The Intelligence Process
Note to the reader: This is the second of three articles about intelligence, in the fullest sense.
About the Intelligence Process with suggested questions at the end of the article.
The Intelligence Process
All our actions seem to go through three stages. We become aware of something, then we understand what it is (or we don’t!), and then we respond in some way. I call this the “intelligence process”. Once we know about it, we can put it to good use.
I wake up. The room is dark. The place feels strangely unfamiliar. I don’t quite know how I know, but I know I am not at home in my own bed. Then I hear what may have woken me – the sound of sheep, just outside. And then I realise that the sound, too, is unfamiliar. That’s when it dawns on me. It’s the sound of goats. Then I remember the long drive the day before, from Chartres in the north. Now I understand that I have woken up in a farmhouse, near Lodève, in the south of France. I feel happy because I have had a good sleep, and because I have a long holiday ahead of me.
As you can see, something stimulated me to wake up. I sensed something. Possibly it was the sound of the goats. Then I understood what the sound was and where I was. And I responded, by feeling pleasure. There was a process – sensing, understanding, responding.
Another example. It is late Spring, 1992. I am camping in the Vanoise National Park in France. It is a beautiful part of the world, with many mountains over 3,500 metres. I have become interested in a smaller peak, Petit Mont Blanc. I have spent a few days getting to know the mountain, and went to the summit one day by the tourist path. Today I am climbing up the steep east face, by a route I studied carefully and committed to memory. I am alone, and feeling fit and energetic. It is great to be alive. All is going well until, about half way up the cliff, I come across a family of bouquetins, the large mountain goats common in these mountains. They are very at ease on the steep rocks. I marvel that such big animals can balance on such small ledges. I assume that they will move away when I get closer. But they don’t. No amount of shouting and cajoling will dislodge them. Suddenly, I find myself in a new situation. Up to this point, I was climbing a route that was clearly etched into my memory, so I felt comfortable and confident. This was no longer possible because there was no way to get past the animals. What do I do? Retire gracefully, or look for a different route? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We all have 20-20 vision with hindsight! Perhaps I was so full of energy and optimism that anything felt possible. To cut a long story short, I took another route. It was a struggle, involving a near miss when I came off the rocks, but I lived to tell the tale.
That was a very different situation, of course, from waking up in the farmhouse. In fact, the two stories have some things in common, things that go to the very heart of what it means to be intelligent. In each case, there was an initial awareness – hearing the sound of goats, and seeing the very large goats, respectively. In each case, there was an understanding, a realisation – “Ah, of course, I’m in France!” and “There’s just no way to get past these animals.” In each case, there was a response – pleasure in the first instance, and a somewhat rash decision to get to the top of the cliff by an uncharted route in the second.
Now, I could describe virtually any situation to you. But whatever I chose to describe, the essence would be the same. In any situation that we experience, there is an initial sensing, or awareness, followed by an understanding, or recognition, followed by a response, or action. Sometimes the appropriate response is no action. I think of these three stages – awareness, understanding, and response – as the “intelligence process”. I have found it a useful way of understanding how intelligence works, and also a way of assessing yourself. For example, how aware do you think you are? How well, and quickly, do you understand situations and people? And how well, and effectively, do you respond in any situation? The fact is that when you improve the quality of these three stages, you will be more intelligent. So let’s explore this in more detail.
The Intelligence Process - Awareness
You can be aware (or conscious, if you prefer) in several ways. You can be physically aware, when you use any of your five physical senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. You do this all the time, often without thinking about it. You are even physically aware in your sleep.
You can be emotionally aware, when you feel something about a person, a place, or a situation, or when you simply feel something, without reference to anything in particular, such as contentment, hope, uncertainty, anxiety or joy. As with physical awareness, you are emotionally aware all the time. Even those of us who seem unexpressive and emotionally cold are picking up feelings all the time, especially our own, which we are sometimes trying hard to ignore or repress. The more emotionally aware you are, you more you will understand how you and others are feeling. That, in turn, will make it more likely that you will respond well, whatever the situation happens to be.
You can be mentally aware, which is what happens when you are thinking about someone or something. Although you may not be familiar with the idea of “mental awareness”, you experience it a lot. Each time you put a little effort into thinking about anything, you become a little more aware of that thing. For example, you are sitting at a table outside a café in a small town in Catalonia. You see a sign that reads “Menu Vegetaria 9E, de dilluns a divendres, de 13 a 15-45”. You start thinking about what this means and, as you do, you become mentally aware that the vegetarian menu is served from 1:00 to 3:45. But you are puzzled by the words “dilluns” and “divendres”. You think a little more, and then remember that someone told you that the Catalan language has much in common with French, which you speak quite well. Of course, it means “from Monday to Friday”. You have become a little more mentally aware. Should a similar situation arise again, your enhanced mental awareness will make it easier for you to understand. Next time you see a menu in Catalan, you will have a head start!
Another kind of awareness is intuitive awareness. As we noted in the previous article, intuitive intelligence can be defined as knowing without knowing how you know. You often just “know” something without ever having seen it before, or without having had it explained to you, or without having worked it out for yourself. The “knowing” is usually instantaneous, and it is often accompanied by the feeling that something unusual and significant has just happened. The more clearly and often you experience this, the more intuitively aware you are.
Sometimes you are acutely aware that you are not alone, that you are part of something bigger. It could be your family, your city, or your organisation. It could be a political party or a rugby team. The more aware you are of being part of something bigger, and of what this implies in practice, the more socially aware you are.
It is not easy to say exactly what spiritual awareness is, except to say that it is awareness beyond the ordinary. I would like to give you an example from personal experience. I was a guest speaker at the World Health Congress in the USA in 1988. One of the other presenters was a Qigong therapist from China. Using Qigong techniques, he built up a surplus of energy in his own body, and then he transferred that surplus to a woman who was paralysed from the waist down. He did this without touching her. All of us gasped with astonishment when the woman’s legs moved up and down. The therapist was at least two metres away from her, but it was as if he was manipulating her with strings. At the time, it seemed impossible. However, something happened to my awareness that made me realise that such things are possible. It was about two months later that I met a Chinese man living in England. We became friends. He taught me the essentials of Qigong. As I progressed in my practice, I began to experience myself and the world differently. I became aware, without any shadow of doubt, that I was an “energy being” (it’s an odd term, I know, but it feels accurate) and that I was intimately connected to the energies of other people and the world. That was when I realised that the “impossible” acts of the Qigong therapist were, in fact, very possible. That realisation enhanced my spiritual awareness.
The Intelligence Process - Understanding
In the two stories at the beginning of this article, I used the word “understand” to mean two different things. In the first story, I understood what the sound was – it was the sound of goats – and I understood where I was. I was in the South of France. In the second story, I understood what the situation meant. I could not get past the mountain goats, to be able to continue on the route that I had memorised. I understood that I was in a tricky situation.
Just as there are different kinds of awareness, corresponding to each of the six main intelligences, so there are different kinds of understanding, as the following questions illustrate:
- What did I just see, over there?
- Why am I feeling really uncomfortable these days?
Because I am in the wrong job with the wrong people
- What do these strange words mean?
They mean “from Monday to Friday”
- How could I possibly have known that?
Because I had a very strong hunch
- Why is the team performing so badly?
Because it lacks good leadership
- Why is the world going through so many problems?
Because it seems that people need to suffer before they wake up and see the consequences of their behaviour
The Intelligence Process - Response
If you are good at awareness and understanding, your response is more likely to be an intelligent one. Sometimes the wisest response is no response. Do nothing and say nothing!
Taoism has a special place for no response. It is called “wu-wei”, which means “no-action”. However, it does not mean this literally. “No-action” means that you do or say only whatever necessary to achieve the optimal result. This idea is based on one of the central tenets of Taoism, the belief that we human beings are just as much part of nature as trees, rivers, birds and bees. We are therefore at our wisest and most effective - i.e. our most intelligent - when we behave as the rest of the natural world behaves.
All living things practise economy of effort, with minimum input for optimal output. I call this the “law of reverse effort”. It is we who make ourselves the sole exceptions to this. Too often, we do too much, with too much effort, contrary to the “way of nature”, which is how the word Tao is sometimes interpreted. In many cases, the intelligent response would be to do less, with less effort.
The only point I want to make here is that the quality and efficacy of your responses will depend very much of the quality of your awareness and understanding. Enhance the first two stages of the intelligence process, and your behaviour will be correspondingly enhanced.
A Structure for Working on Yourself
When we combine the three stages of the intelligence process with the six intelligences, we have a useful framework for working on your intelligence. I recommend that you create a blank version of the table below and use it as a structure for working on yourself. I have started the process for you by putting a few suggestions in the boxes.
How well do you use your five senses?
Do you have a “whole body” sense?
Do you recognise (a) the limits and (b) the potential of your body?
Have you a good sense of danger and survival?
Do you use a lot of energy to achieve things? Or
Do you use only the minimum necessary?
Can you normally tell what people are feeling?
Do you understand why they are feeling as they do?
Do you normally stay calm under pressure?
Do you find it easy to understand what things mean?
Do you understand why things happen?
Do you understand the deeper, root causes of problems?
Are you an effective communicator?
Are you creative?
Do you sometimes know something without knowing how you know?
Do you acknowledge that some things are true and possible, even though we have no explanation for them?
Do you normally trust your intuition, and act on it?
Have you a good sense of what it means to be part of a team, an organisation, or a community?
Do you understand the group’s needs?
Do people like being with you and working with you?
Do you lead by example?
Do you have a strong sense of a reality beyond the physical/ material?
Do you regularly see the bigger picture and take the longer view?
In what ways have you made the world a better place?
First in the 3-part series ... click here
Third in the 3-part series ... January 29, 2020
Chris Thomson was a lawyer and economist in Scotland until the mid-80s, when he was asked to chair the Natural Medicines Commission in the UK. He then trained as a psychotherapist in London, before joining the Scottish Council Foundation, a think-tank in Edinburgh, set up in anticipation of devolution. From there he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he advised multinational corporations on various moral issues.
As well as passable Spanish and French, Chris speaks Chinese.
He now lives in the Catalan Pyrenees, where is a keen mountaineer. The ski slopes are only 20 minutes away!
Chris published Full Spectrum Intelligence in 2014. He is now writing The Inner Cosmos, and Intelligent Simplicity
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TU Chris ... TU for this article: The Intelligence Process
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