The Limitations And Usefulness Of IQ

The Limitations And Usefulness Of IQ

That Smarts

Everybody knows that some people are smarter than others, and that some are teachable and some not. Well, some people do deny these facts, believing that if everybody started from the same place, was taught in the same way, and had identical resources, all would arrive at the same destination, so that, down deep, everybody is equally smart.

This view—equality—cannot be supported. It has been disproved time and again by all experience, in every possible situation conditioned on every kind of contingency. Believing in equality in spite of the vast, vast mass of historical counter evidence proves only that intelligent people can believe stupid things—which everybody also knows. Indeed, is has often been observed that the more intelligent the man the more outlandish the fallacy.

Thus, though I will come to certain conclusions about IQ and intelligence counter to many prevailing views, I will not claim or advise, nor even hint, that equality is a possibility, or that it is in any way desirable.

My thesis is simple. That some are more intelligent than others, that some aspects of intelligence are driven by biology, and thus some are not. Intelligence to the extent it is biological can be imperfectly inherited; that because intelligence is in part immaterial, it can only partially and incompletely be measured, and with greater uncertainty than is recognized.

IQ is said to measure intelligence. Then, through the Deadly Sin of Reification, IQ becomes intelligence. The problem is not in the idea that some are smarter than others, for this is true (for some definition of “smart”). The problem is over-certainty.

IQ is a score on a test (a function of the number of questions, the number correct, and the like). Take a different test and the chance of a different score than that computed from the first test is not zero; i.e. the scores will differ. Take the same test, or one similar, at a different time, and again one may score differently. Is this a problem? No. Not if reification has not occurred. Different scores at different times are taken to be caused by any number of things: health, distraction, question content, and on and on. We thus need to understand what is causing IQ scores.

Let’s start small and in a subject with small controversy before moving to the Big Game. Even though what’s said is rather obvious in the introduction, stick with it, because it is important.


Let’s look at something similar to IQ, as far as testing goes, a thing which is not as controversial, and see what happens.

Suppose we are testing a long jumper. He jumps, we measure. He jumps again, we measure again. We have two measures, probably not the same, that give us some idea of the jumping ability of this man. The outcome is distance, which is easy to measure and unambiguous. That we value distance is a judgement and culturally peculiar: not all people in all places will take an interest. We might, instead, have decided to define jumping ability as distance plus height at maximum during the jump (combined via some function). Why not? In this case, the man jumping the longest distance might not be the man with the highest score.

On any test something caused this man to jump the distance he did, or the distance plus height. There will be many causes, and of four distinct parts: the form, material, efficient, and final cause. In each case the final cause is the reason for the jump: he wanted to do it, but he may want it more or less at different times. Will is involved. The formal cause is the rule of the jump, and will be the same across measures (we presume; though like in real events, the form does change). The material and efficient causes are subject to variation. The man may have eaten a potato before one jump and a slice of pizza the next, and at different times. The man’s muscles, digestion, nerves, and so forth contribute to the material and efficient causes: you need to be a physiologist to understand them all. The track conditions change, which might vary subtly or a lot, depending.

Anyway, cause is involved, as is obvious. The man didn’t land downfield for no reason, but because of reasons. In the interest of shorthand, we might call the conglomeration of all these causes (all four) strength. That’s because it’s a burden to recall each possible cause, because they are many and complex, but mostly because what really interests us is the outcome. We all understand that cause is involved, which we’ll call strength, but it’s not the main subject. Distance jumped is. There is thus little danger in saying something like, “The man who won is stronger than the others” when what we really meant, and what all understand it to mean in this context, was that “this man jumped the farthest”.

Now under other circumstances we might also mean, “Given this man’s previous performance, i.e. his great strength, there is a good chance he’ll perform well again.” This is straightforward. We mean, removing the reification, that “Given his past jumped distances, there is a good chance he’ll jump those distances again.”

This same conclusion holds if we group men together based on jumping ability. If it turned out upon inspection men of one race had a higher average distances than others (supposing we were interested in averages and not other metrics, which are also important), then it would make eminent sense to judge a man from this race as being likely to jump farther than a man from another race before making actual measurements, and knowing only the men’s races. After we see each individual’s performance, any knowledge about race is wiped away and of no use in making judgments of (only) these men. (We can define race by self-identification, and this will do fine.)

We could say, “Given the (original) man’s demonstrated strength, I’ll bet he has high probability of also tossing a javelin a great way.” We may make many statements like that about other physical abilities. We reason those other abilities also require strength, in some way or another, and so we predict success in these other areas. These judgments, we’ll likely find on measurement, will bear out. Not always, not for every man, and not in every situation, but for enough men and situations that our confidence is justified in making predictions like this.

If we think about it, though, we realize that tossing a stick is not the same as jumping in terms of cause. The man may love jumping but sees stick tossing as a hated duty: his will is engaged differently, and variably, for the different activities. Arms are used in jumping, but not in the same way as in tossing. The rules of the contests are different. The stick itself is different. Strength applied conditionally to javelin throwing means something different with respect to cause than when applied to jumping.

Well, why not average, in some way, the observed measures (i.e. the distances) of jumping and tossing and call this average (however it is computed) strength quotient (SQ), perhaps normalized to an arbitrary scale (itself informed by making these observations over many men). If we’re not satisfied with the range of activities of what we’re calling SQ, we can add in, say, times for running a specified distance, which contains the idea of endurance, which the other sports didn’t have. We can add even more sports using similar reasoning.

There is a bit of circularity here, in the following sense. We add just those those sports we think are indicative of strength. Why not add, say, tiddly winks? Because although this can be defined as a sport (always a subjective cultural definition), we don’t believe it needs strength. To justify this circularity, we might claim (truthfully) that if we computed SQ sans tiddly winks contributions, we’d find little “correlation” between SQ and tiddly wink scores. (I use correlation in the plain-English sense, as things tending to move together, and not in its linear mathematical sense, unless otherwise specified.)

We can’t use correlation to see what performances to enter and which not, though, because of that circularity. Plus, if correlation was the sole criterion, the best correlation will be just jumping with itself. SQ would be jumping and nothing else because no other activity would correlate as highly with jumping. Correlations of jumping and tossing might be “high”, and so we include both, but any correlation cutoff we use to include or exclude activities relies on outside previous judgment. What kinds of judgments are these?

The (open) secret is that we put these things together because of our understanding of cause, it in all its aspects. We include those measures which we think have the most similar causes, in all four forms, that relate to athleticism (including will to perform). We consider blood platelets, muscle mass, twitching versus others muscle movements, nerve conduction, aerobic capacity, which is driven by inter alia lung capillary performance, which again relies via feedback on blood workings, and on and on. How do we know that these causes relate to athleticism? Well, by conjecture at first, informed by noticing correlations, then by testing cause explicitly at fundamental levels, and by repeating this back-and-forth until we reach a level of satisfaction specific to our task—which proves this level of satisfaction will vary based on task. In turn, knowing only a man’s SQ tells us nothing in particular about any of these causes.

There is something else we could do with these numbers besides just averaging (however defined), though, a thing that leads to confusion. But to explain that requires some in-depth statistics, so we’ll defer that explanation until later (see the discussion on principal components).

Now we could say “SQ exists”, but it would only be true for a man in the sense that he evinced a certain score on a jumping and throwing test. Nobody has SQ in a physical sense. People have strength. SQ is not strength, but a measure, in a loose and culturally biased but useful way, of strength—and only when strength has been defined circularly with respect to outcomes we identified. About other outcomes not in the mix, we are far less certain. Plus nobody has strength, either, except in a analogical way. What people do have are muscles, fat, lung capacity, will, and so forth.

To say SQ is strength, and to forget strength is only a proxy for cause, is to commit the Deadly Sin of Reification. The danger, given our cultural mania for measurement, is over-certainty, and over-certainty leads to sub-optimal and bad decisions.


So. What is intelligence? That is a hard subject, which is why many retreat to calling intelligence IQ, which is a test score. Let’s recall what strength was. It wasn’t a single thing. It was the culmination, or accumulation, of lots of different causes, which included will, human will. We defined its measure with respect to culturally interesting tasks, such as those found in Olympic sports. Yet these are not the only tasks where the same kinds of causes are in play (a judgement which also includes knowledge of the causes of strength). Instead of jumping and tossing, we could have used, say, battlefield endurance, or number slain during combat, or speed in shinnying up a tree to jostle loose coconuts, or facility in tracking animals across deserts, or many other activities. Maybe even the ability to sit still for long periods.

That last example belongs to Simon De Deo, who uses the analogy of ability to sit still as predictive of bird watching abilities. If sitting still is thought important enough, measures of sitting still becomes via reification bird watching ability, to the exclusion of all other things.

…it turns out that sitting still is not just predictive of bird watching performance, it’s also predictive of a whole host of other life outcomes. People who can’t sit still for five minutes have more problems with addiction, for example. Conversely, someone who can sit still for twenty minutes is often able to avoid addiction, or to break it if he falls victim. Very, very few people who can sit still for three hours die of alcoholism. Same with divorce, automobile accidents, and being good at chess. Bird watching ability is protective. This fits with how important bird watching is in the culture…

Racial differences in the sitting task appear. Extremely sophisticated linear regressions are done to control for SES, age, educational background of parents, etc., and they refuse to go away. People write books about how the lack of black bird-watchers is due to their genetic inability to do well on the sitting test.

…almost every great bird-watcher alive thinks the [sitting] test is absolutely crazy. Bird watching is not about sitting perfectly still for hours, they say! No great bird-watcher wants to brag about their sitting score. A famously egotistical bird-watcher who writes books about how awesome he is at bird watching, how he totally crushed this other bird-watcher, etc etc., is also really proud of the fact that he was, at best, at the bottom of the upper-quartile of sitting still. Birdbloggers clamor to reveal their crappy sitting scores…

…When we actually look at the sitting still performance of the elite bird-watcher population, they’re actually not so great. Yes, these people are good at sitting still, and some are really quite good. But not crazy good at it, even among the ultra elite. If you go by elite scores, in fact, it looks like literally a quarter of the population might meet the sitting still bar for being a great bird-watcher, even though the test sample was admitted to the birding academies partly on sitting scores…

We have this intuition that there are many different kinds of birders. Fine, the psychologists say. Make a test. The educators invent some tests, but in as much as they are predictive of bird-watching, they correlate with sitting score, and in as much as they aren’t, they don’t. Somehow, the other aspects of birding are resistant to isolated measurement in a test you take sitting down for a few hours. Grit doesn’t replicate.

What do people who teach bird-watching know about a person’s capacity to learn bird-watching? the psychologists say. Our best studies now show that we can isolate the ultimate essence of birding, the principal component of all the tests. It is a test conducted in a white room, with a chair of so-and-so-weight. All stimuli are excluded. It is totally silent. Nobody is present in the room. There are no windows.

Scoring an enormous BQ, i.e. the score on the sitting test, is best indicative of only one thing: how good somebody can score on the sitting test. Same for IQ tests: they are best indicative of how good somebody can score on IQ tests. Their predictive usefulness drops off the further the other activity is from formal IQ tests. Sitting still with a sharp Dixon Ticonderoga #2 in your hand and checking boxes to puzzlers is unlike most tasks found anywhere else in life, though.

This is why Nassim Nicholas Taleb was right to point out the relative unimportance of correlation of IQ scores with practical tasks. There is also the common statistical misunderstanding that correlation measured on samples will be as predictive to the same level on population. Correlations exaggerate predictive ability—a lot. And since much IQ research is “confirmed” using wee p-values, it is suspect or wrong at worst, and at best the certainty in the results is many times more than it should be.

Because people do not have a BQ, or an IQ, neither do nations have IQs, for instance. It is foolish to compare averages across nations when those nations do not have homogeneous populations. The lesson is that only homogeneous groups (of any characteristic) can be compared.

Finally, there is De Deo’s b, the principal component of all bird watching tests, which was the sophisticated statistical framework mentioned above. In IQ tests it is called g and is calculated in the same way: a weighted linear combination of individual test scores.

Since b and g are nothing but weighted linear combination of test scores, and the test scores have already been shown to be correlated, more or less strongly, with this or that, it must be that b and g will also be correlated. We have learned nothing new by calculating these letters or their correlations, however. People who do not have BQs do not have bs; people who do not have IQs do not have gs. To say that people have bs or gs is, as above, to confuse causes of scores with the names of the scores. It is reification.

Statistical analyses cannot create something which does not exist. Probability models are silent on cause.

What Is Intelligence?

Enough of that. What exactly is intelligence? To discover that we need to turn ourselves into mental physiologists. We must not be only physicians, but metaphysicians, too.

We cannot define intelligence circularly and say it is ability to score well on certain tests, and then say this person must have high or low intelligence because he scored well or poorly on these tests. It must be clear (you have to perceive and apprehend this point) that this is not a proof the tests measure what they say they are measuring. In order to properly measure intelligence, if it is even possible to measure, we have to have a non-circular definition in hand, which outlines the power or powers of intelligence.

Here are the functions of intelligence: intellect, will, memory, sensory imagination, all of which contain a notions of capacity, endurance, speed. None of these powers can be substituted for the other. Each is a facet of intelligence in the same way the various physiological causes were said to be strength. No individual function is intelligence alone. All operating in concert produce the range of what we mean by intelligence.

The intellect itself has three different powers: (paraphrasing the link) perception, apprehension, cognition. The will also has three powers: motive, appetitive, conative. And the passions two: sensitive and emotive. The powers of sensation and perception, memory and imagination, which are also possessed by lower animals are completely different in nature than those powers of the intellect and will. Only man has intellect and will; and these powers are vastly more than mere computation, which has been proved in various ways (e.g. Searle’s Chinese Room or Chinese Gym experiments).

The senses take in information from varying sources, in time and place, including memory, and serve it up to the common (think of this as “communal”) sense, where it forms the imagination, which in turn is fed to the intellect, which talks to the will, which talks back to the intellect, all of which talk back to the passions. There is no linearity to this process, which is comprised of various feedbacks, interactions, and even time components, given change occurs to each of these elements due to outside causes. Intelligence, like strength, therefore cannot be fixed and unchangeable. Hence it is a double mistake to say “IQ is constant.”

Dogs do not have intellects and wills; they are not rational animals as we are, where rational by definition means having intellect and will. Dogs do have sensation, memory, and imagination. Everybody knows that some dog breeds are more intelligent than others, but we now see (“seeing” in this metaphorical way is a higher intellectual power) that what we mean by intelligence in dogs is not the same of what we mean as intelligence in men.

Sensation and so on are biological functions, and therefore differences in intelligence in dogs can be put down to genetic differences, or rather genes-plus-environment and their interplay of continuing and continuous interactions (in a way that is surely not understood completely). Therefore, if we test separately for each power of intelligence (memory etc.) in dogs, or in their combination (in a way we might not be able to separate) via activities we deem interesting and important (such as guiding sheep, fetching, or even fighting), we might be able to tease out the genetic and environmental contributions to animal intelligence.

This genetics (to give it a short name) testing, to the extent it works with any certainty in animals, works in man, too. But only for the lower powers. It does not work for the higher powers of intellect and will. It does not work because the intellect and will are not material, and therefore are not subject to direct genetic influence. In spite of what you might have heard, medical science has in no way proved the intellect and will are part of the brain.

Here is an analogy of medical testing that makes such claims. Scientists have noticed that when a certain body of water sparkles in the morning, the air temperature increases. An fMRI (presumably the acronym is from the French) measured the strength of the sparkle, and the correlation between the sparkle and temperature was confirmed (p<0.0000001). Therefore, it is judged, correlation becoming causation when ps are wee, there is something in the body of water that is causes the temperature increase.


The analogy is better than you might first think. The sun causes the heat; the sparkle on cloudless days and its lack on cloudy days is incidental. The water does mitigate the temperature change, but its causal effect pales next to the driving force.

Same thing with medical measurements of the brain. An fMRI sparkling is not proof that the brain is causing the intellect and will to operate. We know by other arguments the causation goes the other way around. This is proved elsewhere (here, here, here).

What all this means it that it is impossible—not just unlikely or difficult, but impossible—to draw a causal link between genes and the higher powers of intelligence. Genes thus have no direct influence on the higher powers. And thus evolution, whatever that might be or however you want to define its mechanisms, has no influence on the most important part of human intelligence. That is so important that I want you to re-read it: evolution and genes have no influence on the most important part of human intelligence.

Genes and their environmental interactions can and do have indirect influence. A man who is mentally retarded has intellect and will, but his biological powers of intelligence are less than those of a non-retarded man, and these biological differences are caused by genes (always understand this language is a dangerous shorthand meant to include environment). The biological functions of intelligence serve, as it were, the higher functions, which in turn inform the biological functions. Damage the biological functions, via genetic accident, injury, or old age, or examine them in their immature form, as in infants, and we see changes in intelligence which are naturally ascribed to biology. Intelligence therefore is not and cannot be constant in a person’s life, at least regarding its biological components. (This would seem to be almost trivially true, but there are a few people who claim “IQ” is fixed, which is now seen to be false.)

What about the non-biological components of intelligence? They are how we touch the infinite, if you will allow me the poetry, which in this case is literal. When we grasp (another metaphor) a universal, we comprehend something infinite (think of how you know there are an infinite number of numbers). Any operation of intuition and induction, the highest forms of intellect, require a mechanism (a cause) of making contact with the infinite (this was first proved, as many things were, by Aristotle). What is this cause?

I don’t know how it works, precisely. I do know it has to be a mighty cause, because the infinite is not small. One such mighty cause is the will of God. Well, you can dismiss this metaphysics about God and the infinite, but you are left trying to explain how our already proved non-computational, non-material intellects and wills work. You can say, like Roger Penrose does, that it has something to do with quantum mechanics because nobody understands cause in QM, thus its mysteriousness makes for a great rug to sweep cause under. You can evoke “emergence“, but that’s to invoke magic since nobody knows how that works, or if it even does, or even if it makes sense. Neither of these is an explanation; they are only hopes of an explanation. My explanation is hope, too, but based on a solid foundation. Which proves you can’t escape faith in discussions of intelligence. Anybody that pretends otherwise is bluffing.

How separate are the intellect and will, which Christians say are the form of the rational soul and which therefore because of its non-material nature survives after the death of the body, from the biological functions? Can a retarded man, who has provably inefficient (let us say) biology access his higher intellectual functions? Yes. Not as well, given the inefficiency, as a non-retarded man. The retardation affects the intellect, giving it less material to work with, so to speak. But that is far from a proof that the retarded man cannot experience revelation or have an insight via intuition not accessible to the non-retarded man. God could grant any man wisdom regardless of his biological apparatus. Too, the retarded are very often extremely happy people—but you don’t find any of them performing functions which we classify (possibly circularly) as intellectually challenging.

I am thus not claiming to know how intelligence works in its entirety. That is the key point. Because we don’t know how the intellect works, in all its components, because we don’t understand its causes, we cannot specify its limits or say how to measure it with precision. What is its lower and upper limit? How far above the animals are we, precisely? Can the intellect of one man be poorer than a second man’s, but the first possessing superior biological function (such as accessing memory and producing phantasms), such that first man is said to be more intelligent? Maybe. How different can intellects and wills be? Nobody knows. In any task requiring intelligence, how much does each power contribute? Probably depends on the task. The intellect and will not being material clearly cannot be damaged as biological functions can. The higher powers can be damaged in ways more horrible, as when falsities are embraced as true and immoralities as good. The intellect and the will can be stained (if you like), by loading it with sin (to coin a word) and falsehoods. As the old saying goes, sin makes you stupid. Thus as sin increases, the higher powers of intelligence decrease. (Perhaps an adequate description of the West.)

Even given all these (and more) unanswered questions, we can measure effects which we say are related to the intellect, and we can give these measures some pseudo-quantification, but they are at best groping efforts (on a scale of -47.2456 to 18/e in units of sqrt(pi/1.2), how much do you agree with that opinion?). We can’t escape the circularity until we know causes—which we may never know for the higher functions.

This is not a claim that certain measures of performance are not useful, for of course they can be, and are, though the uncertainty in them as measures of intelligence is much larger than many think, as I show next. There is nothing to be gained by fooling yourself into believing you have captured all there is, or even the most of what is, of intelligence if you can’t even define what intelligence is. We do not have this same limitation for strength, where cause is understood (to a great degree). To say, then, as everybody does say, that people “have” IQ, or that IQ is “real”, as if a test score is intelligence, is a terrible mistake caused by laziness, ignorance, and hubris.

Testing Tests

What’s the right answer to this pictorial puzzle? (Source.)

Obviously, 5. Yes?

Well, it’s obvious to the residents of Crete, growing up as they do with architectural alternating patterns similar to this one, used as inlays to wainscoting and various other decorations. Those coming from Cambodia might argue and say 4 is a better fit, as it better resembles common direction markers and light switches, only 4 is fancier.

Americans and others who grew up with puzzles like this will wave all these aside and say 1. They’ve seen these kind of patterns before in various testing situations, and this answer best accords with their experience of the test-maker’s mind.

If you’re like most, you’re so used to seeing these kinds of teasers you can’t see that they must have context, which can only be provided by experience. And experience takes place with cultures.

Ken Richardson, in the paper “What IQ Tests Test” would agree. Every person who thinks they have IQ tests pegged must read this work.

For instance, Richardson would agree that the puzzle above is similar to Raven’s Progressive Matrices test, which Richardson says many consider a “pure”, i.e. unbiased, measure of intelligence. This isn’t so:

…[A]nalysis suggests that the cognitive processing demanded by Raven’s items simply reflects knowledge structures most common in one particular culture. Thus, many middle-class cultural tools are based on the manipulation of symbols (e.g. words, numbers) in two-dimensional array on paper. These include record sheets, tables with rows and columns of totals and subtotals, spreadsheets, timetables, and so on, as well as textual material. These nearly all require the reading of symbols from top left to bottom right, additions, subtractions and substitutions of numbers or other symbols across columns and down rows, and the deduction of new information from them. As the analyses of Carpenter et al. (1990) show, these are precisely the kinds of manipulations (or ‘rules’) built in to Raven’s items.

So what does a Raven’s matrix test? The ability to solve puzzles embedded in a particular cultural context, even though the symbols in the test are somewhat out of daily experience. They are seen, however, often in IQ tests. Given the ubiquity of Descartian graphs and numerical examples which surrounds us might not seem like cultural “bias”; to us they are more like natural facts. They aren’t, though. They must be learned.

Some will learn it better than others, however. It is not that intelligence does not matter in these tests. Of course it does matter, even though it is not clear which power or which powers of intelligence are being tested, precisely. A literate Chinese man living five centuries ago, used to writing in a more symbolic language, and in opposite directions to English, might fail the Raven’s matrix test abysmally, even though he has managed to memorize a substantial body of poetry and can exposit on the beauty and importance of calligraphy in a way impossible to understand unless one was saturated in his culture.

Culture matters. Richardson says, “Another tacit assumption of the computational model underlying IQ is that testees operate in a social and affective vacuum. However, humans also have complex values, beliefs, attitudes, motives, self-concepts and feelings, which make them more or less well prepared for specific testing situations and engagement with them.” Not only that, but preparedness matters, which also involves will. Richardson highlights many other such culturally tainted aspects of IQ tests, many quite surprising (don’t be lazy: read the paper).

Now, the question works both ways. Yes, these puzzles are culturally important. But that does not imply that the puzzles are somehow frivolous or of no use in aspects of the culture which are important for independent reasons. Somebody who cannot do these puzzles at all might make a lousy theologian or geneticist, for example. But then those who cannot do them at all might just be disengaged with the culture, or they might be of low intelligence, or both.

Is culture therefore so important that IQ tests are of no use? No, of course not. They are a good measure of ability to answer questions and perform tasks that are like those used in IQ tests. If these tasks are found in the culture, and they sometimes are in ours, then the tests can be predictive of success on those tasks—even if IQ tests are a not a good quantification of intelligence. Such a quantification, we saw, requires defining intelligence in detail, which we haven’t done or can’t do. (Many do work on these details, of course, but if any have acknowledged the essential difference between intellect and will and biological functions, I have never seen them. It is also true some aspects of biology and intelligence are more or less understood, such as how memory might work, but there is no precise model of how all aspects tie into intelligence, such that it can be well quantified.)

Assuming we can well define at least some aspects of intelligence, can we separate culture from intelligence in tests designed to measure this well-defined aspect of intelligence? No. Not if the test is task-related (like puzzle-solving is); not from inside a culture. There is no way to design a test in a culture to eliminate that culture’s influence. What we might be able to do is to have each culture design their own test, and have everybody take the resulting battery of tests. But since those other tests would be in other languages, and translation is by definition to impart a cultural bias, it’s not clear how to compare results. Still, if we can get something like this to approximately work, it would be of interest to compare those who score well in some cultures and not others. That variance would give an idea of cultural influence. Still, since it is all task-related, we would never be able to remove the suspicion that bias has crept in.

There might be hope in some base biological measurements which would remove all cultural bias, but things like fMRI right now are not far removed from tea-leaf reading (with worse statistics). These would only capture the lower and not higher, non-material functions, and only capture them crudely. Think of Leonardo da Vinci being handed four cheap tomato-sauced covered crayons at a “family-style” restaurant and asked to reproduce the Mona Lisa. We’re nowhere near close to unambiguous exact causal biological definitions of lower intelligence—which is key.

Race To The Finish

Let’s get to the elephant. It is true that blacks in the States score on IQ tests on average lower than (east) Asians. Of course, blacks do not “have” an IQ; neither do Asians. Nobody who hasn’t taken an IQ test has an IQ. IQ is a score on a test: it is not intelligence, or it is only dimly a view of some aspects of intelligence. Everybody has intelligence, which we saw was not simple. So, given these reminders about the danger of the Deadly Sin of Reification, are blacks on average less intelligent than Asians?

We have a hard question here, because we have already admitted we don’t know how to disentangle cultural influence from whatever aspect of intelligence IQ tests are testing—and we’re not sure what aspects of intelligence precisely IQ tests are testing. Whatever conclusion we come to, we’re going to be left with some healthy uncertainty. That is, we ought to be.

Blacks and Asians in the States do share a portion of culture. This sharing is not complete. If the sharing were complete, and I mean 100%, then we could say that, yes, blacks on average are less intelligent than Asians, given the test scores we’ve seen, but only on those aspects IQ tests measure. How much different? Well, who knows. We can’t go by the IQ scores alone, as we now know. Intelligence involves will, and wills greatly differ; it involves biology, and that differs a lot; it involves intellection, and that maybe differs (recall we don’t know how to tease out the biology from the higher powers). Since we don’t know precisely which aspects of intelligence IQ tests are testing, we have to be vague in our judgement. Simply lapsing to the hard quantification of test scores inevitably leads to claiming the unquantifiable was quantified, hence causing massive over-certainty, hence allowing entreé to the Reification Demon.

IQ tests imperfectly measures intelligence because these tests are in part cultural creations and because they only measure a small part of intelligence in that cultural context. Thus differences in IQ scores can also be predictive of cultural differences. Perhaps not to the same extent as intelligence, but surely to some level.

As far as blacks and Asians, or any races, go, even if the observed differences in distributions of test scores are entirely cultural and not one whit biological or spiritual, the differences are still the differences. They don’t disappear because the different cultures caused the differences in scores (material cause, here). The hope, then, is that differences can be eliminated if the cultures can be made the same. As the kids say, good luck with that.

It is also true that some aspects of intelligence are biological, and as such can be inherited partially. Statistical correlations of this gene expression with that test score and the like exaggerate inheritances, because correlation exaggerates. All classical statistics analyses exaggerate and generate over-certainty. Still, if people of like intelligences mate, then it must be the case that their offspring would tend to be of the same intelligence class—to the extent intelligence is biological and heritable. The real correlations are lower than thought, but they aren’t zero, either. Which is to say the causes on intelligence inheritance are not as strong as thought. But they’re not absent, either.

Races (self-identified will still do) tend to inter-marry. If there are biological racial differences in those parts which cause the lowers powers of intelligence, then attempts to erase the differences are doomed—besides forcing intermarriages. All evidence points in the direction of real differences, but, as said, this evidence is not as robust as thought. It is not zero, either. Forbidding speech on the matter can only cause many to assume the differences are larger than they really are.

It is also true, and has been widely noticed, that those who most would say are of high intelligence, however inaccurately defined, tend not to breed, they being prone to chasing other delights beside families. A fellow calling himself Spandrell calls these distractions “IQ shredders“, a reification if there ever was one, though his point is taken. These delights must lower intelligence on average in any future population, even if the lowering is smaller previously presumed.

This will happen unless those of lower intelligence who are breeding have children who have improved functions in those areas responsible for the lower powers of intelligence. It can happen. This kind of rugged mating happens in other animals. Meaning surprises might happen. Smart money is still on the side of worsening, though.


  1. Speaking of measuring Birdwatching Quotient, an interesting question would be: What measurable skills actually go into birdwatching?

    My guess would be:

    – Energy to get out and tromp around after birds
    – Obsessiveness in running up tallies
    – Competitiveness
    – Sharp eyesight
    – Sensitive color vision (no color blindness)
    – General intelligence
    – Visual memory
    – Maybe sitting still

    Other interesting questions are how many of the traits are positively correlated and how many are negatively correlated. Probably your sitting still is negatively correlated with the high energy required to run up big counts.

    In contrast to IQ, where subtests surprisingly positively correlate, my guess would be that some birdwatching skills tend to negatively correlate with some other skills.

    Wikipedia has a list of celebrities who are birdwatching hobbyists:

    They tend to be pretty high IQ celebrities, such as Jared Diamond and Jonathan Franzen. I see Mick Jagger on the list of birdwatchers. Sir Mick is certainly intelligent but probably not that good at sitting still. But I don’t see much evidence that Sir Mick’s interest in birds extends beyond the English informal term for young ladies.

    I’ve never gone birdwatching. The few birdwatchers I’ve seen were all standing up and moving about, not sitting. Do birdwatchers really sit still, or does de Deo have them confused with somebody else?

  2. I believe five Olympic Decathlon gold medals since 1980 have been won by athletes with one black parent: Daley Thompson, Bryan Clay (half-Japanese), and Ashton Eaton. Other gold medalists have typically been Northern Europeans, or, back in 1956-1960, predominantly black. The latest world record setter, Kevin Mayer, is a blond Frenchman with a German surname.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the events chosen for the decathlon are ideal for somebody who is of partial but not wholly West African descent.

    100 metres
    Long jump
    Shot put
    High jump
    400 metres
    110 metres hurdles
    Discus throw
    Pole vault
    Javelin throw
    1500 metres

    Replace the 110 m hurdles with a 5k and some East Africans would start to become relevant while West African blacks would have a harder challenge. Alternatively, replace the 1500m with a 200m and African Americans would dominate.

    On the other hand, this is a pretty reasonable selection of T&F events and the best decathlon athletes really are extremely good at T&F.


    By my count, comparing Kevin Mayer (strong) to Ashton Eaton (fast) there are

    3 upper body strength events (shotput, discuss, javelin)
    2 technical events — lower body (long jump, 110m hurdles)
    2 technical events — all body (high jump, pole vault)
    2 speed events (100m, 400m)
    1 speed/endurance event (1500m)

    The big gaps in records between the decathlon best and the worlds best are in the strength events and the 1500

  4. Gary

    A number of years ago I looked at the relationship between SAT scores and first year grade point average in college. The r-squared value was about 0.15 at best. So much for predicting success in college based on a proxy for “intelligence.”

  5. Jim Fedako

    Missing is discussion of the reification of the bell curve. When you take an IQ test, your raw score (number of correct answers) is mapped to a second set of values. This exercise places the mapped score on the bell curve. Once completed, the researcher and other observers look at the results and state, “See, IQ scores form a bell curve,” completely ignoring the mapping exercise. Keep in mind normalized scores are the ones always discussed and debated. But they only exist as products of the mapping model.

  6. DAV

    You were doing great until you wandered into philoso-speak with its vacuous partitioning of terms such as imagination vs. intellect — whatever that really means .

    Intelligence is the ability to use information at hand — effectively to solve problems. To some, the ability to recite lots of facts is indicative of intelligence but encyclopedias (encyclopediae?) can provide lots of facts, too. That’s merely memory. Even bugs have intelligence evidenced by their ability in avoiding obstacles or perhaps finding food. That their abilities don’t go beyond this means they have low intelligence.

    Here’s a cat which has solved the problem of getting someone to open a door. if that’s only imagination then it’s highly imaginative. Some members of Congress don’t seem to possess this ability. Heck, some of them can’t spell ‘moron’ even when given the ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘c’.

    IQ tests don’t measure problem solving ability. Instead they test things like vocabulary and pattern recognition. Question six of the Math Olympiad might be good example of testing problem solving but, even that, requires possession of knowledge which isn’t quite testing the ability to use information at hand not to mention it’s in a highly narrow niche.

    Perhaps when we get a better idea of what intelligence is then we might get better at measuring it.

    I looked at the relationship between SAT scores and first year grade point average in college. The r-squared value was about 0.15 at best.

    Mostly due to the fact that SAT scores don’t measure the ability to learn. Colleges use it to winnow the set of potential applicants. Kind of like the time when NASA winnowed the shuttle crew applicant list by requiring 5000 hours of jet time and a PhD. They could just as easily have picked other pointless attributes.

  7. DAV

    When you take an IQ test, your raw score (number of correct answers) is mapped to a second set of values.

    Which is one way to do scaling. Another might be to map them to some interval. say, [0-1].

    The real problem is that they are not scaled globally but within the current group of rest takers. SAT’s are anyway; not sure if IQ’s are. Scoring withing the current group makes comparisons with other groups meaningless. However, as a “best of the bunch” indicator for current college applicants, the SAT scores would be potentially useful if they actually measured something meaningful — like the ability to learn.

  8. Paul Robeson

    Nobody cares about IQ, not really. What they care about is the failure of the African diaspora in Africa and elsewhere. And their inability to talk about it.

  9. james fedako

    DAV —

    My point is raw scores are mapped (fitted) to a bell curve and then researchers and observers look in amazement that IQ distribution is bell shaped. Of course it is, the mapping exercise forced it to be that way.

  10. Jim Fedako

    DAV —

    My point is raw scores are mapped (fitted) to a bell curve and then researchers and observers are amazed the IQ distribution is bell shaped. Of course it is, the mapping forced it to be that way.

  11. DAV


    You do realize that subtracting a mean and dividing by an sd value doesn’t create a bell curve on data that isn’t already clumped around some value, yes? Try doing that with a uniform distribution. You get a bunch of random points.

    The curve is already there.
    Scaling it just changes the values shown.

  12. DAV

    Well not quite a bunch of random points with a uniform distribution. When sorted, you get a straight line.

  13. Pk

    DAV: If intelligence is the ability to solve problems, does not that mean that intelligence is the ability to pass the test? Circular reasoning.

    Although my wife and I are both engineers, I have pretty good math skills and she can make a wild bird land on her finger. (Many times) Seems to me that particular skill would never be measured in an IQ test.

  14. DAV

    If intelligence is the ability to solve problems, does not that mean that intelligence is the ability to pass the test? Circular reasoning.

    Yes, if that’s your definition of intelligence.

    [My wife] can make a wild bird land on her finger. (Many times) Seems to me that particular skill would never be measured in an IQ test.

    Oddly, I have trees in my backyard exhibiting the same remarkable skill of having wild birds land on their outstretched limbs. It never has occurred to me how much intelligence that requires. Now I see them in new light. Thank you!

  15. Ye Olde Statistician

    Imagination is the power of forming and manipulating images, not necessarily visual ones. Bats are proverbially as blind as themselves, but form sonar images of their senses surroundings. It is impossible for humans to imagine what it is like to be a bat precisely because we aren’t imaging from the same sensory powers.

    The work of the imagination implies that the sense impressions persist even after the stimulus that produced them is removed. The imagination “brings back to consciousness the images of objects that have ceased to be present.” Without such re-present-ation we would be conscious only of a kaleidoscope of transient sense impressions which, once gone can never be recalled. This is precisely what happens when, deprived of sensation during sleep, the imagination conjures up dreams from scraps of old sensations which are seldom remembered after awakening. [Brennan, p.16-17]

    The proper object of the imagination is the absent, and its product is the ymago or phantasm. The organ is the brain.

    In addition to the reproductive memory, humans also exercise a creative imagination: Krenken aliens, Prince Charming, a big rock candy mountains,… things never perceived by the senses. But even such things are fabricated from bits and pieces of things that have been perceived. That is why no one can ever imagine a genuinely alien alien.

    The judgments of physics terminate in the senses, the first degree of abstraction from matter. The judgments of mathematics terminate in the imagination, the second degree of abstraction from matter. The imagination is therefore of greater immanence because it is further removed from the world of sense objects.

    The imagination forms a basis for knowledge. “By imaginal power we can live in other places and are able to to project ourselves into situations that we have never actually experienced.” [Brennan, p.128]

    Together with the other powers of the inner senses, it endows the animal (especially the higher animals) with abilities that resemble a sort of washed-out intellect, and leads many folks to mistake the imaginitive powers of animals for the intellective powers of humans

  16. DAV

    Ahh, the partitioning of a vague and little understood term into other vague and little understood terms. Did I mention ‘vacuous’? Quite imaginative and profound (?) which leads many folks to mistake the imaginative powers of philosophers for intelligent thought.

  17. Max

    A number of years ago I looked at the relationship between SAT scores and first year grade point average in college. The r-squared value was about 0.15 at best. So much for predicting success in college based on a proxy for “intelligence.”

    The raw correlation between SAT scores and college GPA is indeed close to ?.15. However, the raw correlation reflects not only the relevant association–that between tested cognitive ability and educational achievement–but also spurious influences, such as the fact that college attendance and not dropping out are positively correlated with SAT scores. The raw correlation is also based on the implicit assumption that a GPA of, say, 3.5 is indicative of the same level of intellectual achievement whether you study theoretical physics at Caltech or home economics at Podunk College. Correcting for such selection biases suggests that the “true” correlation might be in the high .60s or so.

  18. Jim Fedako

    DAV –

    Maybe we talking past each other. Once again, raw scores are MAPPED to fit a bell curve. The raw scores themselves are not necessarily bell shaped. However, once the mapping is performed the resulting scores are distributed normally. The clumping is created by the mapping. It is forced.

  19. DAV


    Mapped? Do you mean as in assigned like grading on the Bell Curve? IOW forcing a shape or distribution onto the data which isn’t there? Why would anyone do this? IQ test results aren’t supposed to be graded.

    As far as I can tell the IQ scores are standardized using z-scores which is pretty much the process I oulined although units of 15 are used instead of one on the x-axis and biased by 100. Also, I believe the median is used instead of the mean. This is scaling and translation; not mapping — at least not in the way I think you mean.

    Can you show that something else is done?

  20. We are currently 115 years into the IQ Era, going back to Spearman’s discovery of the g Factor in 1904 and Binet’s invention of the first modern IQ test in 1905. Similarly, this kind of philosophical critique is close to 100 years old as well, such as Walter Lippman’s early 1920s attack.

    In general, history shows the pro-IQ numbers people having had the upper hand over the anti-IQ conceptual people. For one reason, the pro-IQ people can adopt reforms to respond to good critiques from the anti-IQ people, such as the big improvements in IQ tests in the 1930s. During the current Replication Crisis in psychology, IQ has largely gone unscathed, in part because it has suffered so many attacks previously.

    In contrast, the only major contribution in recent generations from the anti-IQ side was James Flynn’s demonstration of the Flynn Effect during the 1970s-80s.

  21. Briggs


    And now, of course, adding to the anti-IQ side, in a way, is this measurement and metaphysical criticism (which is quite old). See the Books page for much more on statistical critiques.

  22. JG

    would you agree that IQ is at least a useful predictor of intelligence in the Western (non-metaphysical) sense, in which it is defined as the ability to solve complex math or physics problems or succeed in life in a Western society? I think psychometricians are not even that much interested in the metaphysical questions. They just want a predictor for these variables.

  23. Jim Fedako

    DAV —

    You are missing the essence here.

    I create a test which I claim is a valid IQ test. I administer it to (say) 1 million people. Looking at the raw scores (number of correct responses), I find a distribution that does not conform to the bell curve. Do I announce to the world that IQ is not normally distributed? Or do I transform the raw scores to scaled scores in order fit the normal curve?

    Are you familiar with test construction beyond a cursory review of Wikipedia?

  24. DAV


    I’m guessing the answer to my last question (Can you show that something else is done?) is NO or you would have provided it.

    I doubt that anyone falsifies the data as you suggest. Most human attribute measures — and by most I mean nearly all — are distributed about an average in a way that resembles the normal distribution: height, length of arms, size of hands, weight, etc. I can’t think of any human measurements of that nature which are close to uniformly distributed. Just to be clear, I mean measurements vs counts such as number of eyes.

    Not realyy sure what you mean by “fit”. Models are fit to the data vs the data being forced to conform to a model. Two different things with the latter being clearly fraudulemt.

    You do realize that the IQ score is on the x-axis, yes? And the z-score transform is linear, yes? But to make a Bell Curve the number of scores (the y-axis) at each x has to conform to the curve. Seems like a lot of work just to avoid being hailed as the discoverer that IQ scores aren’t normally distributed and becoming the hero of SJW’s everywhere. I’m still curious why you think anyone would bother doing that.

    Are you familiar with test construction beyond a cursory review of Wikipedia?

    In fact I am. Most of the articles and papers talk more about the standardization of design and administration of the tests and, if they mention the handling of scores at all, they merely say the scores are standardized normally which means z-scores — a common normalization technique used in a wide variety of fields when the data are clumped around some central value. I used the wiki article because it actually talked briefly about score processing.

  25. DAV

    Hmmm. My response wandered off into moderation. I wonder why. Did I mispell my e-mail address?

  26. Jim Fedako

    DAV —

    So we agree. Raw scores are normalized in order to fit a normal curve. Yet you seem to believe that the IQ bell shape is the distribution of raw scores. Strange that you cannot abstract the forest because of the trees.

    First google result:

    “Because the IQ test is designed very carefully to have a mean of 100 and an RMS of 15, with a mostly gaussian distribution, any applied statistics study will only reflect the degree to which you can statistically pick from a probability distribution function of that shape. The normalization of the mean and adjustment of the standard deviation is done for a sufficiently-large sample of test scores. After all, prior to normalization, the test score is not an IQ score, but a number of “rights” and “wrongs”.”

    Key word is “designed.”

    Or thousands of other google references.

    Abstractions can be difficult. But give it a try.

  27. DAV

    we agree. Raw scores are normalized in order to fit a normal curve

    Er, no. The transform is linear. In fact it’s
    IQ=(x-mean(x))/sd(x) *15 + 100
    with x = raw score; z=IQ

    Show how that would create or fit the data to a normal curve unless the x-values were already Gaussian distributed.

    Again, this is a commonly used normalization procedure though having a (mean, sd) other than (0,1) is unusual but doesn’t affect things in any meaningful way.

    This is what you get when applying the above transform to data already Gaussian distributed and uniformly distributed data:

    I wasn’t hesitant about embedding this image here thus the link to tinypic.
    The reddish ones were originally Gaussian distributed while the black were uniform.
    I deliberately picked a mean and sd different than 100&15 for the Gaussian.
    The uniform distribution lo,hi values are the min/max of the Gaussian x-values
    Note that the uniform x-values have a different mean and sd than the Gaussian x-values

    First google result: “Because the IQ test is designed very carefully to have a mean of 100 and an RMS of 15 …

    ROFL! Talk about conspiracy theories! Think about how hard it would be to design a test where the raw scores not only have a specific mean but are also distributed with a given standard deviation. How would anyone do this? Better yet, why? Given today’s politics you’d think a uniformly distributed result would be preferred.

    I notice you complained about a link to wiki but failed to mention where you got your quote. Ashamed to show it?

  28. Jim Fedako

    DAV —

    Sorry, you a way, way out of your field.

    Once again, the raw scores are transformed to the bell curve, forcing the mean to be 100. That is by design. A z transformation will fit raw scores to standard scores. However, that is done based on the underlying assumption of normally distributed intelligence.

    “Look, I used a model to transform my raw scores into normal scores and the results are a normal curve. Boy, that must mean intelligence is normally distributed.”

    Transforming scores to conform to a bell shape is no argument that IQ is normal. You are racing around your circular argument.

    And you keep committing the reification fallacy.

    Here is the process Mensa uses to map raw scores to IQ. Most other mapping models are proprietary.

    You must — must — have the cognitive skills to grasp that questions on each IQ test are purposively chosen. They don’t pull questions out of a hat, so to speak. To imply that (i.e. test are not purposively designed) is risible. Seriously.

    So the Mensa raw score mapping does not change with versions of the test. And it’s not magic, it’s design.

    There is whole area in psychometrics addressing test construction, based on the underlying assumption of normal distribution of intelligence.

    Do some research.

  29. DAV

    Wow and you think I’m the one out of my league. You clearly don’t understand what that Mensa document is talking about. They most certainly aren’t trying to show that uniformly distributed scores are being forced to Gaussian distributions. Especially considering their membersip reqirement. In fact, they are using a well known relationdhip between z-scores and quantiles. Then use the z-score to estimated IQ. It’s an estimate because the actual IQ values depend on the current group of test takers. It makes no difference that they skip intermediate steps and go from percentile directly to IQ.

    And you keep committing the reification fallacy

    You really should know the meanings of the words you form into sentences. You certainly don’t seem to know the meaning of reification.

    Transforming scores to conform to a bell shape is no argument that IQ is normal.

    You’re the one making this claim. All I’ve said is that the scores are scaled and translated to standard values and the process for doing this is linear. It will produce a Gaussian didtribution only if the originalnal data have this distribution. I even showed you. Stop being Sylly.

    There is whole area in psychometrics addressing test construction, based on the underlying assumption of normal distribution of intelligence.

    Strangely all of the scholastic documents in re IQ seem more interested in designing fair tests among other things and don’t appear to give a rat’s behind about how IQ’s are distributed.

    Maybe it’s you who should do more research.

  30. Jim Fedako

    DAV —

    Once again, and then it’s time for more productive endeavours.

    To believe human attributes (such as intelligence) are normally distributed is to believe nature has a true intelligence value, with all deviations being errors in quality control (Michael Acree, PhD, paraphrased).

    IQ scores are normally distributed because that is the underlying assumption. Tests are purposefully constructed to achieve a bell shape or transformed (or renormed) when they do not.

    Again, your claim that IQ test are not designed, and not designed based on a belief in a normal distribution, is beyond risible.

    You reify a bell curve and normally distributed intelligence based on a model that transforms raw scores into normally distributed scores. Circular in the round.

    Regarding Mensa, I hope you realize the score is independent of the actual test and associated questions. The questions on each variation of the test are chosen to produce those scores. It’s not happenstance, as you believe.

    Did it ever cross your mind that a test constructed of 50 or so made up questions would not be considered a valid IQ test? As if all test results must to conform to a normal curve. Silly to believe that.

    Instead question are chosen for an IQ test so that the results map to a normal curve. It is the assumption of a normal curve that underlies all.


  31. DAV

    Sure, Jim. Whatever you say. However a couple of points:

    To believe human attributes (such as intelligence) are normally distributed is to believe nature has a true intelligence value, with all deviations being errors in quality control (Michael Acree, PhD, paraphrased).

    No, it means the measurement tends toward a common average value. Just like arm length, height, weight, etc. All of which have changed over time, BTW. Mean value in no way implies a “true” value. It’s just more prevalent (i.e., common) which is why it’s called “mean”.

    Tests are purposefully constructed to achieve a bell shape
    Which actually requires the resulting raw scores to have this distribution which in turn means getting test takers to produce these values. You haven’t explained how they were coerced into doing this.

    or transformed (or renormed) when they do not.
    Even if true, you haven’t explained why anyone would insist on a this distribution.

    You reify a bell curve and normally distributed intelligence based on a model that transforms raw scores into normally distributed scores. Circular in the round.

    Are you a Democrat? Projection seems to be your thing. I gave no model that transforms raw scores into normally distributed ones. In fact, I gave no model at all. But it is you who continue to claim such a thing is being done and for some reason you think the Mensa thing proves it.

    [1]Did it ever cross your mind that a test constructed of 50 or so made up questions would not be considered a valid IQ test?
    [2] As if all test results must to conform to a normal curve.

    Two unrelated things. What’s this “as if” stuff?
    [1] Any set of questions? Like: who won the Stanley Cup in 1978? What did Sally wear to the prom? Or something similar? Yes, a random set of questions would not usually be a valid IQ test. And I think you really meant a valid intelligence test instead of IQ but with you who can tell?
    [2] No one said that. They just happen to do so.

    question[s] are chosen for an IQ test so that the results map to a normal curve.
    Again, it’s depending upon the test takers to answer in particular ways to give that curve. Seems an impossible task. Maybe those psych boys know more about behavior than we suspect?

    But you’re just being Sylly.
    Time to go.

  32. Jim Fedako

    DAV —

    I’ll leave with this comment from you, said with authority, “Mean value … is just more prevalent (i.e., common) which is why it’s called “mean”.” (My ellipsis)

    You showed your breadth of understanding with that comment.


  33. DAV

    Ahh, you noticed my little joke:

    mean: early 14c, of common origin; a commoner
    late 14c, ordinary; average

    Probably not the origin of the statistical term which is likely from “of middle rank” but glad you enjoyed it.

  34. Jim Fedako

    DAV —

    Dude, took you quite a while to attempt to cover your misunderstanding of “mean.” And you didn’t even do a good job. Sad.

  35. oh, where to start..

    Many of your essays, like this one, are great – they make me think, especially when my beliefs and assumptions are different from yours.

    First, IQ measures more than the ability to do tests. Nobody consistently scoring below average on SAT/IQ style tests has ever contributed significantly to math, physics, music, or anything else tied to reality.

    So suppose what you consider people smarts actually has two very different components: RI (real inteligence) and CI (contextual, or human, applied inteligence). Note that RI is a biological prerequisite for contextual, or applied, inteligence in humans.

    Thus an alien could have a very high RI, and zero CI (my dog, an Alaskan Malamute who really does seem to scheme (plan-in-response-to-conditions) and execute on his schemes fits this description) and your attempt to see IQ as a poor predictor for CI would make perfect sense without saying anything at all about RI.

  36. DAV

    Sorry. I didn’t know there was a deadline. Some of us are busy with our lives.. But now you’ve gone and tried to hurt my feelings. Talk about sad. You should be careful. I hear that can get you banned from social mefia and places where other petty individuals hang out.


  37. Joy

    Was going to say something else about imagination but a discussion broke out.
    I know mean when I see it, can spot average and common omissions and oversights 🙂 Come on Jim, children at school know what average is. If I know, you can count it as general knowledge. If you’ve been reading this site for as long as it seems, you know Dav better surely?

    Einstein, not generally known for his thinking abilities either, *just dumb,
    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
    “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” (but then presumably he wasn’t given to fan fiction because I feel sure he’d never heard of it either).

    Listening to Feynman, he says much the same thing in interviews where he observed his own thinking. The computation, he says, is just hard work. *I don’t think anyone can do it, but he makes the claim that anyone can if they work hard enough, he presumably means anyone with the basic aptitude.

    Penrose humbly puts mathematical ability into sharp relief in his cartoon with the lion about to eat the caveman alive while he’s busy working on a sum. He seems to lack the urgency to make a claim about superior intellect like his own as proof of anything. I like that about him. He’s not steeped in all the BS. Yet he points out that we need a theory that describes the world we perceive. He also notes that dogs think. *not dogmatically. (Though why anyone should care whether they can do maths is something only an Aristotelian psychologist could possibly know.)

  38. DAV


    Jim is just having a bad day. That is, one less than average and less common 🙂 I’m sure he’ll be back to himself in no time flat.

    The thing I find irritating about philosophy is the certainty expressed when speculating. There really is no way to show if imagination can really exist separate from intelligence but they do give their reasons for thinking so. Doesn’t make it anything but speculation, though. It’s as if they want humans to be completely special from all other species but consider it bad form to outright say it. As in: what people have is intelligence and what animals have is something else even it they look like gradations of intelligence. Why? Because humans are really special creatures.

    Animals can solve problems. Presumably, intelligence involves abstraction but it’s hard to see how any problem can be solved without some degree of abstraction. After all, images vary and seldom are identical with past images. So how is this accomplished? Animals have better memories than humans and can store all past images for comparison? even those that move? Seems unlikely.

    The “humans do math problems but animals don’t” is a reach. Part of that Humans-are-Special meme. Don’t see how or why the types of problems should affect the definition. Yes, humans are different and at a higher level than animals (usually that is, there are some really stupid things done on YouTube) but unlikely they are that much different.

    The video I linked with the cat is rather short and it’s hard to tell but it certainly looks like the cat used the knocker then sat back and waited for someone to open the door. Wonder how he came up with it. Did he see someone do it then realize, “Hey! I can do that, too”? But to the philosopher: it’s just imagination — no intelligence required.

  39. Jim Fedako

    Joy —

    Sorry, I never got beyond the intro to Dianetics. So it shouldn't surprise that I struggled to make sense of the opening lines of your comment.

    DAV —

    Bad day?!? You are unable to differentiate mean from mode, yet you still argue from authority. Hmmm.

  40. DAV


    The mode of your post is just plain mean 🙂

    Get well soon.

  41. It’s not like actual psychometricians haven’t noticed this. Indeed you can tell you’re talking to a sophist, or their degenerate pets, the journalists, if they blithely conflate IQ and intelligence.

    Speaking of sophists, by identifying intelligence with the soul, you make the exact same error as the sophists do. More on this later.

    There is the Flynn effect, where IQ goes up. But it was psychometricians themselves that thought to measure the subtests, and found that reading, writing and arithmetic haven’t gone anywhere. All the gains are in things like ‘picture similarity’ and similarly fudge-laden tasks. Discrepancies like this are why they came up with the g-factor. Similarly, the very issues you raise are why they are careful not to equate g with intelligence. They are as curious to know what they’re studying as anyone. But certainly, they have grabbed ahold of something significant.

    Anyway, what you want isn’t intelligence per se, but epistemic competence. (And my blog has a recent how-to.) The latter is a lot of work, almost exactly like going to the gym. Imagine the strongest man in the world competing at a powerlifting event – but he’s a couch potato, never lifted before in his life. By ‘strongest’ of course I’m equating potential max muscle with IQ.

    Most refrain from epistemic competence, except when absolutely necessary, e.g. at their job. Further example, the job of a large minority of psychometricians is psychometry.

    Aquinas fudged the three powers slightly. It’s learning, cognition, and creativity. Bit copying, bit processing, bit generation. It is extremely clear that, for example, memory is a purely physical process, with no direct input from the soul. You don’t have offsite backups. At least not of temporal events. On the other hand, so far the evidence also strongly suggests that identifying something as a member of a category -is- a function of the soul. You never confuse a bus with a punching bag, whereas unconscious machines do. The semantic problem.

    The essentially Gnostic hatred of the sacred material that Catholics indulge in has long been noted by non-Catholics. “Made in the image of God” means you shouldn’t disrespect your body like that, meaty though it may be. You would be as cognitively crippled without it as it would be without you.

    In any case, literally the only person qualified to speculate about matters of the mind per se is me. Nobody else has done their homework. Oh, but fun teaser: it really was quantum all along. Reality is absolutely busting a gut at every serious or respectable thinker on this topic.

  42. Joy

    Briggs, you’ve changed it again but I like the font and although I’d grown used to the black despite criticising you heavily for it as I thought it might reflect your mood!
    It’s that change thing, I don’t like change. Maybe a slight autism on my part

    This made me laugh:
    “Most refrain from epistemic competence, except when absolutely necessary, e.g. at their job.”
    Only on Briggs!
    and I was sorry this discussion got forgot.

  43. L Ron Hubbard alias John B()

    Dianetics!? Seriously?
    Jim was really having a bad day (REM wrote a song about that one)
    (Also Dr. Suess’ HOP ON POP … SAD DAD BAD HAD

    Joy … So Dianetics … did I meet you or your parents at St Hill Manor?
    (Before I became persona non grata?)


    My old eyes need bigger font

  44. Lance

    I enjoyed the post.
    The comments make me sad.

  45. Joy

    L Ron,

    I mean the title font where people’s names appear, they’re easier because they have more shape, more clues.

    Never heard of Dianetics Diatetics, yes. It’s not the first time Jim accused me of being one of those.
    I can assure you I’ve never met you before in my life, whatever Tom Cruise says.

    I recall your name from years ago on WUWT or Climate Audit, or WM Briggs… Before you knew I existed.

    It didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t your real name or that you were in a cunning disguise.
    It took ages for the penny to drop.
    How’s your covid been? I’ve been thinking it could be terminal for some of the more creative ‘religious organisations’, plays havoc with their ‘supply chains’.

  46. John Pate

    IQ isn’t very interesting but g is. g isn’t intelligence it’s a proxy measure of some aspects that go to towards intelligence. In some ways personality factors are more important but they are way more difficult to quantify and variable over time and highly environmentally dependent and is sort of orthogonal to g.
    What’s wrong about this, and Taleb’s, analysis is that you’re punching at a straw man. What g theorists are interested in is the explanatory power of g as proxy for intelligence… and that’s what people are really upset about because it blows “equality” out of the water.
    Shame on you Briggs.

  47. Briggs

    Pate, next time try reading the article before commenting on it. Comments like yours make one assume there’s not much under your pate.

  48. L Ron Hubbard alias John B()


    Never heard of Dianetics – It was of course in reference to Jim Fedako’s comment comparing your writing to that of L Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics
    Dianetics was first promoted John W Campbell and its essential ideas appeared in Astounding Science Fiction The essential ideas of Dianetics actually was first introduced in The Explorer’s Journal
    Hubbard’s British headquarters where he himself spent a lot of time in the 60’s was Saint Hill Manor in Sussex. He then purchased some ships and took himself and operation to sea.
    As of 2011, The Church of Scientology still owned Saint Hill Manor.
    No I have not abandoned my alias

  49. Joy

    Sorry L Ron, let me explain, I wasn’t quite accurate:

    When I said I’d never heard of Dianetics, it was re; Jim Fedecko who had, on a couple of other occasions, said the same thing. So it was a past tense remark. I HAD never heard.

    So, looked it up and promptly forgot what it was. Then had to look it up again! Started watching all about their shenanigans on a series of programmes. So it’s now fixed, what it’s all about. Hence I didn’t twig your name! Same reason. I liked Luis Theroux’s movie about it.

    So I was pretending I thought you were really L Ron (which I know you really are…your secret’s safe with me)
    I guessed Hill Manor was their house, didn’t know it was over here.

    Our government are starting to sort out all the scallywags who own property and keep money here. Scientologists would be on the list. America is too spaced out and ‘free’ *geographically, to warrant any kind of official inspection. Give Trump time.

    My friend has a funny / creepy tale, about an encounter with them at the Tottenham Court Road branch. He has a high IQ! He takes mind risks. I have never done such things. Rather do risky sports. They don’t hurt so much.

    PS, I didn’t know what fan fiction was either, and had to look up marxism again even though I knew I wasn’t one! He’s buried up the road from where I trained in Highgate. Lovely Park though.

  50. SpiritSplice

    Are you jewish? This is nothing but sophistry and pilpul.

  51. jim progita

    IQ is the best measure of a person’s likelihood to succeed in life. IQ tests have a century of empirical data from which to evaluate their effectiveness and applicability i.e. their usefulness. And the conclusion is that IQ tests are the very best measure of a person’s potential for productivity.
    IQ is correlated to the ability to think abstractly. Abstract thought is the single most important characteristic of a person’s ability to understand morality. Those will IQ scores below 85 lack the ability to think abstractly and therefore are incapable of making moral decisions.
    The sub-Saharan portion of the continent of Africa contains the highest proportion of people with sub-85 IQ levels. It is therefore not surprising that no native language in that area includes vocabulary for precision.
    Precision is an abstract concept. Those reading this take for granted that people understand precision and consider it an innate characteristic of human intellect. The phrase “Is the glass half full or half empty?” is an amusing philosophical query–if you have an IQ over 85.
    If your IQ is sub-85, you do not understand the statement. And there is no correlation of a person’s “environment” in this matter. If you are raised by genius billionaire parents but have a sub-85 IQ, you will never be able to grasp the concept of precision. If I ask you to rake the leaves covering the yard and after 15 minutes you clear 25% of the yard, you will not be able to estimate how long it will take you to finish. And it is not because you cannot understand fractions. You will not be able to give even a crude estimate.
    You will only be able to tell me that you are not finished. This will make you incapable of supervising the work of others because you will not be able to make estimates.
    This is why the sub-Saharan region is peopled by millions of individuals who are incapable of organizing group efforts. In order to accomplish a task that involves multiple people working for an extended period of time, you must understand the abstract notion of time in addition to being able to forecast results–another abstract concept that is often lumped into the phrase “to plan for the future”.
    The outward appearances of race are the least reliable means of determining a person’s genetic racial grouping. Thomas Sowell has the appearance of an African man (always African is referring to sub-Saharan Africa in this comment). The average African man has an IQ below 85. Thomas Sowell behaves as someone who has an IQ well over 110 which makes him among the most intelligent.
    An IQ test is a very accurate and fair way to determine how someone should be treated in determining their potential to be productive. Appearance is a very poor determinant of productivity potential.
    A person’s appearance should never be used to determine whether or not that person has the potential to master a skill or to understand abstract thought.
    Unfortunately, IQ tests are misrepresented as being unuseful, worthless, biased, inaccurate and outdated (as you Mr. Briggs have done abundantly). Because IQ tests are the most accurate and useful measure of a person’s potential, they are hated and maligned. They are viscerally hated and treated as taboo because they reveal stark differences among the three major races and some sub-categories such as European Jews.
    Mr. Briggs, you are grossly in error on the topic of race.
    Sub-Saharan Africans on average, lack the ability to think abstractly. They therefore do not know the difference between moral right and moral wrong. This is why the practice of “necklacing” is humorous to them. You find “necklacing” to be a human atrocity, a heinous torture of a human being that no one ever deserves. Hundreds of millions of Africans have no problem with necklacing and even find it to be an enjoyable pastime to watch others suffer and die horrifically.
    The term “savage” is a forbidden word in the West in 2021. Why? Because it is considered “racist”. Why is it considered “racist”? The Picts who inhabited the British Isles in 200 BC are responsible for the word “savage” and they were light skinned, blonde haired, blue-eyed Europeans. The Romans called them savage because they enjoyed torture. They would find African necklacing amusing. Picts had sub-85 IQ levels.
    They also tattooed themselves. Tattooing is an indication of a low-IQ society. Picts lacked the ability to understand morality. Stealing, lying and sexual fidelity are moral abstractions.
    Savage societies consist of people who steal from each other, lie to each other and have no sexual fidelity. Murder is a moral concept. Savage societies do not recognize murder.
    Stealing is never wrong. Lying is never wrong. Murder and adultery never occur.
    In savage societies, strength determines a person’s ability to withstand physical assaults to stay alive and retain their stuff. Having the ability to wield force upon others or to coerce others into their service determines who can demand the truth of others and whose mates are protected from the sexual couplings of others.
    Savage societies keep no records, have no written language, have no dictionary, have no words for right and wrong.
    You don’t know this because the study of people–ethnography–is not taught. You Mr. Briggs are as fooled as your audience.
    Your book is pathetic. You reveal very little useful information. Because you are so grossly misinformed.
    Your book “Everything you Believe is Wrong’ should be titled “Everything I Believe is Wrong but that isn’t going to stop me from crowing about the tiny fraction of things you believe that I no longer believe.”
    Talk about the blind leading the blind!
    I admire your attempt to inform others. Keep searching for the Truth, you just might stumble into it some day.

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