Tuesday, October 6, 2009

High IQ versus common sense?

Why do highly intelligent people often lack common sense? Bruce Charlton, editor of the journal Medical Hypotheses, has some thoughts here.


  1. I read that post when first he posted the link in a comments section over at Joy of Curmudgeonry.

    I wonder when people will realise that IQ is a flawed metric. In 100 years, perhaps, and then laugh at our rationalisations for having used it for so long and so seriously.

    In my opinion, it is closer to being a metric of how much and how often one suffers from autism spectrum disorders mental states. This is not intelligence, in spite of what (modern) America thinks. The article, at least, doesn't disagree with this my assessment.

    (First time I've commented after a long, long while of reading here. Hello, Ed! Hello, everyone.)

  2. I have long thought that this is what makes Aquinas so very special - the exceedingly rare combination of a gigantic IQ with massive common sense.

  3. Bruce G Charlton (author of the article) speaking:

    @The 27th Comrade

    Your comment makes me wonder whether you have ever looked at the vast body of consistent and highly predictive research that has been generated in relation to IQ? Until just about two years ago I had not, and I had similarly dismissive views as you do. When I eventually looked into the subject I was amazed at the way so much solid science could be buried by the power of political correctness:


    @Warren - I agree. This combination is rare, and should be treasured when found.

    A modern example was C.S. Lewis. However Lewis, like most common-sensical high-IQ moderns, had to extricate himself from the trendy (Hegelian) nonsense of his youth - whereas Aquinas seems to have stayed on the rails from birth.

  4. 27th Comrade:

    The IQ method might have flaws, but it's certainly not useless. It's actually very significantly correlated with life outcomes across a wide swath of areas, has been shown to be largely heritable in a predictable manner, etc. There is a lot of real science there.

    I will agree that we don't know precisely what it's measuring though. If you dissect a human brain, you won't find an "IQ" in there. It's an approximate metric of intellectual ability based on outward performance, and it's not really known what precisely that maps to in terms of the physical brain. If we did know, we wouldn't need IQ tests, just brain scans.

    My suspicion is that in large part, IQ doesn't correlate to certain dispositions or personalities, but that in many cases, it *is* those dispositions. That is to say, you might have two people who's brains have roughly equal raw potential, but one person could score a substantially higher IQ because his disposition results in him better utilizing and exercising those parts of the brain that deliver a high score (of course, that disposition is likely partly the result of brain chemistry too).

    One thing that IQ doesn't measure is a general ability to find out the truth. In order to come up with such a measure, you'd have to be able to quantify truth, which is not possible.

    It *might* be an indication of one's ability to move to correct conclusions given correct premises, but that's assuming that one has correct premises. Having a high IQ doesn't grant automatic knowledge, or make one any more intellectually honest. It can just as easily be used to arrive at wrong conclusions from wrong premises, and to rationalize the sort of blatantly absurd nonsense that any idiot with a set of eyes can easily see is wrong.

    In fact, you might say that having a low-to-medium IQ puts a limit on how egregiously wrong you can be. Any average Joe can be normal wrong about minutia that isn't immediately obvious.

    But to be spectacularly wrong, wrong in a way that flagrantly violates logic and common sense, wrong in a way that doesn't even pass the laugh test - to go against every grain of observable reality like a Marx or a Nietzsche, and to then rationalize your fallacious conclusions so thoroughly that you actually come to believe them - THAT requires a high IQ.

  5. Wow, is Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize not a prime example of this? You'd have to be just totally disconnected from reality and common sense in order to think he deserves it, but it looks like the "enlightened" elites of the Nobel committee fit the bill.

  6. Linking to douches is positively correlated with douchebaggery.

  7. Then they're not as intelligent as was presumed of them, are they. IQ tests are a bogus measure.