A Theory of Conceptual Intelligence:
Thinking, Learning, Creativity, and Giftedness


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In this book, Li argues that the precursors of human intelligence lie in the human language capacity and human mental ability. Evolutionary pressure favors the interaction between the symbolic world of language and the mental world, leading to the creation of concepts. The book proposes the notion of conceptual intelligence, that is, intelligence as a result of thinking and learning through concepts. Conceptual intelligence is the essence of human intelligence: it enables us to represent reality in concepts, to think and understand in concepts, to learn more efficiently and deeply in concepts, and subsequently create the human knowledge enterprise. The author traces the development of concepts, the growth of conceptual thought, and how conceptual thinking and conceptual learning make the human species intelligent and creative. There is a complex co-evolution between language and thought, and between thinking and learning.

One unifying theme across this book is that while lower animals can think and learn in rudimentary ways, what distinguishes us from them is our capacity for conceptual thinking and conceptual learning. With the advent of language and the subsequent growth of concepts, the human species slowly evolves to a new plateau unparalleled in intelligence with other species on this planet. By extending conceptual learning and conceptual thought to new frontiers, we see the development of creativity and giftedness. My conclusion is simple: Better thinking and more learning will make us intelligent. How to think better and what to learn to make us intelligent are important questions that require the effort of a whole generation of researchers. Fortunately we are already on our way to thinking skills (de Bono, 1986, 1992; Marzano, 1989), learning strategies (Pressley, 1990; Dryden & Vos, 1995) metacognition (Flavell, 1977), metacurriculum (Perkins, 1992) and metalearning (Novak & Gowin, 1984; Li, 1995b).