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October 25, 2006



Interesting post- which I've discussed on my own blog so won't repeat some of that discussion here- but one point that I immediatly thought of was that your point about IQ isn't really relevant to intellectual progress. Average IQ wouldn't tell you anything since it could be IQ clustered towards the centre or IQ within a society with a lot of high outliers, consequently you could have a society with a lot of thick and extremely intelligent people that might make more progress.
Anyway good thought.


Oh and one last point which I should have included. Here you seem to make IQ an indicator for intelligence- is that a just inference? Sorry I don't know the specialist literature but I have heard of doubts being expressed adn would be interested in people's views.

James Hamilton

Not a comment on the post, but on the programme, which (quite apart from proving once again A.S.Byatt's point about the Beeb not providing for intellectuals) totally misrepresented the state of neurology and AI research and its future prospects. The closest comparison I can come up with is if Horizon were to produce a history of the RAF from the point of view of UFO cranksters.
Most attempts at - picking three here - brainwashing, artificial intelligence, and intelligence augmentation - have gone nowhere. The Unabomber phenomenon consisted of one man, and there's no evidence that he was any kind of vanguard. The brain=computer metaphor is dead - because it goes nowhere in answering the philosophical questions raised in the study of consciousness. And in terms of neurology itself, far from being on the verge of a mapping-DNA type moment, we're still learning what the questions are, let alone the answers.

Sorry you had to sit through that tripe too, Chris.

Tom Freeman

Interesting post. Some random comments:

"the correlation between a country's average IQ and the number of Nobel prizes it's won has been insignificant."

Nurturing your top 0.1%, say, to become super-intelligent scientists and the like, wouldn't have much noticeable effect on average IQ.

"material progress comes from making tasks routine, and reducing our need to think"

Yes, but it takes a fair bit of intelligent thinking to get to this point in the first place.

"I don't think my life would have been better had I been twice as intelligent as I am. Lack of intelligence has not been the binding constraint on me"

At the risk of becoming a suck-up, you're already pretty damn intelligent. Further increasing your distance from the rest of the herd might not have that dramatic an effect. But would your life have been worse had you been half as intelligent?

Question: can intelligence be understood (at least partly) as a positional good?


I don't even think that intelligence is much of a limiting factor in science and technology. Presumably, it would allow us to gain greater mathematical knowledge, but for most of the interesting stuff, it seems to me that empirical experimentation is more important than insight. (e.g. medicine, nanotechnology, etc) ... unless they're saying that greater levels of intelligence will be able to significantly better understand the mathematics of the complex systems we are trying to manipulate these days, but that seems unlikely.

Pete in Dunbar

Tripe is more than over-generous. After all, tripe can in extremis provide some sustenance. I think 'complete crap' would be closer. Sigh. Another hour of my life wasted, that I could more usefully have spent sleeping.


"Lack of intelligence has not been the binding constraint on me - it's a lack of discipline, imagination, creativity and charm that's the problem."

I doubt whether it's any of these that is "the problem" for you. Machiavelli was right - Fortuna favours the brave. Good luck and confidence are the key.

Thing is, confidence can often, if not always, be negatively correlated with intelligence because the latter can often make one introspective.

Particularly during adolescance, during which habits are formed that are difficult to shake off in adulthood.

So there's a social-success double-bind for the very intelligent. Over-confidence sometimes, as you say - but also a lack of confidence brought on by the self-awareness that intelligence can often bring.

There's also maybe a tendency for the very intelligent to move on too quickly, or disregard altogether, the most obvious explanation for something because they find it too boring or something. This is why you can't play the guitar. It's because you have your strings upside down. But would you listen to me? Oh no......

james higham

...material progress comes from making tasks routine, and reducing our need to think...

Very true indeed. Shuggy makes a good point too in his second paragraph.

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