Sunday, June 06, 2021


This came up at both Althouse and Maggie's today, so I am reposting from four years ago. The curious can check out my comments there, but only at Althouse is there anything additional, and then, not very much.


I keep getting asked to comment on EQ on Quora, because I do comment on IQ, and the former only seems to come up in comparison to the latter. That may be revealing.

EQ is not really a thing.  It seems to include the ideas of charm, getting along with people, managing others skillfully, being empathic.  We have plenty of words for those things already, which allow us to speak much more precisely about them than a vague unmeasurable catch-all. On the surface, it would seem to be a simple exploration of differing abilities and different types of people, which seems a worthy enough endeavor.  But because it only comes up in relation to IQ, I have come to suspect something more defensive is in play.  I can't tell if people are drawn to it as some sort of consolation prize, or to insist that people-skills are clearly more important anyway, or to put others in their place.

In my IQ answers, I have taken to stressing each time that wisdom is more important anyway. Sometimes I will list the Four Cardinal Virtues of Temperance, Justice, Prudence, and Fortitude, figuring that any of those will keep a serious student occupied for some time if they choose to pursue it.  Wisdom can be learned and improved, which is another important distinction.


james said...

I think of it in connection with Aspergers, and of having difficulty reading emotions. Perhaps that's a technically a variety of empathy, though I notice that when the other's emotions are finally communicated the Aspie's reactions are normal.

I'd have to think for a long while about whether the skills you mention seem to be independent in that situation. I don't know.

Roy Lofquist said...

Intelligence is being smart. Wisdom is realizing you're not nearly as smart as you think you are.

Texan99 said...

All talk of EQ strikes me as a way of saying, "Well, maybe I'm not as smart as a lot of people, but that's not important." It's as if you were trying to discuss which basketball player was tallest, and someone kept insisting that height doesn't make you a good free-thrower. Well, we know that, but height still measurably exists and means something. There's also a tremendous romanticism about IQ's malleability. As Heinlein said, though, if inherited IQ were really meaningless you could teach calculus to a horse.

Thomas Doubting said...

I dunno. I think IQ / intelligence is over-valued in our society, and I think terms like EQ are ways of pointing out IQ isn't the ONLY valuable quality.

In one sense, the similarity of the two terms is a way of putting emotional ability on the same level as intelligence, implying that they are both important.

I think it does come across as defensive, and often is used defensively, but that could be because of IQ's over-valuation, as if a lot of people insisted that height was the only important quality in a basketball player. Shorter players might insist quite rightly that other factors were also important, and they would seem defensive when they did so, but that doesn't mean they're wrong.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, the common belief is that IQ is wildly overvalued at the expense of other qualities that deserve more attention. I contest that common wisdom, right to the core.

Bring up how important IQ is anywhere, anywhere - on a blog, in a social conversation, in relation to hiring - and see what happens next.

No one denies the importance of height in basketball or claims that it is the only important attribute. Your example actually works against you. If you say that height is a real thing and important in basketball, absolutely no one comes back telling you that height isn't real or telling you stories all night about tall guys who weren't actually any good.

The SATs are essentially an IQ test and are a slightly better predictor of college success than GPA and far superior to activities and personal interviews. But no one ever claimed that the SATs were everything. However, you can find plenty of people who will say that they mean nothing and that working hard and determination are everything - and then tell you stories about supposedly smart people who were actually incompetent and assholes.

Thomas Doubting said...

Not just IQ, but intelligence, which is not the same thing. Why is our whole education system dead set on promoting college for everyone? Because education is a common stand-in for intelligence. Want people to think you're intelligent? Go to college.

Look at the power intellectuals can have -- the university-credentialed elites all over have a lot of power. Why? Because people assume they're smarter than everyone else.

One point on which you and I have a divergence here is that I am not talking just about IQ, but also just the common usage of the word intelligence. Intellectuals love intelligence. I think this is why a lot of them hate the importance of IQ, as you mention. They know all they have are credentials, and an objective measure of innate intelligence threatens their view of themselves as the smartest people in the room.

At least, that's my opinion. They of course claim it's racism and sexism and blah blah blah.

As for the height analogy, I was trying to explain how some people feel, so I don't really think it fails. That is how some people feel.

I know a lot of people who didn't go to college, or only went for a year or two for technical degrees, and many of them are self-conscious about it. They are perfectly intelligent people, some well above average in my opinion. But they can feel intimidated by people with university degrees. So I can understand looking for other measures to compete with the over-valuation of intelligence in our society.

Again, just my opinion.

Thomas Doubting said...

Hm. So, where I said "but that could be because of IQ's over-valuation" I should have used intelligence. I was being imprecise. And I'm really looking at the cultural meaning of intelligence, the value our current technocracy places on establishing oneself as part of the smart set.

I'm a bit tired, so I haven't been as precise as I should have been. My apologies.

Narr said...

I test high, and have managed to acquire some credentials, but in all honesty I think having a high IQ number on your permanent record can be as much a burden to some kids as a boon. It certainly created expectations on the part of some of my teachers as to what I should be interested in, and how well I should do. As if.

As has been said, smart doesn't mean wise. I spent my adult life on a university campus and it's one of the first lessons to be learned (if you really are smart).

And OTOH, many of the most successful people I know are only slightly smarter than average, but have high levels of other attributes--energy, decisiveness, focus: are those EQ?

Cousin Eddie

Christopher B said...

The guys who stormed the Normandy beaches and Iwo Jima, to pick two places, believed in the original anti-racism. Only people with that kind of commitment to non-discrimination by race and ethnicity would have turned their society inside out for the benefit of ten percent of the population, unlike the real white supremacist South Africans held out for decades. They came about as close as anyone else in history to creating a functioning meritocracy for everyone regardless of background.

Meritocracy amplified the technological changes that were happening, creating a society where intelligence was not just favored but where the rewards for being intelligent were accumulating at a faster and faster rate, in part because smart people started making families with other equally smart people. This is the usually overlooked thesis of Charles Murray's Bell Curve.

Intelligence has been the great leveler in societies organized on hierarchical lines but it is the great un-leveler for a meritocracy. Arguing that intelligence, or the appearance thereof, is 'over-valued' relative to other attributes like honesty or determination is admitting the facts on the ground. There are inequities in the situation, and these inequities are complicated by the genetic component in the average distribution of intelligence. Those with average or below intelligence are drifting further and further behind as technology advances, and widespread adoption of AI is going to raise the bar even higher as more office support jobs are automated out of existence. Dealing with the inequities requires recognizing the reason why they occurring.

dmoelling said...

If I remember correctly, IQ testing was originally a way to classify severely impaired children for medical reasons. Later it was used to eliminate very low capability draftees for the armed services. It's use in universities was as a common measure as opposed to raw GPAs from high schools. The benefit was that true high achievers from poorly performing schools would benefit.

True geniuses are rare (see Gauss, Newton, Mozart etc.) and astonishing in their specialized abilities. This applies not only to the sciences and arts but also business.

Eliminating the overvaluing of university education would automatically reduce the emphasis on IQ.

David Foster said...

John D Rockefeller:

"the ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ dmoelling - Reducing the overvaluing of higher education is a good in itself, at least WRT what university educations currently consist of. Yet I think it might actually increase the emphasis on IQ rather than reduce it. It is not an optional attribute in terms of scientific excellence. There are other ways of sensing who is able to do the work - there were no SATs in Newton's day - but on a mass scale, a standardised paper-and-pencil test is a good proxy. Your quick summary of the uses of the IQ test is very good.

In many professions intelligence keeps delivering benefits at higher and higher levels, even though other qualities might have greater importance. Simple competence is enough for teaching and for many matters of law, engineering, programming, and a hundred medical tasks. Ability to work cooperatively, diligence, self-control, objectivity, willingness to receive criticism - these might all be as important or more as another 10 IQ points, but greater intelligence delievers improvement all the way up. I have watched many psychiatrists try to unravel diagnostic puzzles, and the onces with the higher IQs are simply better, even far better. Some are hated by nurses or complete assholes or undisciplined in their work habits. But give me the intelligent diagnostician and prescriber every time. I don't care if s/he's a jerk.

However, that very example also points up its own weakness. With psychiatric patients, talking them into accepting treatment is a hugely important skill, and that is far less related to IQ. I knew infuriating pigheaded doctors who could not hear vital information from anyone else on the team. Yet some had a gift for persuading patients into trying a new medication, or families to try a new technique of dealing with their draining relative.

@ David Foster. True for Rockefeller, because he needed only a few top engineers, but thousands of people-managers. His daily headaches were always going to be those underneath him who mismanaged others, so he would see it that way. But it really wasn't that way. No oil, no Rockefeller. You need people to find you oil. And while perseverance, experience, and luck were parts of that, geology and engineering were more.

David Foster said...

Consider the example of Tesla and Westinghouse. While George Westinghouse was a pretty serious inventor in his own right (the railroad air brake, for example), and surely had a pretty high IQ, he also had the management ability to orchestrate the activities of thousands of people, and the perceptiveness to see the value in hiring Nicola Tesla and putting up with Tesla's quirks. Tesla was probably even higher IQ than was Westinghouse, but without the involvement of the latter, he could never have implemented as well as created an industry-dominating AC power system.

james said...

WRT programmers and IQ: are you familiar with The Daily WTF? example