The languages of your intelligence

Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

Ever thought much about what language your intelligence is made of?  I sure haven’t.  Someone pointed me to this little curiosity a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about it since.   While the author states matter-of-fact-ly a few points that I’m not sure I buy, there’s still some rich food for thought buried in there.  Executive Summary: the languages we know and use are the languages that our experiences get formulated into, our creativity comes out in, and after a while result in us being shaped by the language we use.  Interesting thought.

I don’t know French

I have good friends whom have learned various other languages, and I’ve always been a little jealous.  I took some French as a youngster, but honestly: my jealousy was not enough of a motivation for me to learn a new language.  So, am I missing out?  Yea, probably.  But I think that article just tips on an iceberg much bigger than it intimated, and there’s a much bigger piece here.  There are more languages than just spoken languages, and yes indeed, the languages we use shape our intelligence.

one language of some sort of intelligence

When I was working on my PhD, my advisor kept trying to get me to write more, “it helps you formulate your thinking.”  He’s right, and I’m glad I listened to him.  While I think I’m a decent writer, I’d really like to write more and improve it. The primary reason is: I want to better formulate my thoughts.  But let’s leave spoken/written languages there and go somewhere else (comparable, but still else).

I know a handful of programming languages.  Have they shaped my thinking and who I am?  I’d never thought to ask the question until I read that article, but as soon as I’d asked it I knew the answer: Yes, for sure.  The time I spent in Prolog while in high school totally reshaped the way I thought about problem solving.  The first time I sat down and learned a functional programming language (e.g. Lisp or Scheme at the time) it totally changed the way I thought about things – and not just computing problems, but things around me and the workings of the universe around me.

Is Math even a language?

“What’s the purpose of learning Math?” my elementary aged children ask me.  The answer is very well put in math with bad drawings:

[Math] teaches how to solve problems through abstraction. You learn how to spot good puzzles; how to frame them; how to uncover patterns, to advance by logical steps, and to strain towards higher levels of generality, until the problem at hand becomes as simple and automatic as tying your shoes. It teaches the superpower of logical, abstract thinking.

Well, now I have another answer: because it shapes who I am.  The language of Math shapes how I perceive, how I create, and how I understand.  Programming languages do that too.  And so does Photography, English, and walking in the woods on a snowy evening.  My closest friends know that Math shapes how I interact with religion.  Other friends have seen how my computer program debugging skills come to full demonstration when I encounter a news article.  The formulations in which information and experiences enter my existence, and the formulations of my interactions with the universe, those are what we’re talking about here.  And they very strongly influence me, my intelligence, and the very nature of who I am.

 But now I realize that I know even more languages than that.  The French like the “language of love” and that’s great.  There are also languages of interpersonal communication.  Yea, body language, the eyes, etc.  Yep.  Learning to read people is such a tremendous skill.  Learning to speak “people” is a ninja skill I wish I had more of.  The photographer speaks, the poet sees, the musician connects.  I’m in love with these languages, but there are too many languages for me to be able to master in a lifetime.  Still, the reality remains: my intelligence is a function of the languages I know and use.

What are some other languages that shape our intelligence?  Should some be prioritized above others?

Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

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7 thoughts on “The languages of your intelligence

  1. I definitely find this to be true. In fact, in a very abstract way, I would add that due to our own personal life and learning experiences, each of us ends up speaking a slightly different language or dialect, even when it would be easy to assume otherwise. Two mathematicians or programmers will nearly always approach a problem in a different way; two writers discussing the same issue are sure to express the nuances differently; and two photographers looking at the same scene will almost always produce very different images recording that experience.

    This is an important thing for is to remember when trying to communicate with others. Like Elder Zwyck’s talk today, we should focus on empathy first! It is often difficult to truly imagine where someone else is coming from, but perhaps with the Lords help, we can employ the gift of tongues, so to speak, that can help us to understand and to see the hearts and intentions of others through the eyes of their experiences and backgrounds.

    • Yea, what you’re saying is very true. “Words do not convey meanings, they call them forth.” And so yea, when we say things, we need to be aware that others aren’t hearing exactly what we’re trying to say, and likewise when we get messages from others we need to be aware that what we’re hearing them say may not be what they’re trying to say.

  2. I think that a huge part of literacy is the ability to take what you understand or believe, reshape it in your own words, and add to the conversation about it. Many people can read an article and then move on to the next one, but the true challenge to intellect is coherently formulating a response that moves the discussion forward.

    Actually, I read a few years ago “The Information Diet” which hugely transformed the way I though about reading. In fact, I scribbled down this quote because I felt that it illustrated so clearly the last step to literacy that many of us miss out on: “Content creation and publication are a critical part of literacy because they help us to understand better what we say, both through the internal reflection it takes to make out findings comprehensible to others, and through the public feedback we get from putting our content in front of others.”

    I know you’re talking about how language affects the way we think, but this is what came into my head.

    • I totally agree with your quote there, I understand something way better as soon as I put it into words. I’ll often have a question and ask someone it, not because I expect a reply, but because putting the question into words helps me to find the answer. It’s totally the same concept; once I put the thoughts into words then I understand the question, and can see the answer.

  3. Some interesting thoughts about language. As a language teacher, I often try emphasize language as culture. I could relate the language of math, or coding to sub-cultures in America and further thought about music, an international language that crosses all cultures and wonder if there aren’t others like that, such as that language of coding.