Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Extending Human Intelligence?

I wouldn't consider mechanical/electronic additions, be they internal or external, as figuring in to intelligence. You can have all of the toys in the world and they will be useless if you don't understand how to properly use them and why.

This is the same way that I view information, whether it be facts, ideas, or formulas. You can have all of them stored in your head (no, not really, but just for the sake of argument) and they are useless if you do not know how to utilize them and why.

You could also have none of them stored upstairs, but instead have them available in some other searchable medium. If you know what to actually do with them, where they come from, and why each aspect is important and how it can be tweaked to suit whatever purpose you have at hand, that is what I consider to be understanding and for me that equals intelligence.

Some people can run intellectual circles around others. In my opinion, this is not because they have some massive library of information in their skulls or an engineering calculator. It is because (while they do not have the specifics stored for ready retrieval) they understand the ideas, where they come from, what the effects are, how they can be used, and the recognizable patterns that they create. They can also recognize patterns and formulate entirely new ideas and methods based on the information that they have. That is also understanding/intelligence.

Wiktionary.org doesn't really factor into a person's ability to convey ideas in an intelligent manner (just my opinion). Understanding how to use language does.

As for the diminished math skills of our current students, I would not attribute this to the rise of calculators. Students should be taught to use most mathematical concepts using pen and paper, and it should be hammered into their heads repeatedly with more and more complex problems. The failure is not in the calculators, but in the teachers who do not properly educate those in their charge. I've met several students who took Pre-Calculus at a local private university and failed Calculus 1 miserably. They were taught how to punch numbers on a calculator while the fundamentally important concepts of Trigonometry and College Algebra were simply glossed over. They could use the calculator to get the right answer some of the time, but for most problems they had no clue how to set them up in the first place. They had no understanding. As Dr. Verhyden drilled into our skulls: Up till now, you've been taught to take an equation and do "stuff" to get X. We don't do "stuff" in here. We find solutions. Do not let me catch you doing "stuff." That is WRONG and you will FAIL. Do not let me catch you punching numbers into a calculator unless I tell you you can. I want EXACT solutions. If you can't find your solutions without using this (TI-83 calculator) you will fail. Your calculator is dumb, and it wont help you if you you don't know what the heck you're doing.

I spent nearly as much time in her office asking questions as I did in her class. That woman is the most hard assed, no bullshit, excruciatingly difficult to keep up with math teacher I have ever had and I Thank Her For It. Show me a piece of technology that can do THAT for me, and it will be an extension of intelligence. Plug me in, baby!

1 comment:

Richard B said...

As an analogy, intelligence is the CPU. No matter how powerful the chip, it is useless without programs and data. However, the largest database on earth is useless to a chip too primitive to crunch it.

No analogy is perfect, of course, (or it wouldn't be an analogy -- it would be a description of the thing itself) and people are not computers. The point, though, is that learning, information, and native ability all matter. To the extent that add-ons (such as calculators) produce enhanced results, they, at least in this practical sense, matter too.

I have to agree that considering humans qua humans, their computing tools and information systems don't make them any smarter. There is some evidence they make people intellectually lazier.

However, we are separated from those tools and systems less and less frequently. I'm not sure what the long term consequences will be, but I find the development interesting.