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The Difference Between Intelligence and Wisdom

What is the Difference Between Intelligence and Wisdom? 

One of the great equalizers of life is: intelligence does not necessarily beget wisdom. In fact, the two are often incompatible, much to the dismay of the hyper-intellectual. In the business world, many are familiar with the dictum that “good managers know how to do things right” while “leaders know how to do the right things.” In the first case, efficiency takes priority – in the latter, effectiveness is more important.

Wise people cannot be sufficiently educated, and educated people cannot be sufficiently wise.

Lao-Tzu

This dichotomy can also be applied to intelligence vs wisdom. The intelligent man thinks fast and accomplishes tasks quickly, while the wise man knows which tasks are worth avoiding, and which ones are worth doing.

The intelligent is the hare or the fox, while the wise is the turtle. The intelligent is the supercomputer, while the wise is the visionary artist.

The hyper-intellectual is like the comic book guy from The Simpsons.  

The hyper-intellect is a breed of the human species that is an expert in comic books, playing games, and mastering the frivolous – while eating junk food and refusing to exercise (irreconcilable blind spots). Of course, not all hyper-intellects suffer from a lack of vision and well-roundedness, and not all wise men lack speed of thought, but the distinction between the two is useful if we want to understand the vulnerabilities of rationality.

I could not become anything; neither good nor bad; neither a scoundrel nor an honest man; neither a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner, taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything, that only a fool can become something.

Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky

Intellectual Arrogance

I thought about why that arrogance develops, and a few things came to mind. The intellectual gets engaged with books, ideas, and things – a gap opens between him and other people in terms of interests. And because his interests are pristine and noble – untainted by manipulative, banal, shallow popular constructions aimed at stealing away his attention – he takes more pride in them. It becomes easy to overlook the utility and importance of other people in the community who play a vital role – a more vital role than he does.

To the hyper-intellect, or the underground man, what is important is not so much the outside world, but his interpretation of it. He feels superior to those who choose to confine themselves to an identity, or a pursuit, because he is ultimately nihilistic, and not in a positive sense (which is a possibility). For him, an identity is a ruse that social animals adopt, because they lack real insight and originality. They are fools who must conform to a mass-produced role, because there is nothing about them that is novel or interesting.

They’re just sheeple, after all. Or they’re unthinkingly drifting through life without purpose and curiosity. What they contribute is absent of substance and creativity. They are engaged in pure profit-seeking, or entertainment or gossip or some mind-numbing routine.

It’s hard for the hyper-intellect not to be bewildered or baffled by their strange predilection to office politics and petty disputes.

But this arrogance silos him in. He no longer engages with people, and he finds refuge only in books, ideas, or things.

And by removing himself from the squabbles and politics of people, the hyper-intellect become disembodied from the human organism. He forgets how to initiate conversation, how to learn from people who are different, how to entertain, and how to collaborate with people unlike himself.

He becomes incapable of formulating a thought that isn’t purposeful, intellectual, or clever. Some people are impressed, but most people are agitated by him. They see the hyper intellect as a lonely, desperate, abnormal species cursed with a chronic social disability. They see him as a man unfit to properly co-exist among other men, taking refuge in ideas, finding escape in abstractions, and in everything that is removed from reality.

And while everyone sees the hyper intellect for who he is, the hyper intellect pities them. He feels sorry for them and feels lucky to not have to live such a pointless existence like the rest of his species. Instead, he can merge his being with his intellectual products and in doing so – elevate himself above the superficial, simple, meaningless existence of the people in his society. But he does so in a desperate attempt to be accepted. The hyper intellect, in moments of solitude, has no recourse but to confront the wretched condition that he finds himself in.

He has severed himself from the organism that nourishes him, and he makes the decision to continue his crusade day after day.

The Simplicity of Wisdom 

It may be true that the convictions of some people are inarticulate and unclear, but the average person is more than capable than the hyper-intellect in the things that matter. The ancient Greeks used to sometimes hold a lottery system in elections so that the ruling class is not always superior in intelligence to everyone else.

The average person understands the value of family, community, tradition, friendships, and loyalty. Wise people sacrifice unflinchingly, and their unsophisticated, pure mode of behavior makes them trustworthy to others, which allows them to foster deep relationships, which in turn, nourishes them.

They understand the integrity of consistently carrying a heavy burden on their shoulders and sacrificing their soul for the collective, even if this struggle was in vain (Ultimately, all struggles are in vain). Camus understood that despite the Sisyphus-like absurd struggle of life, joy and meaning were to be found in the climb uphill.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks…The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

Through simple activities – the average person derives a sense of meaning and purpose that is completely different to the hyper-intellect and superior. While the latter might develop a compulsive urge to question the meaning of existence, to many people the thought seldom occurs to them.

There is no need to wonder about the meaning of life when there are people you love who need your help, when there is a cause to fight for.

The intelligent person knows that each cause suffers from logical inconsistencies. The wise person understands that life would be meaningless without fighting for any cause, even one that is logically inconsistent.

The hyper-intellect is disembodied and isolated – he struggles to form an intellectual bedrock on which to build his life. He experiments with philosophical theories, and rejects the divine, whereas the average person accepts that he is too ignorant and limited to comprehend the secrets of the universe and submits to his longing for certainty and God. By doing so, the average person solves the existential dilemma and can now focus on things that are more practical, while the hyper-intellect remains trapped in an ever-expanding circle of syllogistic reasoning, doubt, and despair.

But the situation for the hyper-intellect is not always catastrophic, if he can develop wisdom. His intellectual heroes stood up to the tyranny of the collective, and such an act of defiance is necessary – without which, society would never evolve and adapt. If the hyper-intellect develops wisdom, he will avoid time-wasting activities, and pursue a more socially useful tract that will shield him from isolation and nihilism, while at the same time avoiding destructive social behaviors that only subscribe to arbitrary fashions and fads. By using his time in this way, he learns useful things that can be of benefit to himself and the collective. He becomes like the member of the archaic tribe, who, endowed with superior vision, can spot the predator from a long distance.

Power Without Direction 

An intellectual can have an IQ of 175 but is incapable of raising a family. He can be arrogant, cynical, spiteful and have no proper vision of the future – he can be self-destructive, pathological, deceitful, and cowardly. He can spend his time on the wrong things and can destroy the lives of people around him. But he can also be the savior.

IQ is largely a pseudo-scientific swindle. 

Having intelligence is like having a fiercely powerful engine but being wise is like having a steering wheel.

Imagine someone boasting about how well he could drive on the highway, how brilliantly he could maneuver between cars at the last second – right before a collision. Few people could drive as fast and maintain that level of control. But that is an example of the capable (intellectual) yet moronic (unwise). Instead of thinking about how a split second could endanger his own life and the life of others – the importance and attention was given to the act itself.

Defining Truth 

In Jordan Peterson’s first debate with Sam Harris, they discuss the notion of truth. Peterson takes an unpopular approach, and they get bogged down in a discussion about truth for over two hours. We all know that “truth” is what exists independently of our opinions or well-being. “Two plus two is equal to four” is true regardless of what we think. If all human beings on the planet died right now, the statement “two plus two is equal to four” would still be correct.

Similarly, through science, we can find out truths about the world. These exist as truths in themselves. Peterson challenges this proposition, and regardless of whether you agree with his objection, he makes an important point. He states that truth should first be grounded in morality, before it can be considered “truth”.  If we start with the premise that whatever advances our survival as a human species is what constitutes “truth”, then scientific “truths” are merely provisional truths until proven otherwise. If a scientific discovery eventually led to the complete destruction of our species, then that “truth” was insufficiently true.

It’s worth considering where Peterson is coming from. Another premise is that, as human beings, we have a very limited representation of reality. Our notions about the world are constantly changing. Scientific theories that were considered established facts yesterday, are today considered laughable. We are constantly updating our own representations, and it isn’t a stretch to say that we have a very long way to go. That our theories about the world are far from complete, and in the coming decades and centuries – if the human species manages to survive, we will have new representations of the world.

That is a critical part of the argument. Our knowledge is incomplete. Peterson, holding on to the initial premise, stipulates that our knowledge is not only incomplete in a narrow scientific sense – but in a broader, moralistic sense. “Truth” must consider the whole story. Imagine a house that catches fire. All the rooms in the house are burning except for the one you happen to be in. You might state that your room is not burning and maintain that it is a “true” statement, but Peterson would contend that it is only trivially true. It is true in a way that doesn’t matter.

Trivial Truth as Intelligence 

There is a similarity between Peterson’s contrast of truth versus trivial truth, and wisdom vs intelligence. In his debate with Harris in Vancouver, Harris pressed Peterson on this question, and the latter had a brilliant response. He referred to two cases, one in which wisdom could be found among the least intelligent people, and not be found in some of the most intelligent people. The first case was a case of a mentally ill patient who had gone through her fair deal of hardship and pain – and was in no way intelligent, but she had managed to conjure up a solution for one of her fellow patients. Her suggestion was wise and empathetic. The other case was of the hyper-intelligent person who engaged in self-destructive and destructive behavior.

10 replies on “The Difference Between Intelligence and Wisdom”

I think I’m familiar with the general argument, correct me if I’m wrong. In sum, even though we are making progress, it takes one catastrophe to offset everything, and each day, the potential for this catastrophe is increasing.

https://www.edge.org/conversation/yuval_noah_harari-daniel_kahneman-death-is-optional

Please carefully read this and talking in consideration that more must be said in private between them. Also consider where they are teaching and the status of the people having this conversation.
I think that we are going to discover that Pinker is far out in the left field and technology is not neutral. It creates isolation while giving of the impression of connection. Without traditional values there’s no way to separate signal from noise. This attack on traditional values is as old as time. The first one to rebel is older than humanity. He didn’t tell Eve the truth. The source code of Our reality was hacked and we are “virused”. In the sandbox of history the Creator of him and us is trying not for the first time to correct the error. Technology actually accelerates the negative tendencies of this error while under the slogans of freedom and political ideologisms is keeping us under his spell.
Please ponder on what they are saying in that conversation.
How many wanting to lead us will wash our feet? How many of us will respect someone bowing to us and not become prideful? How is technology improving the human condition and what’s the real price (include externalities) for our comfortable life (zombified spirit)? Ecosystem distruction, inability to control plastics in ocean water (they have money for Mars but can’t solve elementary issues). The entire hocus pocus of the stock market.
Lord Jesus Christ in our midst! Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner!

Thanks for the comment, your link of Harari’s talk with Kahneman inspired me to write this post –
https://unearnedwisdom.com/when-yuval-harari-warned-daniel-kahneman-of-the-future/ – which I will update with time.

I believe, in short, that today’s society has no “leaders.” I think the only leader is the need for progress, and under its prerogative, all wars, all businesses and politicians justify their existence. As technology evolves, it creates the need for more advanced technology, and we(humans) are the tools that are making it possible. See my summary of Technics and Civilization. This a topic that is of great interest to me, if you have any books you recommend, please do suggest, as I plan on writing about this more in the future. Thanks.

As “Truth” is a matter of metaphysics, modern progressive, consumerist man needs to be satisfied with truth.
Most of our dissatisfactions stem from our need to find meaning in the meaningless truth of stuff and the very ephemeral meaning we impose. Deriving meaning from inside us is also reason for strife. Belief in your hollow self can’t satisfy.
Nature, the universe, needs no mathematics to exist What we call science is meaningless in this context. Is our way of making sense of stuff, languages for naming things composed by many disciplines.
Without living humans and a human conscience there is no meaning in the way our kind decide what is reality, in any form. Language, art, mathematics etc.
They all are ultimately expressing something meaningful only to humans. The universe produced us without our participation.
We are meaningless without a metaphysical Truth and a moral one to be specific.
In this context Wisdom has more weight than all intelligence.
Intelligence is reductionist, utilitarian in nature unable to see beyond itself. It is also paranoid, prideful, narcissistic and depressed. Our history is a labyrinthine proof of it’s folly. In our present time this return to barbarism in the form of historical ignorance and classical education ignorance is just another example.

Very insightful. Society today puts too much weight on intelligence, and by doing so, has worshiped the ‘wrong idol’. Worse yet, it is impossible to reverse this process, because whatever is intelligent is by definition more likely to survive, even if it comes at the cost of sentient beings. The question that we should be asking is; is there a way out?

Our kind is facing some serious choices. That link I just sent might bring some clarity by the subject matter it tackles. The level of general discord, distrust, corruption present in all countries and people at the present time juxtaposed with the speed of message delivery afforded by our technology has a good chance of starting fires that no models predicted. Maybe no modern ones. Disconnected from a divine perception of really in a vain attempt at denying it, every generation brings false hopes into existence. That final judgement fire might be started by the arrogance of the few masters of this world while the masses are indoctrinated with the message that enslave themselves while blaming religion.
All this talk about A.I. and progress: how about castles and private areas of the few protected by the inteligent artificial robots made by them supposedly to defend the country but in actualllity to protect themselves. The human element ii a seriously diminished in this context and as such the potential for disobedience and betrayal inherent in human soldieiers.
Self driving car…self selecting automatic defence system? Human fetus =spare parts. I see no reason why an atheistic country would not have already experimented with stuff like that. We have that project done by the one child limitation imposed by the state. Can you imagine that richness of the genetic material available where abortion is state mandatory?
Solution? Imitation ok Christ. Absolutely nothing else will save us from the devil’s that posses us.

There are certainly reasons for alarm at the present state of the world, where amorality is celebrated, ignorance is relished, and frivolousness is worshiped. But I often wonder whether technology has simply made the ugly realities of human life more apparent. That is, has the world always been this way (more or less), and now with social media, we are exposed to it all the time? Or has the world changed for the worse?

Are you familiar with Pinker’s argument and others that the world is actually improving with time? If so, what do you think of it?

[…] According to Peterson, that scientific truth is no longer true. Not because someone has disproved it scientifically but because the scientific endeavor itself was morally misguided. It was only “trivially correct” in that it helped people survive for 10 years in a more prosperous, efficient, and safer driving environment but failed catastrophically after the first 10 years were up. Sam Harris would disagree. He would say that the scientific  truth that allowed automated cars to even function was still true. And that’s completely separate from whether or not we were wise enough to make advances in tha… […]

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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