Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Smart, Wealthy, Athletic – A Digression on IQ

We can’t measure these with any precision, because their meanings are elusive. We have approximate, somewhat similar ideas what we mean, but can’t nail them down.  We think if Rasheed Wallace had been just a little smarter, then he could have (fill in the blank – mine is “kept himself in just a little bit better shape in 2010 and won us a championship). But his POV is “I made millions of dollars, won championship rings, had a great time, didn’t force a disabling injuring – explain to me how I’m the one who got this wrong.” Uh, good point, that.  Literature is full of smart people figuring out how to win at life in quiet ways that don’t look as successful – Mycroft Holmes being a good example.

We can measure riches by reading the Fortune 500 list –and we can play with the list to take liquidity, control, or security into consideration.  But philosphy, religion, and literature are likewise chockablock full of discussions of True Wealth, True Riches.  The most entertaining is the Talmudic give-and-take recorded by Jonathan Sacks
"Who is wealthy? He who has pleasure in his wealth": this is the view of Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Tarfon said: "He who possesses a hundred vineyards, a hundred fields, and a hundred servants working in them". Rabbi Akiva said: "He who has a wife who is comely in good deeds". Rabbi Jose said: "He who has a toilet near his table"
This was the kind of table-talk in which the rabbis delighted, coming at a subject from all angles, and perhaps not too seriously. Rabbi Meir gives a philosophical answer: wealth is a state of mind, rejoicing in what you have, whether it is much or little. Rabbi Tarfon won't have any of it: wealth is wealth, and let's not evade the issue. Rabbi Akiva tells us frankly that someone who has a good wife is wealthy whatever else he lacks. And Rabbi Jose replies in the spirit of "If I were a wealthy man". Oy, If only I didn't have to go so far to the toilet, that would be riches indeed.Wealth and Poverty, a Jewish Analysis” Social Affairs Unit 1985
Every four years we call the winner of the Olympic Decathlon “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” then forget who he is and pay 100,000 other people more money to be athletes.  So we don’t really mean that.  If we are pressed, we will define athletic along some measures of strength, endurance, speed, coordination, and flexibility.  We know what we mean approximately, and we know it when we see it. 

When I use the word intelligence in discussing Sidis or other prodigies, I am choosing a meaning closer to IQ than to smart, not because I think IQ is more important, but because we already have a word for smart, and I am making a distiction.  Intelligence is g-factor, candlepower.  It has components of analogising, processing speed, and memory (at least) and is not quite definable. (In New England, we often make the distiction with our favorite intensifier.  Smaht could mean cleverness or wisdom – and can be used ironically, but wicked smaht is something closer to the IQ meaning of intelligence.)

1 comment:

Texan99 said...

I have only one rough method of detecting candlepower. If someone has an unusual gift in an area where I'm a complete klutz, such as musical composition, I can't go much beyond saying, "Wow, that's great. Wonder how he does it." But if I meet a guy who can do something I'm reasonably good at, but much faster and more easily, then I'm on firmer ground. Now and then you run into someone who simply sees at a glance things that you have to work very hard to get straight in your own head.

I'll always remember a bright fellow in my high school physics class, who watched patiently while the teacher derived a long, complicated proof on the blackboard -- then said mildly, "Wouldn't it be easier to do it this way?" and proved the same thing on the spot in a beautiful, elegant fashion with about 1/4 the steps. Pure candlepower. Better results with less effort.

Now, when someone comes up with something I simply can't fathom at all, and it doesn't produce concrete results, I can't know whether it's nonsense or brilliance. Maybe he's beyond me, or maybe he's full of it. What's the point of wondering? My dog doesn't know whether I'm smart for a human.

Sometimes we want to put numbers on things, especially probabilities, when we don't know enough to make the numbers meaningful. Was Sidis one in a thousand? A trillion? He was a pig in a poke, is what he was. It's a bit like asking for the probability of intelligent life on other planets: assigning a number to the unknowable doesn't make it knowable.