Intelligence. What is it?

I’m reading the book Scientology, a New Slant on Life, for the first time in 30 years. This book, by L. Ron Hubbard, was recently re-released, with typographical and other errors cleaned up; all the basic books of Scientology were gone through carefully, compared closely against the original author’s manuscripts so as to make them exactly correct as they were originally written, and reissued. It was big news for Scientologists. Over the years many typographical errors had crept into the published books. I had found some differences myself between versions of the books published in England and those published in the US, so it was good to see these resolved. I’ve read through most of the newly released books and I’m just finishing up the last ones.

This particular book is full of useful info. In the chapter about handling confusions of the workaday world (a phrase which invokes in me some nostalgia for the simplicity of the 1950’s work culture in America), Hubbard says:

Confusion is uncertainty. Confusion is stupidity. Confusion is insecurity. When you think of uncertainty, stupidity and insecurity, think of confusion and you’ll have it down pat.

What, then is certainty? Lack of confusion. What, then is intelligence? Ability to handle confusion. What, then, is security? The ability to go through or around or to bring order to confusion. Certainty, intelligence and security are lack of or ability to handle confusion.

He also gives the handling for confusion, which is very simple.

I’ve never looked at intelligence that way, as being the “ability to handle confusion.”


When I was young, my step-father was a man of above-average intelligence, who prided himself on having gone to college on the GI Bill after serving in Korea. He practically worshiped the books he had collected; a small library of texts on all manner of his interests, mostly classics of English literature, but he was also an amateur geologist so had various college-level texts on that subject. He subscribed to Scientific American and struggled through its articles every month when it arrived. He had confused, to some degree, education with intelligence. He had moderate amounts of both.

Looking at him with this new definition of intelligence, I’d have to say he was also pretty good at handling confusions.

When I was about 12, on his day off, he brought me with him to the plywood factory where he was a foreman, and I noticed that there was a very large puddle of water on one of the big concrete work floors where the men were walking back and forth, and where the forklift was stacking up plywood. It was a safety hazard to have all that water where it wasn’t supposed to be. This puddle had been around for months; it wasn’t drying up or going away. I heard him talking about it with the on-duty foreman. So I spent a few minutes while he was busy, simply looking at the many pipes that ran up and over the workspace. Some pipes held live steam, some held hot or cold water, some were for the fire-suppression sprinklers, and some were electrical conduits that just encased wires to protect them. It was all very dirty, with years of accumulated sawdust and grime covering pretty much everything. It was a jumble and not easy to trace what was what. (On a ship it would have been color-coded with arrows painted to indicate direction of flow, but this was a 1960’s era plywood plant, which had been built “fast and dirty”.)

The puddle centered around a water faucet that didn’t drip most of the time, but would occasionally gush water. The faucet appeared to NOT be leaking. If you turned the main water valve on, and turned that faucet off, nothing came out. If you turned it on, and the main water valve for the system was also turned on, water would run out of it. I’d seen my step-father standing there with the other foremen in front of that faucet, scratching their heads, trying to trace the pipes and see where the leak was coming from. The problem was that when the MAIN water valve was turned OFF, it would sometimes gush water from it anyway, for no apparent reason.

It was a confusion.

The pipe for that faucet went up and over a wall, and came down outside some distance away where there was another faucet the workmen used when they went off-shift to clean their boots and gloves and wash up before going home. I went outside and opened that faucet, and it started sucking air into it. Ah, the pipe was acting as siphon between the two faucets!

I went back inside and sure enough, the main water valve was turned off, but the inside faucet was turned on and was now leaking. I went back outside and shut off the outer faucet. Went back inside and observed — no leak. As long as the faucet outside was turned off, no air could get into the system and it didn’t let the water in the siphon run down into the shop floor. Every day, when the workmen were all outside cleaning up at end of shift, they turned on the main water valve, then the outside faucet, which filled the pipe again.

I explained what I had figured out to my step-dad, who ran the same checks on the pipes himself, smacked his forehead, and explained it to the other foreman. If they just kept both faucets turned off when not actually being used, it would never leak.

That incident at the plywood plant points up the strained relationship with my step-dad. He saw the books I read; I devoured his own library, and the local County library, skipped a grade in school, and had the highest Minnesota Multiphasic standardized tests of any kid in Oregon.

He wasn’t jealous or envious of his step-son’s intelligence, but he was very wary of it. I think it made him uncomfortable; he had been used to being the brightest light in the room.

If he’d been just a little brighter, he’d have figured out how to help me graduate from high school at age 14, and how to get into a good college. But we were both stumped by that one. The educational system at that time didn’t seem to allow it.

Not that being intelligent got me any favors at that tender age — I was bullied mercilessly at school, being a year younger than everyone else; the result of skipping a grade. The teachers and principal also rode me hard, figuring anything less than perfect scores meant I was slacking off, which was to some degree true.

When young, I was a sponge — I could read practically anything, soak up any material they threw at me and spit it back at them on any test. It helped that I had an eidetic memory and could “see” with my mind’s eye the text on any pages I’d studied. I lost that ability for a while when they forced a primitive form of “speed reading” on me, but I got it back later.

But that wasn’t what made me FEEL intelligent — it was the ability to handle confusion. Which was an ability I had in abundance at that young age, but which ability the rest of my education only dulled with false data, through creating uncertainty, and by instilling insecurity.

By the end of one year of college I had gone from someone with complete certainty on what I knew (and didn’t know) and near-perfect SAT scores, to being someone spinning with confusion. It took a couple of years to get my certainty back, but I did. I spent the next year as a ship’s carpenter, making things with my hands. It was honest work, and helped me focus on the real world.

For me, my purpose in getting an education was to be able to handle the confusions of life. And for me, college merely created more confusions — it didn’t help at all with the basic problems of a serious young man: how to find the right mate, how to raise a family, how to succeed at a job, or even more basic, how to actually talk to people. To find answers to those questions, to gain the skills so I could handle those confusions, I had to look elsewhere.

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