Cleverness is not Intelligence: 1

Many idiots seem to equate “scientifically measured IQ” with intelligence. However I believe that IQ, at best, measures cleverness not intelligence.

Cleverness is often conflated with intelligence, but in reality is a very different beast.

In my view cleverness is the ability to learn a game well, while intelligence is the ability to speculate about the reasons behind the games existence.

Let me start with a seldom asked question:

Why do the big leaps in human civilization and technology come from men who are “outsiders” to their area of contribution? Why are established “insiders” so impotent at innovating?

If IQ had any effect on innovation, established insiders who rose through the ranks of their field based on their cleverness should have no problems innovating. But why is that almost never the case?

Why are those who convince others of their ‘expertise’ so utterly incapable of advancing the field they profess competence in?

Whether we are talking about the decimal numerical system, gunpowder, airplanes, morphine extraction, antibacterial sulfonamides, nuclear fission, rocketry, binary programmable computers, IC engines.. all of them were not the work of famous “insiders” but of “unknowns” or “outsiders”.

Innovation is the result of looking at the world in a different way, and has far more to do with rejecting existing beliefs than being clever. I am certainly not the first to point out the reason behind Jewish success in many intellectual endeavours has as much to do with being cynical outsiders, as innate intelligence. It is far easier to be innovative if you do not benefit from the existing status quo.

The success of the west has much more to do with not persecuting or ignoring heretics, than any special genetic attributes. The scientific age in the west began when they stopped burning heretics and witches. The intellectual stagnation of civilizations like India or China was largely due to active and passive ostracization of heretical thinkers after a certain point in their history.

However the cultural changes that allowed heretical thinking in the west were largely due to chance events (black death) and being at the right place at the right time (collapse of the eastern roman empire) in the right conditions (no centralized and organized kingdoms). The renaissance had more to do with an alignment of events than any special intrinsic ability of whites.

Innovation in the west (and throughout human history) has always been driven by malcontents who thought differently. Innovation is similar to feeling your way in the dark, than talking the well-lit path.

Those who chose well-lit paths like medicine, law, management, finance are not and can never be innovators. However many idiots point to the “high IQ scores” of precisely these groups to justify the relevance of IQ to innovation. But how can you correlate IQ with innovation, if none exists?

Were the wright brothers the most intelligent group trying to develop airplanes? Was Domgak the most intelligent guy working on synthetic antibacterials? I can go on.. but why did they succeed where many other more established ‘experts’ had previously failed?

The simple answer is:

They broke away from what was conventional and established, and got away with it.

Their IQ was consequential to the extent that they were not brain-damaged. If they had “high IQs” they would have discovered a thousand reasons to not do what they did.. because “high IQ” is really about being good at playing established games, not discovering new ones.

Maybe the Wright Brothers would have had a more successful bicycle business or Domgak would have risen higher in the hierarchy of the company he worked for. Maybe Lisa Meitner would have escaped to England sooner and never discovered controlled nuclear fission. Maybe Semelweiss would have decided to never promote the concept of antisepsis to the detriment of his medical career. Maybe Oppenheimer would have decided to develop his dads clothing business than chase an unstable career in nuclear physics. Maybe Einstein would have become a better patent clerk than dabble in speculative physics. Maybe Rudolf Diesel would have applied himself to make a better gasoline engine than develop the diesel engine.

The lack of asian names in this list is due to the asian tendency of choosing stable, established, known lines of enterprise over dabbling in the risky and unknown.

More in another post.

  1. Gorbachev
    June 24, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I agree on the point with Asian names.

    Asians may be genetically bright, or not. But the cultures in Asia breed conformity of thought and process. Malcontents aren’t just discouraged, they’re not tolerated.

    Democracy looks too much like chaos. Order is vital.

    especially for east asians.

    I’ve always thought it was a cultural barrier.

    That pragmatism allows you to build better and better bridges. But it doesn’t let you find another way to get across the river.


  2. Vincent Ignatius
    June 25, 2010 at 5:53 am

    I would call that creativity or perhaps divergent thinking.

    also called heresy or shit-disturbing.

  3. June 25, 2010 at 7:13 am

    True intelligence is the ability to leverage your thoughts to realize your desires. Corollary #1 is that “nerds” are among the least intelligent of all, since they are typically miserable and don’t get hardly anything they desire. Corollary #2 is that great innovators are massively intelligent because the desires they realize are desires nobody else was able to realize before. Corollary #3: Acing IQ tests only demonstrates a low amount of intelligence, just enough to realize the desire of acing IQ tests.

  4. Y
    June 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Excellent post! Unfortunately this is the problem with much of Africa. Corrupt and violent governments coupled with dogmatic populace, a tragic combination.

  5. June 28, 2010 at 12:15 am

    You should really read Kishore Mahbubani some time. He has a lot of thoughts on this subject. Certainly more convincing than Jared Diamond.

  6. tiggy
    January 5, 2011 at 5:32 am

    I loved this post. My passion in life is the why behind everything. I started studying psychology because my other passion is people themselves, I find how and why people do or don’t do particular things absolutely fascinating. I was utterly disappointed by the ‘type’ of people I study with. The required highschool marks to get into psychology here in Sydney, Australia, is in the high 90’s meaning you are required to perform better in highschool than 90% of the population. Let me assure you, I did not get a mark anywhere near that, I entered university through other means, I studied from home first and applied as a mature-aged student. Why I mention the required results for admittance into psychology is that I find it frustrating that these are the kind of students universities are wanting to be psychologists. ‘Clever’ students, who, while I was enjoying my youth, were slaving away at the books, not learning a thing about social structures, group dynamics, and just the ART of understanding and interpreting people in general.
    Once in university, most of the course grading is heavily dependent on multiple choice examination, which once again, favours the linear-thinking clever top-scoring students. The same students who cannot understand how I come at the top of the class consistently when it comes to essay-writing, or group work.
    Our society is bred and raised to become drones. Even in psychology, where the LAST thing you want is a linear-thinking, antisocial, egotistic robot. How on EARTH will any of these people be able to help anyone at all?

  1. June 27, 2010 at 9:39 am
  2. December 21, 2010 at 3:52 am
  3. May 3, 2011 at 1:14 pm
  4. April 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm

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