Sean Arthur
19 min readNov 4, 2022

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WHY BEING SMART ISN’T INTELLIGENT

Or, You’re overthinking. Two thirds of human intelligence is a metaphysical experience. Stop analyzing and do Your work!

Here’s a problem

Kevin Kelly (founder of Wired Magazine and Whole Earth Review) has observed that we only see two percent of a person, but we also see only two percent of our selves as well.

If by “seeing” Mr. Kelly means we can only superficially observe, then we really don’t know anyone, even our selves, yet there is a lot more to know (98% !). But what exactly does Mr. Kelly mean, who is “we” and what is it about the human condition that most of us are missing?

I suggest that Mr. Kelly is being deliberately provocative. Let us argue that “seeing” another human being is much more nuanced than 2% and dependant on each person’s intelligence, that the “we” who don’t know other people very well may be many but certainly not all, and finally most of what we are missing is one part physical and the other part metaphysical, and thus difficult to quantify. But we can try.

Let’s think about the “we” who have limited knowledge of the human condition.

Certainly there are glaring examples of people who seem to be oblivious of others; they simply don’t know. We’ve all witnessed and felt the repercussions of the 45th President of the United States, one of the most dangerous malignant narcissists of modern times, who is incapable of experiencing empathy. More personally I know for example someone who scores 150 on the standard IQ test, but the rest of their working life is a dismal failure and they exist on government support. And I know a person who can read at over a thousand words a minute, and live the book like a movie, yet are incapable of explaining what they’ve read. Sadly, no Good Will Hunting. The famous savant Kim Peek has an amazing memory, and has read more than 12,000 books and can recall the content of every page, yet can do nothing with that information. He can’t even button his shirt, shop, cook food, or remember directions to the nearest toilet. Something is missing in these people.

What these examples show us is that knowing other people well (and success in life!) requires two things happening together: a fully applied intelligence, and effort. This is where I believe Mr. Kelly gives many people, those with true and fully working human intelligence, the short shrift.

For demonstrative “concrete” evidence that success requires full intelligence (as opposed to a singularly high IQ, or cleverness without practicality, or unbridled, undisciplined creativity), we refer to business metrics. There is huge incentive in business to understand what works and what does not. Extensive studies that seek to understand how high performers achieve better results in businesses and workplaces consistently show that those with high applied emotional intelligence out perform those with considerably higher IQs in the workplace 70% of the time! Being very “smart” (or for that matter being very creative) by itself simply does not translate into being very successful in business. A person with a fully functioning Intelligence simply makes much better predictions and choices, (that is out performs others with much higher IQ’s), for the simple reason that they are actually much more intelligent.

(Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/emotional-intelligence-what-do-numbers-mean-joanne-trotta )

What this means is that there are people who “know” others much much better than the average, and we can assume that what is measurable in business can be extended into all parts of life. But measuring this “knowing” is difficult.

I suggest that if we had data to graph “knowing another person and ourselves” the distribution would be a classic bell curve. Some at zero, the majority in the middle, a few at the far extreme of “full knowing”.

Virtually all human experience follows this ‘bell curve’ model, and this is where the two percent number seems wrong.

The problem with a bell curve graph of human awareness, however, is that it’s static, a snapshot of data in a small window of time. The reality is that people change and evolve. This is no more true than when we try to measure emotional intelligence, which grows and evolves as we experience life.

Some online tests do a decent job measuring EI, by asking non-symbolic questions that force a recall of emotional memories. These are worded like “In a crowded noisy party your first reaction is to…” or asking a person to pick an emotion triggering symbol (like a colour or a choice of stimuli) rather than solve a symbol based problem (which is what IQ tests do). When taken over long periods of time such EI tests show a person’s emotional evolution.

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, there are five components of emotional intelligence: self awareness, self regulation, applied social skills, empathy and internally driven motivation. So perhaps emotional intelligence is the most complex part of the overall human intelligence equation.

Our emotional intelligence is an active, self-evolving system. After ‘mindfulness’ or deliberate conscious awareness, the key component is empathy, or the ability to automatically know what other people are feeling. For many what happens is a good guess at first, and then with interaction and communication (an information feedback loop, much of which is non-verbal, non-logical and subconscious), our empathy becomes more accurate.

The non-verbal, non-rational part is your physical body and all the information it broadcasts continuously into the world. All human beings do this automatically and unconsciously. A very sensitive or super-empathic person is literally bombarded with information from others, in the forms of body language, posture, movements, facial micro and macro expressions, changes in voice, speech and breath, the pheromones and sweat and chemicals your skin secretes, the qualities of your hair, your nails, your skin, your teeth, your eyes…not to mention the emotions you express or don’t, the chemical changes in your system that your body broadcasts…all this information is available and our emotional intelligence system uses it, to various degrees. But with the highly sensitive and the super empathic the information is a flood. These people are much much more aware than the norm. They are on the far end of the bell curve.

But there is more. Our bodies aren’t just wet electrical machines, we are made of the same stuff that makes up the universe. The quantum world we cannot see that vibrates at frequencies we cannot measure is here in us all the time. Its influences are metaphysical. We can’t see this reality working, but we can be aware of the consequences.

Thus, if you are sensitive enough, gifted enough, with a soul old enough, and you apply yourself to life hard enough, then you may start to feel and ‘see’ the consequences of our metaphysical reality in action. Could this then be Mr. Kelly’s unseen 98% ?

A better thought experiment to picture human emotional intelligence in evolution is to imagine a Maslovian pyramid where a person starts at the bottom, as a child knowing very little, and moves up (and sometimes down) the pyramid’s levels of complexity until at the very top one is fully enlightened. If you can get there.

Our pyramid’s base will be very large, and perhaps this is also what Mr. Kelly is thinking about.

This base is filled with children and adolescents, newer souls, those who, even as adults, are just not deep thinkers about human nature, those not that self-aware, people deliberately not mindful, and those who simply don’t or can’t understand people that well. This is not a reflection of IQ or being a good person, but more of developed emotional intelligence and the capacity and opportunity to work at it. And of course anyone can work on self improvement.

Ways of measuring character traits seem to bear out this idea, such as the Myers Briggs personality type indicators (MBTIs). People are not static, their MBTIs change, but only one Type suggests deep old soul emotional intelligence. (The INFJ, the Sigma Male, or true lone wolf, at less than 1% of the population, is probably filled with Old Souls).

Above this base we have people whose business, whose life’s work or “mission” , is to know other people. Doctors and mental health professionals, for example, and experts in childhood behaviours and development, and anyone trained and experienced in mental health issues. Those in policing, the clergy, new age healers, other spiritual leaders, true mediums and psychics, and just about every middle aged Old Soul on the planet is on this list. (Old Soul is a real thing. Look it up.) Basically, any person whose focus is understanding how people work must know more about others and themselves than those who do not formally work at expanding their “knowing”.

This is also a large group. In Canada, for example, those in childhood and youth education, mental health, medicine, social work, human resources and family law (all professions requiring expert understanding of human behaviour) comprise over twenty percent (20%!), or one in five of the total work force. These people must be more aware than the average.

Inhabiting our pyramid’s third level are people who have lived through extreme experiences that have changed them and those born with sensitivities or gifts, giving insight the rest of us simply don’t have and cannot really understand. Either you have had the experiences, were born gifted, or have been able to develop them.

Measuring the size of this group is difficult, but you are out there.

You’ll be part of this group and know what I mean if you’ve had a near-death experience, lived through traumatic “life altering” events, had a psychic revelation, an unexplained remission from chronic disease, premonitions that came true, felt a power or presence save you from harm or accident, experienced true mutual love at first sight, or any number of ‘paradigm shifting’ experiences that have made you more sensitive and aware of the metaphysical world around us.

And I am not sure what Mr. Kelly thinks about falling in love, and creating and parenting children, but these are life changing experiences too, changing a person profoundly and deepening their understanding of themselves and the human condition.

Perhaps slightly above those whose lives have expanded through profound experience are those born gifted, and then those who have learned how to use these gifts. Perhaps like Kevin Kelly himself, who has to be at least aware enough about the human condition to know that we see so little of the human condition. If he wasn’t extra cognizant, he wouldn’t know even that, would he?

People “gifted” in deeply understanding others and themselves have abilities we ordinary mortals simply don’t have. Sadly many simply do not accept this reality.

Explaining how Super Empathy works to someone who is not extremely empathetic themselves is like trying to explain electricity to a toaster (Kevin Kelly again). Difficult.

But we are progressing, as a culture. In the last twenty years we have achieved a great deal of clarity, of true understanding, of such things as emotional intelligence, super sensitivity, memory function and super-empathy. We now believe that super-empaths are maybe 1% of the population at most, and those empaths with a high functioning emotional intelligence and superior emotional memory that actively apply their intelligence are even more scarce.

(Super Empaths are one percent, or even less: Source, https://www.vice.com/en/article/xwj84k/super-empaths-are-real-says-study)

Like it or not, these people will know you, understand you and experience you more deeply and in ways you simply will never understand.

This, by the way, both terrifies and infuriates those with big egos and big IQs but poor emotional intelligence. This type of person simply can’t accept that there are others who are truly ‘smarter’ than them. Narcissists and those with genius IQs but stunted emotional capacity can have egos so fragile and inflated that they can’t accept that anyone is better than they are. Sociopaths and psychopaths simply cannot grasp how these people operate and feel deeply threatened.

These high functioning super empaths, along with other similarly gift people, and those who may be true psychics (who connect with spirits or are gifted with unexplained insights, if such truly exist), comprise the second to last part of our pyramid.

Note here that these gifts alone do not guarantee insightful “seeing” of others or of life success. One has to work at mastering their gifts in the same way musicians and athletes must train to realize the full potential of theirs. Autistic people, for example, are super-sensitive to stimuli, both internal and external, but lack the filters and mechanisms of emotional intelligence needed to be self controlling, functioning adults. What is required to apply these gifts is a fully functioning intelligence, plus a good emotional memory (at least), a willingness to evolve AND WORK.

Emotional memory is the ability to remember feelings you’ve experienced within context. Not the idea or facts of what happened, but the actual feelings you experienced. When we identify these feelings in others, that is empathy.

For the empathic, these memories are so powerful that remembering them is also re-experiencing them. When this happens out of control because of trauma we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some people’s emotional memory function works constantly, even if not wanted or triggered, and this involuntarily recall and re-living of past experiences is called “Hyperthymesia”.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperthymesia).

All this considered, we are now at the top of our pyramid, where there are but a few souls. These are otherworldly people, ‘gurus’ whose consciousness exists somewhere outside of our time and space, who have no ego to interfere with the flow of energy and information that pulses through the cosmos and thus every human being, and who can know you transparently. Except, perhaps, there is no “they”, no ego, to do the knowing. How many of these people are in the world at any one time? Maybe a dozen? Less? But they are here, opening people’s hearts and souls.

If we can accept that this distribution of ‘aware’ people is even remotely accurate, then many many more people understand others much more than just 2%.

But what if Mr. Kelly means the two percent is the absolute limit that any human can know another, and we simply can never know more? This means the other 98% of which we are comprised remains hidden, like the “black matter” that holds the cosmos together but we are incapable of seeing or measuring. Which then asks, why bother telling us? This whole 2% exercise would then be a waste of our time. It’s like The Hunting of the Snark, an exercise in nonsense.

But the top level of our pyramid refutes this idea that there is a “two percent barrier” behind which all else is unknowable. And this is the metaphysical part of our existence that is so difficult to codify. Yet, like advanced physics, we can know it’s there by observing the consequences of our actions.

A good example that everyone knows is the aerofoil. This wing shape literally sucks the airplane into the air. How does this work? There are theories but there is no single scientific proof that explains how it works. Yet it does, all the time. This means that we don’t have to “know” all reality to “do” reality. Essentially, at this point, flying machines exist in the reality of metaphysics.

Most people sometime in their lives have life experiences that are just not explainable. But since they don’t fit well into the mental model of the world we’ve built, our “paradigms”, we either forget them or simply don’t know what to do with them. But we can deliberately manipulate our metaphysical world and be alert for changes.

Author Pam Grout wrote a manual for us to follow if we want to try to interact with our metaphysical reality. The book is “E-Squared: Nine do-it-youself energy experiments that prove your thoughts create your reality”. Since the metaphysical world is only understood through doing, buy her book and do the exercises.

If you can do the E-Squared exercises, they should provide proof of the following:

That there is an invisible energy force or field of infinite possibilities.

That you impact the field and draw from it according to your beliefs and expectations.
That you, too, are a field of energy.
Whatever you focus on expands.
Your connection to the field provides accurate and unlimited guidance.
Your thoughts and consciousness impact matter.
Your thoughts and consciousness provide the scaffolding for your physical body.
You are connected to everything and everyone else in the universe.
The universe is limitless, abundant, and strangely accommodating.

(Source: https://www.dailyom.com/cgi-bin/display/librarydisplay.cgi?lid=3077)

Mediums and psychics access this metaphysical reality as well. But for us “ordinary people” this other world must be experienced in more tangible ways to accept it, and Pam Grout’s work, amongst others, provides us with guidance.

There are other ways to expand your connection to the metaphysical.

We might actually find ourselves in the presence of a true Indian enlightened person, a ‘guru’ in whose presence alone we are permanently altered. Or we may strictly follow the practice of manifesting, following Dr. Wayne Dyer’s method, where we find ourselves changing in unexplainable ways. You might, like Dr. Eben Alexander, have had a near-death experience, or some other sort of out of body experience that you cannot explain away and that, like it or not, changes your life forever.

In Dr. Alexander’s case, an infection shut down his brain activity for a week. He was brain dead almost instantly, and stayed so for seven days, yet recovered with a vivid, extensive and detailed memory of his consciousness (soul) existing elsewhere. He wrote about this in his book “Proof of Heaven”. The proof is that with no brain activity of any kind his brain and body could not have been the source of his experiences. If your brain stops working you simply cannot have a memory of “walking into the tunnel of light” or anything related. Even if such experiences are a biochemical event, one has to have a working brain and memory function to process the stimuli and remember it. So where did Dr. Alexander’s vast and detailed experiences come from?

How does this work? Like dark matter and quantum mechanics, which we know of but cannot see, there is a reality all around us that most of us simply cannot be aware of, and yet we interact with it, exist in it. We are part of it. The reality is that we are not aberrations of the fallout of “the big bang” that created matter, we in fact are all made of stars, inseparably interconnected with all things. And because we are connected, our thoughts (and actions) influence and even create our realities, as Pam Grout’s work shows us. And those most successful at creating their realities are those who are truly Intelligent.

Should we doubt that our thoughts can influence our reality? Our brains are astonishingly complex and powerful. There are more synapses in the human brain than there are observable galaxies in the known universe. Our brains can make 20 million billion neural connection calculations per second, and that is just in one person.

There are over seven billion of us on the planet. As Ray Kurzweil asserts, intelligence is the most important phenomena in the universe, and our brains are made to create this phenomena.

So we can actually know by the consequences of our actions much more than what we see with our eyes or “see” metaphorically with our rational minds.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1862:

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —

For — put them side by side —

The one the other will contain

With ease — and you — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —

For — hold them — Blue to Blue —

The one the other will absorb —

As sponges — Buckets — do —

The Brain is just the weight of God —

For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —

And they will differ — if they do —

As Syllable from Sound —

At this point it is vital to offer some clarity and try to understand how human intelligence works, and who is “adult”. And why being smart or clever as an adult is not being intelligent.

We know that the adult brain does not emerge into existence until a person is about 24 years old. What this means is that every person under the age of twenty four is still an emotional juvenile, and cannot be expected to really “know” anything about anybody with the certainty and the same comprehension that an adult will possess (let alone a gifted adult who has years of deliberate mindfulness and self development behind them). Wisdom!

Mr. Kelly is grossly unfair, then, to include this group in his 2%. In Canada, the number of people under the age of 24, plus those with severe metal or psychological impairments and brain injuries, psychopathy, dementia or retardation, is a third of the population.

So the base of our pyramid of awareness contains at least one third of the population to begin with, who are simply not capable or ready to move up. Then we have those ordinary folks over the age of twenty four, with fully working emotional intelligence systems and enough IQ and functional memory to apply their skills to advancing through life. We call ourselves Grownups. Of this group, twenty percent or more are by deliberate training more aware than “average”. And then there are those who are Highly Sensitive People, who are thought to be about 15% of the population. Of course there will be overlap, but all together this makes a large middle of the pyramid. Then there are the super-empathic or actually psychic, maybe 1% of the population, just near the top. And then the fully aware. That’s our pyramid. Lots of awareness happening.

Conceptually what makes this happen is “human intelligence” and we must understand this better.

The Online Dictionary says intelligence is:

“The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”.

And Wikipedia says that the three components of human intelligence are Emotional Intelligence, applied IQ, and creativity.

Thus true human intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply at the same time the knowledge and skills of emotional intelligence, analytical intelligence, and creativity. In concert. Intelligence is using all three together all the time. Most of us do this some of the time. Of course we modulate through different mixes of our three types of intelligence as situations change. But even when one type is mostly in play, the other two types are standing by, observing, waiting to chime in. It is human evolution at work.

Psychologist R.J. Sternberg proposed this triad concept of human intelligence back in the 1980’s. I like his definition of what human intelligence is:

“(a) mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection and shaping of, real-world environments relevant to one’s life”.

Note the key ideas.

Intelligence is an activity (action, effort, work!) successfully applied to the real-world, not just a test.

Intelligence is directed with conscious purpose, not reaction or instinct or ignorance.

The first purpose, or goal, is self-adaptation, the “self” evolving relevant to the real-world.

The next purpose is selection of your environments (choosing where you engage reality).

And the last is shaping — changing — your environment to your advantage, so you can continue to evolve, to get better.

This last idea is the cornerstone of the whole edifice. The purpose of human intelligence (emotional, intellectual, creative in concert) is to first change your “self” — to evolve — then change your environment, and do so to your advantage. If you aren’t doing that, you aren’t intelligent. You might be smart, you might be sensitive, you might be clever, aggressive or ambitious, you might burgeon with creativity, but if you aren’t growing, learning and becoming a better person, and doing so by positively affecting the world around you, you aren’t being intelligent.

How does this work with the metaphysical? Examine human creativity. Where does “creativity” actually come from? We don’t know. Any idea new to you, or the world for that matter, and anything you produce from that idea or anything you do that is new, like make a better life decision, play a game or do a sport or make artworks or a business decision you have not made before, is an act of creation and that is a metaphysical event.

When we use our emotional intelligence system we are expressing an intelligence that is non-logical, non-rational and non-verbal. We can look back into the past and attempt to codify our experiences, which is the science of psychology, but when we express emotional intelligence, itself often also an act of creation, we are living in the metaphysical world. We have words to communicate this experience: intuition, gut feeling, “that little voice in your head”, instant reactions, subconscious processes, premonitions.

Thus we can say that fully intelligent people successfully “feel” their way through life as much as they “think” their way through life. It is the combination of living in the metaphysical and physical, or emotional and rational experiences at the same time that makes a person truly intelligent.

As the old saying goes, “The proof is in the pudding.” This means that what the rational mind knows, like a recipe, is just an idea, and what is important is to actually do the work, live through the emotional and creative experience of making the pudding, and then have yourself and others taste it…feed back information to you that tells you how well you did.

All this talk about intelligence and your power to change yourself and your environment means that we are not talking about beliefs, rules and actions approved by your Tribe — family, religion, school, society, government — which is just the ‘recipe’ others want you to follow, but what you choose to do (create your own recipe) that is relevant to YOUR life, the life you are here to live, with change and evolution that allows you to discover who you truly, authentically are, and why you are here in this existence.

When we arrive as adults at this level of controlling and managing our lives we have entered into the metaphysical. Difficult to measure, but easy to judge the results.

Returning to Mr. Kelly’s idea, perhaps we can say that people only “see” two percent of others, because just “seeing” is only a sixth of our senses that makes us cognizant, and we often aren’t very observant.

And yes, there is a true sixth sense, called Proprioception. This is the body’s ability to locate our limbs (or know where our body is in time and space), even in darkness, even in motion. Gifted athletes, musicians, dancers, some magicians and other performers use this sense all the time.

(Source: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/11/22/20920762/proprioception-sixth-sense )

Thus we can also say that the flip side of this idea of living intelligently also means that if you, as an adult, act in a way that ultimately diverges from discovering who you really are, and distracts you from your unique purpose in this existence, that’s not intelligence. That is stupidity.

Of course, we all make mistakes, and we all have to fight “The Tribe”, the social forces that constantly try to control and manipulate us to their advantage. But if the actions you take are positive and done in earnest, and you learn from mistakes and make better decisions on-going, then you are behaving intelligently. All learning is failing forward as much as it is succeeding forward. Failing to think for yourself, failing to accept personal responsibility to heal, learn or evolve, behaving in self destructive ways, failing to reject bad advice and bad influences, or doing harm to people around you, or hurting your environment, that is stupidity.

Red Forman: “Son, you don’t have bad luck. The reason bad things happen to you…is because you’re a dumbass.” (That 70’s Show)

Of course, under the age of 24, our development is fluid and much change happens during a person’s youth. Perhaps this is why such mental problems as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, uncontrolled compulsions and behaviours, extreme sociopathy and narcissism don’t fully “emerge” until the person is in their early 20's.

But once you have emerged fully into adulthood, the real work begins. It is this simple: now you are a grownup, Do YOUR Work. Not the work other’s tell you to do, not the work your religion or society tells you to do, but the work you know in your adult heart is the work you and you alone were put in this existence to do. Discovering and doing your work is human intelligence in action. And it is equally a physical and metaphysical experience. Like it or not, you’re in the soup.

Work at life, intelligently. Discover who you really are. Do your work, the work you were created to do. Be smart, be emotional, be creative. Move up the pyramid, it’s why you’re here.

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Sean Arthur

Artist, author, analyst, creative. seanarthurart.com . You will just have to read my postings to get to know me.