on intelligence

I was wondering the other day whether if you have intelligence, innately, is it always there? Or can it slip away if you’re not careful, if you’re otherwise occupied; is it possible to go through phases where you aren’t living intelligently? Does intelligence even count for much of anything in the adult world, the way they tell us it counts for everything all the years we’re growing up?

I was sitting in a Starbucks, reading, near a few tables’ worth of teenagers working on their calculus homework together. Ok I was half reading, half eaves-dropping. Isn’t that what Starbucks is for? I realized I had no idea what any of those complicated math terms meant anymore, I wouldn’t even know where to start if I had even the easiest of those problems in front of me today. I probably wouldn’t even understand the question. Yet years ago, I got it all, and fairly easily. I was pretty good at math, but I didn’t really like it; and I didn’t realize yet that there was something to like about just feeling good at something. Love even. I never stuck with it.

And on this cold afternoon, snuggling deeper into my chair, listening to teenagers flit back and forth between math questions and their favorite tv shows, the songs playing over the speakers, their (shockingly innocent) gossip, a little crazy part of me wanted to figure out calculus again. Find my old textbook, re-teach myself. I think I just wanted to know that I could still do it, that forgetting calculus didn’t mean I had lost some part of myself, even though I had never liked it. Maybe it’s just a general nostalgia, to have that much boundless energy and positivity, to have my hands in so many different things at school that some are sure to come easily, to know there are things I’m really good at, and to be certain that that really means something.

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2 responses to “on intelligence

  1. You pose a very interesting question here: Does intelligence atrophy if we don’t maintain it? I have a post percolating about letting ourselves go mentally, letting our psyche get flabby from non-use. As a culture, we are so preoccupied with physical acumen and fitness that I think we often lose track of the fact that our brains need work too.

    (I forgot calculus too. Big time. Do not want to relearn it, but I understand the desire to know that I could.)

  2. I totally feel you on this one. I hated calculus, never cared for it nor studied. But for some reason when I did study and did do well, I felt smart. I went on to University to take langage classes and I was so bored. On my last year of university, I felt like I was losing something. Missing out on something. Maybe it was the need to feel smart again. I don’t know. I now know I was in the wrong program. All I know is that I craved calculus and really wanted to register so I could prove to myself I could still do it. I even got my sister to take out her calculus high school book ad let me do some exercises. I had no idea what I was doing. She tried teaching me but then I gave up. I guess, as we grow up, we change and when simple things like these remind us of the past, we start to think that maybe we lost a part of ourselves.

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