A useful definition of intelligence is the ability to adapt to and thrive in one’s environment. Multiple studies have shown that intelligence is declining worldwide. Multiple studies have also shown that humans are getting smarter.
The question of intelligence is a a good example of the challenge in finding truth in the age of information. If you’re not too concerned about truth, just pick a study that agrees with what you want to believe. On the subject of intelligence, I’m undecided.
I do believe, however, that the researchers who decided humans are getting smarter never tried to assemble a metal building using the instructions provided in the box, and the humans who wrote and illustrated those instructions were not included in that study.
After some time, days, actually, the number of which I prefer not to mention, we are the proud parents of a fully assembled metal building. It is dry and secure and pleasing to the eye. We put it together with no loss of life and very little loss of blood. We did it in spite of the instructions.
Thank goodness for those classes in logic and statistics I took in college. Who says you never use anything that you learn in school? Without those classes I might not be able to recognize a situation where two or more conditions are “mutually exclusive.” I’m thankful also for classical mechanics, which holds that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
All of these concepts came into play during the assembly of our structure. First, the mutually exclusive. The framing square and the tape measure said that the building frame was on the square. The spirit level said the floor was level. The marketing company for the metal building said the parts were manufactured to strict tolerances. But the holes in the decking did not line up with the holes in the frame. Or they did, until they didn’t, and when they didn’t they were not even close. Somebody was lying, and I don’t think it was the framing square.
In physics, Pauli’s exclusion principle states that two electrons cannot occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. Classical mechanics and common sense teach us that if two vehicles try to occupy the same parking space at the same time, there will be a collision. The instructions said to put bolt X into hole Y, but I couldn’t do it. There already was a bolt in that hole, because three pages ago, the instruction manual most assuredly said to put a bolt there.
Perhaps what we needed for our metal building was an archaeologist rather than a physicist. An archaeologist can find a bone chip in a hole and somehow reconstruct a skeleton. They can translate dead languages, and from the faintest scratchings on stone, tell the history of a nation.
Our instruction manual did resemble hieroglyphics in places. The spidery illustrations were almost ephemeral, and ready to dissolve in a drop of perspiration. The grammar and sentence structure of the book did not match any language known to us. It reminded me of the classic tome, “English As She Is Spoke,” which is a Portuguese-English phrase book written by a man who did not speak English, using a French to English dictionary as a reference. “He burns one’s self the brains. You hear the bird’s gurgling? The field has by me a thousand charms!”
Yes, intelligence may in fact be the ability to adapt to one’s environment. At least, the longer you can stay in your environment, the better the chance that you might learn something. I didn’t have a set of reasonable instructions. The parts and the guide holes did not all adhere to Euclidean geometry. But I had a drill, and a set of high speed bits, and I improvised, adapted and overcame. I didn’t walk away from that building feeling any smarter, but after several days of bending and twisting and lifting and drilling and squinting, and climbing and wrenching and cussing, I walked away feeling stronger.