Observe without judgment

The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgment.

This quote of Jiddu Krishnamurti, which I got from the book Nonviolent Communication, seems to directly contradict my post Defining “smart”, where I argue smartness is a process of judging. Is this a paradox?

Perhaps a better definition of intelligence is a two-step process. The first is to observe without judgment, and the next is to apply judgment among possible responses to the observation, invoking a quote from Hadarmard’s The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field:

To invent is to choose.

Some examples:

  • From Nonviolent Communication, the context is that an intelligent communicator is able to non-judgmentally observe the feelings of oneself and others and then choose an empathetic response.
  • A typical design process is to brainstorm while deferring judgment, followed by a critical synthesizing.
  • A good way to learn to draw is being able to observe without invoking iconography (a form of judgment). As you develop as a component drawer, you become an artist by choosing what to observe and draw (perhaps “observing” from your mind’s eye).
  • A mathematician may observe a mathematical object before attempting to judge the correctness of a property.
  • The scientific method is first to observe without bias, then to judge the validity of hypotheses.

From my previous “smart” post, it’s clear I find intelligence in the act of analyzing and choosing. I believe observation is not a trivial step and can be at least as challenging.

I have experience with observing to draw. Techniques (which you can learn about in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) like drawing upside-down, blind contour drawing, and observing negative space require a great deal of focus and mental energy. Likewise meditation is a focus on observing your breath or body and is very challenging–one is constantly fighting off distracting and judgmental thoughts. In fact with meditation the act of observation itself can lead to healing of physical discomfort, as described from a skeptic’s perspective in Teach Us to Sit Still.

Finally, what about another possible step to intelligence: generating ideas? Isn’t the design process example about generation and creativity rather than observation? It’s subtle but I’d argue that you observe what comes to mind rather than doing generation yourself. Going back to Hadamard, he notes that mathematicians generally make breakthroughs after taking their mind away from the problem. The answer comes in a flash, and the mathematician merely observes it.