To be intellectually overexcitable according to Dabrowski’s theory of Overexcitabilities is to love an intellectual challenge and to be driven to solve problems, ask probing questions, and engage in theoretical anaylsis.
This weekend, my parents and I had a conversation that demonstrated how these intellectual passions can manifest themselves. Between us, we have 7 degrees from Oxford, Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, London School of Economics, and the University of Sussex. I expect our average IQ is at least 140. My mother relaxes by doing the most difficult cryptic crossword puzzles she can find. I also love puzzles. When my mother and I took up Sudoku, my father became interested in questions like ‘How many Sudoku puzzles are there with only one solution?” It is a family with intellectual overexcitabilities.
Last weekend, the three of us took my four kids to the Ontario Science Centre. The Ontario Science Centre is large, busy, and loud. Before the kids could settle into exploring any one activity, they had to adjust to the crowds and the volume. They rushed through the building without seeming to take anything in. Eventually we arrived at a contained area with familiar exhibits and they began to relax.
From here, the adults tempted them into new areas where they spent time interacting with new exhibits. Eventually, they absorbed all that they could take and started running around again. This was our cue to finish up and make our way to the car.
I was exhausted, having spent four hours counting children, confirming my parents could see the ones I couldn’t, and managing my own sensitivities to the fluorescent lights and the volume. The children were drained and zoned out for the drive home, watching the world pass by at highway speed, and hardly talking. If I had been the only adult in the car, I would have driven meditatively, focusing only on the driving, relaxing into the present moment, and enjoying the silence from the back seats.
But, I was not alone.
My father remarked that the Science Centre doesn’t reflect his definition of “science,” and we were off. I was re-energized. The adults in the car dove into a passionate conversation involving these topics:
- What understanding of science is embedded in the design of the Science Centre?
- Is the Science Centre’s purpose to teach science or to stimulate interest?
- How did we learn science?
- What is my father’s definition of science?
- Does defining science as “a body of knowledge based on evidence and models” sufficiently encompass our understanding of scientific methodologies or must acceptable forms of evidence be defined?
- How does one teach methods of scientific research?
- Why are high school laboratory curricula frustrating to bright students interested in science?
- What sort of data did we falsify for lab reports in high school when our experiments didn’t work as expected, but we knew what the results should have been?
- Did the science curriculum we had as students give short shrift to engineering?
- How are science and engineering different?
- How do visits to the Science Centre fit into a homeschooler’s science curriculum?
The conversation was fast and emotionally charged. The most in-depth part of the discussion focused on the definition of science, and we did not settle the question of whether one could simply mention evidence and models or whether one had to define what constituted acceptable evidence and models.
We concluded that the design of the exhibits we had seen reflected a focus on engineering, not science; playing with the exhibits could teach concepts of repeatability and variation while encouraging the kids to explore and ask questions; teaching scientific methods in school is difficult to do well; and the Science Centre is good for encouraging kids to experiment, notice patterns, and ask questions, but isn’t sufficient as a science curriculum.
30 minutes after my father’s initial comment, we pulled off the highway, and the conversation shifted to other topics, like what to have for dinner.
This is typical of conversations within my family: intellectual, passionate, reasoned, and covering a wide variety of related topics. We can’t let a topic go. When someone wonders aloud why something is the way it is or how it might be different, we have an almost obsessive need to investigate.
And that is Intellectual Overexcitability in Action.