Brilliant: The New Science of Smart

A major new contribution to the intelligence debate, with a radically hopeful message: intelligence can be acquired.

Can people become smarter?

Most of us would answer this question with a regretful “no.” We subscribe to what might be called the stork theory of intelligence: the smarts you were endowed with when you were delivered to your parents are the smarts you’ve got for life.

Evidence of this belief is everywhere. We talk about individuals as if they’re either smart or they’re not: “She’s a really bright kid.” “He’s just not that sharp.” Schools designate special classes, or even entire programs, for the “gifted.” If the stork supplied you with a gift, good for you; if not, too bad. Companies wage a “war for talent,” trying to lure the clever and the few away from other firms and even from other countries.

We act, in short, as if intelligence is a scarce commodity, as if there’s only so much smart to go around. But in this assumption, we are exactly wrong. Intelligence is a renewable resource. We can make more.

This is the overwhelming conclusion of two decades of research in cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience, as documented in a stunning new book by the acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul. Brilliant is the first book to present compelling evidence that intelligence can be acquired—and to show readers precisely how to go about becoming smarter, with lab-tested exercises, eye-opening explanations, and persuasive examples from real-life schools and workplaces.

In Brilliant, Paul explains how intelligence emerges from a set of cognitive capacities, physical conditions, and social relations—and how all of these can be managed in ways that maximize mental acuity. She reveals why most of the advice we receive about using our minds is off-base, and why our own judgments about the best ways to learn, understand, and remember are usually wrong. In place of our misguided intuitions, she offers empirically-proven techniques for enhancing the brain’s biological functioning, for manipulating our environments to evoke intelligence, and for circumventing limits on cognitive performance that were once thought to be be insuperable.

As the evidence scrupulously documented in Brilliant shows, the expandability of intelligence is now an established fact, and it changes everything. It means we can make ourselves, and our children, smarter. It means our schools can impart not only knowledge and skills, but intelligence itself to our students. And it means that our companies can enhance the brainpower of the workers they already employ.

Today, if we want to be smarter, science can help. Not with abstract theories, but with practical steps we can take right now. Not with “smart drugs,” not with intensive training, but with straightforward exercises we can do ourselves—on our own, and with our kids, our students or our team. Today, we can all take advantage of the new science of smart.

Rigorously argued and accessibly written, Brilliant is the most exciting entry in the field since Daniel Goleman’s exposition of emotional intelligence and Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. It is poised to have a comparable impact on education, the workplace, and on the culture at large. In our increasingly complex and fast-changing world, it’s vital that all of us expand our intelligence—as individuals, as workers, as citizens. With the help of Brilliant, we can.

Brilliant: The New Science of Smart will arrive in bookstores on April 8, 2014.