From an early age, I have distrusted the idea that intelligence is something that can be measured in a test. I admit that this was self-rationalization of my own inability to score highly on tests in general. I don’t think I have ever taken an explicitly IQ test and certainly I don’t recall what my score would be. The closest thing I remember is undergraduate entrance exams. I don’t recall exactly what they were, but I do recall that my test scores and my class rank both were at the bottom of the eligible limits for entry into engineering school. Specifically, I recall that the entrance requirements were raised a year later so that I was relieved to have entered when I did. Whatever my IQ is, it is probably not very high.
In my adult life, I have encountered people I consider to be much higher in IQ than myself in the workplace, in books and recordings, and even in every day life. I am easily humbled that I am not at their level of intelligence. Yet, especially in the workplace, I easily find a niche where others acknowledge that I have something to offer and that something is characterized as some form of smarts.
There seems to be a distinction between smarts and intelligence. And in my biased view, that quality of being smart is the more relevant form of intelligence compared to whatever it is that IQ measures.
In my casual awareness of IQ theory and science, I accept that IQ is among the most reliably repeatable psychological test and that it is predictive of various forms of success in life and also predictive of more specific forms of intelligence. My objection is that IQ measures something that I would not call intelligence. This is unfair for me to insist on my own definition, so it is up to me to come up with a different word to describe what I mean. The word I choose is intelligence.
Within discussions of intelligence, there are various forms of intelligence described. Some describe a general intelligence. The measure of general intelligence is highly predictive of more specific forms of intelligence. The correlation is high enough that we may consider all of these tests to measure the same thing. Others disagree and propose that some may be stronger in some subset of mental capacity while weaker in others. I have nothing to say either way about these concepts.
What I notice, is that general intelligence or some more specialized form of intelligence is evaluated in some time-constrained test. The test may be of a formal test containing a set of questions to be answered within a set period of time. The test may be informal in evaluating a person’s ability to reliably answer correctly when presented with problems but this evaluation is also in a set time window. In all these cases, intelligence is observed in what I call conversational time: answering intelligently in a time frame needed to carry on with some form of conversation.
I describe IQ-type intelligence as the ability to think quickly when presented with a novel question. From my own experience, it is experience of a tech-support call, or a sales presentation where the audience presents an unexpected question. An evaluation of my IQ performance would be my ability to come up with a correct answer to an unrehearsed question during the actual call or presentation. I don’t have a very good record of answering correctly in these scenarios.
The fact that IQ is predictive of career success for many people suggests that the job demands for success are related to that ability to answer quickly with correct answers. Also, the fact that my own success has been less than impressive probably reflects my not-so-great IQ.
While I don’t rate my IQ as being high, I do consider myself to be intelligent. In that sense, I have something in common with critics of IQ. However, I do think there is a quantifiable intelligence and that when quantified some people have more of it than others.
As mentioned above, IQ measures the ability to answer quickly with a correct answer to a new and unexpected question that requires some combination of recall of past lessons and problem solving with the new question. My point is to emphasize the time aspect of this measure. IQ measures what someone can do quickly. By quickly, I mean the time available in a particular conversation with another person. That time frame may be very short such as the time needed to introduce oneself in a chance meeting, or may be an hour or so in an arranged meeting, or may be within a continuous session with a team that may last several hours. My point is that there is a limit to when the answer can be offered.
Coming up with a good answer several days later does not qualify as high IQ unless it occurs in a setting when someone introduces new information in which case the new information qualifies as a new question.
An analogy to poor IQ is the example of someone coming up with a clever rejoinder to an insult several days after the utterance of that insult. Alternatively, laughing at a funny situation long after that situation occurs. Eventually, one gets the joke, but it is too late to qualify as having a sense of humor.
Similarly, coming up with a correct answer to a new problem long after the problem is presented is not a sign of high IQ. Given enough time and dedication, most people will be able to come up with the correct answer at some point. An example of this is the widespread popularity of challenging games: some people get high scores quickly while others eventually get the same high scores but after many days of dedicated practice. Many people enjoy the games although there is a wide variation of the time required to understand how to play the game effectively.
In terms of intelligence, I recall that many of the times when I have come up with good answers to problems. In most of those cases, the answers come to me after a night’s sleep. Sometimes I will wake up in the middle of the night with the answer in mind, or at least a breakthrough that takes only a short time to form an answer I can communicate to others.
In these cases, my eventual discovery of a good answer is irrelevant if others have already come up with the same answer sooner. In such cases, I would call that a delayed IQ. It is fair to say I have a lower IQ if it takes me that much longer to come up with the answer compared to others who answered it the same day the problem was presented.
In many cases, my answer is the first one that works despite the delay. This is a form of intelligence that can not be measured in a timed-test scenario. Even in a take-home type exam, such tests would be ineffective in modern age because if the question had a predetermined answer, someone can find that answer with a short search on the Internet.
This kind of intelligence has its own relevance compared to the IQ type that expects correct answers delivered quickly. This is the kind of intelligence that exemplifies solving of difficult problems where the solutions result in substantial advantage.
Perhaps the Cicada 3301 puzzles on Internet address measuring this type of Intelligence, but certainly such tests are very difficult to create new puzzles once one is solved. Of course, other examples are challenges to find certain mathematical proofs or of attaining some technological goal. In the case that these challenges are solved by isolated individuals, my impression is that many of the people solving the problems would not have very high IQ scores. The solution required dedication and tolerance to persevere despite numerous failures and setbacks. Each of these failures are examples of low IQ because the short term answer was the wrong answer.
My definition of intelligence applies to non-human intelligence. In particular, it applies to what I see occurring in nature that repeatedly solves problems over time through the variation of different species or adaptations within species due to changes in environment or niches. This is the intelligent design argument for evolution but I use it here as a description of species that exist or have existed in the past. I recognize intelligence in the forms nature produces through whatever mechanisms that are actually responsible for those innovations. (A recent example is the observations of hairy paws with claws at the ends of spider legs: that’s pretty intelligent design in terms of being so precisely placed to be appropriate for function).
In the same sense that a low IQ person can in fact have high intelligence in terms of eventually new an important solutions, a zero-IQ evolution such as Darwinian natural selection can exhibit a very similar type of intelligence.
In particular, this type of intelligence is one that emerges over a long period of time extending over many days or even many generations and yet it comes up with a correct solution for a relevant problem that results in a competitive or at least a survival advantage. This is not the same definition of intelligence as that measured in IQ tests or evaluated in many careers. It occurs too slowly to be considered to be intelligent.
I think that there is a human bias in the definition of intelligence used in IQ. The very nature of the test assumes the characteristic of the brain structure to come up with answers quickly. The longer it takes to come up with a correct solution, the less likely it is that that such an answer required a human brain to process. If I take a month to come up with some solution, then it is hard to argue that a non-human animal could not come up with an equivalent solution over a longer period of time. Given enough time, Darwinian evolution could come up with the solution without any IQ type intelligence at all. A definition of intelligence that is unique to humans demands a time limit on coming up with an answer.
I define intelligence as the ability to discover workable solutions to new problems no matter how long it takes. The fact that the answer is not evident within a short time limit does not subtract to the intelligence involved. The IQ test measures a certain subset of intelligence and that subset is that which seems to require the capacities of the human brain.
I am skeptical that the brain is the source of intelligence at all. I am even skeptical that there is any mechanistic explanation of intelligence despite its association with humans and the evidence that intelligence is inheritable. It is impossible to argue this in any scientific way but my presumption is that intelligence is not material and I continue to doubt that it is proven to be material.
This is a personal bias, and I don’t intend to prove this to others or even defend it. This bias comes from my training and early experience as an engineer. To me, all life forms resemble radio transponders such as those used in air-traffic control. All life forms consist of receiving antennas in the form of sensory organs, a signal processing in various forms that produces a reasonable response to the stimulus, and a transmitting antenna in the form of some means to modify the environment through motion or release of chemical or other signals. There is no intelligence within any of these parts. I don’t in any way intend to convince any one else of this view. I mention it here only to explain my bias toward dismissing the human brain as being anything special in terms of its capacity for intelligence. The reason for that is that I define intelligence differently. I give intelligence an indefinite period of time to come up with a solution.
I neglected above to elaborate on the analogy of the life-form as a transponder. In particular, I wanted to address why the human brain is so large and complex relative to other animals. Frequently this size or size relative to body size is presented as evidence of advanced intelligence. In contrast the above discussion describes intelligence as being external to the brain or somehow independent of the brain.
My explanation of the large and complex brain is the advanced transponder functions. Just as electronic transponders continuously collect and process data in preparation for rapid response of information when requested externally, the brain is processing sensory inputs to have ready answers to any external stimulus requiring a response. The human brain is larger and more complex because of the additional processing of information into more abstract interpretations of sensory data along with memories of past data. This processing has no immediate use unless there is an external stimulus that requires a response. The benefit of the human is the ability to respond in a way that reflects this more abstract interpretation of the current information.
When we test for IQ or evaluate intelligence based on quick response with correct answers to immediate questions, we are actually testing the level of capability of this abstract processing of current sensory data with memory. These tests test the transponder function for responses reflecting appropriate abstract interpretations of the senses.
Similar to electronic transponders, this type of information delivery can be very deterministic based on processing power and programming. While appropriate responses are needed for certain jobs, these responses are not intelligent. This is why artificial intelligence presents such as big threat for high-IQ qualifying jobs. The IQ is something that can be automated and electronic and data technology is approaching competitive parity with the human brain’s ability to do the same thing.
It is not unreasonable to expect that these technologies will surpass human IQ and be so abundantly available that human IQ will cease to have value in the market place. I think that is occurring now, and this will soon lead to a major economic crisis for the high-IQ marketplace.
In contrast, this interpretation of the brain as a information transponder exposes the distinction that there is a different kind of intelligence that is unlike a transponder. That type of intelligence is what I tried to introduce in the above discussion. That type of intelligence produces information that is not in response to an external stimulus such as a stated question because I allow indefinite time for the answer to be expressed and the answer can be expressed at any time, including such times that interrupt one’s sleep.
This deeper intelligence expresses an answer to a problem in the absence of any audience to receive it. Frequently, the person acts on this information to prepare something innovative in the form of some invention, some new feature in some software, some new technique for performing some action, or some new artistic or linguistic concept that will be available at the next opportunity to perform.
Automation could also randomly mutate operations using some rules to create things that can mimic intelligent innovation. The difference is that the intelligence available to lifeforms is the confidence to commit resources or to risk losses in order to act on this innovation. Automation can also commit resources or risk losses. The less intelligent of the two approaches will have a higher probably of wasting resources or experiencing large losses. Given the historic record of life on this planet, I would place my bet on life intelligence getting the right answer more often than artificial intelligence. That life intelligence has nothing to do with brains or even neurons.