Moron the IQ myth (pun intended)

On Quora an anonymous somebody asked, My IQ is 131. Can I get into MIT?

Yeah, it’s easy to call that a dumb question. But it’s the kind of question you get from somebody trapped in a caste system that cries out for a larger perspective, such as this one:


Anyway, here’s my answer:

You don’t have an IQ. Nobody does, because intelligence isn’t a quotient. It is the most personal of all human characteristics, and is as different in all of us as our faces and voices.

For the nothing it’s worth, my known IQ scores have an eighty point range. (Got most of ’em from my Mom, who taught in the same school system.) All they measured, if anything, was how tired or awake I was, and how much I enjoyed or hated being tested at some point in time. And none of them mattered, except to those attempting to classify me — and all of them failed.

Remember, that’s what IQ tests are for: classifying people.

You are not a score. Listen to Whitman. I’ll translate him here into bulleted form:

  • Encompass worlds but never try to encompass me.
  • I was never measured, and never will be measured.
  • I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass.
  • I know that I am august. I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood. I see that the elementary laws never apologize.
  • Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams. Now I wash the gum from your eyes. You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.
  • Long have you timidly waited, holding a plank by the shore. Now I will you to be a bold swimmer, To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again, and nod to me and shout, and laughingly dash your hair.
  • I am the teacher of athletes. He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own. He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.
  • The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me. He complains of my gab and my loitering. I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

IQ is a measure: a carpenter’s compass. Its orbit does not sweep what is august in your true self, which needs no vindication. Nor does it respect the elementary laws of your sovereign soul. It is just a plank you hold by the shore. Drop it, dive, swim and shout. Then honor Whitman’s style and respect the spotted hawk. Be your untamed, untranslatable self, and sound your barbaric yawp to MIT’s admissions system. If they don’t respect it, they don’t deserve you.

Hope it does some good.

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  1. vanderleun’s avatar

    Well, isn’t it pretty and doesn’t it make one feel good to think so?

  2. Larry’s avatar

    I do believe you’ve hit the nail squarely. Good point. I always did like Mr. Whitman! Larry, the out of touch Cuz.

  3. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    1) I think you’re misinterpreting what’s likely going on in the mind of the cat in the picture. It’s not “dumb”. Some cats really like semi-enclosed spaces of that sort. Probably in its mind, it’s in a good spot to watch for prey, while being protected around most its body. It’ll be out of there like a shot if it decides there’s a reason to attack or flee.

    2) [MIT graduate speaking] No, you are not your IQ. But inversely, replying that way to someone who wants to get into MIT is really not addressing their question. No two snowflakes may be alike – but every winter, huge numbers of snowflakes get crushed underfoot. In particular – “Be your untamed, untranslatable self, and sound your barbaric yawp to MIT’s admissions system. If they don’t respect it, they don’t deserve you.” – while I can see the good intentions, is bad advice. There’s a big difference between “Don’t think one limited measurement is everything, look at all these alternates”, versus “Be yourself and you “deserve” your goal”.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Seth.

    Good point about the cat. I just found the image while looking around for some kind of visualization. I was also reminded of a (perhaps) truly dumb cat of mine named Morgan. She was solid black with tiny bits of white on her toes. Sweet and fun, but sometimes seeming to be stupid as a stone. Or, given your point, perhaps not.

    For example, if you opened a door, and she was behind it facing the hinge, she’d look longingly toward the light through the narrow slot, meowing for help until somebody rescued her by picking her up or closing the door. And sometimes, when she’d climb a tree, she’d venture out on a branch until it got too narrow to support her weight and she’d fall to the ground like a ripe fruit.

    And indeed I wasn’t addressing the question. But I also thought the question hardly made sense in its own terms. So I made two perhaps irrelevant points, one about the speciousness of IQ, and the other about self-respect transcending any measure. So perhaps it’s right that my answer only has two upvotes.

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