Saturday, August 21, 2010

Google Cognition

Many descriptions of intelligence focus on mental abilities such as vocabulary, comprehension, memory and problem-solving that can be measured through intelligence tests. This reflects the tendency of psychologists to develop their understanding of intelligence by observing behaviour believed to be associated with intelligence.

The eminent psychologist Robert Sternberg believes that this focus on specific types of measurable mental abilities is too narrow. He believes that studying intelligence in this way leads to an understanding of only one part of intelligence and that this part is only seen in people who are "school smart" or "book smart".

There are, for example, many individuals who score poorly on intelligence tests, but are creative or are "street smart" and therefore have a very good ability to adapt and shape their environment. According to Sternberg, giftedness should be examined in a broader way incorporating other parts of intelligence.

I happen to be very good at what I call "Google cognition."  I will perceive something -- a fact, event, or circumstance -- and it's as if my mind will automatically Google that "term" in my memory and I will come up with a list of "hits."   I suppose one necessary condition of Google cognition is that the individual possess a good fund of general information.  It is no mere accident that I scored especially high on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence test on the section, "fund of general information."

Let me give you an example of what I mean by Google cognition.

Last week I heard about the fact that the actor Michael Douglas had been diagnosed with throat cancer.  My first thought was that he was only 66 years old and his father, Kirk Douglas, is still alive at age 93.  I thought, "If Michael Douglas hadn't smoked, maybe he would have been genetically disposed to live an especially long life like his father."

My thoughts then turned to Sigmund Freud.  Freud developed an oral cancer when he was in his 60s.  He routinely smoked about five or more cigars per day throughout his adult life.  I thought of the fact that Freud's mother died at age 95 or older.  I knew that because I remember the following anecdote about Amalie Freud.  When she was 95 years old, a photographer took her picture.  A member of the family asked Frau Freud what she thought of the picture and she said: "I think the picture is terrible.  It makes me look 100!"  (We know where Freud got his sense of humor.)  I concluded that if Freud had not been a smoker, he might have been destined to live into his nineties.  He died of cancer at age 83.

My thoughts then turned to the conductor Leonard Bernstein.  He died of lung cancer at age 72.  He was addicted to cigarettes.  His mother outlived him, dying in her nineties.  Jennie Bernstein was about 18 years old when Leonard Bernstein was born.  I concluded that if Bernstein had not been a smoker, he might have been destined to live a much longer life.  (Although he had been diagnosed with emphysema when he was in his twenties.)

This is just one example of what I call Google cognition.  I perceive a fact and I immediately think of related facts.  I read a quote and immediately think of related quotes, hence my book Significant Moments, a book written entirely out of thematically-related quotations.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

Dennis Race should have asked himself the following question in late October 1991: "What does it mean that he could survive in this environment without any history of absenteeism and an exemplary performance record?"

Maybe he should have asked Gertrude Ticho, "What does this say about his personality: his ability to understand his environment, his ability to understand social situations, and his ability to adapt to his environment -- whether it be hostile or supportive? What does his ability to understand his environment and his ability to adapt to it say about his future conduct if we terminate him?"