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The Psychology Contrarian I: The obsession with IQ

When there are no serious researchers that would place any relevance on IQ and what it measures (indeed, what exactly is it measuring is itself a mystery: does intelligence even have a definition, or am I missing out on something?), I wonder why there are web sites which even go so far as to go back in history, centuries before there were IQ tests or even a field of psychology as we know it, and begin to assign IQs to people like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Hypatia, Isaac Newton, and so on, as if we were handing passing out candies, albeit to dead people.

I think it IQ is the last bastion of that age where math was taken too seriously, and secret societies were formed out of assigning numbers to strange and abstruse things. The IQ, much like saying “chair = 5”, was and is the last of these to fall. The same care and attention given to assigning numbers to daffodils and planets is being given to historical figures who had never seen, heard of, or taken these tests. It forms an easy method by which we can feel we understand the world without having to go through all the bother of reading of people’s biographies or accomplishments, or knowing anything about them at all. Their entire intellectual and scholastic oeuvre can be summarized in a three-digit number, and that’s all that matters to those of us who are IQ-obsessed.

One such person who was IQ obsessed was Rick Rosner, whose first IQ test was about 150, but repeatedly took more tests such that his IQ was inflated to 170 to 190. He said in an interview that 150 was OK for being the smartest in your high school, but not OK for being the smartest person at a place like Harvard. A 150 IQ just sort of blends in.

Of course, this logic fails because it confuses IQ scores with achievement. There is more to life than smarts; of course we can all do with more of it. The main ingredient, and possibly the most important ingredient leading to achievement and success in life is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the ability to make manifest the goals you set. Self-efficacy takes focus, determination, and discipline. These are things well within the reach of any average person.

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