Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris in Lifestyle, beBee in English, Psychology Chief Science Officer • Data Science Partnership Nov 24, 2020 · 3 min read · +400

A New Taxonomy of Intelligence and How It Applies to Our Lives

A New Taxonomy of Intelligence and How It Applies to Our Lives


I've talked about intelligence before, from a public speech I gave in London a few years back, to articles I've written here and there (mostly there), to intriguing conversations I've had around a table where everyone is treated as equal (don't worry if you don't get this reference). Recently I've been pondering on the topic from a different perspective, perhaps a more practical one. I'm aware of Dr. H. Gardner's work (even read one of his books, where he introduces the idea of multiple intelligences), as well as all the fuss the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) idea has generated. I'm also aware of the Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) notion and its value in today's world. This taxonomy I'll talk about in this article is different from all of these though.

Why bother with this?

Well, intelligence has been misunderstood and misplaced as a concept more than most notions in psychology. Even in the tech world, people talk about intelligence, usually with the word “artificial” prefacing it, as it’s an important component of many computer systems today (as well as apps on your phone). So, even if this topic has been studied to death, there is merit in exploring it further and making it your own. By the latter, I mean knowing it well enough that you don't need an authority figure to tell you what it is and why individual X is intelligent. You can be the judge of all that. After all, intelligence is an innate characteristic of every sentient being, especially those more evolved, a large number of whom are in the human species.

How does this work?

The new taxonomy I propose works by analyzing things in a three-fold manner. For each part of that, investigation and pondering take place, while after you do this to a sufficient level, execution of actions may ensue. You can think of this paradigm as a computer program: you design the algorithm, you implement it in a programming language of your choice (e.g., Julia, Python, or Rust), and then you run it. The latter may involve compiling it, which is essentially translating it into a set of instructions your computer (or mobile device) can understand and follow.

What exactly is this taxonomy?

Alright, so what is this taxonomy I've been talking about, much like Jorge Luis Borges talked about that game of marbles in that book of his, without ever actually defining it? Well, it's a hierarchy comprising of three intelligences: philosophical, mechanical, and theoretical/mathematical, attempting to answer the questions why, how, and what, respectively. Ideally, you would apply them in that order, honoring Simon Sinek's view of the optimal function of an organization ("Start with Why").

Philosophical intelligence is something philosophers and thinkers, in general, have developed, and although it is theoretical, it's also practical and linked to some fundamental principles or axioms/beliefs. It's related to designing something and making sure it answers some basic questions stemming from the requirements of the people this design aims to serve. The more evolved philosophical intelligence is, the slicker the design and the easier it is to be accepted by the public and implemented by those in charge of this task.

Mechanical intelligence is the intelligence of the engineer (this term covers various professionals, not only those directly involved with machines since even a data engineer is a kind of engineer). It's as practical as can be and deals with the intricacies of implementing an idea or design. It's not easier per se, but it's doable given enough know-how and resources. Naturally, the more evolved this intelligence is, the more efficient and optimized the work related to it.

Theoretical/Mathematical intelligence is all about defining the end-product and working out the specifications of it, as well as any other relevant parameters (e.g., metadata). It involves a mathematical way of thinking, but it may not necessarily entail formulas and all that stuff you'd find in a math course. Often statistics and plots may facilitate the work of this intelligence, but the specifics tools depend on the project at hand. Some people may prefer to start from this intelligence and the corresponding work since it's easier for them. However, it may require some back-tracking on the design stage, as it's not easy to develop a design for something after someone has developed the back-end independently.

Final thoughts

This three-fold taxonomy of intelligence aims to shed some light on the topic, from a different angle. Note that the why of it all (philosophical intelligence) is closely linked to morality and ethics since even the most brilliant work in terms of the other two intelligences is utterly useless if it doesn't have a strong enough rationale behind it. Think of all the products that were elegant and functional yet never made it to our present (aka, fads and gizmos). Also, ideally, these three intelligences work in tandem and even simultaneously in some cases (e.g., in the case of a team of professionals), with sufficient communication among them. But that's enough for now. What are your thoughts on this topic? Does it make sense to you? How do you apply these intelligences in your life?

If you enjoy articles like this but have a penchant for the technical side of things, you are probably going to like my technical blog, where I write about artificial intelligence and other data-related topics. Cheers!

Randall Burns Nov 28, 2020 · #12

Great post @Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris Very thought provoking. I do agree with the premise, being a Chef entails engaging many facets of of different "types" of intelligence across the spectrum of analytical/mathematical to creative/philosophical , as you've noted here. There are some great examples of being strong in one area and weak in others; Remember my story of the attending doctor in the ICU that I had the pleasure of laughing at?

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Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris Nov 28, 2020 · #11

#10 Well, I'm counting on that mind, the hive mind of beBee members :-)

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Ken Boddie Nov 28, 2020 · #10

#8 Only, Zach, if by ‘linguistic intelligence’ you mean the capability to communicate ideas and concepts in simple terms, readily intelligible by a range of minds. Too many consider, I suspect, the mastering of language to equate to complexity of grammatical structure and even polished verbosity, rather than basic and essential communication. It takes a rare mind to describe a complex concept in terms that a layman will understand.

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Harvey Lloyd Nov 28, 2020 · #9

If i could add to your philosophical part it would be a review of the hierarchy of intelligence. I am not an astronaut for a very good reason. My IQ does not allow me to see the world of physics, astronomy and mechanical engineering the way those with the IQ can. But within this hierarchy i have found a home where my IQ and the prevailing work associated with value mix well. A long sentence to state i am happy where i am.

If we lift up from my personal view and establish the hierarchy itself we can see that "work" IQ needed is slowly creeping up. Automated machinery is replacing many of the lower IQ required positions. Although self driving trucks and aerial drones delivering packages is great, we must keep in mind that the strata of IQ available vs the strarta of IQ needed is leaving some out of the economy.

The idea of retraining folks is not a panacea. Although stated as the cure for the ever growing complexity of need in the workplace. My point is only to describe that humans come from many experiences, IQ's and work ethic. In the old western towns their was always something for someone to do to make life work. Since that time complexity has risen.

IMHO, the philosophy segment should include a thought to how the new AI concept will reduce jobs and opportunities across the hierarchy. The number of variables pressing on this are vast. This is but one. We do have a large group within society who are unable to participate because of natural conditions.

I think your view is worthy of consideration and exploration as we move more and more towards AI constructs.

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Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris Nov 28, 2020 · #8

This is a very interesting observation, @Ken Boddie. It alludes to what Jerry mentioned. Perhaps the overarching element that binds all these intelligences together is linguistic intelligence. What do you think?

I agree that having a high level in any one of these intelligences, although flattering, may not be the best thing when it comes to collaboration. Unless of course we all worked in silos, which is less and less the case nowadays.

I'm working on a second version of the article, one that will incorporate all your feedback. Cheers!

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Ken Boddie Nov 28, 2020 · #7

As an engineer, Zach, I’ve often thought about those with a particularly high analytical capability (perhaps your ‘mechanical intelligence’) and their capability to effectively communicate, or not. Time and again I’ve seen those with extremely fast and agile analytical minds fail to get their message across to a wide audience. While many of us, when first engaged in a new topic of study, may need to go through the basic sequential steps, say A, B, C then D, the sharp analytical
mind often goes from A to D, assuming that steps B and C are intuitively obvious It follows that those endowed with such sharp mechanical intelligence, may seldom make the best teachers. To emphasise the point, how often have you seen a thoroughly useful and practical user guide or set of assembly instructions, if ever?
This reminds me of an elderly aunt who used to say intelligence is like underwear ... essential to have but don’t show it off. 😂🤣😂

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Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris Nov 27, 2020 · #6

#5 That's an intriguing perspective dear Jerry. I need to ponder about the overarching principle that transcends them. I have an intuition as to what it is, but it's hard to put it in a box. Thank you for your feedback and perspective on the matter!

Jerry Fletcher Nov 27, 2020 · #5

Zacharias, Interesting take. What I've observed is that There appear to be some characteristics in the human genome that push people to have varying degrees of intelligence in at least the three areas you posit. I believe that all of us have all the intelligences but each has a unique mixture of them. And I feel that there may be one over-reaching something that governs how they are fitted together for each individual. Thank you for raising this question and making me thnk about it from a slightly different angle.

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