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16 November, 2008


The crux of the problem that humanity faces today is the failure to distinguish the intellect from intelligence. Even the educated are ignorant of the exact nature of the intellect. Much less do they realise the importance of its role in human life. And educators the world over have been focusing all their attention and effort in merely building intelligence. They have invested little thought or effort in developing the intellect. Consequently the human intellect remains completely neglected.

Intellect is Not Intelligence
Intelligence is built in an individual by gaining information, knowledge from external sources. From teachers and textbooks, from schools and universities and other information bureaux. Using those sources you become informed, knowledgeable, even brilliant in one or more subjects that you take up. Just think for a while. Try to understand what you have achieved. The intelligence that you have gained provides you with the means to make a living. No more. All creatures, save humans, need no education to make living. The carnivores and herbivores are naturally provided with this expertise. So are birds in the sky or fishes in the ocean. The human species alone requires some form of education to sustain itself. With knowledge acquired from external sources you only come up to the level of animals. Education has deteriorated to such an extent.

Distinct and different from intelligence is the intellect. Any amount of intelligence gained cannot per se build your intellect. Intelligence is acquired by you from external agencies much like data fed into a computer. All the information stored in a computer does not enable it to function independently. It cannot use that knowledge on its own. Likewise, you cannot use the knowledge gained without the help of your intellect. You need the intellect to think, plan and programme your life with the available knowledge. In the case of all other species save human, they are provided with a built-in-programme of life. Their lifestyle is fixed. They cannot live apart from their inherent nature. So they do not need to plan and programme their lives. They can do without an intellect to guide them moment to moment.

The intellect is the faculty to think, to reason, to judge, to decide on the pros and cons of life. The capacity to question, enquire and not to take anything for granted. You will have to develop your intellect all by yourself. No external agencies can achieve that for you. Do not blindly follow the line of your predecessors. Instead, build the strength of your own intellect. You can achieve that by using your ability to think, to reason, to question everything you meet in life. Do not accept anything which does not admit logic or reason. The constant exercise of thinking, reasoning, question all through your life would strengthen your intellect. Galilei Galileo, often referred to as the father of modern astronomy, wondered why humans have discarded this wondrous faculty they possess: I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended their use.

Intelligence Does not Develop Intellect
The capacity to absorb fresh knowledge is called udana in Sanskrit terms. This capacity is maximum at infancy. And it diminishes gradually as you grow older. In the passage of life this process of absorption helps you gain information, knowledge, intelligence. But the intelligence acquired does not make you think freely, originally, reason independently. Udana will not build the intellect. There is no cause and effect relationship between intelligence and intellect. Ironically, the entire focus throughout the world is to gain intelligence while the intellect remains poor as ever, undeveloped. Today it is all intelligence, no intellect.

That explains why out of millions of doctors turned out by medical schools only a few have proved to be outstanding, extraordinary in their research and findings. Who have discovered life-saving drugs or subtle techniques to transplant organs in a human body. So too out of countless engineers graduated from engineering schools only a few have produced wonders like the Panama Canal, Golden Gate Bridge or Euro Channel Tunnel. In the field of law again there are but a few prodigious lawyers who overshadow even the most reputed ones. The difference arises in the strength of intellect in the former which he latter, possessing abundant knowledge of law, lacks. To cite an example: In Chennai, India over seventy years back, the High Court was deciding a famous case on forgery. The defending lawyer defending the accused made an elaborated presentation covering practically all points of law. And when the opponent layer’s turn came up, he requested the judge to merely put up the original document against the light.

He beseeched, “Do you see a watermark in the document, my Lord?”
The justice cooperated, “Yes, I do see an elephant watermark.”
The lawyer rejoined, “This paper was manufactured in 1932.”
And the original document was dated 1930! Of course, he had earlier obtained the proof of it.

The above observations demonstrate the power of a developed intellect vis-à-vis intelligence, a mere stockpile of knowledge. All the intelligence that people carry without the intellect to apply it in life tantamounts to gold bars on a mule’s back. Again intellect, the steering wheel which controls and directs it. You will do well to make sure you have a power steering!

The faculty to think, to reason is a human prerogative. All other beings lack this faculty since they do not possess an intellect. The intellect renders a human being the chef d’ouevre of creation. But the world is unaware of this unique status. And people do not care to develop this life-sustaining, life-surpassing equipment, the intellect.

Also you fail to realise that thinking, reasoning is skilled work. That you need to learn and practice. Like playing the violin or golf. You believe that thinking is a natural process like seeing, hearing or breathing. That you can think clearly, precisely without putting in the necessary effort on your part. You must understand that to develop the faculty of thinking, reasoning you need to devote as much time and effort to it as you would to learning any other art or skill.

Need to Develop Intellect
For a long period of time there has been no awareness or endeavour by humans to develop the art of thinking. As a result the lives of people are based on groundless beliefs. And their beliefs rest on some absurd superstitions. Or mere assertions which bear no proof. And now they find it difficult to question their veracity.

Following this trend humanity has reached a perilous state. People must wake up. Realise the emergent need to develop, strengthen the intellect. The process of thinking should have started from an early age. Having failed to do so, at least start the process now. Develop the art of thinking. Follow it up with the study of the impeccable truths of life. Delve deep into the truths. Accept those that appeal to logic and reason. Apply them in practical living. Adopt this procedure all through life. It will enable you to build your intellect. Nobel laureate Albert Einstein has observed: Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.

Humans need a strong intellect to exercise the right choice of action in life. The world presents endless trials and tribulations. The human species alone is provided with an intellect to fight against and surmount mundane challenges. All other species, devoid of intellect, are helpless victims of the rigours of the external world. A powerful intellect helps humans overpower these onslaughts. But the role of the human intellect does not end there. Far above its suzerainty in the world the intellect has the unique capacity to even transcend the world and reach the ultimate state of spiritual Enlightenment. No other creature save humans can conceive, much less achieve that exalted state. You must make good use of the intellect to attain this very purpose of human birth.

Unaware of the dire need to build the intellect, people entertain themselves with merely reading others’ periodicals and publications. They indulge in the mere length of study. Just poring over pages of literature apathetic towards the message therein or its deeper implications if any. Rare indeed are the ones who go into the depth of study. Thus little is assimilated, absorbed by the readers. People have been mere educated robots for generations. And have been traversing through life without knowing the meaning and purpose of it. Like mariners who sail through the seven seas without fathoming the depth below. But the rare one who cares to know, drops the plumb line anywhere and instantly finds the depth. So too, one must use the intellect to go into the depth of one’s life to claim to be truly educated. It is the vertical and not the horizontal line of study that matters in life. Herbert Spencer, a thinker and write, was one such truly educated luminary. Someone had asked him if he was a voracious reader. He instantly quipped: No sir, if I were as big a reader as others, I would have been as big an ignoramus as others.

The world abounds in personalities with one-sided development. Intelligence and no intellect. An example of one such person suffering from this human imbalance is a renowned scientist. He is an alcoholic and his liver is damaged. He is extremely short tempered and his blood pressure has shot up. And he is stressed, unable to face even the petty challenges of the world. Just reflect over his state. Analyse his personality carefully. He is brilliant scientist with profound knowledge of his subject. He has acquired abundant intelligence but never cared to develop his intellect. His intellect has always remained weak. It lacks the strength to handle the multifarious demands of the mind. His mind craves for alcohol. His intellect is not powerful enough to control the nagging desire. So too his mind raves in foul temper. His poor intellect is unable to control its ravings. And when his mind is humiliated, strained and stressed by the problems confronting it, his frail intellect looks on helplessly.

On the contrary, there are luminaries possessing awesome intellects which hold their minds under perfect control. Some of them possess no academic qualification but academies are built around them.

Educational institutions therefore need to maintain an equable balance between acquisition of intelligence and developing an intellect.


From the Book on “THE FALL OF THE HUMAN INTELLECT” by A. Parthasarathy.

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