Intelligence is your brain’s capacity to deal with a wide range of thoughts and ideas.
Like most things, therefore, intelligence is a process.
It is not a static state.
It is not something you either have or don’t.
Your brain is something you cultivate.
Intelligence stems fundamentally from thinking.
Thinking is a choice. It requires one essential thing: effort.
Thought is work. Thought is effort.
Thinking develops your brain. It increases your intellectual power and range.
Non-thought, corollarily, is something you can change.
You become brilliant.
You learn to be smart.
You are not afraid of new ideas because you know your brain can measure and weigh and test these new ideas — in the same way your brain can create new onomatopoeias.
A cultivated mind is an intelligent mind.
It is also beautiful and strange and rather difficult to find.
Thought is both the source and also the end result: it is the goal. It is the driving force.
It is an end in itself.
Intelligence is your ability to think.
This ability can be habituated and developed, or not, depending on what you prefer to do with your time.
You know you’re in the presence of a brain that’s been cultivated when you see some of the following:
Fast, fluid handwriting that’s legible.
There’s a misbegotten notion that illegibility is a sign of a smart person when in actuality it’s the other way around:
People who write legibly want to be understood. Thus they make an effort to present themselves clearly, which takes brain power. Quick, clear handwriting shows practice and patience, which in turn shows development.
Quick wit almost invariably signals that someone’s mind has been cultivated:
Wit is mental sharpness. It is cognitive acuity. It is keenness.
Similarly — and for the same reasons — people who like to laugh, and who in turn like to make others laugh, are frequently smart.
A sharp sense of time and direction show brain power.
Because a sharp sense of time and direction indicate attention and focus.
The choice to focus or not is the seat of human thought.
The choice to pay attention is where it begins — and ends. It is the locus.
Smart people, virtually by definition, are also more curious.
They are thus more tolerant of ambiguity, just as they are also more tolerant of differences in others — grasping, as they do, what for many of us is blindingly obvious:
The brain is a complicated place, and largely, for this reason, no two people are alike. This basic act of apprehension gives any person who performs it a more complex and more subtle and more sophisticated mode of thinking.
Obsessive worry is a strong indicator of intelligence because it discloses a racing mind that’s never at rest but always thinking, always considering.
Smart people like to read for fun.
People who take active pleasure in reading, rather than doing so out of duty or reading purely for information, unquestionably have brains they’ve worked to cultivate — which means, among other things, “avid readers have better memory function, communication skills, and focus” (source).
Truly intelligent people like to often be alone.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re introverted (although they can be), nor does it mean they don’t like spending any time with friends and other people.
Rather, intelligent people prefer a lot of privacy and space, just as they prefer to pick and choose the time they spend among others because they are independent and they value their independence, in part because it gives them time to think, as well as time to relax.
Smart people, understand, genuinely smart people, as against the book-smart and the pedantic and all the other imposters, are autonomous and have the authentic confidence that can only come from thought and the comprehension that thinking fosters.
Smart people are self-aware.
And because they are self-aware, smart people recognize their mistakes and failures, and they learn from them.
Self-awareness and insight into self is, incidentally, one of the few foolproof signs of intelligence.
People who can argue articulately and convincingly — and from many different angles — have, to that extent, clearly cultivated their brains:
Their minds through practice are able to move nimbly from one idea to another, like a long-legged river-spider skating upon the water.
Yet they are often slow to speak and swift to hear:
Genuinely smart people almost invariably consider what they’re going to say before they say it. Their brain is honed in such a way that it’s quicker than their mouth.
What, after all, does it mean to be smart?
It means to stylize your brain, like a work of art.
It means to cultivate your thoughts for as long as you’re alive — cultivate your thoughts as if they’re the plants of a living garden.
Cultivate them, yes, before your ideas, only partially thought through, ooze into dogma and then fully harden.
It means to observe the universe around you, as well as the one within: to introspect, as thoughtful people do.
It means to be intelligent, like you.