Wisdom vs. Intelligence

The human brain is amazing. It has such a great capacity to work at the puzzles that are set both artificially and naturally. Here, I arrive wondering what the difference is between people who are ‘clever’, ‘intelligent’, or ‘wise’.

At first glance, it would be easy to say that they are all the same, what with the possible plethora of similar results that the ideas of the words produce. An intelligence person is clever, they are good at exams, a wise person knows how to answer the questions well and which tactics to use. However, I don’t believe that is the point here. All three words have similar meanings, but it is essential to note the differences between those meanings.

To begin, one must address the main issue by defining each of the qualities, which is effectively what the question asks.

Being wise and gaining wisdom is the way one adapts to external stimuli with emotions, logic and thoughts. Wisdom is often seen as ‘absorbed’ into the self by age or experience; that is to say: it is an externally-given type of knowledge, situation-related and often considered more ‘valuable’ because of its deeper consideration. One could say that the ability to be wise is something not replicable in other species or even by laboratory test. Can a computer be ‘wise’ in its programmed decisions? No. It has ‘artificial intelligence’, but this is certainly not the same usage. In one sentence, wisdom is thinking outside the box.

Intelligence is generally considered the starting point when one thinks of that (using general terms) capacity to gain knowledge. ‘He/she is intelligent’ often means that he or she scores highly in the variety of what they do. The term ‘searchlight intelligence’ shows that an intelligent being can spread their use of knowledge across many disciplines. On the other hand, ‘laser-like intelligence’ reflects the use of knowledge concentrated on one discipline. Both imply skill in their areas.

Unlike wisdom, intelligence is always innate, and can be used to discern what is ‘wise’ to do in certain situations. However, this is often confused with the meaning and usage of the word ‘clever’. In my opinion, they are similar, but not identical as is assumed. Biologically, we are born with a certain level of intelligence that can be harnessed if we please, but, behaviourally, we also pick up on the types of intelligence our parents expose us to as children. We grow from both. In one sentence, intelligence is knowing the next move without being told.

Lastly, ‘clever’ (something that might be considered the least extraordinary of the three) could be said to be taught in schools. Being clever is the ability to pick up techniques and ways to improve one’s mental capacity. This is not the same as subconsciously absorbing our parents’ skills; cleverness is a type of training, in the same way that one would train for an athletic discipline. Just as a naturally able athlete or musician draws on their natural talents to become better, intelligence can be used here to enhance the knowledge of being clever. Other species, such as rats[1] who learn to associate stimuli with conditions, could be called clever. In one sentence? Clever is using what one knows to the right degree.

Certainly, there is overlap between any and all of the three – a clever person can be wise, for instance – but it is best to look beyond the common misuse of the three terms to the philosophical formation of the way language is used. In this way, most meanings are not interchangeable, nor can they be used in other ways in these instances.

[1] See Skinner’s rats, box – or Pavlov’s dogs

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