Letter to Guy Fogleman on the Prometheus Society's "Fire List"


Hi, Guy.

    Thanks for checking out the web page and thanks for your thoughtful and wise response. As you say,
    "Problems in the real world require specific knowledge, common sense, and, in most cases, an understanding of human nature. IQ tests do not measure these traits."
    I certainly agree. If I want to find out why our boxwood is dying, or if I'm in a position to commission the building of a bridge, I'll turn to people and organizations that specialize in these topics. For these problems, the solutions are cut-and-dried. And there are other problems for which the solutions aren't as well-defined but are still within the ready reach of the above-average journeyman. My hope is that there is a class of problems that are sufficiently subtle that someone with a ratio-IQ of 190 (deviation IQ of 168)or a ratio-IQ of 220 (deviation IQ of 183) may be able to solve them readily, whereas someone with a ratio IQ of 130 (deviation-IQ of 128) might find them very difficult.
    At the same time, I agree that even these kinds of subtle research problems require specific knowledge, common sense, and, in most cases, an understanding of human nature. I think they require specific knowledge in great depth, together with close working relationships with the other practitioners in the field. It would be interesting to see if our phenomenally intelligent could help our research biologists unearth biological mechanisms substantially better than the biologists who are data-mining for them today, working cooperatively with them rather than competitively. (And I guess that's where a Ph. D.-level knowledge of human relations could come in handy, wouldn't it?)
When I was a teenager, Dad opined a couple of times that the most important attribute for coping with the world wasn't intelligence but was the ability to get along with people. I privately disagreed with him, not because I thought interpersonal skills were unimportant, but because I thought they could be learned, whereas intelligence is largely innate. I still entertain that notion, but it does assume that knowledge, common sense, and interpersonal skills can be--and will be--learned.
    One way that I've reasoned about this question of whether IQ is important is that this ultimately gets at the root of what it means to be normal. Do we think that someone with a ratio-IQ of 40 can, with training, do as well as someone with a ratio-IQ of 100? Or that someone with a ratio IQ of 50 and training can do as well as someone with a ratio IQ of 110? How would you feel about someone with an IQ of 60 operating upon you? And if you feel that the answer to these questions is "yes", how well do you think these seriously retarded will do at solving problems that don't have handbook solutions? I'm thinking that these are comparable comparisons. Do we think that rising intelligence had anything to do with the invention of tools? the domestication of animals? the rise of civilization? the expression of the scientific method? And if the answer is yes, would a further rise in intelligence advance our civilization? Does IQ confer any advantages in the creation and furtherance of a high civilization? At what point do we draw these lines, and why? Given a population with an average IQ of 30, do we think that a population with an IQ of 130 could outperform it? I have thought as a child that we'll eventually have the power to genetically boost our intelligence. Will that be of any benefit?
    I'm appalled at our value systems. If we have a child whom we think might have potential as an athlete, we'll go all-out to get them specialized coaching. The same thing holds true for a child showing potential as a musician, an actress, or a dancer. And we'll pay our entertainers six or seven figures and splash them across the media. But who are the superstars of the Human Genome Project? Some of us have heard of Ed Witter but who are our other superstring theorists? Who are our leading biologists? These are the people who are going to make a difference in our lives. Also, I'm not questioning what is. I'm questioning what might be. Can we do better by coaching and supporting our best minds? Or not?
    One counterargument is that we seem to be doing awfully well technically, thank you, without benefit of any enhancements to our work force. I know of only a couple of straws in the wind that might suggest what might be achievable. One is that Bill Gates allegedly made a practice of recruiting the smartest programmers he could find, and became the world's richest man. The other is the fantasy that Craig Venters might be an example of what brainpower can do in an area like the Human Genome Project.
The idea that IQ is of no importance once it exceeds an IQ of 120 is certainly the received wisdom among psychometrists these days. IQ's have never been popular, except among those who have high IQ's, and the pendulum has been swinging away from the idea that innate ability is required for great achievement toward the Horatio Alger position that it's the result of pluck, luck, and fortitude. Give anyone 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and they can become one of the best in the world. (I have a lot more to say about this, but it will take time to write it up.)
    Hans Eysenck, in his book "Genius" writes, on page 59, "I think that she (Cox) has demonstrated beyond any doubt that geniuses in many different lines of endeavor have uniformly IQs well above average; indeed, as all the different occupations which led to their achievements obviously used considerable mental powers any other results would have been unbelievable. But there must be considerable doubt about the actual IQ values assigned to individuals; or to groups; these might be higher or lower than given by Cox, depending upon how one evaluates the criticisms and considerations I have outlined. On the whole, they ought to be thought to balance out, and to give us a final estimate of the typical genius as having an IQ some three to four standard deviations above the mean."
    I'm thinking that a proper approach to this might be an experiment (or experiments). My hope is that there is a great reservoir of latent potential that, as a society, we have yet to tap. But that's a hope and not a proven fact. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this were true? It would benefit all of us. We'll keep our fingers crossed. But we'll just have to try it and see.
    I've jabbered away here without giving you a word in edgewise. What do you think of all these arguments? Of course, in the end, it won't matter a fig what I say. Reality is whatever it is. But anyway, these have been my rationalizations.

Thanks again for your comments,
Best wishes,