Book: Intelligence by Stuart Richie

My Old Impression of Intelligence

I used to ridicule the IQ test. To me, it is nothing more than another test, and I hate tests. The IQ test also does not help its cause by sharing common segments with other standardized tests I have taken like SAT (for college) and GRE (for graduate school). Personally I have not seen much correlation between high scores in standardized test and intelligence. I have met people with impressive test-taking skill but not-so-impressive ability to do complex work. In short, I never bothered to think about the IQ test.

I even did not care much about intelligence. I like to believe most of us could achieve anything by working hard and working smart. Of course, being smart does not hurt, but intelligence should not be so important that it can make or break a career. However, my belief is dismissed by Stuart Richie in his book Intelligence: All That Matters. Stuart uses many research results spanning from the 19th to 21st century to make his point: people have different intelligence, and intelligence matters.

Intelligence Does Matter (sometimes, a lot)

Before trying to understand about intelligence, we should have a clear and succinct definition of intelligence. Here is the definition of intelligence given by Gottfredson, an expert in intelligence research:

Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. It is not merely book-learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings, ‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do.

Great, the definition alone answers several of my questions about intelligence. From my experience with people, the not-so-smart ones almost always have serious troubles with abstract and complex ideas, and they seemed to be hopeless with reasoning and learning from experience. The definition also explains about the people who could easily outsmart standardized tests but could do not much else. I have also wondered why some people repeatedly interpret information, even straightforward ideas and facts, in the wrong way. It is frustrating because they could not learn much from books even if they spend considerable time and effort on reading. After all, “Making sense” of things is an important part of intelligence.

Can We Improve Our Intelligence?

Okay, intelligence varies from person to person but is there any way to improve our intelligence? Stuart answers the question using a chapter called “The easy way to raise your IQ”, only that he does not mention any way at all. (He admits that the chapter title is just a bait). At the current state, researchers around the world still do not know which is the easiest and most convenient method to raise our IQ. Should we feel depressed?

Sadly, for some people, the answer is yes. It is because the best way to raise the IQ, in my opinion, is to read good books, take good courses, learn from great people, and learn from experience. However, for a person who is not intelligent enough, how on earth can he differentiate a good book from a bad one? From my somewhat cynical point of view, the same person probably also listens and follows other stupid people. He will not learn anything from his experience and keep repeating his mistakes. That is the dilemma of intelligence. If he could do better, then he would not have needed to raise his IQ so badly.

I think if I am intelligent enough, but not successful as I might like, then my problem is likely not about my intelligence. Maybe the problem is about my perception, my vision, my friends, my character, my habits, et cetera. Heck, even if I am not smart, I will try to solve other problems anyway.

Another point Stuart makes in his book is that even among highly intelligent people, intelligence still matters. What if I am not as intelligent as my competitors? I will try to do two things: think and do.  Regardless of the problem, the more I think about it, the better chance I will solve it. Maybe my competitors are smarter and they can solve the problem faster, but they still have to spend time. They still could not do it in an instant, and there is a chance that they will not even solve the problem at all. No matter what others do, I will continue to reap the rewards by working hard. It might be more difficult for me, but it should not matter. As long as I have fun doing what I do, I will be happy. At least in my field of science and engineering, experience is as important as intelligence.

The bottom line: There will be people who are more intelligent than you, it is okay, and it is natural. Just do your best and enjoy your work. Improvement, however small you think of it, will count in the end.