Arthur Whimbey on Intelligence as a skill

Arthur Whimbey’s definition of intelligence:

“Intelligence in an attentional/processing skill used in analyzing and mentally reconstructing relations. The distinguishing feature of this skill is breaking down complex relations (or problems) into small steps that can be dealt with fully. The major components of the skill are extensive search and careful apprehension of all details relevant to the relation; thorough utilization of all available information including prior knowledge; accurate comparisons; and sequential, step-by-step analysis and construction.”Arthur Whimbey, Intelligence can be Taught (New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co, 1975), 120.

Whimbey saw intelligence as a generalized skill.

Here are two more insights from the book.

  1. Low-aptitude students have a tendency to approach problems passively. This is a habit, not a permanent state of their brain. He notes two problems: they use “one-shot thinking rather than extended, sequential construction of understanding; and second, there is a willingness to allow gaps of knowledge to exist…” (pp 55).
    This attitude leads to more frustration when they see other students “get it” and they don’t. The problem is that these students do not have a habit of thinking about problems. The solution is, apparently, to give them examples of thinking through problems out loud then ask them to imitate with the same problem and then with similar ones.
  2. Many students who cannot read well (this is back in 1975) simply were not taught using a phonics based approach (73-74). They cannot “decode” symbols into sounds. This is bad. They assume that since they have not seen the word (a sight-words approach) that they do not know how it sounds. This too, is a problem that can be fixed. I have heard otherwise intelligent adults with no reading disabilities struggle to read words with three or four syllables. This, in my estimation, can be traced to either a lack of phonics training or poor enforcement of phonics skills over time. If a young person gets away with parroting and faking at reading for just one year (which is easy to do in a class full of kids) then they could be perpetually behind.

Intellectual Weakness

Nobody wants to be weak. Weakness leads to losing.

Weakness leads to resentment.[1]

Intellectual weakness is perhaps the most subtle weakness.

It compounds itself. Physical weakness makes us feel bad.

Intellectual weakness makes us feel smug or leaves us unable to see our weakness.

There are many ways to overcome this problem, but the first is to read.

The abysmal truth is that few read before or during college:

“The desire to appeal to incoming students who have rarely if ever read an adult book on their own also leads selection committees to choose low-grade “accessible” works that are presumed to appeal to “book virgins” who will flee actual college-level reading. Since common reading programs are generally either voluntary or mandatory without an enforcement mechanism, such “book virgins” have to be wooed with simple, unchallenging works. This was our conclusion two years ago: the lay of the land is still much the same.”

If you want to get ahead in life, at least ahead of yourself, read.

Why Read?

If you read you can:

  1. Get inside the head of somebody smarter than you. (Have you written a whole book?)
  2. You can empathize more effectively.
  3. You can learn new skills.
  4. You can acquire great examples for action, thought, and virtue.
  5. You can avoid the brain rot of emotional eating or over watching television.
  6. You can understand the foundations of your culture and rescue you father from the underworld.

What to read?

  1. Try reading classic fiction. Start easy with the Chronicles of Narnia, then try the Hobbit, A Study in Scarlet, Tarzan of the Apes, etc. Then try some Umberto Eco. Then the Iliad or Beowulf.
  2. Read a self-help classic or two: The Slight Edge and How to Win Friends and Influence People are really helpful.
  3. Read some classic philosophy. Try the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Lectures and Sayings of Musonius Rufus. Then try The Last Days of Socrates by Plato.
  4. Try reading about interesting figures in history. I like reading about Teddy Roosevelt, Jim Bowie, and St. Paul.
  5. Think of a science topic you like (the launching of the moon rocket, invention of the light bulb, the discovery of gravity, etc), and read a popular book about it.


[1] For the Christian, weakness can be a form of power, insofar as that weakness is one that the Christian has tried to overcome. In that sense, Paul the apostle can speak of his preference for weakness. This preference is not, even in context, an excuse for low-effort, shoddy thinking, or laziness in general.

Grammar: The First Art of the Trivium


The first of the liberal arts is grammar.

The Trivium

Trivium is shorthand for three skills:  grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Together with arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music they make up the liberal arts. In the current year, a liberal arts degree is simply a degree in reading texts and critical theory.

What is Grammar?

Grammar is primarily the study of understandable language.

Grammar goes beyond simple language, though. C.S Lewis reminds us that ancient grammar instruction included syntax, etymology, prose, the explanation of allusions, history, and eventually scholarship in general. Lewis even remarks that “everything we should now call criticism belonged to either grammar or rhetoric” (The Discarded Image 186-187 and 190).

Why Grammar?

While you may find it boring, here are four reasons you should study it:

  1. Grammar is the art of clear use of language. With grammar, we explain our thoughts precisely.
  2. Grammar forces us to study language at the technical level, making it more useful to us.
  3. Understanding grammar and usage allows us to deviate from it for rhetorical effect (more on rhetoric later).
  4. Grammar, learned after the language itself is acquired, reminds us that minute learning is almost always the key to advancing our knowledge.

Tips for Improving/Teaching Grammar

  1. Use actual grammar exercises like those available here or here.
  2. Do not drill grammar into children who do not have love language. This serves to make them dislike reading and writing, which means that the mechanics of grammar will be useless to them.
  3. Read frequently and broadly. If you’re a teacher or home school parent, have your children read old books, new books, poetry, fiction, articles, and fun books. Pro-tip for teaching children to read: use old comic books like the original Fantastic Four.
  4. Write often. Also, practice writing. It’s likely that in this very blog post, I have made grammar errors.
  5. Think of grammar as an aspect of pedagogy. Every subject has constituent parts (like grammar rules). Without them, the subject is meaningless. For more on this, read Dorothy Sayers’ essay: The Lost Tools of Learning.

Quick-Sand Memory: Lecture to the Wall and Beyond


Many young people are challenged to study harder to succeed, but very few of them are given any helpful guidelines for studying. Below are two helpful study techniques and one piece of research that support them.

Lecture to the Wall

“The Overnight Student” by Michael Jones which can be found here. The book is wonderful. Read it, it only takes about an hour. Jones recommends doing things this way:[1]

  1. Take a bite – Read a manageable portion of your source material.
  2. Use Your Tongue – Explain what you’ve just read out loud to an imaginary audience without looking at the book or at any notes. Take note of everything that you cannot explain. You do not understand those things.
  3. Reread – Read your source material again asking yourself consciously, “what does this mean, how can I explain this to an audience, to what does it relate?”
  4. Repeat steps two and three until you have mastered the material.

Lecturing to the wall makes you embarrassingly aware of your gaps in knowledge, but with a plus! You’re embarrassed at home with nobody around to hear it but you (or a roommate). This is far better than being embarrassed by not knowing the material on a test, at a job interview, when giving a speech, while defusing a bomb, during a hostage situation, while fighting Godzilla, or during a group project.

Update: In a 2014 study, John F. Nestojko found that “participants who expected to teach learned more from a passage than did participants who expected to take a test.”[2] In the experiments, subjects did not actually teach, but were told to study material as preparation for teaching. So, the expectation of teaching primes learners to learn more, probably because they expect to have to explain things. This goes nicely with the fact that we learn while we teach. So lecture to the wall is not only anecdotally effective, but it has more scientific support than I had initially supposed.[3]


Another technique, which is similar to Lecture to the Wall, but less helpful is PQ4R.  It’s from Richard Restak’s Think Smart:[4]

  1. Preview – Skim through a chapter of material, noting the headings, vocabulary words, and concepts.
  2. Formulate Questions – Ask questions about the material you have read.
  3. Read – Read the passage looking for answers to the questions you’ve asked.
  4. Reflect – Think about what you’ve read and how to apply it as well as its relationship to the subject at hand and its relationship to other subjects.
  5. Recite – Repeat the material from memory after you’ve learned it. Do this with the text book closed, and only open it to check your accuracy. Put it in the exact language of the text as well as in your own words.
  6. Review – Try to recall and summarize the same points.

Restak’s system is helpful, but it is slightly disorganized. For instance, how can you know what questions to ask about the material until you’ve read it more carefully? I think that Preview, Read, and Formulate Questions should be somehow in the same step. It’s also too many steps to remember. You’d have to study the method to utilize it.


[1] Michael L Jones, The Overnight Student (Bellingham, Wash.: Louis Pub., 1990), 44-60.

[2] John F. Nestojko et al., “Expecting to Teach Enhances Learning and Organization of Knowledge in Free Recall of Text Passages,” Memory & Cognition 42, no. 7 (October 2014): 1045

[3] K. J. Topping, “The Effectiveness of Peer Tutoring in Further and Higher Education: A Typology and Review of the Literature,” Higher Education 32, no. 3 (October 1, 1996): 321–45

[4] Richard Restak’s Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance, (Riverhead Books, 2009), 109.

Book Review: Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All that matters

Stuart Ritchie, Intelligence: All That Matters. (Hodder & Stoughton, Kindle Edition 2016).

As an educator and leader, I try to stay up to date on research into personality and human potential. But sometimes I cannot keep up with recent findings. Stuart Ritchie’s new book helped fill the gaps.

Dr. Ritchie is a post-doc researcher at the University of Edinburgh where he is researching the development/decline of intelligence across the life span.

The point of the book is essentially to clarify the facts of the case with reference to intelligence:

“The research shows that intelligence test scores are meaningful and useful; that they relate to education, occupation and even health; that they are genetically influenced; and that they are linked to aspects of the brain. (44-45)”

Through the book Ritchie deftly explains the research with reference to each of these issues. For me to go through how he shows this would make the book superfluous. But some of the most interesting points are:

  1. The differences between male and female intelligence are not in terms of the average, but in terms of the outliers. The mean IQ of men and women is roughly 100. But men skew more toward very low IQs and very high IQs. More men are significantly below average and more men are significantly above average (1226).
  2. While eugenicists were interested in early IQ research, the earliest intelligence scientists were interested in helping the less intelligent to succeed. Not only so, but just like the Nazi discovery of a connection between smoking and cancer, the findings of the early eugenicist IQ researchers have been supported by later research (1192).
  3. Multiple intelligences theory isn’t backed by current scientific research (355).
  4. “Nevertheless, we’re lucky that the tools for raising intelligence – which might partly have caused the Flynn Effect – seem to be staring us in the face, in the form of education.” (1168-70)

The take away of the book is basically this: Intelligence, which can be measured by IQ, matters. The books that claim that hard work is more important than IQ are likely mistaken. Also, education appears to actually increase people’s IQ. This part is really important and while Ritchie never mentions him, it coinheres nicely with Arthur Whimbey’s research on training people in sequential problem solving and slowly improving their processing speed.

If you’re an educator, psychologist, parent, or political science major, I recommend that you read this book.

John Calvin on Good Teaching

In a remarkable little comment on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, John Calvin made these remarks:

Imitators of me…Paul had [in the previous chapter] there brought forward his own example in confirmation of his doctrine. Now, in order that the Corinthians may understand that this would be becoming in them, he exhorts them to imitate what he had done, even as he had imitated Christ.

Here there are two things to be observed—first, that he prescribes nothing to others that he had not first practised himself; and, secondly, that he directs himself and others to Christ as the only pattern of right acting. For while it is the part of a good teacher to enjoin nothing in words but what he is prepared to practise in action, he must not, at the same time, be so austere, as straightway to require from others everything that he does himself, as is the manner of the superstitious. For everything that they contract a liking for they impose also upon others, and would have their own example to be held absolutely as a rule. The world is also, of its own accord, inclined to a misdirected imitation, (κακοζηλίαν)1 and, after the manner of apes, strive to copy whatever they see done by persons of great influence. We see, however, how many evils have been introduced into the Church by this absurd desire of imitating all the actions of the saints, without exception. Let us, therefore, maintain so much the more carefully this doctrine of Paul—that we are to follow men, provided they take Christ as their grand model, (πρωτότυπον,) that the examples of the saints may not tend to lead us away from Christ, but rather to direct us to him.[1]

In sum:

  1. Good teachers prescribe nothing that they do not practice themslves.
  2. They direct others to the ideal, not just to their own practice.
  3. Good teachers must not require others to immediately become exactly like themselves for they might fall short of the ideal or be expecting unrealistic transformation.

[1] John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 349–350.

On Pedagogy: Transmission and Revision

I’ve written a few posts that overlap with themes concerning education. But I think that, over all, good education has this main goal: it supports human happiness.

Of course, everything humans do is “for happiness,” just like every arrow is aimed at a target. But like arrows, decisions and processes can miss their mark. Education is no different. And just like how we do everything for happiness, we should make sure we define it happiness in terms of our specific nature as human beings. Happiness requires virtue (goods of the mind and soul), wealth (goods of the body and mind), and friends.

So, what makes education different from other activities of human happiness such as eating, sex, or meditation?

Education is Transmission

Education, perhaps more than any other domain of human activity relies upon the transmission of knowledge. This, is where people get confused. Knowledge is typically perceived as merely that which is accepted as true or mere cognitive content. But knowledge is actually more than this. The skills of civilization (virtues, customs, etc) constitute knowledge, attitudes and habits are learned, and one’s vision of the goal of humanity (hardly what many consider knowledge) is also a form of knowledge. Knowledge is certainly cognitive content, but it also includes “know-how,” bodily, emotional, social, and habitual information which can be difficult to put into precise words (because it is non-verbal in nature).

In this sense then, if the purpose of education is human happiness/flourishing and the nature of education is the transmission of knowledge and information it must be said that education is the transmission of knowledge that tends toward happiness in a way that tends toward happiness. Observe that while “getting a job” or “making money” are not the chief end of education, happiness includes have the goods of the body and therefore having money/food are part of the purpose of education. In other words, education is the transmission of tradition for happiness.

Education is Revision

But education cannot merely be the transmission of a settled body of information for several reasons: human beings find new knowledge, the world changes in ways that old knowledge cannot always anticipate, and human beings have different callings, personalities, and skills. Education must be attuned to the individuality of each person and to giving human beings the capacity for finding the limits of older knowledge in order to add to it, reapply it, and reformulate it for whatever present situation exists. In this sense, education must be personal.

But if education is in its nature personal and for the purpose of happiness, then it must be personal for the purpose of happiness. Education cannot be personal with respect to allowing tradition to die (for traditions survived a process of natural selection that makes them robust and even antifragile). On the other hand, traditions must be questioned for their veracity, effectiveness, and applicability. An example of this might be the tradition claiming that everybody in the medieval era believed that the earth was flat. I learned some version of that claim every year I took history. Then I found out that it was absolutely false using the research skills I had gained in high school English. Another tradition is going to college right out of high school. This tradition, while at one point, made tremendous sense for some people is treated as a gold standard of life advice (knowledge). It really should be questioned by students because schools won’t question it for them…the survival of many universities often depends upon this tradition remaining intact.

In this sense then, for education to be truly helpful for human happiness, educators (and students themselves) must aim to create a sense in students that while they should be grateful and try to benefit from the past, they must be willing to be independent of it in order to seek truth and virtue.


True education it seems has three elements:

  1. The transmission of knowledge and habits.

  2. The building up and equipping of individual persons for their unique circumstances in light of their personalities and potentials.

  3. The intended goal of human happiness.

On the Liberal Arts

I’ll say more about this topic later.

Articles periodically pop up about why it is still important to major in the liberal arts and not bother with STEM fields. And then other articles will pop-up saying that liberal arts degrees are stupid and essentially put the individual student in debt without concern for said student’s future employment prospects.

To these claims I say, “Just shut up.”

Neither side ever means “the liberal arts.” They just mean “STEM or non-STEM degrees.”

The liberal arts, minimally include training in these seven skill sets (yes skill sets, not mere knowledge):

  1. Grammar – the art of understanding and constructing thought in language. It includes reading, story telling, riddles, memorizing, etc.
  2. Logic/Dialectic – study of the relationship of facts and propositions to other facts and propositions. Basic logic includes both classical deduction as well as the numeric version of categorical/inductive logic known as statistics. But logic is also the study of philosophy, discussion skills, question asking, dialogue, internal monologue, etc.
  3. Rhetoric – the art of discovering and using that which is persuasive. Rhetoric also includes the study of the human emotional life and politics thought/praxis.
  4. Arithmetic – the art of number or basic mathematical operations
  5. Geometry – the art of number in space and the proofs pertaining thereto (logic applied to arithmetic)
  6. Music – the application of number to the human passions.
  7. Astronomy – the art of geometry over time,  since Newton/Leibniz this has included the Calculus.

If one has a liberal arts education, then they have the basic skills for any other education. These subjects are not mere subjects. They are skill sets and even mindsets. Understanding rhetoric is like defense against the dark arts in Harry Potter. Understanding logic is not only helpful for writing papers, but for fixing cars and being a detective.

Anyway, I’ll probably do a series of posts on this in the future. But one does not need a degree in anything to have their mind transformed by a liberal arts education and one does not understand the liberal arts just because they have a degree in a non-science field.

New Job or Learning by Doing

I recently got a job as a software developer/computer programmer.

This is weird for several reasons. One of which is that when I was in high school, one of my goals prior to being thirty was to become a computer programmer to pay for seminary. I just did it in reverse. The programming I’m doing is pretty top level, but it’s all new to me and in many ways is more frustrating than some of the “harder” stuff I learned in college.

Anyway, I basically create UI tests for laboratory software. In the very brief time I’ve done this job I’ve learned:

  1. A handy version of git
  2. Way more C# than I would have covered in any college course (I was hired only knowing C++, Sci-Lab, and Mat-Lab).
  3. Selenium
  4. Way more HTML than I ever cared to know.
  5. And I’ve learned to use the laboratory management software for which I’m creating tests.

There is a great deal more to learn. But this reminds of a time when I was younger and I went down a water slide and my aunt realized I was struggling to swim because I panicked. It was really weird, I still remember wondering, “Why am I not swimming like I normally do.” She said, ‘Do or die, Geoffrey!” So I paddled to the side of the pool and she or my grandma yanked me out.

This job is like that. It isn’t like being in a college class. That can be motivating because I’ve paid for it. But it has the limitation of being easy to make second place to my other job (teaching). Getting paid for this requires me to learn a great deal at a fairly quick pace or I have nothing to produce and thus no money to make.

Anyway, for folks who wish to learn new things I recommend reading up on it for a while and then jumping into it. Nothing helps you learn like sitting and staring at something until it hurts with no answers in sight. You’re forced to be creative, ask good questions, and fail. Such events force us to learn.

Epistemology and Practice: Thoughts

One of my chief interests in philosophy has always been epistemology. I even wrote a really bad paper in high school about whether or not one could know religious truths (it has thankfully been lost to the sands of time). For those who do not know, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines epistemology as

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief.

While epistemology has, in many ways, been and probably will remain fun to study, one of the aspects of it that troubles me is that it often ends up fruitless. The arguments end up confusing practical people who use know-how in their careers and hobbies. On top of that, the arguments often seem never ending for the philosophers in question. Note, I am not claiming that they are fruitless, they only seem that way.

Personal Speculation

As an educator, I’ve come to view epistemology from a more pragmatic perspective (not like William James though). Epistemology, by nature, should outline the varieties of evidence and habits of reasoning that justify claims to know. In this sense, epistemology is a piece of pedagogical theory. So, the study of epistemology is ultimately and ideally the study of not only how one comes to know, but how one imparts knowledge and skill to others. This is important because it ends up connecting back to Aristotle’s rhetoric and dialectic distinction, the relationship of practice vs theory, and the fact that some people have differing levels of evidentiary rigor.

For instance, a deductive geometry proof will be absolutely demonstrative, for students who know logic or who have an intuitive grasp of how it functions. On the other hand, for students who do not grasp logic, a geometry proof will tell them nothing until A) they learn logic or B) they use the theorem in the physical world and then attempt it on paper.