The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Intelligence and Common Sense

"Here is a mental treatment guaranteed to cure every ill that flesh is heir to: sit for half an hour every night and mentally forgive everyone against whom you have any ill will or antipathy."
~Charles Fillmore

I think I hit some kind of wall yesterday. It was a coaching day, and I worked with four clients. And then recorded three sessions for the new Hero's Journey program. And was in the groove, man. I mean, I was in a loving, centered, powerful space the whole time. All day. And then...after Jason went to bed my mood crashed. I was irritable when it was time to play with my kid. Shook it off and put him down gently, and then did some research and by 9:30 that muddy mood was back. Took a dark turn by the time "Criminal Minds" came on, and I found myself rooting for the serial killer. Whoa. Where did THAT come from? By the time I went to bed I was fine, but that was one way strange little mental dip.


Jason and I do Tibetans every morning. A step at a time, I'm teaching him how to match the flow of his breathing to the task at hand, a core tenet of the I.D.E.A. concept. Spinning he loves, but if his mood isn't right, he develops a flood of imaginary aches and pains during the others. Everything else in the room seems fascinating. Wow! Exactly what happens when adults try to meditate! It's so revelatory to see the exact same things that devil adults operating in a child. All the self-limiting beliefs (I'm too young, too old, too small, too big, etc.) inability to focus attention, capacity for self-deception, all in the service of ego identity. We're going to get through this, I can feel it. In fact, his behavior has already improved at school...and I think a BIG part of it was Dan Moran's suggestion ("I love you forever.")

Can you see how critical it is to have a community of like-minded people, who have different strengths and experiences from you, on whom to call? This is CRITICAL. No one person has all the skills needed to make it through life. I definitely can use all the help I can get in raising a boy. Heck, my first wife Toni did much of the heavy lifting raising Nicki. My head was in writing books, making money. Sigh. This is quite an education, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.


"From time to time you get a cubic inch of opportunity. Either you take it, grab it, or it is gone forever."

I forget where I first heard that. I know that my own "cubic inch" appeared when I asked that UCLA student to look at his life as a story he was writing, with a happy ending he just couldn't see yet. Somehow, this gave him the perspective necessary to devise his own answers to previously intractable problems. The second piece was asking "Who is the Hero in the Hero's Journey?" and using the yogic chakras to diagram a human being. Considered the HJ as the road walked between chakras. This unleashed a floodgate--thousands of stories from around the world all jelled in my mind. The countless hours I'd spent meditating or studying yogic disciplines all came to bear on my writing, and for the first time I glimpsed a sort of complete circle of the process of creating fiction.

And after years of using it, I realized that the same circle could be applied to life itself...and I grasped it, but could not teach a critical aspect of the process. There just weren't words. It was odd. I could communicate with Buddhist monks, or advanced martial artists or yogis, about some very esoteric things, but there was no way to talk to most of the people I tried to communicate with. I could conduct the light, but not teach people how to reach it themselves.

Then, Thank God, I met Scott Sonnon, and what he had devised in the Be Breathed exercise gave me an incredibly simple way to teach something that couldn't be taught. That is...if someone was willing to actually put the physical knowledge into their bodies, and willing to take responsibility for all three aspects of their lives, THEY BEGAN TO GET IT. They began to understand the connection between their behaviors and their results on a profoundly different level. But they had to DO IT, and they had to do it long enough to experience the full "Hero's Journey" cycle...weeks or months at least. But that was still phenomenal, because I don't know of any process lasting less than years that does the same thing. It isn't the full breakthrough, but it IS a vision of the path one must walk to reach it.

And I'm left with a sadness about all the people I know who have solidified their world view around things they can "understand." And are convinced that the box they live in is reality. I've watched them dying for decades, and if I love them, as I do, I have to let them go and deal with their lives in their own way. Their problem might well be understood in the following definition of the difference between intelligence and common sense:

Intelligence is the capacity to solve problems. Common sense is knowing which problems to solve.

What's your definition?


Marty S said...

Steve: To me you semm in some sense to contradict yourself in this post.
First you say

"Can you see how critical it is to have a community of like-minded people, who have different strengths and experiences from you, on whom to call?"

Then you say "And I'm left with a sadness about all the people I know who have solidified their world view around things they can "understand." And are convinced that the box they live in is reality."

This seems like a contradiction because if everybody in your community is like-minded then isn't that community living in a box and convinced that box is reality.

I would opinion a healthy community is one with a certain amount of diversity of thought,

Pagan Topologist said...

I am afraid my definition of common sense is closer to that of Bertrand Russell: The sum total of all the misinformation and fallacies that prevail in a culture. I am no doubt paraphrasing, since I have not read the book where he wrote this for many years, but I have always been suspicious of the concept.

Perhaps this is because I have been accused of having no common sense since I was a small child. But I do find that Russell's definition strongly reasonates with me.

When I was a child, common sense said that no one would ever go to the moon in my lifetime, for example.

Lobo said...

I was going to say that common sense is a synonym for conformity of thought, but PT's Russell quote is much better.

I also see it as an excuse to not think about a proposition. If something is just common sense, there's no reason to examine it or try to determine whether it's true or not. If it's common sense it must be true. It doesn't matter that things considered to be common sense are wrong more often than not and the ones that turn out to be right are probably coincidental. It's a crutch for lazy thinkers.

If a person has put some time and rigorous effort into examining an idea and comes to a defensible conclusion, there's no need to sully it with the common sense label.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"I was in a loving, centered, powerful space the whole time...mood crashed".

Possibly that was your natural emotional balance making up for lost time. I contend that it's impossible to be either exclusively blissfully loving or hostile, and unhealthy to attempt such. The natural suite of human emotions includes love, hate, malaise, joy, etc., and our healthy mental state is a pastiche of all these in various proportions. Those burdened by unremitting hate and stress often seek binge-type pleasures to inject explosive bouts of joy into their prolonged bleakness; your post coaching melancholy may have been the converse.

Also consider that by coaching, you’re effectively functioning as a physiatrist and a mental health therapist. Chronic depression is a common occupational hazard among such practitioners, probably because they have to ceaselessly digest and struggle to dispassionately analyze the anger, frustration, and sadness of countless patients suffering various degrees of emotional debilitation. Non-sociopaths simply can’t be deluged by torrential angst without absorbing some and becoming depressed themselves. Of course the silver lining is the flashes of insight you and their clients kindle together that lights the way through the bleakness. As you absorb their frustrations, so to with insights and epiphanies, which must be indescribably delicious and rewarding.

Steven Barnes said...

If I want to design a car with greater efficiency, it is useful to have a Mastermind of people who have a similar goal, and see similar values in the production of such a vehicle. Doesn't mean you think they have all the answers to everything, or that they will always be correct. Just that it is necessary to have support and alignment in order to act.

I see no contradiction.

Steven Barnes said...

Coaches are not therapists. My definition of the difference is that a therapist deals with broken bones, and a coach strengthens and coordinates muscles that are already whole. People who need bones set I send to the doctor.

Travis said...

While the Bertrand Russell idea is cute and a good exploration of a culture's memes I've never heard anyone actually use that idea in conversation when they refer to 'common sense'.

Merriam-Webster has this to say in defining Common Sense: "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts". I think that's pretty good. Doesn't involve any brainwashing to a cultural conformity or mispreceptions of reality. Example follows.

Let's say the gate to my yard is open. I have a dog. I do not want the dog to leave my yard. Common sense dictates that I close the gate. Now COULD I launch into a deeper inquiry about how to prevent my dog from leaving the yard? Sure. I could tie her up. I could stand there and physically prevent her exit until relieved. I could park my car against the fence and block the gate. I could get some wood and turn the gate into more fence. I could... you get the idea. But the reasonable and prudent thing to do is close the gate folks.

Marty S said...

Steve: Let me use your example to try and make my point. The goal of this mastermind of people in your example is to design a car with greater efficiency. But what is the definition of efficiency. Is it miles per gallon, Acceleration, reliability. Does how many people it seats matter. After all if a one seater car gets fifty miles per gallon and a four seater gets thirty five miles per gallon doesn't efficiency depend upon how often two or more people need to get to the same place. My point was that it some times takes people with different goals to recognize all the possibilities and find the right mix of solutions.

Lobo said...

Travis, congratulations. You just made my point for me.

The key weakness of common sense is in the definition: "simple perception". Not only are the important things in life rarely simple, our perceptions are usually faulty. Either we just don't have enough facts to make an informed judgement or we've misinterpreted the facts. Common sense breaks down quickly from that point.

As for the dog example, given the facts of a dog in the yard and an open gate, closing the gate may be the prudent course of action to keep the dog in the yard. But that doesn't necessarily make it the correct action. As you add new information, the solution changes. If the dog can jump the fence, then closing the gate is the wrong course of action. Same if the dog likes to burrow. My sister-in-law had a dog that could climb chain link fencing. The common sense solution may keep your dog from escaping, but only by accident.

Travis said...

And you have proven MY point. In order to argue against the example you have to create an artificial complexity. There is no reason or need to play the "what if" game in normal life.

"Not only are the important things in life rarely simple, our perceptions are usually faulty." Debatable, I can see good arguments both for the truth and the fallacy of this statement. More to the point though, that simply means these are not appropriate avenues for the application of common sense but rather for the application of research and analysis.

I did a little quick research and I'm actually skeptical that Bertrand Russell even said that statement about 'common sense'. More likly he was referring to 'common beliefs' or such. I don't think the obeservation is bad; the problem I have is that when attached to the term 'common sense' it is so markedly off the ordinary usage of the word.

Some guy said...

In my experience, "common sense" means applying habitual thought patterns, whether appropriate or not. So the originators of many new concepts or experiments, particularly if initially unsuccessful, are derided as having "no common sense". To me common sense isn't quite the opposite of intelligence, but it's certainly an inhibiting factor to thought, as the term is usually used anyway.

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Pagan Topologist said...

I have been unsuccessful so far in my attempt to track down the comment I attributed to Russell. I did find a similar one attributed to Albert Einstein. It may be his that I remembered incorrectly. It was something like "Common sense is the sum total of all the misinformation one acquires before the age of 18."

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