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.

Truman Madsen’s Timless Questions, Gospel Insights – Notes Part 1

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What follows is a transcript of my notes of Truman Madsen’s “last lectures” called Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights. He stated that if he could give one last series of lectures, these are the lectures he would give. These notes come from the first of the lectures. The notes are quite disjointed – they are nowhere near an exact transcript of Truman Madsen’s words; however and hopefully they still are interesting.

“What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? It doesn’t matter” said the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Some philosophers speak of man as tripartite – three parts – nous, psyche, and soma: reason, spirit, and body. These three parts constitute the “soul” of man. What is manhood? According to Plato, it goes beyond this world. Truth, beauty, and good are the basis of much of Greek philosophy. These philosophies led to a change in Christian and Hebrew theology. Hamlet’s famous musing: “To be or not to be” to a latter-day saint could be phrased “to become or not to become.” This describes our potential. God is the ultimate extension of intelligence. God cannot create or destroy this – or Himself. We are all eternally self-existent. “Joseph Smith said, “God never had the power to create the spirit of man, for all intelligence is spirit…” We are beginningless. Greek notion – time is non-temporality. Joseph Smith also said [this is Truman possibly paraphrasing], “God found himself in the midst of intelligence and glory and was infinitely more intelligent. He set laws wherewith these intelligences could become exalted like himself.” This is good doctrine; it tastes good and is sweet.

If there is no God [as some people claim], we have to go to the laws of chance to get everything. Start with mere atoms and get these remarkable selves [people]. This is a sad doctrine [in that] there is nothing to look forward to. This leads to existentialism – which is a philosophy formed around human existence. One branch of this is phenomenal logicalism. Sartre was part of this movement. He said that L’homme est une passion inutile – man is a useless passion. You create you from nothing – you are responsible to no one. Sartre also said, “Hell is other people” and he may be right. Existence precedes essence – you exist before you think. Then there is the threat of non-being; this is the ontological shock – we only exist as long as we project ourselves, our nature, on that around us.

We believe that we are stuck with ourselves forever. We must be a pleasant person to live with. You have a body forever. This is bad news if you are hard to live with; good news if you can live with yourselves.

The Light of Truth – Part 4

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In this manner is intelligence, as used in the scriptures (as something that can grow and progress), quite different from how psychologists understand it (as something that is usually quite static), which is not necessarily wrong, just different. I briefly mentioned earlier a few ways people secularly define intelligence. One theory I particularly like is based around an underlying global construct of intelligence, referred to as Spearman’s g. This general intelligence can be quantified, assuming we understand all the components of it, by a single value. Why I like this theory is because it seems to fit with scriptural and prophetic references to intelligence, especially as found in the book of Abraham: “If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other” (Abraham 3:19).

This seems to mean that we all can be ranked according to our intelligence – there is someone less and more intelligent than you (unless you happen to be at the very bottom of the rung {or at the top but God is at the top}; even so, I don’t believe intelligence is limited to humans, so even the not brightest spirit has animals below him! However, as I stated before, one of the great blessings of the plan of salvation, of God’s plan for us, is that even the most humble intelligence can progress and grow and gain an intelligence like God’s according to the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ). Because we can be ranked according to our intelligence, a unitary measure of intelligence seems the most concise way of ranking; hence my affinity for the concept of g. Additionally, I like to simplify things as much as possible – simplicity is often beautiful.

I want to return to the concept of intelligence as the light of truth. Light is an interesting thing. It exhibits properties of both a particle and a wave. Light has a dual existence – the duality of the wave-particle. We too are dual beings – spirit and body (not that our spirits are waves or our bodies particles but we have dual existence). Light has a set speed in our universe – almost 300,000 kilometers per second. Light, as particles called photons, has energy. In fact, light is part of the equation of the relationship between energy and mass: E=mc^2. There are other physics equations that describe the properties of light waves and particles. They are not the focus of this essay.

Light is energy. It gives power and force. In fact, photons are what allow the electromagnetic force to work – they carry the force that binds molecules together. Without light, without photons, atoms could not stay together in molecules. Without photons, all creation could not exist in an ordered state. Light is a powerful force in the universe. When we learn that intelligence is the light of truth, we can change the words slightly to say that intelligence is the power of truth or the force of truth. Intelligence just might be part of the basic power of the universe. I believe that intelligence is light and light is intelligence! It’s no coincidence that we refer to people who are (or at least seem to be) more intelligent as bright.

I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who instituted a plan whereby all mankind might be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the atoning blood of Christ. He blessed us with portions of His intelligence – His light – and mapped out the way for us to progress to the perfect day where we may gain intelligence like His. Regardless of our abilities at this stage of our lives, we can grown and learn and shine. We lived and learned before this life; we live and learn in this life; we will live and learn in the next life. I pray that we might strive to remember what we were taught before we came to this earth. I pray that we will remain true to our eternal selves – that part of us that came to earth “trailing clouds of glory” (Source). I pray that we might seek to improve upon our talents and intelligence, even if we were only given a little (see Matt. 25:14-30) so that our Father might say unto us, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Link to part 3 of this essay.

The Light of Truth – Part 3

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In the scriptures intelligence is often equated with knowledge, or at least knowledge comprises a significant portion of intelligence (as it does to some degree on modern intelligence tests). Joseph Smith stated that he “received instruction and intelligence” from Moroni each time Moroni appeared to him (see JS-H 1:54). In this instance intelligence implies knowledge but intelligence is not exactly the same as knowledge; I will demonstrate the difference in a little bit. First it is important to point out that Joseph received instruction – he was taught – and he received intelligence. Both were gifts given by Moroni.

We already know that intelligence is the light of truth (see D&C; 93:29). Notice that intelligence does not equal truth, intelligence is the light of truth. Elsewhere intelligence was referred to light and truth (see D&C; 93:36). I believe these are two slightly different uses of the word intelligence. The light of truth is like the light of Christ – the effects and power of the Holy Ghost given to all creatures that helps us understand right from wrong, within our spheres. Light is energy and power. Light gives power to truth – it is the power of truth. When intelligence is light and truth is truth that is edifying, clarifying, and powerful. It is superordinate to truth, meaning that truth, at least in this meaning of intelligence, is a subset of intelligence. Does this mean that there is truth without light? I believe so. There is truth in hell, there is truth in outer darkness, but there is not light.

We also learn more about intelligence from Joseph Smith: “Truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also” (D&C; 93:30). Intelligence is independent and able to act for itself within its sphere of existence. Intelligence has the independence of agency. This implies that there is some sort of life (even if it is not distinct from power) to intelligence (and truth!). This brings us back to Joseph receiving intelligence from Moroni. Joseph received light and truth; he received the light of truth. He did not just receive knowledge, although knowledge can be part of truth and intelligence (however not all knowledge is true or intelligent or good, which is why Joseph did not just receive knowledge but also intelligence). He gained more of the light of Christ. He gained more of the power of truth.

Link to part 2 of this essay.

The Light of Truth – Part 2

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The prophet Joseph Smith taught us more on this topic of intelligence. I’m going to quote at length from Doctrine & Covenants 93 in order to provide some context. This will help us understand better what intelligence is and how it grows.

“He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things. Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy. The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple. The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C; 93:28-36).

God organized us and taught us the plan that would allow us to progress and gain intelligence like His. Regardless of our starting intelligence or ability, we are able to grow and progress in this life and in the eternities (more so in the next life) to become like our Father. Again, I will repeat this point because it is important: regardless of our starting intelligence we can progress and gain intelligence like God’s! That is quite the blessing.

We add to our intelligence by study. How much we know is a component of intelligence. As we study, especially by faith, we gain more light. This light will be spiritual; it will also be temporal. The power of faith rends through the inky shroud of ignorance. It helps truth resonate in our minds and our spirits. I believe that much of the truths we discover in this life are actually un-covered, or more accurately, re-membered – brought back again to our memories. That is why some truths and knowledge resonate with us – we knew it in our life before this life. There are great blessings promised to those who seek and gain more intelligence. Pay attention to the key words in this passage:

“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C; 130:18-21; emphasis added).

The key words were diligence and obedience but the key word is obedience. We gain knowledge and intelligence through diligence and obedience – in fact we obtain all blessings from God by obedience. Knowledge and intelligence are blessings from God; He is the source of all Truth. As we are obedient to the principles and ordinances of the gospel we obtain more light and truth. As we are obedient to our pursuit of knowledge and intelligence, we will be blessed accordingly.

Link to part 1 of this essay.

The Light of Truth – Part 1

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What is intelligence? That’s a question people have debated for many years. In France in the early 20th century, a psychologist developed the first modern intelligence test. Since then psychologists have given intelligence tests. We live in a society obsessed with intelligence. There are flashing ads all over the internet asking, “Are you smarter than [so and so]?” or “What’s your IQ?” Do those online quizzes really test your intelligence? There are many different ideas of what intelligence is. Some people view it as a mixture of knowledge and ability to learn. Others view it as a conglomeration of skills – social, academic, physical, and so forth. This focus on intelligence is not new. The ancient Greeks were interested in intelligence. Socrates is well known for saying, “I know that I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing.” That quote has been retold in various ways by various people over the years. But even before the Greeks, Abraham thought about and understood intelligence. His source was pure – the Lord explained intelligence to him.

“If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them…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…. I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen. Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones” (Abraham 3:16,18-19,21-22).

There is a lot of doctrine and truth in these few verses. The Lord told Abraham that if there are two spirits (or people), one will be more intelligent than the other. However, these “intelligences” are eternal – without beginning or end. In this way they are co-eternal with God; God did not create intelligence. However, God is more intelligent than all of these spirits. That can even be interpreted to mean that He is more intelligent than them all combined! God saw the intelligences and organized them in the pre-mortal realm.