What’s Your Definition of Intelligence?



This is the second time I’ve participated as a volunteer subject for the Furman University Adulthood and Aging course, which is part of the Psychology Program. We volunteers are age 60 and over, are interviewed individually by a student assigned to us and answer questions about age related topics such as our perceptions about cognitive and physical changes, our beliefs toward aging and social relationships. The student then writes a paper about their interpretation of our views.

I find the entire process interesting as it makes me think about what I truly believe about (for want of a better word) aging. I also have the opportunity to influence a younger generation’s mind-set about growing old.

One of the recent questions asked of me was, “What is your definition of intelligence?” Hmmmm…mine is not a dictionary answer.

There are many forms of intelligence. There’s book knowledge that we acquire in school and beyond. In school I took all kinds of intelligence tests. I’m not sure they measured intelligence as much as memory and recall ability. There’s intelligence drawn from life experience. There’s a type of intelligence embedded in our decision making capacity, adaptability to change and willingness to take risk. I would say that’s wisdom gleaned from experience.

Part of our decision making abilities is problem-solving. We think we have the solution to a problem, make a decision to act upon it in a certain way and take action. But, what happens if our problem-solving doesn’t work? Do we try another possible solution? Do we retreat, afraid to make another bid? I’d say there’s an innate intelligence in the person willing to change direction, attempting to solve the problem another way.

Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Throughout my life, this has been one of my favorite quotes. It’s a reminder to adapt to life’s curve balls. In life, change is the only aspect we can depend upon. Growing old is just further change.

We all know the parts will eventually wear out — another change. We all know we will decline in some ways — more change. It is those of us who possess a willingness to adapt who have the greatest chance of surviving the longest with a quality life. That is the kind of intelligence to cultivate.



13 comments on “What’s Your Definition of Intelligence?

    • Yes Cecilia, life is one change after another. I’ve written about it before, but it continues to surface as a theme in other conversations and approaches to aging. It’s amazing how many people are resistant to change when it is the one inevitability of living our lives. Better to embrace change than fight it. Glad the insight helped. K


  1. Thanks for this Kathy, as I needed reminding today. I find myself getting frustrated, particularly with changes in my body – when did it happen that I can’t just hop up from the floor? My resistance to these and other changes just makes things worse. I need to adapt, and flow. ~ Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Because I’ve been competing in Masters’ Track and Field, as well as road races, I have the hardest time accepting my physical decline. What used to be easy at age 60 is now much harder at age 69……running 3 miles, for example. Yet, I must work on being thankful I can still run 3 miles without injury or distress. So I need to find balance in resisting aging by continuing to train and compete and accepting that I’m going to get slower and have less strength as I get older. Many of your articles include finding balance and I thank you for them !!!!!!


  3. What a great opportunity to help influence a younger person’s mindset on aging!
    I agree that the ability to (successfully) adapt to change is one of the most beneficial abilities that we can posses. Great post!


  4. Kathy, The message that there are many different kinds of intelligence is such an important one. It means that, just as in Lake Woebegone, we really are all above average on some of these forms of intelligence. I think one of the ways many of us become more intelligent as we age is that we know which forms of intelligence are our strong suits and we become better at deploying these to deal with new situations and solve new problems that we encounter.


  5. I was well into adulthood when I learned of the various forms of intelligence – intellectual, social, mechanical, physical, emotional, musical, etc. I think of the young student who, in grade 2, could hardly spell his name but could take a lawn mower apart and put it back together, demonstrating his mechanical intelligence. I think of those who are so intelligent but lack common sense. I would define intelligence as knowledge that can be applied practically.


    • Mona I like your definition! Yes, we’ve all met the person who has a high test IQ, but as my dad used to say, “doesn’t have a lick of sense.” Somehow, they can’t apply all that learning to real world problems. K


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