What is the difference between an intellectual and an intelligent person? The intelligent person is someone, who has the capacity to respond to mental challenges, deducing logic, inferring hints and understanding complex subject matter upon explanation. He may have varying degrees of curiosity and interest, and it would depend on the subject that he has become familiar with. Even unknown subjects, when explained coherently, they would be well adapted to pick up the logic of it, and conduct intelligent conversations around them. Under street slang, there is the generally known difference between book-smart and street-smart, and both categories would fit well with the description of an intelligent person. The book-smart, reading books most of his time, can relate what he has read through his reasoning ability, and that builds a formidable trove of knowledge and reasoning power. That, so popular culture recognizes, is the mark of intelligence. Especially, it is pointed out, the street-smart should also be considered as intelligent, because intelligent merely means to understand facts and their relationships when presented with them. A book-smart person relishes on abstract-theoretical applications, a street-smart person enjoys social challenges and practical problems.
An intellectual would be an intelligent person. The intelligent person is, therefore, the umbrella term, and the intellectual belongs to the category of the intelligent person. What distinguishes the intellectual from the intelligent person is his curiosity and interest that goes significantly beyond the person, who can merely respond to mental challenges when posed to him (street-smart). In fact, the intellectual is actively looking for mental challenges, i.e. to ask questions that yield to some answers, but open up more questions that need to be answered. Reading books, discussing heavy topics with friends and family, writing and publishing articles and essays etc. An intelligent person goes through life, sometimes curious, but most of the time content when more tranquil times prevail, and not ask for much more. University degree? Perhaps, but more as a means to an end (job, income), rather than an end in itself.
On the other hand, the intellectual is not content with mentally tranquil times, but once when having found out the pleasure of inquiry can not stop inquiring, and setting his life around the solution of problems. Finding a solution to a problem, by no means, means that an ultimate answer can be found, and the thirst has been quenched. The method counts, not the tool. For the intelligent person, mental challenges, again, are a means to an end, and when once discovering a satisfactory answer or solution, holds on to this precious knowledge, and does not bother about questioning its foundations. Why should he do so, and waste his time? That would be the obsession of the intellectual, who ain’t got nothin’ better to do. For the intellectual, the quest can only stop upon death. Before that the search is the goal. The road is made by walking. New knowledge is added, but it opens up a path toward asking new questions, and opening up another line of inquiry. The process of investigation starts anew. This does not mean that the investigation would start from scratch. Of course, knowledge accumulated in one person, the facts related by theory, are the essential basis for gaining more knowledge and more theories, better relationships, better nuances, better details, better solutions, better problems. Any solution needs refinement and qualification, it has to become better, and is always improvable.
Therefore, when an intelligent person quips up triumphantly his accomplishment of coming up with a solution, or hearing or reading it somewhere, in front of an intellectual, the intellectual can not help but sneer at the shortsightedness of the intelligent person. How dare he think that this is the ultimate solution? Is there not a greater truth? Hasn’t that theory been disproved by somebody? The intelligent person is dumbfounded by the hostile reaction of the intellectual, and thinks him to be uncomfortable to be around with. Isn’t the intellectual overthinking it?
In many social aspects, the intelligent person might be better suited to socialize with the persons of lesser intelligence. (I will not venture to define the term ‘persons of lesser intelligence’ other than by stating that by logic they would include the non-intelligent and non-intellectual people, risking the simplification that there are scales into which people might fall. This is the reason why I am grateful for keeping the discussion abstract and not having to point to examples of very intelligent, moderately intelligent and not-so-intelligent persons. I am not a great supporter of IQ tests, and other similar arbitrary devices of intelligence measurement that intend to show more than they actually do.) He more easily adopts the thinking patterns and conventions of those around him, regardless of what intelligence he is surrounded with, only avoiding the extremities of intellectual inferiority. For the intellectual, however, socializing with non-intellectuals, such as intelligent persons, but especially with not-so-intelligent persons becomes enormously burdensome.
The intellectual through the wit of his ability can not resist but to upset the tranquil small talks that dominate non-intellectual conversations. He suddenly comes up with his theories and ideas, and presents them to his conversational partner, if he is a new and unknown person. (Once the intellectual gets to know the non-intellectual, he will be more refrained in future conversations.) The intellectual craves for a feedback, and the problem might be that this intellectual is narrowly focused on a scholarly topic, or that he has a general interest in many topics, but with the depth and breadth of his intellect by far supersedes what the non-intellectual, intelligent or less intelligent, has ever been dealing with. The non-intellectual will give half-hearted responses. The less intelligence he has the fewer witty responses he will have. The more intelligence he has the better equipped he will be to keep up with the flow of the conversation that is inevitably driven by the intellectual, who has a reservoir of spirit that can only have been the result of years of deep thinking and inquiry. The non-intellectual, however, while enjoying the privilege of being carefree in terms of engendering complex ideas and questions, is enormously easily sidetracked, and not focused enough on the deep-going concerns and interests of the intellectual. He allows the intellectual to make the argument, and either nods in agreement or disagrees with persistence without knowing exactly the points that he is agreeing or disagreeing with. Personal, financial or family problems are sufficient causes of worry, and reading books or discussing abstract topics would be too much to be asked for.
The non-intellectual might even bring in a discussion about those personal travails, because it is natural to talk about things one is most familiar with, but the intellectual will either see greater social patterns in those personal travails (especially if he happens to be a social scientist), which in itself would give sufficient amount of confusion to the non-intellectual, who usually is not dealing with societal concerns, the connection between the individual with the larger society in this instance, or alternatively the intellectual will become enormously bored by hearing those personal stories, considering them as nothing more than a distraction from his, the intellectual’s, own interests. The intellectual might, however, be perfectly steeped in social conventions, and not make that dismissal apparent.
The intellectual, it is clear, while not shunning the non-intellectual world, does note that the company of intellectuals with similar interests is the most fruitful social partnership that can be engendered for that intellectual, because the interest of the one with his present mode of inquiry positively feeds on the interest of the other intellectual, and so both treat each other as flowers collecting and distributing pollen, mutually benefiting from each other. Certainly benefits of knowledge are also accrued when conversing with non-intellectuals (an idea remains an idea), the overall experience, however, seems to remain less than originally desired for.
From the non-intellectual perspective, especially those with lesser intelligence, the intellectual can either breed contempt or admiration, though neither of those sentiments can be clearly explained and justified by the person holding them. An intellectual is probably well-tuned to predict both reactions from non-intellectuals, and knows to not take either of those reactions all too seriously. He is looking for neither personal praise nor personal criticism, but criticism of his ideas to make them better and more refined. For the non-intellectual, however, personal praise and personal criticism are all that matter to them, and they themselves would certainly be flattered to be praised for their intelligence, and, likewise, be devastated to be called stupid. The intellectual only cares about the essence of his ideas, the non-intellectual about the appearance of his persona in front of peers. (The former statement should perhaps be qualified. I do not mean to say that intellectuals can by no means be flattered by praise. They do. But they afterwards quickly and happily retreat back to their mode of cold-blooded investigation, and make sure that they are not caught up in feelings of vanity that is inevitably connected to a focus on appereances and concerns about -often misguided- social perceptions.)