Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Thought on Intelligence

NOTE: I am reproducing a number of essays from my defunct blog because either (1) they are cited in the essay "Reconsidering My Earlier Justifications of the Death Penalty" which I decided to reproduce first, or (2) they are cited in one of the other essays cited in that essay. Though I am only fixing the links in "Reconsidering My Earlier Justifications of the Death Penalty" and not the additional essays, at least not at this time, I think it best to try to ensure as many essays as possible are reproduced so, when I do decide to fix all those links, the essays are available.

I am always interested to hear people attempt to sell ideas based upon the intelligence of the proponents.Sometimes it takes a form as simple as Mensa-style arrogance over one's IQ ("Mostly Off Topic"), other times it depends upon the educational credentials of those supporting it, or some combination of the above.

Now, clearly, one's educational credentials are hardly a good measure of an idea's worth, as we all know those who have received quite extensive education yet have no sense at all. In addition, thanks to the politicization of many departments or entire universities, many educational credentials mean next to nothing, or mean at best an ability to comply with certain dogmas while displaying a minimal intellectual ability.

But what about IQ? Is that meaningless?

In one sense, yes it is. If you think about it, intelligence is simply a measure of pattern matching ability. While that may be a useful measure of one's raw intellectual potential, the upper limit of one's potential, it does not mean one will meet that potential.

Let us think of it this way. A computer, in terms of accuracy and speed can perform mathematical operations better than any human known. Yet, if programmed improperly, the results are no more reliable than the thoughts of the slowest human moron. Would you accept an obviously absurd argument just because it came from "a really fast computer"? IQ is a similar measure. Given the proper training, an individual with a high IQ has great potential, but improperly educated, all that IQ means is elaborate and intricate errors.

And that is where those promoting theories based on education or IQ make their error. They confuse, for lack of a better word, intelligence and wisdom. They mistake computational and pattern recognition abilities with insight. If you start from incorrect premises, or proceed using invalid methods, all the intelligence in the world will not help. Similarly, unless education provides you with those premises, it is not going to assist you in understanding events. In fact, if it provides you with incorrect beliefs, it may actually discourage 

I mention this because I have recently seen a resurgence of a claim I thought quietly gone, the idea that liberalism is inherently "smarter" and that "all intelligent people are liberal". It is a dubious claim for many reasons, not the least of which are the very many intelligent men and women who hold views at odds with liberalism. But, even were it true, I wanted to point out that raw intelligence alone doe snot guarantee accurate representation of reality. And so, even if liberalism were the philosophy of "intelligent people", it would not mean it was true. (If anyone doubts that, think of all the mistaken beliefs once held by "all intelligent people" at various times in the past.)

I know everything I have said is self-evident, but you would be amazed how often the self-evident is overlooked by otherwise intelligent people.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2010/01/26.

NOTE: It is interesting to see how similar this is to the topic I discussed in my recent post "Intellect and Politics". Especially since I had forgotten about this essay until I saw it cited in another old post today.

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