RE: Intelligence and wisdom

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Tue Jul 16 2002 - 10:07:02 MDT

> Gordon Worley wrote:
> > Q: So, does intelligence equal wisdom?
> >
> > A: It has become cliché on SL4 to say that intelligence does not equal
> > wisdom. Many of us have been well aware of this for quite some time.
> > Please, avoid pointing this out unless the alternative is being drawn
> > and quartered (and maybe not even then). This is also a rather silly
> > thing to say, since for all you know greater intelligence *does* equal
> > greater wisdom. With humans we get the opinion that the two are
> > uncorrelated, but the sample is too small to make non trivial factual
> > statements about greater intelligences (aside from the errors of
> > extrapolation).

OK, you have pushed me into spending 10 minutes trying to clarify the issue.

First of all, let's be clear: this is an argument about the relationship
between two human-language concepts, "intelligence" and "wisdom", neither of
which may be of any fundamental significance in the cosmos.

To explore the relationship between these two terms it may help to
explicitly define the terms.

First, "Intelligence" I understand as "the ability to achieve complex goals
in complex environments."

This is clear, and species-independent (though assessments of complexity may
be subjective). Others may have different definitions of intelligence, but
at least I have one that satisfies *me*.

I don't have a similarly crisp and satisfying definition of wisdom, but I'll
try to fabricate one for you this fine morning ;)

Let's start with, which says wisdom is

1. The quality of being wise; knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of
it; knowledge of the best ends and the best means; discernment and judgment;
discretion; sagacity; skill; dexterity.


n 1: accumulated knowledge or erudition or enlightenment 2: the trait of
utilizing knowledge and experience with common sense and insight [syn:
wiseness] [ant: folly] 3: ability to apply knowledge or experience or
understanding or common sense and insight [syn: sapience] 4: the quality of
being prudent and sensible [syn: wiseness, soundness]

According to this, wisdom is a mixture of

a) practical real-life intelligence, not just intelligence about narrow
abstract domains
b) knowledge
c) "prudence", i.e. being relatively risk-averse

So, we come down to wisdom as

a) practical real-life intelligence, i.e. the ability to achieve complex
goals in complex "practical, real-life" situations
b) abstract knowledge that pertains to practical real-life intelligence
c) being relatively risk-averse

If we accept this, then we conclude that intelligence does not imply wisdom
for at least two reasons:

1) intelligence, generally considered, doesn't have to be practical; it can
be intelligence mostly about math and music and metacyberhagiography, rather
than about domains considered "practical" (where of course the judgment of
practicality is subjective...)

2) one can be intelligent yet highly oriented toward risk-taking

My conclusion is that intelligence just doesn't equal wisdom, as a matter of
definition. Whether the mind is superintelligent or otherwise.

On the other hand, wisdom does imply intelligence. (Though a mind may be
wiser than it is intelligent.)

I stress, finally, that, these concepts "intelligence" and "wisdom" are not
necessarily all that important in the grand scheme of things, in analyzing
future technologies, etc.

Gordon, when you say

> for all you know greater intelligence *does* equal
> greater wisdom

I have to ask you how you are defining "intelligence" and "wisdom". And
please clarify how your definitions relate to the standard English
definitions of these terms as found in the dictionary.

-- Ben G

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