We see people damn abstract intelligence often in the United States. Whether it’s by simply calling intelligent people “nerds” as an insult, or by our politicians claiming that we “need more welders and less philosophers.” Why do we do this? Why does intelligence seem so frightening to people in this country?
Well, first we have to recognize that this is a battle between vocational and liberal arts education. Countless republican representatives have made the argument that if we want to improve our economy then we should be putting more students into vocational education. They believe that we should train people to master one job at one point in time. However, as time passes and jobs evolve the old training that people have becomes irrelevant. We live in a world where technology is improving every day. It no longer makes sense to teach people how to do only one job.
In today’s world intelligence must be interchangeable. For example, today many employers look for problem solvers, by this I mean they are looking for people who are able to solve a problem without any vocational training. By being able to abstractly create a solution to any problem they are presented with prospective employees show that they will be a valuable asset to the company regardless of what position they take.
Vocational jobs are incredibly important, I do not in any way discredit the value of doctors, mechanics, and other such professions by saying that I believe a liberal arts education is more beneficial. In fact, I believe that these vocational professions could benefit from a more liberal education just as the rest of us.
Here’s another example, Gick & Holyoak (1980). Without going too in depth these two psychologists created a problem that could be solved with transferring information, by this I mean solving one problem could help a person solve the other. The problem opens with a doctor trying to decide how to kill a patient's harmful, cancerous tumor. The tumor can not be surgically removed and the levels of radiation needed to kill the tumor would also kill the patient's healthy cells. Any levels of radiation that are lower will not kill healthy cells but it will also not kill the tumor. So, how do you solve it?
To be honest, when I was first introduced to this problem in my first cognitive psychology class I was stumped.
The second problem that Gick & Holyoak created was designed to help come up with an answer to the first. A general needs to get his military into a town so that it can be taken over. The town has many small roads leading into it on all sides. The entire military can not fit on any one road and all of the military is needed at the same time in order to take the town. How does the general do it? If you came up with the bright idea to send small groups of soldiers into the town on all of the roads at the same time so that they would meet in the middle then you are a military genius, okay, maybe not, but you’re right nonetheless.
Well the same technique can be used on the tumor, by putting small doses of radiation in multiple streams directed at the tumor so they all meet in the middle the tumor can be destroyed without destroying healthy tissue.So what’s my point? Look, I know it may feel stupid to take a philosophy course if you’re a mechanical engineering major. I know math feels irrelevant if you have decided that writing is your main career plan, but the skills you learn from any field of study could help you in your own field of study. There are connections everywhere and the skills that you learn anywhere could very well be useful somewhere down the road. The world is changing and jobs are changing, don’t lock yourself into something today when by tomorrow it will already be old news.