I was reading a post on Quara this morning by a high school male student entitled “How do I increase my raw brain power if I’m not blessed with good genes?” This student makes top grades, attends the advance placement classes and always scores 5s, but had the misfortune to take an IQ test recently and discovered he was barely in the second standard deviation. If seems all the smart kids he knows all score in the third standard deviation and he is alarmed.They score almost perfect SAT scores and the best he can do 1980. His question is, how can he improve his brain power to be like the other high IQ kids. Well, despite all the web sites that promise to help you raise your IQ, the best that they can do is perhaps increase it by a few points and no more.
That brings us to another point, just what do IQ tests measure? Ever since Alfred Benet devised a method of testing for the sorting of school age children by propensity to achieve (yes, one can use other terms but achievement was the main concern) and then order them into appropriate groups so that those with greater promise received more attention and those with far less promise could received less attention, the debate of just what is being measured and how that relates to learning, thinking, and future achievement has settle. There are those who decry the testing as absolutely meaningless. They have a point in that the test is not a strong predictor of success in life. One may have a very high IQ and still only dig ditches in life for minimum wage. On the other hand, those to the left of average are not likely to become doctors or lawyers in their lifetimes. And if one is too far left of average even digging ditches will be a difficult task. We do know that the tests are reliable, that is, when administered multiple times over an expanded time period the same, but usually not exact scores are made. The scores will vary buy only a couple of points. If an individual suddenly jumps by a standard deviation score then we may assume something is wrong.
Now there are a good many theories of intelligence and each attempts to find a rational scientifically supported explanation. There have been the chemical/physiological explanations such as a higher concentration of nerve cells or that the synapses of the nerve cells are closer or that the neurotransmitters were of a higher concentration, and so forth. None of this has been proven. Then there are the attempts to show that the cell organization in the brains are different. That is highly debatable as well. All we know is that there are very few individuals we call genius who do not have genius IQ (the cut off point is 164 or the fifth standard deviation), and while Einstein never took an IQ test, his was estimated to be above 180. On the other hand we have the scores of many such individuals who have achieved such rare heights of fame in the arts and sciences and most of them rank at least in the fifth standard deviation or much higher.
Well, here we are, halfway through the article and we have forgotten about the student who is a high achiever in high school in the academic arena and he wants to have the very high achiever IQ. That won’t happen in his lifetime or your either. You see, one of the problems with discussing IQ is assuming that it means achievement or even very high achievement. But the two are very separate items. One can measure IQ and muscle strength but muscle tissue is a different type of cell from nerve cell. Both have genetic factors but one can add more muscle cells and hence greater body strength while one cannot add more nerve cells to improve general IQ. The other factor is that the various variables that make up the IQ score are not interchangeable and that two individuals with the same general IQ score will often vary in those different subtests results. So the idea of translation IQ score into a direct causation or even indirect causation is unrealistic as it does not factor in the other variables of behavior in an individuals life. And since correlation is not causation there is no need to discuss that misapplied statistic.
Note that in the seventies and eighties there were claims of other Intelligences, five to be exact. And then came several more such as social intelligence and spiritual intelligence, all with their champions. Unfortunately, while those who claim the existence of such measures, there has been little in the way of proof. To be sure there have been a great number of experiments claiming proof but their data is quite disputable as are their methods. The other problem is that IQ, as it is measured is a direct result of genetic predispensation while something like social intelligence is far more likely to be a learned behavior, thus not a stable factor or variable.
So what do we tell our young student? The first thing say is that IQ is not the end all and be all of predictive performance in life achievement. I, myself, have an IQ score of 168 and that puts me solidly in the fifth standard deviation. Yet I have no great achievements to brag about. In public school I was more a failure than anything and did drop out. a couple of decades later I graduated from University with honors. I am ashamed to say that I did not achieve an A in every course and have the shame to say that I actually had two Cs, the memory of which still pains me. And yes, I have dug ditches at one time in my life along with wash dishes in a diner and other low wage jobs. I have also been someone for my fifteen minutes of fame in Telecom. I can tell you that the world does not beat a path to your doorway simply because you scored genius on the Stanford-Binet test. On the other hand one does not need to be like House (the TV character, not a real person, only based on one), a great doctor. Should you choose to go that route it will be very difficult for you and the time investment will be far greater than it will be for your adored cohorts. But that is just it, time is an investment one makes in a profession or other employment endeavor.
And please understand that there are three categories of genius. I should know for I have met them. The first is what we may call the specialist. He’s the guy that if aeronautics is his oyster, he knows it like the back of his hand and probably dabbles in other specialities related to it. If he is a molecular physicist then he knows more about molecules than he does about cosmology. If, on the other hand he is an astrophysicist then he is more the generalist for he must branch out into other branches of science and take from them what he needs. His vision is vast because it must be. And then there are the awkward geniuses like myself who middlemen, for we are neither generalists nor specialists. We form the branches that connect both worlds. We facilitate the two and usually without achieving any greatness ourselves. We do not see as far and we don’t delve as deep but we understand what is there. The other thing about genius is that we can lay our hands on many different areas of learning at once. The funny thing is, the more I learn and know the easier it becomes to learn and the wider I can cast my net. This thing called knowledge is a very powerful instrument that makes learning an intense experience. What was a muddle to me in my youth has become very clear and easier to understand.
So here is the take-away for all you poor souls who weren’t born with the genetics you desire. You will always be condemned to specialized areas of knowledge. You will have other interests and you might even make great headway in mastering them. But you will never experience to ease of learning that us in the nether worlds experience. Your key to success is that need to achieve and you will fill it through expansive reading and practical experience. So pick your fields of expertise well for you will be limited to usually no more than two. Invest your time wisely in them, always placing the majority or your effort in the primary area. The other thing is, learn to live life well. Pick you mate well. Pay attention to your children and your relatives. We geniuses have trouble with social relationships, some of more than others. And remember, Just because you do not achieve fame and fortune does not mean that you are a failure. I am in my late sixties living on social security and yet I am hardly a failure in life. My writing has improved from very bad to fairly good. My knowledge still grows daily and my mind is active. I can take apart the arguments most of the successful people make because I can see the errors far more clearly. And I can still use my hands as well as my mind, I am not dependent on the services of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and the like. Hell, I can still rebuild an automotive engine. This is the lesson of life, stop worrying about what you don’t have and just do what you can. Anything less is failure.