We label some people intelligent, but what does this term really mean? A common view is that it constitutes superior global intellect, meaning that some people have an overall intelligence greater than the norm. This is a fallacy. Except for the seriously brain damaged or mental retardates, the differences between those thought brilliant and those viewed as average, or even stupid is not much different from a global perspective. What separates us is how that brain power is concentrated, which is determined by a combination of emotions and aptitude.

The example which demonstrate aptitude at its most extreme is the autistic savant, who, though mentally retarded, has extraordinary intellect in a narrow area. A common ability of these people is being able to determine the day of the week for any date given. I asked one what day my grandfather’s birthday, March 15th, 1876 came out on. Inside of three seconds he told me it was Wednesday, and the official record backs him up. When asked how he performed this feat, his vague reply was something to the effect that there are fixed patterns in calendars.

Normal people’s brains operate on the same principles as those of autistic savants, only in a less extreme way. I have met many brilliant people, some of whom would be characterized as geniuses, and in every case their mental limitations in some areas were striking as their aptitudes. I knew a brilliant humorist who, despite having lived his whole life in Manhattan, had such a poor sense of geography that he easily got lost when not in his own neighborhood. Another odd thing is that if you gave him your phone number just once, he would never forget it, but he had only a rudimental grasp of mathematics. Then there was the brilliant lawyer, self taught musician, and mathematician was stymied by any mechanical challenge past the complexity of changing a lightbulb.

However, aptitudes themselves only party explain intelligence. The other vital factor is emotional intelligence, the hard to measure emotional factor that determines how people use their aptitudes. Aptitudes are analogous to an airplane, with the emotional intelligence being the pilot. All of us start out with low emotional intelligence, but with experience, to varying degrees, we develop it, which explains why nobody is allowed to sign a legal contract until the age of twenty-one. Low emotional intelligence can make one stupid. A jerk, that is a foolish, socially inappropriate person, is not thought of as mentally retarded but rather one whose mental functioning is compromised by low emotional intelligence. As an example,I knew a man who was academically brilliant, but his emotional deficit caused him to use poor judgment in choosing a career. In lieu of work in academia, he became a commission salesman. Aside from never making much money, the job caused chronic anxiety and depression.

When a high degree of emotional intelligence combines with great aptitude, we have the phenomenon called genius, and I cannot think of anybody who combined these traits better than composer Ludvig Von Beethoven, whose emotional intelligence effected his musical aptitude. Whereas the equally talented Mozart composed quickly, and strictly followed the classic style, Beethoven was a perfectionist who re-worked material, and was also boldly innovative. After completing his Mozart/Haydn styled first symphony, he broke with classic tradition, ushering in the Romantic musical era. It was this combination of talent and psychology that explains why Beethoven is arguably history’s greatest musical genius. So extraordinary was he that even deafness could not hinder his ability to produce masterworks.

To sum up, if you have aptitudes in areas people value combined with well developed social intelligence, you are intelligent, but should your aptitudes lie in areas not well regarded, or your emotional intelligence is too low to handle your aptitudes, then you are, unfortunately, stupid.