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Intelligence and Thought: Unraveling the Dichotomy

“Intelligence has nothing whatsoever to do with thought.”

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

The statement “Intelligence has nothing whatsoever to do with thought” attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti, a renowned philosopher, spiritual leader, and author, provokes an intriguing discussion about the nature and relationship of intelligence and thought (Krishnamurti, 1966). To many, this claim may appear paradoxical, given the common perception that intelligent individuals are prolific thinkers. However, this statement invites us to challenge such conventional views and explore alternative interpretations of both terms.

Philosophically speaking, thought is often linked to the mind’s cognitive activities – the process of receiving, processing, and interpreting information. It enables reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving, all of which are commonly associated with intelligence (Sternberg, 1997). However, according to Krishnamurti’s worldview, thought, defined as a psychological process linked to past experiences and memories, is inherently limited and incapable of completely capturing the totality of intelligence (Krishnamurti, 1966).

In this context, intelligence is not considered as a quantifiable metric based on cognitive capacities but rather as an expansive, living force beyond the boundaries of cognitive thought. Krishnamurti implies that genuine intelligence emerges when the mind is free from the constraints of thought – free from preconceived notions, patterns of the past, and fixed ideas (Krishnamurti, 1966).

The Constraints of Thought

Thoughts are inherently rooted in our past experiences and knowledge. They are the product of our personal history, our social conditioning, our memory (Dennett, 1991). This mechanism of thought is critical to our survival as it provides us with a framework for understanding and responding to the world around us based on past experiences. However, according to Krishnamurti, this very nature of thought restricts our ability to perceive the world with absolute clarity and freshness (Krishnamurti, 1966).

Additionally, thought is associated with our ego, our personal identity. We use thought to maintain a sense of continuity, to construct narratives about ourselves and the world (Gazzaniga, 1985). This cognitive process often leads to subjectivity, bias, and fixed beliefs that limit our perspective and the breadth of our understanding. Hence, thought can confine us within its boundaries, preventing us from transcending our preconceived notions.

Moreover, thoughts are time-bound. They reside in the realms of the past and the future and rarely in the present. Living in the thought-made reality often disconnects us from the immediate, unmediated experience of the present moment, which Krishnamurti perceives as a state of intelligence (Krishnamurti, 1966).

Intelligence: A State of Freedom

Krishnamurti defines intelligence as a state of mind that transcends the barriers of thought, leading to a sense of absolute freedom (Krishnamurti, 1966). This idea of intelligence resembles the Eastern spiritual traditions’ concept of mindfulness or presence, where one observes the world without judgment or interpretation (Kabat-Zinn, 1990).

In this state of intelligence, the mind perceives reality without the filter of thought. It responds to situations spontaneously, not based on past memories or future anticipations, but on the immediate reality of the present. This spontaneous response, driven by an all-encompassing awareness, is, according to Krishnamurti, the expression of intelligence.

Krishnamurti’s intelligence also aligns with the state of ‘flow’ described by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In this state, individuals exhibit heightened focus, creativity, and optimal performance without conscious thought or effort, signifying a kind of intelligence that operates beyond cognitive thought processes (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

Reevaluating Intelligence and Thought: A Harmonious Coexistence

Krishnamurti’s perspective provides a valuable counterpoint to traditional views on intelligence and thought. His claim invites us to explore intelligence beyond the confines of thought, expanding our understanding of human cognitive capacity. However, it does not necessarily negate the value of thought or suggest that thought and intelligence cannot coexist harmoniously.

Intelligence, as traditionally defined, is vital for various cognitive tasks, problem-solving, and decision-making, which require a certain level of thought. Simultaneously, the type of intelligence Krishnamurti describes opens us to novel insights, creativity, and holistic understanding that thought-based intelligence may overlook.

Therefore, rather than viewing thought and intelligence as mutually exclusive entities, we may consider them as different facets of human cognition. Each has its unique value and place in our understanding of ourselves and the world. Balancing both forms of intelligence – the thought-based and the thought-free – could potentially lead to a richer, more comprehensive way of engaging with life.


  • Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
  • Gazzaniga, M. S. (1985). The social brain: Discovering the networks of the mind. New York, NY, US: Basic Books.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Delacorte Press.
  • Krishnamurti, J. (1966). The impossible question. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Thinking styles. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row

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