Thursday, January 16, 2014


Intelligence is a complex subject and a loaded word which encompasses many aspects.

IQ is generally considered to be one measure of intelligence, but it generates a lot of controversy. And I believe a lot of the controversy comes from jealousy towards people who are higher on the scale. Indeed, if you compare your personality to someone with a much lower IQ, you will certainly recognize that IQ tests measure something related to intelligence. But if you compare yourself to someone with a much higher IQ, you instinctively become defensive and start making excuses about how the test is not accurate, not relevant, not a good enough measure. Such was, at least, my initial reaction about IQ.

The least controversial and the most accurate definition of IQ is undoubtedly the tautology "IQ is that which is measured by IQ tests". The average score of IQ is 100 because IQ evaluations are designed so that 100 is the average value.

I was listening to a lecture by Nikos Lygeros about characteristics of extreme intelligence (link to YouTube video in French language). The notion of extreme intelligence is reserved for people with IQs of 170 and up... so I'm not part of that group... and he made a few remarks worthy of note.

When people are separated by 50 or more IQ points, they can't communicate well and probably cannot understand each other because their perceptions will be too much affected by the prism of their different minds.

Because of this, people with extreme IQ cannot easily access to positions of political power because their discourse will not be able to connect with people too far at the bottom end of the IQ spectrum. The greater the gap, the less ability to reach. In fact, groups tend to choose leaders whose IQ is above the average, but not too much above the average.

If we accept Lygeros' statement, the estimated IQ of Neanderthals is 47 points. While the scale is tailored to give an average score of 100 to modern humans, it means that Neanderthals are just a bit further away from the 50 points divide mentioned previously. So by this standard, the average modern human would have a hard time communicating and relating to a Neanderthal.

Now let's look at the upper half of the scale and the difference between average people and extremely intelligent people!  If you take this statement in reverse, it can also give you an idea of the difficulty for 2 people distant on the scale, to relate to each other. And even though this might hit the sweet spot of jealousy mentioned earlier, this gives an idea of the difficulty for an average person and an extremely intelligent person to relate to each other. The divide between them is comparable if not greater in size to the divide between Neanderthal and the average modern man.

Because of this, it can be difficult for extremely intelligent people to integrate into society. One would think that higher intelligence provides the tools to achieve anything, but if these individuals cannot find people with whom they share emotions and understanding, then they're kind of doomed to loneliness. In a recent comment, James Gleick (author of "Chaos", which I recommend) mentioned the aloneness that is common to geniuses like Feynman and Newton.

I think high-IQ societies like Mensa have a role to play in the integration of high-IQ people, even though I don't buy completely what they say about emotions and sensibility of geniuses. I think I'll try and join Mensa someday, so hopefully I'll have more to report on the subject.

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