Cleverness is very much in vogue at present and this book is a timely contribution for those who want to know more about the dynamics of intelligence and its relationship to achievement of various kinds. Robert Howard, a lecturer in Educational Psychology at the University of Newcastle, provides a broad sweep across this vast field. He proceeds from 'the mystery of intelligence' and a survey of concepts of mental capacity through the extremes of ability to the trajectory of IQ through a lifetime and the effect of education. Finally he glances at the performance of animals and computers. On the way he presents the various aspects of some complex and controversial issues such as the uses and abuses of IQ tests, and the genetic basis of intelligence.
He does not have much to say about artificial intelligence (AI) but what he does say is very much to the point. He reports that the great expectations of AI have been put back in perspective by the modest achievements of the 'fabled Japanese 'Fifth Generation' project', launched with a flurry in 1981 to produce user-friendly, interactive, problem-solving super-computers. The project has subsequently been scaled back, though hope springs eternally among AI buffs who are now looking for a breakthrough with a 'sixth generation' of even more powerful computers.
Howard's major aims are to demistify the area with a simple account within a coherent framework of ideas, and to bring a general audience up to date in the field. He aims to fill a gap in the literature because the questions and issues in the study of intelligence have changed a great deal in recent years. For example, Gardner has breathed new life into the old theory of 'multiple abilities' against the 'general intelligence with many aspects' perspective which has been dominant for many decades.
Gardner has identified no less than seven 'intelligences', with the possibility of more to come. These are based on a number of criteria or 'signs', one of which is a physical location in the brain for the particular attribute. Another is the existence of people with great development of a particular attribute (such as T. S. Eliot's skill with words) without parallel development of the others. Three of Gardner's 'intelligences' are tapped by traditional IQ tests; these are linguistic, spatial and mathematical skills. The others are musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and bodily-kinesthetic sensitivities. Gardner suggests that children should be assessed early in life to help them to select careers which draw on their strengths, some of which will not be apparent from normal tests or classroom performance.
The great breadth of Howard's canvas has necessarily limited the depth of his treatment and this will frustrate those who are better versed in the issues than the general readership which the author desires. Another frustration is the absence of any reference to Liam Hudson's excellent works, from Contrary Imaginations (1966) Through Frames of Mind and The Ecology of Human Intelligence (Penguin readings which he edited) to The Cult of the Fact and Human Beings. See below for a link to more information on Hudson who provides a great deal of background to Howards's account of the relationship between intelligence, creativity and high achievement. This contributes to the ecology of intelligence and for those who are interested in promoting cleverness this is the most significant section of the book.
For a long time it was thought that the various special areas of skill and performance could be predicted from improved measures of intelligence. However it appeared that above about 120, the average for university graduates, IQ ceased to show much correlation with success. Attention then shifted towards personality types or cognitive styles, with a tendency to focus on contrasting ideal types such as the 'diverger', creative but scatter-brained, and the 'converger'- highly intelligent and focussed but narrow and rigid. Liam Hudson charted this shift of focus and contributed to it with a fascinating study of English school students (Contrary Imaginations). However he later discovered that convergers and divergers could be encouraged to undergo temporary role reversal, suggesting that an element of choice (or assignment) was involved in the dichotomy.
Testing to predict future performance is apparently not very helpful but according to Howard the research findings show a fairly clear pattern of influences upon high achievers. Native talent is the foundation, with the talent developed by hard work supported by early encouragement leading to intense motivation to succeed. This pattern applies to scholarship, sport and other areas of endeavour such as music. Recognition is important and patrons or champions may be required if the pioneer is unwilling or unable to cope with public relations (Huxley in the role of 'Darwin's bulldog').
Another factor noted by Howard is the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time (Watson and Crick at Cambridge). In more general terms this means that the area of investigation needs to be ripe for progress. Conversely, the field may be blocked in such a way that progress is virtually impossible, for example Russian genetics in the Lysencko period, Western philosophy under the logical positivists, and cultural studies dominated by Marxism and the deconstructionists. William W. Bartley has explored the dynamics of these blockages in an important posthumous book Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On Universities and the Wealth of Nations, Open Court, 1991. Where a serious blockage is in place the ideas that are most needed to advance the subject are not even considered because they are screened out of polite conversation (and text books). Ideas of the utmost importance can be lost for a generation or more (Mendel's work on genetics).
Howard reports that one of the growth areas in educational research concerns the teaching of strategies and general problem-solving plans, rather like Edward de Bono's strategies for lateral thinking. This approach may be helpful if the weak link in 'national cleverness' lies at that point, otherwise the effort will be wasted. The more important and difficult task is to mobilise the resources of imaginative criticism that are inhibited by unhelpful theories of knowledge. These concentrate on the 'statics' of beliefs and their justification, rather than the growth of knowledge. The corrective consists of strong doses of Popper and Bartley.
New South Wales University Press . Sydney . 1991