn – Allows easy transition from QWERTY. Only 2 keys move between hands.
Fast – Most of the typing is done on the strongest and fastest fingers. Low same-finger ratio.
He recognised the redundancy of QWERTY and created a new interface to reflect that realisation.
Intelligence is a skill. Like all skills, we can improve our intelligence through improving the quality and increasing the quantity of the experiences we have.
These experiences create patterns from which future choices can be made, known as engrams.
In other words, engrams are patterns that have been wired into your biology through consistent use.
Why are old men often so creative when it comes to problem solving? They have a huge number of engrams to draw upon to derive solutions. Although a hypothetical idea, I find engrams a useful metaphor for increasing intelligence.
Rock climbing has a number of different styles, one of which is crack climbing, as above. You may notice she has her hands in a crack. Now, let’s say she has climbed several routes like the one above. Perhaps this one:
and this one:
You can see that all the routes are different, but they all have similarities too; they are all on rock, they all have cracks to climb, they are mostly vertical. Our climber has built up a decent skill set on cracks; a set of engrams she can call upon whenever she encounters cracks. The more engrams she has to call upon, the more likely her chance of success on any given crack climb. Our climber then encounters this (horrors!):
Although she has never done a crack route like this before, her experience and engrams will allow her to make intelligent choices and correlations between her past and present climbs. This increases her chances of success many times.
So too with intelligence. The more problems you can solve, the more experience you will gain, and the more engrams you will develop. All this experience will give you a wider range of options when it comes to your solution. At heart it’s the need for a successful result that drives intelligence.
To improve intelligence you must search out problems that need solutions and goals that need achieving, then find the points to correlate for a solution. Over time you will notice increased correlations and realisations.
Only then will you find an appropriately awesome ending for this post.