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Interview with J. P. Das
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I should say that intelligence is the sum total of all of cognitive processes. It entails planning, coding of information and attention, as well as arousal. Of these, the coding processes required for planning have a relatively higher status in intelligence. Planning is a broad term which includes, among other things, the generation of plans and strategies, selection from among available plans and the execution of plans. Within the connotation of planning I would include decision making. I think I should also add that in my view, knowing a lot of things is not the essence of intelligence. Rather I believe that the ability for discriminating thinking, or discriminating intelligence, is what makes a person intelligent.
Well, I know that— You know I grew up in India . Growing up in an ancient country like India , it was impossible to avoid thinking about intelligence. Why? Because scholarship, intelligence and wisdom were regarded as the hallmark of a human being. But at the same time it was not assumed that an illiterate person who has not gone to school must be dumb. Because you see that a large percentage of people in the traditional communities in India might have no formal schooling. My grandfather was one of those. But he was always regarded by his villagers as a wise man who came to help the local magistrate to make good decisions. So I thought that making decisions that would be good for the community was a mark of intelligence. Later on when I went to the university, I had a professor , Dr. Mohsin who had a Ph.D. in intelligence from Scotland , working with Godfrey Thompson. Thompson, as you know, was a pioneer in proposing multiple intelligence. I think Dr. Mohsin inspired me sufficiently to understand experimental psychology and introduced me to intelligence tests.
I was lucky to have Dr. Mohsin in India and then Professor Hans Eysenck , who was my Ph.D. supervisor at the Institute of Psychiatry , University of London . At the time of my doctoral studies I also met Professor Arthur Jensen, who was then a postdoctoral fellow with Esyenck . I remember having many discussions on intelligence and selection of students for entrance into various professional schools in America , on the basis of IQ. You know, I must say I was astounded by the assumption that IQ was something given, and could not have been improved through better education, social environments…great scholarly pursuits. In other words, it was a fixed idea of IQ that astounded me. I was a bit skeptical of course. In addition to this I was keenly aware of the culturally disadvantaged children in India , who were likely to drop out of school altogether by grade five. Later in my career I was much influenced by the work of A.R. Luria and Vygotsky . Their influences, as well as the influence of Dr. Mohsin and Professor Esyenck are apparent in my research and writing.
There are two disabilities that have fascinated me. One is mental retardation and the other is learning disability. When I started to investigate the effects of poverty and malnutrition on intellectual function, and when I attempted to understand the differences among the children with mental retardation, my interest in intelligence (arising out of neuropsychology and cognitive psychology) did influence my work. The variety of difficulties that the so-called learning disabled children experience in school could not be understood in terms of IQ. Thus, I had to use alternative models of intelligence to not only understand the difficulties, but also to formulate programs for enhancement of cognitive deficit that is associated with specific learning difficulties.
…I have come to believe increasingly in neuropsychological bases for our thoughts and feelings. The amazing tools for studying the brain that are available now have convinced me that we can indeed study the brain-mind functions. Although I myself am too old to be retrained in cognitive neuropsychology that uses brain imaging, I wish that in my next birth I would be able to pursue this field. The other core belief I have is that an individual's behavior needs to be understood in terms of his personality study and the social and cultural traditions in which he or she operates. So if anything, I have become less a vigorous scientist who can only trust and depend on conditions here and now for understanding behavior. Rather, I have gone back to be a naïve observer of human behavior in all its various aspects—behaviors that are rooted that are rooted in the history of the individual as well as of his culture.
…PASS stands for planning, attention/arousal, simultaneous and successive processing. We believe that it is a model theory of ability within the information processing framework. There are four cognitive processes that are associated with the functions of broad units in the brain. Of these, the processes associated with planning I believe are uniquely human. These frontal lobe processes have an important place among the functions—among the highest functions—of a human being. The Cognitive Assessment System, or CAS, is a standardized measure of the four cognitive processes. Of course you cannot capture the entire array of functions in the brain by the CAS, but nevertheless it is perhaps an acceptable measure of the four cognitive processes. It's different from existing standardized tests of IQ mainly because first, it's not an eclectic collection of questions that relate to school learning. Rather, it has a firm base on the major functions of the brain and assumes that an individual with mental retardation can have a variety of strengths and weaknesses in the PASS processes in spite of his lower level of functioning. Thus, a total CAS score which would be closest to an IQ score, may not provide a useful index of the individual's intellectual functions. Thus, when there is a disparity among the four different processes, the full scale score is more or less useless.
You may not believe this, but it was by chance that I heard about the University of Alberta (where I have been working for the last thirty years). One day I was sitting in my office at Utkal University in the tropical town of Bhubaneswar in the eastern part of India , when I received a letter from the University of Alberta asking me if I would be interested in a job at the new Centre for the Study of Mental Retardation. I looked up the map, wondering where Edmonton was. This started my tenure at the Centre of the Study of Mental Retardation as a research professor, then a director—a position I held for 22 years. And now the centre has been named after me, only because of the goodness of heart of people at this university. The name changed to Developmental Disabilities Centre a few years ago when we realized that our work was broader than mental retardation. The centre is an integral part of the university, essentially dedicated to research and activities that will promote social change—social change in relation to treating and understanding individuals with developmental disabilities. Thus, we at the centre are concerned with children and adults who have learning and reading problems, the effect of violence against individuals with developmental disabilities, as well as with the various practical measures including legislation for guaranteeing a fair deal for people with handicapping conditions. I must add that in this corner of the building where our centre is located we have enough activities to justify the production of several books, and our centre has attracted the attention of many international scholars. Our books have been translated into various languages, including Spanish, Finnish, Japanese, Greek and I think the two next languages to which our books and test will be translated are Chinese and Korean. Thus, although the centre is a small one, it has really been a hotbed of intellectual activity.
Yes. I think I'd like to comment on finding out the true score, which is the psychometricians' dream, and obliquely refer to how the world has changed since we quarreled about heredity and environment. As you know, the true score is usually obtained by innumerable, and I would emphasize innumerable, measures of a person's abilities. And then it's put into a hereditability equation and we are supposed to find out what proportion of variance is determined by heredity and what proportion of variance is determined by the environment. Galton started it all and suggested that there is a general intelligence that is based on inheritance. But we now know that the world has changed. There has been a paradigm shift. As people now realize that the vast majority of the world's children lack schooling and healthcare and have disrupted childhood due to wars and other disasters. I ask myself, and ask you, should science still look for the true score in intelligence testing or promote the human values of compassion and a lack of greed for an equitable distribution of intelligence? I will leave you with this thought.
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Last Modified: 20 January 2017