Intelligence versus Knowledge

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

A few months ago, I took part in a job interview. During said interview, the committee asked me a rather absurd question, i.e. “How would I feel interacting with people who are smarter than me?” The basic premise being the job required interacting with college faculty, who all had earned a PhD. As I only had a master’s degree, I therefore possessed less intelligence than the professors.

I did not receive a job offer, somewhat because I do not think a PhD makes someone smarter or more intelligent than anyone else. All a PhD signifies perseverance and an abundance of knowledge in one specific subject area. Knowledge and intelligence are not synonymous with one another.

According to Merriam-Webster, knowledge is “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” The ability to “know” a subject does not bestow intelligence. Yes, it requires a baseline level of brain power to comprehend knowledge, but knowing facts and figures does not make one intelligent.

Intelligence remains a difficult concept to measure. Despite the numerous IQ tests and measures that proliferate the market, measuring intelligence remains elusive. At the most basic definition, intelligence is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Human intelligence differs from animal intelligence. Mankind can think, reason, make logical deductions, and learn from past failures. Animals rely on instinct. Furthermore, animals lack the capacity to acquire knowledge.

How precisely does intelligence and knowledge fit together? You need some level of intelligence to learn about the world. But acquiring knowledge does not make you intelligent. If you cannot comprehend the information or apply what you have learned, then you did not truly acquire any knowledge.

One misconception I have noticed is that people assume that because someone possesses a PhD, this somehow bestows upon them a higher level of intelligence. This opinion is flawed. Just because someone is specialized and talented in one specific subject matter does not mean they will thrive in another area. Doctors of Philosophy in Mathematics rarely teach comparative literature. Someone can accumulate an impressive list of academic achievements and credentials and still not know how to turn up to work on time or how to function in a non-academic society. Comparing intelligence with knowledge is like comparing apples and oranges, they mean different things.

Overall, do I think someone with a PhD is smarter than me? No. Do I concede that they possess a deeper knowledge base than me? Yes.

What do you all think? How would you respond to the question, “How do you feel about working with people who are smarter than you?”