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Pop Culture Psychology Science and Technology

The Psychology Contrarian II: The Obsession with IQ

At best, these websites present these people as numbers first, people second. To what extent does saying that Marie Curie has an IQ of 190 or so add to or take away from her discovery of radioactivity or her other contributions to Chemistry and Physics to which she literally paid for with her life, all the while fleeing the Nazis? To what extent does Shakespeare’s assigned IQ of 210 add to or take away from his being the most quoted writer in the English Language? And finally, just who is this guy “William Sidis”, and who in the h-e-double-sticks gave him an IQ of 250 to 300?

William Sidis (1898-1944), was an American who had an undergraduate degree at MIT, and then a studied for a law degree at Harvard before he reached 18. By that time he had given occasional lectures to professors. He was portrayed as Will Hunting in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. But Will Hunting was portrayed more as a thug first, intellectual second (it was the reverse in real life). In real life, the psychologist he was to see was his father, Boris Sidis. Now, isn’t that a tad, shall we say, unethical? Exactly what was to be the outcome here? The only way you can be clinically objective about your own son is to not have feelings for your son at all, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose of therapy in a rather deep and profound way? I guess one way to become screwed up is to have issues with your father; and one way to be really screwed up is to have that same father for your therapist. NOOOOOOOO!, I can hear him screaming. Ah, but I digress.

No one doubts that Sidis was a prodigy. But what of the number given to him: 250 – 300, which pretty much isolates him from the rest of humanity (even going back to the dawn of antiquity)  as an intellectual? Is this number even meaningful? Is it legitimate? An IQ like that would make him “smarter” than Leonardo da Vinci, or Michelangelo. Even Albert Einstein had to give the world his special and general relativity theories while chugging along with his meagre 205 IQ.  On this scale, Isaac Newton was an also-ran; and Galileo could be arrogant to the Pope, but like John The Baptist, he should not feel himself fit to tie the sandals of someone on the scale of Good Will Sidis, apparently.

Will Sidis, as far as history can tell, is just known for being smart; he didn’t contribute anything, except for this “human thermodynamics/entropy reversal” stuff, which few have heard of. His contribution doesn’t seem as all-encompassing as Einstein or Michelangelo, so having the IQ score alone is nothing to be envious about. Nearly all of those slowpokes who meandered to their historical achievements had to do so while galumphing along with the humble 190-210 IQs that God gave them, if we are to believe the posthumous IQ scores given to them.

Categories
Pop Culture Psychology Science and Technology

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.