Fluid intelligence is the ability to think abstractly, intuit information, recognize patterns and evaluate problems by piecing together information that isn’t necessarily formally taught, but imagined and generated from one’s own experiences and understanding. The idea was first developed by Raymond Cattell and John Horn in the 1970s.
Fluid intelligence is the opposite of crystallized intelligence, which is what it means to have acquired knowledge formally, and typically refers to the acquisition of specific information, like facts and figures.
Otherwise known as fluid reasoning, it is the ability to problem-solve without past knowledge influencing your thinking. It is essentially what makes intuitive people wise; what makes prodigies able to teach themselves to play instruments or become proficient in foreign languages without formal education.
Though both types of intelligence are important, and often work in tandem, fluid intelligence is common among artists, creatives, and HSPs, and often makes them seem unpredictable or misunderstood.
However, having more fluid intelligence is actually a tremendous gift, though it is underestimated. It often makes people innovative, creative and exceptional. An abundance of fluid intelligence defines a person who doesn’t so much want to perfect what exists but to break the status quo and create something people don’t even know they want yet.
The issue of fluid intelligence brings up a whole host of issues in terms of how we think of being “smart,” and how we insist that through standardized testing, we are conditioning young students to believe that just because they are not proficient at repeating facts and figures, they aren’t intelligent.
Christopher Bergland explains it like this:
“In a digital age—that puts a premium on facts, figures, and data — crystallized intelligence has become disproportionately valued over fluid intelligence. A wide range of new studies are finding that motor skills, hand-eye coordination, aerobic conditioning and daily physicality are important for maintaining working memory and fluid intelligence.
Fluid intelligence is directly linked to creativity and innovation. The book smarts of crystallized intelligence can only take a person so far in the real world. Depriving children of recess and forcing them to sit still in a chair cramming for a standardized test literally causes their cerebellum to shrink and lowers fluid intelligence.”
Essentially, fluid intelligence is the kind that makes innovators and independent thinkers, and it is not only undervalued, it is often misunderstood.
When we hear an idea that we agree with, we rarely request a person’s credentials. When we hear an idea that challenges what we know to be true, we do. What we’re essentially insisting is that we will only trust anyone who has been highly educated in systems and ideas that have previously existed. We are not recognizing that nobody sat at the foot of the people who developed them initially and requested such a thing… because we couldn’t.
Nobody questions the great thought leaders of past centuries, nobody asks what grounds Buddha has to share wisdom. They intuit that it is helpful and innovative, and so they accept it to be true.
Fallible as this can be, it is an important conversation to have. If we don’t learn to value someone’s fluid intelligence, we will only ever be attached to old systems of thinking, which can only serve to hurt us in the long-term. Imagine if we never accepted the ideas of new thought leaders because they hadn’t had formal education in a field that they were seeking to reinvent. We’d still be in the dark ages rather than on the front lines of art, psychology, philosophy, technology and everything else that has made the world what it is today.
Rather than assume that because someone cannot memorize and repeat that which is known their minds are not useful, we could stand to recognize that the world moves forward through those who can reimagine what exists in completely new ways.