Intellectuals Vs. Intelligent People

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.)

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34 Responses to Intellectuals Vs. Intelligent People

  1. Pingback: Academics « Grouchy Young Man

  2. Right here is the perfect website for everyone who would like to find out about
    this topic. You understand a whole lot its almost hard to
    argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa).
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  4. anonymous says:

    Intellectuals are necessary in advanced civilizations only for as long as those complex civilizations are approaching their zenith. In the final analysis, intelligence harmoniously balanced with physicality outlives the limited role of intellectualism. Consult world history for validation. Intellectualism also invites elitism, arrogance, narcissism, passive-aggression, and a host of other psychological weaknesses. Intellectuals tend to disdain the “masses of idiots” as they tend to describe those who perform manual labor to provide the intellectuals with modern luxuries of life (like toilet paper). No matter how erudite the article, much of this has been captured by Ibn Khaldun in his work “The Muqquadima” centuries ago. The definitive distinction between the two
    terms–intelligence and intellectual–is very accurate in this article. However, the tonality shows unwarranted favoritism toward the pure intellectual as if they are superior in the course of Human evolution. They must eat, have clothing, transportation, and all other necessities to survive. Little of the actual work required for daily existence is provided directly by intellectuals.
    Otherwise, thank you for a well-written article–a rarity in modern scholastic journalism.

    • Larry Liu says:

      Dear anonymous,
      I did not mean to look down on non-intellectual people. In fact, I think that non-intellectual workers are much more important for the survival of human beings than intellectuals. The only contribution that intellectuals can offer are insights into society that make other people aware of ideas they would otherwise not be able to articulate.

  5. I liked the article. The intellectuals provide synthesis of ideas, and they do not want to be labelled as a researchers of one topic. Especially in these days where working area mostly wants people with very specialized knowledge. Intellectuals crave for concepts. They are very misunderstood by the deductive intellectual people because they can come up as arrogant. But that is a whole range of labeling that is put onto them. I find myself as a inductive person, who did not excel well in the deductive concepts of society. I was born left handed, did not perform well at IQ tests, and my learning process was a different as I always wanted to grasp many things and make synthesis out of them. In the terms of perspective, I really like to change my point of view, meaning I like to research topics endlessly. The thing that hurt me a a human being is that many people out there who are willing to learn and excel and become great researchers mostly end up stuck in daily routine jobs. I always see myself poor in the terms I do not have the privilege to go to institutions nor to do researching, and I do not have the access to many books and in my country which is Croatia, you cannot even go into a language institute without being scanned as a spy, or politician. Living in this psychotic post communism society makes me understand that the only tool that big society does is relativism of knowledge, to ensure the nepotistic structure continue the path of intellectual knowledge, deductive, obstructive and in the end to provide them daily food. I

  6. Joe says:

    I feel that you are implying that an intellectual is necessarily a person of considerable intelligence. I am wondering if is it possible someone lower on the intelligence spectrum can be an intellectual as well, if he or she has the will to drive themselves to do or emulate many of the habits your description an intellectual.

  7. lorwetan says:

    I find that view attractive, but also a bit simplified. The human knowledge — accumulated and yet open for exploration — is not linear. It’s more like a tree. There’s a lot of detail and dedication in most every profession. And if you are comfortable with one branch of human knowledge, it may be prohibitively hard to become familiar with some other branch. Small talk is the root of the tree of human knowledge, which allows any person to interact with any other person.

  8. James Griffin says:

    It is safe to say that you are the first person who I have stumbled across who has elucidated the difference between intellectuals and individuals of a higher intelligence. So I am inclined to ask, even if this line of questioning is ill advised, what makes an intellectual? I’ve personally been grapplimg with that question for quote some time.

    • Larry Liu says:

      An intellectual is a curious person, who seeks answers to questions in a never-ending cycle, and does things to assure him of that result (reading, discussing, listening to lectures etc.) In addition, he is of a somewhat critical mindset, which distinguishes from the traditional scholar. I recommend Aronowitz and DiFazio “Jobless Future” (1994) and they explained it in better terms than me.

  9. floramie says:

    got satisfied of the whole explaination and had answered everything in my mind. Can you send me a copy of this in my email? Thank you so much

  10. Leonardo says:

    I agree with most.of these statements but you do get interlectual who understand universe ballance .we as interlectuals does love sport etc too im an ambiver and gain wisdom of how non intel people can help us and then they dont even know they are of help.

    • Larry Liu says:

      Yes, there is a significant need for complementarity and learning a little bit from every person, though it takes more effort to get something out of less intellectual people.

  11. Leonardo says:

    I agree with that one comnent but what people stil fail to expose or to understand everybody is diffrent yes.im intellectual used to be arrogant on school and got average.mark beacause wrong stimulation and that people did not understand me . As interlectuals just has a deeper crave for knowledge and improvement etc but a wise interlectual will engage with any person and see what value is that person is to the world . And the spiritual aspect aswell and most non intel people is misguided but you get misguided intellectual people and you get extrovert intellectuals and they could supress their need for knowledge . At the end of thè we all need eachother.

  12. Gabriel Oliva says:

    I find your article very interesting and intellectually rewarding. It just provided me answers that are consistent with my questions. But may I just ask if you are a psychologist? I am no psychologist either, but it is interesting to note that your definition of the intellectual is similar to persons with personality trait INTJ (Introvert-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging), who are said in statistics to comprise just about 3% of the human population. They are often called the strategists, masterminds, and/or architects, denoting their great interest in understanding and judging patterns in whatever they do and see, respective of their different ideological perspectives. Similarly, your definition of non-intellectuals resembles that those with common personality traits, who are inclined to Sensing (as opposed to iNtuitive), Feeling (opposed to Thinking), and/or Perceiving (opposed to Judging). Such traits are consistent with what you defined as being conscious or primarily preoccupied of one’s own appearance and personal matters.

    • Gabriel Oliva says:

      I forgot to add:

      There is still one important question left unanswered though: How then would we deal with the problem of misunderstood/underscored intellectuals? Such situation is always prevalent wherever.

      • Larry Liu says:

        I am not a psychologist, but thanks for your great insights. I don’t see how misunderstood intellectuals would be a problem. One may say that the perception of others is quite important in judging intellectuals, but I don’t see it that way. One either is intellectual or not.

  13. AsianProle says:

    I just came across this site. Thanks for writing this.

    I think the biggest difference between the two types is that of their value systems: intellectuals value truth, empiricism, and knowledge; non-intellectuals value status, validation, and money.

    I’ve found it pretty rare to encounter true intellectuals– I’m definitely not one of them– but it’s definitely a treat. In fact, it’s almost impossible unless it’s through work or academia. Makes enough sense– I can just sense that it takes a lot of energy out of them just to be around people and keep their guard up. After all, anyone that truly engages in a rigorous, empirical drive towards the truth will probably have politically incorrect opinions.

  14. Sushma.Jay says:

    After reading your article,i understood that intellectual people can not get clarity in any topic. Since they keep on questioning everything. Is this so?? or am i wrong??

    • Larry Liu says:

      Yes, I am very sympathetic to Socrates, whose main insight was that we can never know things for sure, and if that is true, we will always be in a position to ask new questions rather than accept given dogmas.

  15. freeboks says:

    This article has been very helpful to understand myself, so thank you.

    What’s your thought on a serious ( romantic ) relationship between an intellectual and non- intellectual ? Since the intellectuals are obsessed with finding “answers” to their theories, they cannot help but also try to invoke conversation to their partner.
    Does this means that intellectual can only be satisfied if their romantic partner is also an intellectual?

    • Larry Liu says:

      That’s hard to say and will vary between individuals. Some intellectual friends of mine say that they can only date intellectuals, and some say that they prefer less intellectual partners, which creates less friction and stress and simple things. They think high intellectual engagement is reserved for friends, not romantic partners. I side more with the former.

  16. You are an intellectual yourself.

  17. shelbycara says:

    I like this! I think to take it even further would be to explore how having different interests might play a role in the dynamics of conversations and what to do in these situations. Meaning, when an intellectual discusses an idea with an intelligent person, if that intelligent person isn’t privy to or interested in the topic they might appear less intelligent, as explained. This might be a primary reason why some people agree that in order for two people to be compatible they must share similar interests. Since that isn’t always the case in friendships, romantic relationships or with family, a person must be willing to still converse. A good way to keep discussions a two way street is to listen, ask questions, learn the presented information then reflect and share your thoughts. This results to stimulating everyone’s mind, a thirst often craved, (am I right?).

  18. Stacy soon says:

    Enjoyable read. Well written 👍

  19. An intellectual is merely a person who wants to be one, its a choice. I, personally find unconventional thought processes or ideas stimulating, and at times, enjoy spewing them at someone else…that is how it rather feels when there is no response…However, i find that “non-intellectuals” do in fact have these fascinations, but refuse to give them much attention in an attempt to not seem “superior” or “condescending” to someone in normal conversation because frankly, people often do not have the same sentiment; thereby, mental stimulation is quieted and left for isolation. Still though, I believe that Reflection and Expression of every strain of thought is the essence of life, and it should not be suppressed, but rather celebrated and coerced from individuals in ordder to feel a special part of this human experience.

  20. Pingback: Al Gore: More than an Activist – Lupo talks Philanthropy

  21. Pingback: روشنفکر کیست ؟ | پنجره‌ای به بازشناخت یک اقلیت ناراضی - بخش اول

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