The Genius and The Hard Worker; How to Gauge Intelligence and Why One Isn’t as “Smart” as They Think They are, With Help From the Good Will Hunting

Starring Matt Damon in the titular role, Good Will Hunting tells the story of a Bostonian mathematical genius working as a full time janitor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The premise is quite fascinating, and though it was originally penned as a thriller by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who also co-stars as Hunting’s best friend Chuckie), the studio financing the film managed to convince the two budding writers/actors/directors/Hollywood megastars to accept the changes to their original script, and create a story about a genius who, due to a brutal childhood spent between homes, decides to ignore his intellect and pursue a life of mental nihilism.

A poignant scene has Damon reveal that his life’s goal is to stay in the neighbourhood he shares with his intellectually-lacking friend, grow up and most likely have kids, whom he plans on taking to baseball games, effectively spending his future eroding himself of any purpose for both himself, and his brain. The details of the scene are trivial, since the main point of it all is to have Chuckie threaten Hunting’s life to insure that the latter makes the right choice, and pursue a meaningful application to his intellect, and a romance that had recently failed. Chuckie puts the situation into perspective by revealing that each morning he drives up to Will’s home, he hopes that Hunting will have left the neighbourhood. Strong emphasis is put on Chuckie’s hope that Hunting won’t even announce his departure.

The film spends a lot of time exploring the psychological scars parenting, or a lack thereof, can leave on an individual, and the majority of the film’s run time is spent exploring the family Will forms with a fellow genius (but unequally gifted) mathematics professor (played by Stellan Skarsgard) and a community college psychology professor, played by Robin Williams, who grew up in the same neighbourhood as Hunting, and experienced almost identical emotional trauma in order to protect his mother and sister. Interestingly, I noticed that not very much time is spent on the fact that given the similar circumstances, Williams’ character had the possibility of becoming like Hunting, though this is a minor detail that does little to take away from the entire plot.

The two father figures are juxtaposed, with the mathematics professor pushing the boy into making the right decision to further his education and revolutionize almost all fields of mathematics, and the psychology professor aiming to neutralize the pain Hunting feels. Both parties are aware of Hunting’s intellect, and both feel the importance of having it expanded and utilized, because both are aware of the importance of having such a natural gift.

It is essential to understand that an intellect like Will Hunting’s does not merely exist in popular culture. While the “Genius-level intellect” trope is repeatedly played, with varying degrees of effectiveness, in movies and television (in addition to being featured in almost every manga, or comic book), it’s existence is not restrained to these mediums. It must be understood that, yes, geniuses exist, and, yes, their potential to expand the recesses of human understanding is awe-inspiring. That being said, determining true genius in the real world is entirely dependent on their subject of interest. An artistic genius might not have the same abilities with mathematics, and their understanding of string theory could be nonexistent. The same can be said for any scientific genius; just because one is capable of rationalizing super string theory, there is no rule stating that they must also be capable to constructing a sculpture, or composing a beautiful piece of music, or even putting ink to paper without completely eviscerating the brush.

Therefore, despite the truth that geniuses exist, the question always becomes, how does one gauge and determine intelligence? Disregarding subjective genius entirely, how does one gauge the intelligence of another person? To what degree can a person safely state that a person is dumb, or intellectually lacking?

I must immediately remove grades from the equation because, based on the current educational model that is used in most Canadian elementary, middles, and secondary schools, grades are not an efficient indication of intelligence, but merely an indication of work ethic. University is an almost different matter entirely, and grades can be used to gauge a person’s intelligence there; so it would seem until one realizes that even in university, work ethic carves the way to good grades. Certainly, in both cases, there will be exceptions – students who work incredibly hard to achieve nothing, and students who barely work and achieve everything.

Exceptions will always apply, though it can be said with a strong value of certainty that work ethic determines good grades and, therefore, grades do not determine how smart a person is.

Next, I must eliminate vocabulary indefinitely. Being verbose and eloquent, while intellectually sub-par certainly doesn’t guarantee an intelligent association. Merely being able to string together words and phrases is a sign of lingual capability, and though one might believe that acquiring a large verbal pallet is a sign of an almost higher echelon of thought, the truth is not always so. In summation, a big vocabulary does not mean a big intellect. I must also mention that speaking multiple languages can be considered a sign of intellect, with the only restriction being that a person must be able to speak these multiple languages fluently. They are allowed some mistakes here and there, as we are all allowed, but they must be capable of maintaining a conversation in these other languages that graduate to anything more than supplementary pleasantries.

I’m more than capable of enquiring into the details of a person’s day in Japanese, though I certainly wouldn’t be able to understand their response.

Grades and large vocabularies must be eliminated, in addition to supplementary lingual skills, though it can be said that being able to speak multiple languages fluently is a sign (but not a guarantee) of intelligence. Grades are actually meaningless outside of academia, so they definitely can’t be used as intellectual placeholders.

Quite frankly, I have no idea what makes a person smart or dumb, and when it comes to judging and gauging a person’s intelligence, I’m left flustered. As far as I can tell, there is only one real measure of a person’s intelligence; disregarding the schools they have attended, the honours they have been bestowed, the money they make, the car they drive, the house they own, the significant others they are associated with, and their parents, there is really only one real way to gauge a person’s intelligence, and it’s through the things they say.

Even then, the results are subjective, but, regardless of how “Smart,” a person might really be, if they’re incapable of maintaining a coherent conversation, that’s as smart as they will appear to you, their judge and jury.

Of course, there is one more, fairly reasonable, measure, and it’s what a person does. Good Will Hunting plays with this repeatedly, through the characters of Skylar (played relatively well by Minnie Driver), Professor Lambeau (Skarsgard’s character), and Will Hunting.

When compared to each other, they are wildly different; Professor Lambeau and Skylar both openly admit to being intellectually inferior to Will, though the audience is left to wonder who the smarter character is – the mathematical genius working as a janitor, the future med student who has difficulty grasping organic chemistry, or the mathematics professor who is repeatedly bested by a 20-year old, who has also won the mathematical equivalent to the Nobel Prize. The answer is obvious, because, when intellect is gauged, and compared to achievement, future achievement, and quality of life, Will Hunting is not the smartest character. In fact, he is one of the least intelligent characters in the film; he is repeatedly given opportunities to produce a positive outcome in his life, and he refuses them continuously. Certainly, I believe that this is the best gauge of a person’s intelligence – the outcomes they produce given their limitations.

The real gauge for intelligence is broken, and horribly skewed towards those with genuinely large intellects and, if used to gauge the majority of the world, would reveal that not everyone is as smart as they would hope. The real gauge for intelligence isn’t how “Smart” a person is, or how “Smart” other people think they are; the real gauge for intelligence is how far a person goes based on the limitations they have been “Burdened” with.

The genius drop-out will always be intellectually superior to the hard worker who needs to spend hours understanding their coursework but, despite what the former might say, the latter will be the “Smarter” of the two. The fact of the matter is that we are never as “Smart” as we believe, but we certainly aren’t as “Dumb” either.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

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