Mailvox: Talent is better than brains anyway

My most sincere apologies in the highly probable event that this is neither as interesting nor as well-written as Middlemarch:

You know, darling, for all my earnest attempts, as well as an IQ score which my mother would never allow me to know, lest I grow up with a swelled head, I am still unable to understand why you believe that IQ is a comprehensive measurement of intelligence. I can think of two reasons, neither of which reflects well on your character as I understand it: 1) that the sociocultural establishment tells you it does, and 2) that it is in your vested ego interests to believe it. I eagerly anticipate your further thoughts on the subject.

The short answer is that I do not. Given the way in which the sociocultural establishment also tells me that I am a naked ape with no inherent value who should nevertheless restrain his bestial desires because, um, just because, I think it is safe to conclude that (1) is not valid. Regarding (2), like the Lady I was not provided with any information about my IQ until I took what was then a form of IQ test at 16. Given the amount of information I had amassed by that time regarding the cognitive capacity of those around me, I was unsurprised to receive confirmation that mine was superlative according to the accepted measure.

It is ironic that parents attempt to hide such information, particularly from those most capable of gleaning it from casual observation. One can no more hide the fact of an individual’s intelligence from the intelligent than height from the tall, weight from the fat or coordination from the graceful. I’ve found that one can even sometimes spot an above-average or a sub-standard intelligence simply from a glance at an individual’s eyes.

Lethal Sangerian elitism aside, it is a greater and more injurious error for the intelligent to insist on treating the less intelligent as if they were as cognitively capable as their superiors. This is incredibly frustrating to both parties and inevitably leads to miscommunication, it is far better to accept the intellectual differences while simultaneously asserting equal human worth and then communicating in comprehensible manner.

Still, the ability to survive in the world and cognitive capacity are two completely different things. The fact that cockroaches are harder to eliminate than humans does not mean they are more intelligent, after all. And while the mere possession of cognitive capacity does not indicate the ability to use it well, or even at all, I have yet to see an individual who performs well on an IQ test be unable to master basic intellectual tasks, nor, all myths of the brilliant but incompetent test taker notwithstanding, have I ever seen anyone who has done poorly on a test revealed to be of even average intelligence.

For example, I was not shocked when my high school girlfriend scored in the 6th percentile on the SATs. Lovely girl, but not exactly cut out for rocket science.

As far as “things as intuition, co-ordination, social and emotional insight, patience, the ability to prioritize” go, they are all good and useful things, but they are not intelligence, although high intelligence does tend to encompass “the ability to integrate seemingly unrelated pieces of information”. For example, I am currently writing an article for BenBella on the connection between Richard Wagner and the video game HALO. Would anyone care to guess what that might be?

And regarding the viability of the human race as a whole, I am not sure that intelligence is necessarily as important to that as was once thought. Our breeding patterns currently appear to be selecting for other traits, and the human race was probably in less danger from being wiped out by sabre-toothed tigers and glaciers than by nuclear weapons, designer diseases and systems of governance conceived by intellectuals.

But none of this indicates that intelligence is any more fictional than athletic ability, or that IQ tests do a poorer job of quantifying the former than tape measures and stop watches do the latter. The fact that intelligence is not a virtue does not make it therefore fictional. In any event, Paul Johnson makes a convincing case that when it comes to writing, talent trumps intelligence as evinced by the curious example of Victor Hugo.