Intelligence

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“If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal. And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.” (Abraham 3:18-19).

Intelligence is an interesting concept. We have tests that measure what we call intelligence but such tests are limited and culture-centric (not that that is necessarily a negative thing). However, for the sake of discussion I will operationally define aptitude (i.e., intelligence) as Intelligence Quotient so as to have a standard metric as foundation for this post.

I spend time assessing people’s memory and thinking abilities. I almost always try to get some measure of baseline aptitude either by estimating it (e.g., years of education, vocabulary knowledge, word reading ability) or by formally measuring via an intelligence test. Granted, this has limitations but it allows me to estimate how well an individual’s brain should function across multiple domains of thinking (e.g., problem-solving, reasoning, memory, language, and so forth). In other words, the higher a person’s general aptitude (abilities), the better he generally will do across most cognitive domains barring brain insult. This is certainly not a rule codified in stone and in triplicate but it serves as a rubric to follow.

Intelligence as measured by IQ is generally quite stable across the lifespan but can improve modestly with  diligence in informal or formal education. Intelligence as denoted by IQ can also decrease modestly if people are intellectually inactive, although such declines are slight. What can happen though is as brains age or if damaged by a pathological process or an injury, components of IQ can decrease. My primary clinical and research focus is in understanding how brains and cognition change in old age – both naturally and in the presence of neurological (brain) insult. Remarkably, the measures we use for intelligence tend to be rather insensitive to aging and even neurological insult, at least some of the components of intelligence are generally insensitive to brain insult. However, this leads to one area where our conceptualization of intelligence as IQ starts to break down.

As they age, the brains of people almost universally slow down. Wear and tear on the brain over decades of life affects how well and quickly we can think. Blood, which is essential for life and for the functioning of the brain, happens to be toxic to brain cells. Sometimes the protections in the brain that keep blood far enough from brain cells (neurons) to protect them but near enough to feed and maintain brain cells start to break down over time. This can injure the brain and start to reduce how well the brain works, even lowering IQ. Now, does that mean that a person’s intelligence decreases? If IQ = intelligence, then yes, it does. Contrary to how I operationalized intelligence earlier, intelligence is not synonymous with IQ. IQ can be a useful concept but it is far from perfect, particularly if by using it one argues that someone is less intelligent simply because his head was injured in an accident or because she developed dementia or suffered a stroke.

One of the beauties of the gospel is that aptitude does not matter – performance matters. We are blessed not for what we are given but for what we do with what we have. Jesus taught a parable demonstrating this principle:

“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:14-30).

Five, two, and one talents were given. He who had five gained five. He who had two gained two. Both were blessed. He who had one hid it away, giving it to the Lord. Instead of being pleased, the Lord was angry because instead of hiding the talent the servant could at least gained interest on it. He could have done something with it instead of nothing. It was because he did nothing that he was punished. Blessings come to those who use their talents wisely; punishment comes to those who do not try to improve their potential.

Clinically, I work with people of myriad levels of intelligence, as measured by IQ tests. All of us are surrounded by individuals of varying levels of intelligence. 50% of individuals have average intelligence by definition. About 15% have below average intelligence and 15% above average. 10% have borderline impaired or impaired intelligence and 10% have superior intelligence. Again, this is intelligence as understood by psychologists and cognitive scientists and not as understood by God. What we know though is it does not matter what our aptitude is, what matters is what our performance is.

What I find is a beautiful doctrine is that whatever limitations someone might have in intelligence in this life can be removed in the next life. So someone with impaired intelligence in this life can be free of those limitations and understand everything as God understands them. In this life, both limited aptitude and superior aptitude can present challenges to overcome. I believe that those who have been given more are expected to do more to serve others and increase their talents. If they do not, they will find themselves limited in ways that those who had more mortal intellectual limitations will not be.

I’ve worked with, been friends with, and been acquainted with people who have developmental (intellectual) delays. They have all been child-like and beautiful people. All will be blessed because of their challenges. All will be freed from limitations of mortality.

The LDS Church recently produced a video sharing a message from a girl about her older brother Hyrum, who has autism. I was touched by the love portrayed in the video. We do not always know why things happen or why people are the way they are but with faith in Christ all can be freed from shackles that occur in mortality.

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