Friday, December 23, 2005

Intelligence isn't everything

Years (and years) ago, I was president of the Prometheus Society, one of those tiny up-above-Mensa IQ groups with a supposed cutoff of 164 IQ. (No, I don’t think my IQ actually is that high. I think I’m closer to 150 and fluked in). We wrote articles on everything in the monthly newsletter Gift of Fire and argued the points – sort of a slow-moving, proto-blogosphere in the late 80’s. All you folks who think that the world would be better if the smart people were in charge – drop that idea. I have never interacted with a group that had screwier ideas, listened less, or postured more. Everyone arrived with the idea at long last, people I can reason with, but the discussions were as petty and unreasonable as everywhere else. Higher vocabulary and more formulas, same arguments.

There were a few genuinely wise and reasonable people there, but the overriding tendency was to take a principle and apply it so rigorously as to remove it from realistic context. I likened it at the time to getting a screw cross-threaded, but forcing it in anyway. These people had the raw brain power, the g-factor, the density of glial cells to force a bad idea to its conclusion, and the result wasn’t pretty. There was an Asperger-y quality to every discussion, a sense that it mattered greatly whether something was called blue-green vs. teal. You don’t want your new masters to have Asperger’s. Trust me here, people. I’ve had a very charming, witty boss with Asperger’s before. It’s hellish.

I liken intelligence in the limited sense to height in basketball. Height helps. Everyone would like a little more. But the greatest players are not always the tallest, because other factors become ascendent after a certain minimum. How determined are you? How well do you mesh with others? How fast are you, how coordinated, how intuitive, how well-coached?

Things seem to run better when the folks with SAT’s 1200-1400 are running things.


Ben Wyman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ben Wyman said...

Oh, good. No one will expect me to run anything. That's a relief. Honestly.

Anonymous said...

1200-1400 huh? Is this before or after the masters of planet ed recalibrated the SAT to include actual verbal skills? I assume that you mean before. I think you are right. I expect to be sworn in any day now.
"duhhh, what are we gonna to tonight Brain?"
"The same thing we do every night,Pinky -- try to take over the world.
-- Duhbadee

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Okay, it's not automatic, friend. Don't start designing your foreign policy yet.
But we could do worse, y'know? The Europeans, and the English especially, have a system that divides the Really Smart Folks (Registereed TM) from the Regular Jans and Juanitas early on in school. An improvement would be that if you score OVER 1400 (or 1350 old style, as you note), you go into a category where the 1200-1400's -- the people most likely to understand what the hell you're up to -- check up on you from time to time to see if you've produced any ideas worth shipping out to the masses. In theory, it makes sense. It's not the people with no smarts who rule the world, but the people who know that they're pretty good but not infallible. And it takes the above 1400's, who don't think they need to listen to anyone else, out of the decision-making forum and into the advising forum.

Steve Burri said...

You are evil. You are not encouraging us dumb people to hand over all reins of power over to our betters.

Luke Lea said...

Lubos Motl, the brainiest guy I know, doubts IQ can be measured to any meaningful agree above 150-160, after which the proof is in the pudding. Personally I wouldn't know being I suspect a standard deviation below the cutoff. And that was a long time ago!