Saturday, February 20, 2010

a tangential thought

In response to my last post, Micah asks if intelligence doesn't come at the cost of happiness.

It's probably a worthwhile question, but I think maybe a distracting one.

One way of answering is to say that I believe the most human of activities is to create. That is, when engaging in creative activity I believe we are most living up to our human potential, fulfilling our "transcendent destiny," as Emerson might say. I don't think there's any question that with increased intelligence comes increased capacity for creative thought and, therefore, creative action. So I guess I'm saying that the more intelligent (can, not necessarily do) experience humanity more deeply. (I hope that's not a controversial thought. I don't think it should be.)

With more intelligence also comes more ability to understand the consequences of our choices. And, I think, with greater intelligence comes (though perhaps not naturally) the capacity for a greater understanding of others' lives, and therefore their difficulties, pain, and sorrow. With both comes increased capacity for frustration, disappointment, pain, etc.

So I think it's a bit of a red herring to focus on happiness. Is a dog happy? Maybe. But a dog's ability to create, make choices, and express empathy (though sometimes they are magically wonderful at the latter) is limited.

I guess what I'm saying here (skipping a few steps of the argument for brevity's sake) is that I think with greater intelligence comes the capacity for greater, more fulfilling, and especially more textured happiness, but also greater sorrow. And it's been my experience that you really can't know one without the other.

1 comment:

kg said...

Greater intelligence may give opportunity for greater creativity, but it is my experience that many (of whom I feel are very intelligent) lack the ability to create. They have to be lead by the hand to the edge of the "box" -- and they find it very uncomfortable to be outside of it -- either in thought or action. Does that show a lack of intelligence or by your premise a tendency to unhappiness?

That is a very interesting topic. I guess I agree with your observations in the previous post -- in concept -- but I'm reminded about application. Knowledge and intelligence are only as good as they are applied. Our society may indeed be incubating a tendency toward greater intelligence, but we also have a lot more "intelligence" being wasted -- old and young. Maybe that accounts for how easily people seem to trigger into anger?