Problem Solving


Conflicting definitions of intelligence

For decades, scientists have investigated intelligent and less intelligent behaviour. Many definitions of intelligence, sometimes even contradicting each other, have emerged as a result.

Despite the differing views among scientists, we do know that intelligence affects life outcomes. In education, several programmes have aimed at increasing intelligence among students with disappointing results.



Problem Solving

The fundamental question is if one can teach intelligence. If we view intelligence as using some basic cognitive abilities for efficient information processing, it is probably impossible.

Other definitions of intelligence include problem-solving and decision-making, planning, strategic exploration, testing hypothesis and correcting them.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has given high priority to a broadened understanding of intelligence and found that problem-solving skills broader than the traditional conception of intelligence are markedly different from the traditional proficiency in maths, science and reading.

Looking at the broader implications of this on the existing education systems, teaching and instruction should focus more on cognitive flexibility, problem-solving and aspects of intelligence that are amenable to change.

  • Teaching students strategies to increase self-monitoring and evaluation when problem-solving.
  • Using teaching methods that help with a deeper understanding of the structure that underpins new problems.

The methods boil down to providing students with as many active problem-solving learning opportunities as possible.

Doubt is necessary for philosophy

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) believed that in order to practice philosophy, you have to doubt everything.

His belief in thinking for oneself is noticed throughout his pseudonymous works. In writing under aliases, he lessened the sense that an authority wrote the books.

Søren Kierkegaard was influenced by Socrates, who thought that his task was not to discover the truth and then communicate it to his students, but to open the question to the pupils and ensure they stay open.

The last thing you should do is turn to an authority to tell you what you should think. You have to do that for yourself.

Comedians As Master Psychologists

When inquired about an occupation that has the most insight on human behaviour and human nature, one would assume it would be teaching, as it requires shaping and developing a lot of young minds.

However, it is a comedian who has a much deeper insight into human behaviour, as he(or she) has to make the audience laugh and yet ensure that the comfort barrier isn’t broken. It requires a great deal of insight into the immediate reaction that a live audience is going to have.

In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle has analyzed what a joke is: Creating an expectation and then breaking it.

“What’s the best thing about Switzerland?”
“I don’t know, but the flag’s a big plus.”

This joke builds an expectation in the first sentence (Chocolates? Watches?) but breaks it in the second, and after a confusing pause, we see that the answer does make sense: The Swiss flag has a big plus sign.

Psychologists and comedians are working in a similar fashion: They observe the world and test a new hypothesis (raw joke matter) on how people see it. They run experiments on individuals and groups that confirm or deny their new theories or jokes.

Both rely on the feedback of the colleagues, scholars or the audience to shape their experimental jokes or theories.

Failure leads to underestimation

We have all encountered failure, be it failing a final exam, or a job interview. We're told that overcoming difficult obstacles will make a future success much sweeter.

But new research shows that initial failure can lead people to underestimate how good it would feel to succeed.

  • "The grass is always greener on the other side" suggests that people spend much of their time longing for things they don't have.
  • In Aesop's fable of "The Fox and the Grapes", the fox walked away from the grapes he desired because he could not reach it, concluding that the grapes were probably sour anyway. This tale teaches that failure can make future success appear less attractive.

In a study, people who see grass as greener on the other side predict higher happiness with future success. Participants that reacted like Aesop's fox would try to distance themselves from failure. It suggests that initial failure made people underestimate how good it would feel to succeed.

Named after "The Fox and the Grapes", the sour-grape effect is a systematic tendency to downplay the value of unattainable goals and rewards. We underestimate our future happiness because we don't always know what we want, and adjust our desires to what appears within reach.

People will rather devalue a goal than devalue the self. It means that people could miss out on the chance to try again because what once seemed impossible might now be within reach.

Charlie Munger's 2-Step Decision Process

An approach to decision making that prevents manipulation:

  1. Understand the forces at play: know what you know and what you don’t know.
  2. Understand how your subconscious might be leading you astray: there are many causes of human misjudgment, including over-confidence.

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