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Jerry Martin: Fluid intelligence and Sudoku


For about 60 years I have been fascinated with psychology. I believe that the brains of all humans make us special and dominant on Earth. I believe God gave us these brains to eventually, over many millennia, develop a peaceful, loving, creative, progressive environment.

Earth potentially will become a habitat in which all life thrives together. But only if we humans collectively use our brains optimally.

We are making progress by slowly eliminating practices like slavery, racial and religious discrimination, misogyny and violence, including war, for example, but we obviously have a long way to go.

Many psychologists have studied human behavior controlled by our brains. They have written in simple enough language expressing theories that are understood by the common human, including me. Howard Gardner gave us multiple intelligences. Daniel Goleman wrote about emotional intelligence, Eric Berne gave us transactional analysis. And William Glasser produced choice theory.

But the study that most explains the particular advantage of Sudoku as a tool to train logical development was produced by Raymond Cattell and his adherent, John Horn. These psychologists theorized that every human has two different intelligences, fluid and crystalized, though of different amounts. Most activities require both intelligences.

Crystallized intelligence is mostly learned in school and from books and repetitive activities such as riding a bicycle and washing dishes. Memorizing the multiplication table and alphabet would be crystallized intelligence. Learning dates of events, names of famous people, lyrics of songs and the Pledge of Allegiance would all be crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is different. This is the intelligence that we use when logically solving a new, unfamiliar problem or providing a creative solution to a difficulty. Applying logic to relevant information by using fluid intelligence is what allowed the Wright brothers to build the first heavier than air vehicle (airplane) in 1903. Studying birds, they realized the distance air travels over wings is greater than the distance air travels under wings. This produced less air pressure above than below, producing lift, which enables flight. All wings are designed on this principle, which was understood with fluid intelligence. Until then this concept was not in books or schools or previous human experience.

Every subject has elements of who, what, when, where, why and how. Who, what, when and where are subjects that crystallized intelligence mostly considers. Liberal arts subjects primarily teach crystallized intelligence. Why and how are in the domain of fluid intelligence. Math and science develop fluid intelligence.

To create a new solution to a problem, we must utilize our fluid intelligence. Some people, the more creative among us, have strong fluid intelligence and are better at solving problems and creating successful solutions.

Studying math and science trains us to develop logical thinking skills. Mathematicians and scientists develop fluid intelligence while learning these subjects. They also employ their crystallized intelligence when learning previously established facts and formulas, cause and effect.

Sudoku also teaches fluid intelligence by requiring the same problem solving processes about 50 times each puzzle. To solve Sudoku puzzles, one must first recognize what information is relevant. A solver must never guess and must always withhold judgment until enough information is available. These are cause and effect simplified. Pattern recognition is important, too. And understanding that 100% accuracy is always required, which emphasizes the value of truth.

The basic skills of fluid intelligence are all developed by doing Sudoku puzzles repeatedly. Over time a Sudoku solver will incorporate fluid intelligence into their repertoire of cognitive abilities. Sudoku is an informal practice available outside academia that trains fluid intelligence but not crystallized intelligence. Sudoku is a shortcut for training fluid intelligence that bypasses the necessity for science and math courses which don’t appeal to all humans and are unavailable to many.

Sudoku can be done alone outside school by a wide variety of humans. All ages, both genders, all languages and nationalities can develop fluid intelligence by solving Sudokus. Sudoku is practical, being cheap, available and able to be done almost anywhere anytime. While valuable in U.S. schools, it’s perfect in third world countries where many children have limited schooling opportunities.

While I’ve emphasized Sudoku’s benefits for children, it’s also wonderful for prisoners and seniors for developing self-esteem, ameliorating boredom and preventing dementia.

Educators need to seriously consider the advantages of adding this practical tool for training valuable fluid intelligence. Sudoku is a low tech tool to train brain gain.

For more information visit: http://www.sudokuasateachingtool.org.

Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.


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