a metaphor for intelligence

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on July 27, 2010

I’m just going to assume the consensus among differential psychologists as to what intelligence is. I’m going to suggest a metaphor for IQ which will hopefully get pass the aversions of most people toward the idea of a one-dimensional ranking of intelligence, or IQ.

IQ is certainly not everything. But it is certainly convenient to assume proponents of IQ say so, because a straw man is easier to knock down. There is a one-dimensional scale to intelligence and that’s IQ. However, it is only one component among many that determines eventual success in any field or endeavor.

Here’s the metaphor. IQ tests are like a 100m sprint. The main determinant of performance is say, running ability. On a marathon, other factors come into play, such as stamina. But a marathon is merely a metaphor for something like studying all night before an exam vs. taking a 20 minute test. Success in a socially recognized field is more like an expedition-race across the Amazon. More and more factors come into play. Navigation ability, resilience to stress, judgment in decisions to take various risks, and if not travelling alone, teamwork. This does not mean running ability or any one factor no longer matters, they are just diminished relative to the others. All else equal, a person who can run faster will win the expedition-race.

So all else being equal, a more intelligent person would be expected to be more successful in life. But because of how our modern society is setup, which places a premium on intellectual ability, IQ is not so insignificant. A high-IQ person will grasp complex issues faster and will learn more quickly than a low-IQ person. Although this says nothing about how conscientious or hardworking they will be, given the fact that most people understand their future income will depend heavily on how seriously they take their studies, and the structure of education which somewhat relieves the student from deciding just how hard to work, they can be guaranteed to put in enough effort such that most of the others with lower IQ will end up less successful.

Having a low IQ is a limitation. Not a hard limit like a ceiling, but a soft one like an strong headwind. Other characteristics can compensate, but that doesn’t change the fact that having a low IQ is a disadvantage.


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