Thought Leadership

Dimensionally intelligent

By Colin Walls

I have often mused on what constitutes intelligence. We all know people who are, perhaps, academically brilliant, but useless at practical matters. Another person may possess an intuitive understanding of, say, machines, but be barely literate. IQ is not really a measure of anything useful. Even though I get a high IQ score, I do not really regard it as a test of anything more meaningful than my ability to do IQ tests, as I mentioned a while back when talking about mind mapping.

I think that the best definition of intelligence that I have come across is that it is the ability to connect ideas …

So, an intelligent person can see the connection between two ideas or concepts that is not apparent to a lesser mortal. The more intelligent the person, the more disparate may be the ideas that they can connect. It is interesting how often that the flashes of inspiration, which seem to occur to people of true genius, are really just the result of making such connections.

I am sure that there are many geniuses in the world, but there are a few who have my attention. The late Douglas Adams was surely a genius with enormous imagination. He foresaw the iPad, Wikipedia and the Internet in the 1970s with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Nowadays, I follow the work of Scott Adams (who I do not believe is related to Douglas). Apart from being the author of the Dilbert cartoon, he writes a lot about his ideas and unique take on the world.

Another genius candidate is the author of XKCD, the only other cartoon that I follow. He also writes a “What if?” blog, where he addresses issues in a very individual way and brings together a lot of knowledge and creativity. For example, he recently showed a unique way to look at vehicle fuel consumption …

In the US and UK we talk in terms of miles per gallon (MPG), where we are always looking at the biggest value. In most other countries they turn it around and specify litres per 100 kilometre, where smaller numbers are the goal, which makes some sense intuitively as a small number implies lower fuel consumption. These units are interesting, as a litre is a unit of volume and this is divided by a unit of length, which would yield a unit of area. I have to say that I did not see that coming.

I will work through an example. My car often yields 50MPG (that is UK gallons; in the US it would be 40MPG). That is 80Km per 4.5 litres, which comes out to 5.625 litres per 100Km. This, in turn, is 0.005625 cubic metres per 100,000 metres or 0.00000005625 square meters, which is 0.05625 square millimetres. Does this number have any physical significance? Yes. If you stretched out all the fuel that I use for a journey into a long thread, this would be its cross-sectional area.

I wish that I had been intelligent enought to figure that out.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at