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20200830 – Intelligence All that matters




The main idea here is to discuss meaning of IQ, how it relates to overall intelligence, how it is tested, where it comes from (nature/nurture) and, most important, how to increase it. Author also discusses controversies around IQ and its value for individual achievement and prosperity. The overall objective is to convince readers that IQ research important and should be supported.


  1. Introducing intelligence
    This starts with definition: “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.”

After that author provides a brief history of IQ starting with Francis Galton (1822-1911) and then discussing works of McKeen Cattell (1860–1944) – Sensory testing, Alfred Binet (1857–1911) – children with mental disabilities selection, Théodore Simon (1872–1961) – mental tasks for low IQ children, Lewis Terman (1877–1956)- tasks for high IQ selection, Robert Yerkes (1876–1956) – Group testing, Charles Spearman (1863-1945) – Statistical technics for analysis, and Sir Godfrey Thomson (1881–1955) – education.

2. Testing intelligence
In this chapter author is looking through a set of tasks one could expect to complete for IQ test today. How does a person’s performance on one task relate to performance on the others? To what extent was Spearman correct about ‘general intelligence’? The author responds affirmative and then discusses idea of multiple intelligences and substructure of intelligence. He also provides a few graphs for IQ distribution and substructure change with age:

4. The biology of intelligence
Chapter 4 goes ‘under the hood’ to look at the biology of intelligence: how it might have evolved, how it relates to genetics, and what a smarter person’s brain looks like. Author discusses nature/nurture, provides some images and concludes:” A common mistake is to come away with the impression that, since intelligence is related to biology, it must be immutable. Nothing in the genetic studies (which never show 100-per-cent heritability) or the neuroimaging (which shows only neural correlates of intelligence) leads to that conclusion. Certainly, the genetic results imply that attempts to equalize outcomes in areas like education are fool’s errands: it will be extremely difficult to eradicate genetically influenced differences between children. There may be biological limits on what we can expect from some people: although intelligence is not immutable, it is unlikely to be infinitely malleable

5. The easy way to raise your IQ
Chapter 5 asks whether we might be able to improve intelligence and make people brighter. Do ‘brain training’ games work? What about education? So far there is no reason to believe that there is reliable way to get smarter either via “Mozart effect”, or breastfeeding, or brain training. However, there is well known Flynn effect that demonstrates IQ increase over generations.

6. Why is intelligence so controversial?
The final chapter, Chapter 6, asks why, if there’s all this scientific evidence backing it up, intelligence is still so controversial. In the historical sketch above, author mentioned a couple of reasons, but the discomfort with intelligence testing goes deeper than just revulsion at its history: it touches on profound political and moral issues about equality, race differences. Author briefly reviews these and other aspects of IQ debate and provides reasons for IQ studies:

a. Link between IQ and health: smart people are healthier and live longer

b. Ageing – need to maintain IQ at good level to the end

c. Societal importance of intelligence

d. Scientific curiosity


The political and moral (but usually evidence-free) debate around intelligence distracts from the truly interesting questions. What causes the general factor of intelligence? Which specific genes make a person smarter? Why, exactly, do these seemingly simple tests relate to so many important things in life? What, precisely, is happening in the brain when it’s working through an IQ test? How can we make it do that more efficiently? Lately, the field of intelligence research has been buzzing with intriguing new results that begin to address these questions. We can ignore these results, and continue to pretend that intelligence tests are a discredited remnant of psychology’s past. Or we can engage with them, and uncover the science of what makes us differ in this most human of attributes.”


It is nice and brief review of IQ, its definition, meaning, value, and validity of methods of its increase. Based on my own live experience I am pretty sure that lower IQ would not only decrease quality my live, but would probably prevent its continuation on a couple occasions in the past. Obviously few people had such a wonderful opportunity to recognize its value, but everybody could see value of IQ and try to improve it as much as possible.

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