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Thursday, January 26, 2012

How many feel they've wasted their lives?

I recently spoke to a friend whose personal style tends toward brutal honesty -- about society, himself, and me, among other things. During the course of the conversation he happened to say, "Sometimes I think that I've thrown my life away. I might have amounted to something if I hadn't tilted at windmills...."

This guy has a tested IQ of 160, speaks three languages fluently, graduated from an Ivy League college and got a masters degree from a prestigious European university. He has worked as an editor for a computer magazine, as a banker, and is a published author. He is also quite handsome, but his lady-killing days are behind him; he has now entered his philosophical years (roughly defined as 55+).

I can't help but wonder if there aren't a lot of people who feel the same way he does, especially those who were constantly told how promising they were when they were young.

My guess is that many do.

In this country, if your IQ is above 150, it would be hard not to be aware of it. No one who goes through the school system doesn't get tested, and the higher people score on their early tests, the more likely they are to be tested further. And sooner or later, someone is going to tell them where they rank. It's inescapable. (And after all that, such people tend to enjoy taking IQ tests on their own for the positive reinforcement they get.)

Plus, people who are smarter than others tend to sense it. (Of course, there are a lot of people who aren't smarter yet still sense it, but that's a different matter.)

The percentage of the population with IQ's over 150, or slightly more than three standard deviations from the mean, is roughly one-eighth of one percent. That doesn't sound like a lot. But in a country with 311 million people, .12% would mean that there are 373,200 people with IQ's above 150. The IQ bell curve has been normed for Caucasians, so taking demographics into account, the actual number is probably closer to 300,000. But that's still a huge number. How many of those get to be truly "great?"

Very few.

After all, only one guy gets to be President. (And neither our current one nor his predecessor were likely members of the 150+ club anyway, though the guy before them seemed to be.)

Add up all the centimillionaires and Nobel Prize winners there are. Then throw in all the authors, inventors, doctors, lawyers, professors, journalists, politicians, and comedians who could rightly be called famous. The total number is still an extremely tiny fraction of 300,000. (And many of the famous ones have IQs below 150 anyway.)

Admittedly, only about a third of the current 300,000 have reached an age where they are resigned to the fact that greatness has eluded them. But most of the younger two-thirds are destined to eventually reach the same conclusion.

Being told you have a high IQ when young is a sort of curse: all it does is raise your expectations, and make you feel like a failure afterwards.

The trash heap of those with IQ's above 150 who never amounted to much is far, far larger than the small pile of those who did.


Brian Fradet said...

Hi John,

As usual, you have brought forth a topic that is very loaded and debatable, resulting in an excellent article. That said, the article essentially confirms that IQ doesn't have much to do with success in the real world. On top of that, IQ tests only show a very narrow range of intelligence, as opposed to more global savvy that people can parlay into success and money, or, EQ--emotional intelligence. So yes, there are probably 300K or so of those who don't do much with their high IQ, but also what about all of those others (like me) who don't necessarily have a high IQ but somehow make it big. Most people, in general, probably do not live up to their highest potential, regardless of IQ.

John Craig said...

Brian --
Thank you. I'm actually not a big believer in EQ, I tend to put more faith in the g factor, the notion of a generalized intelligence which we can apply in any way we want.

Success does tend to be a matter of character and luck. And by character, I mean good character in the sense of being willing to work had, but also bad character in the sense of being shameless and disloyal and willing to use people. (I'm not accusing you of this.) And, of course, there's always luck. But i've seen too many sociopaths thrive not to believe that their sociopathy didn't have something to do with it.

Brian Fradet said...

Good reply, John. I've never heard of the g factor, but it does make sense. It's probably what I call EQ, but whatever, just not IQ which is more classic. I get that sociopaths can go far with their evil in so many ways. In my case, luck had a lot to do with any success I've ever had--which was after all schooling was done, btw. Thanks, Brian

John Craig said...

Thank you Brian. Put "The G factor and the heritability of IQ" in the search box and take a look at the post from 8/10/10. Also put "The Smartest Guy I Ever Met" in the search box and take a look at that post, from 2009. It has a summary of what intelligence consists of that you might find interesting.

Anonymous said...

IQ is just a figment of imagination and interpretation.

Please don't fall into the trap of 'higher IQ' = more intelligence.

... it goes FAR beyond that; and takes a lifetime (at least) to learn. :smile:

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
Please take a look at the post "The Smartest Guy I ever Met" post (just write it in the search box at the top of the front page of this blog) and tell me if you agree with the description of what intelligence consists of there.

John Craig said...

PS -- I think you may be talking about wisdom, which is a somewhat different quality than intelligence.