Banner
    What Makes A Genius?
    By Andrea Kuszewski | August 20th 2009 02:26 AM | 53 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Andrea

    Andrea is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in the state of FL; her background is in cognitive

    ...

    View Andrea's Profile
    What is the difference between "intelligence" and "genius"?  Creativity, of course!

    There was an article recently in Scientific American that discussed creativity and the signs in children that were precursors to creative achievement in adulthood. The authors cite some work done by Michigan State University researchers Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, a collaboration of physiologist and theater instructor, who presented their findings at an annual meeting of the APA this past March. Since I research creativity as well as intelligence, I found the points brought up in the article quite intriguing, yet not surprising.

    One of the best observations stated in the article regarding achievement was this:
    "... most highly creative people are polymaths- they enjoy and excel at a range of challenging activities. For instance, in a survey of scientists at all levels of achievement, the [researchers] found that only about one sixth report engaging in a secondary activity of an artistic or creative nature, such as painting or writing non-scientific prose. In contrast, nearly all Nobel Prize winners in science have at least one other creative activity that they pursue seriously. Creative breadth, the [researchers] argue, is an important but understudied component of genius."
    Everyone is fascinated by famous geniuses like Albert Einstein. They speculate as to what made him so unique and brilliant, but no one has been able to identify exactly what "it" is. If you mention "intelligence research", the average person assumes you are speaking of that top 1 or 2%, the IQs over 145, the little kids you see on TV passing out during Spelling Bees, because they are freaking out from the pressure of having to spell antidisestablishmentarianism on a stage before hundreds of on-lookers.

    But the reality is, most intelligence researchers don't focus on the top 1 or 2%, they look at the general population, of which the average score is 100, and generally focus their attention on the lower to middle portion of the distribution.

    There may be a multitude of reasons why most researchers focus their study on the lower end of the distribution; one I can see is because the correlations between individual abilities measured on IQ tests and the actual overall ability level of the person taking the test are the strongest at that portion of the distribution- those IQ scores of 110 and below.

    The point I just made I have made before (which you will recognize if you read any of my pieces on intelligence), so nothing new there. However, what I found especially promising about the work done by the Root-Bernsteins, is that instead of merely trying to analyze IQ scores, they actually looked at the attributes of successful, intelligent, creative people, and figured out what it was they had going for them that other highly intelligent people did not- essentially, what the difference was between "intelligent" and "genius".

    (the paper abstracts from the symposium describing their methods can be read here)

    Now, some hard-core statistician-types may balk at their methods, screaming, "Case studies are not valid measures of intelligence!" and to a certain degree, they have a point. Yes, they initially looked at case studies of successful individuals, but then they surveyed scientists across multiple fields and found that the highest achievers in their domain (as indicated by earning the Nobel Prize) were skilled in multiple domains, at least one of these considered to be "creative", such as music, art, or non-scientific writing.

    We would probably consider most scientists to be intelligent. But are they all geniuses? Do geniuses have the highest IQ scores? Richard Feynman is undeniably considered to be a genius. While his IQ score was *only* around 120-125, he was also an artist and a gifted communicator. Was he less intelligent than someone with an IQ score of 150?

    What we are doing here is challenging the very definition of "intelligence". What is it really? An IQ score? Computational ability? Being able to talk your way out of a speeding ticket? Knowing how to handle crisis effectively? Arguing a convincing case before a jury? Well, maybe all of the above.

    Many moons ago, Dr Robert Sternberg, now the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University in Boston, brought this very argument to the psychology community. And, to be honest, it was not exactly welcomed with open arms. He believed that intelligence is comprised of three facets, only one of which is measured on a typical IQ test, including the SAT and the GRE. That is only the first part, analytical ability. The second component is creativity, and the third component is practical ability, or being able to use your analytical skills and your creativity in order to effectively solve novel problems. He called this the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence.

    Fast-forwarding to the present, Dr Rex Jung, from the Mind Institute and the University of New Mexico in Alburquerque, published a paper earlier this year showing biochemical support for the Threshold Theory of Creativity (a necessary but sufficient level of intelligence is needed for successful creative achievement). In a nutshell, he found that intelligence (as most people measure it today) is not enough to set a person apart and rise them to the level of genius. Creativity is that essential component that not all intelligent people possess, but geniuses require. Not all creative people are geniuses (thus the Threshold Theory), but in order to reach genius status, creativity is a necessary attribute.

    Someone could have an IQ of 170, yet get lost inside of a paper bag, and not have the ability to hold a conversation with anyone other than a dog. That is not my definition of genius. We want to know what made geniuses like Einstein and Feynman so far ahead of their intelligent scientist peers, and the answer to that is creativity.

    I am hoping that as more studies come out stating the importance of multi-disciplinary thinking and collaboration across domains for reaching the highest levels of achievements,  that eventually the science community will fully embrace creativity research and see its validity in the study of successful intelligence. As a society, we already recognize the importance of creativity in innovation and in the arts, so let's take it a step further.

    Give creativity the "street cred" it deserves as the defining feature that separates mere intelligence from utter genius.

    Comments

    Hfarmer
    So this backs up something Einstein said, one of the few things a physics professor may say is false.

    I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. 
    Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. - A. Einstein


     That said it takes all kids of scientist to make a program work.   In Physics not every theorist should be a Feynman or Einstein.  The more computationally oriented are needed but not sufficient either.  One takes up where the other leaves off.  The computationally oriented will apply known laws of physics, very conservatively, to new problems perhaps adding some small perturbation terms.  The equations becoming ever more complex.  Never thinking that they should or could come up with a new formulation to simplify the problem.  That was the true genius of Feynman and Einstein and their ilk.  They found simpler more elegant approaches to problems through creative use of mathematics.  If Feynman had not been artistically inclined would he have came up with his famous diagrams?  If Einstein had lacked his ability to visualize the problem of gravity in the way he did could any amount of computation have done what he did?  No. 

    You wrote a very good article. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Thanks, Hontas!

    You are right in your final comments; sometimes getting too stuck in an inflexible, computational mode of thinking prevents our mind from experiencing that fluidity that is necessary for the true creative insights. This makes sense when you think of the neuroscience of creative thought... to be able to switch back and forth between conventional and unconventional thinking, weeding out the bad ideas and exploring the good ones. Keeps the ideas fresher and simpler, and ultimately, more elegant, as you say.
    Hfarmer
    Thanks.  I said that many if not most physics professors would dismiss "imagination is more important than knowledge" because most of them are stepped in the computational way of thinking.  Consider this example....  
    Niels Borh criticized Feynman diagrams because he thought Feynman was drawing particle trajectories.  

    He got similar criticisms came when he published on Quantum Electrodynamics for not simply expanding on the previous work of Paul Dirac.  The computationally oriented and less creatively endowed would have just worked harder on an unworkable formulation.  Feynman saw that it was necessary to come up with a new formulation...a new paradigm. 

    When one writes about physicist and who's a genius and who is not all of the ones you think of, Einstein, Newton, Feynman etc are associated with a paradigm shift.  A good book about that is "The trouble with Physics" By Lee Smolin.  He also writes about "group think" in physics.  I would add to that list "fashion", fads, and trends in physics which determine what research get's the most attention and funding.  In the long run facts win...but on a daily basis, that critical short term funding decision those factors matter.
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Gerhard Adam
    My problem simply comes from terms like "intelligence" being used indiscriminately without a precise definition.  In particular, since intelligence is an attribute possessed by many animals, then it seems that there needs to be a general enough definition to describe what the transition between humans and others involves.  Even concepts like creativity are present in other animals, and therefore don't help in terms of determining what constitutes intelligence or what differentiates it for humans.

    I don't have a problem with tests being aimed solely at human beings, but then we need to determine what the "fuzzy-zone" is between human and "other" intelligences to say anything meaningful.  In particular this also leads into the question of the evolutionary advantage that such intelligence conveys and what is unique enough about humans to have produced the results it has.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Gerhard... you bring up a really important point, and one that I have been wrestling with for years myself. I think the term "intelligence" has lost its "zing" as a singular definition. The research that has been done on intelligence in the last 20 years has really shifted what the notion of intelligence means, what it is comprised of, and how plastic it is. I am not completely convinced there is an overall factor g, as theorized by many of the old-timers in intelligence research.

    I think the more we study the brain as well as genetics, we are finding out that the term "smart", "intelligent", "gifted", "talented", and "genius" all means different things phenotypically and genotypically. I feel that there needs to be a re-defining of the word "intelligence"; what is means in the different contexts it is used in, and what it means about similarities across species and machines as well.

    I have been debating with some friends of mine about AI, and whether or not it is possible to create an "intelligent" computer... but it really depends on what you mean by "intelligent". Are you speaking of fast computations and pattern recognition, or do you mean creative innovation and unique ideation?
    jtwitten
    Personally, I'd be very interested to know more about the rise of g.  From the perspective of someone outside the psychology field, g seems to have been a speculative explanation for a correlation which has achieved, at least in certain circles, a dogmatic reputation for causation that is unsupported by simple correlation in preference to other explanations.

    On the topic of AI, I think it also depends on how you define "possible".  If you adhere to a natural, mechanistic view of the human brain, then there is no fundamental barrier to creating an artificial equivalent in all respects.  There may, however, be a technical barrier.  Understanding the human brain well enough to replicate and the engineering necessary to do so may be so impractical as to become effectively impossible.  Of course, there may be an alternative route that does not rely on the archetype of the human brain, which may make intelligence very difficult to define as its characteristics may exceed the terminology used to encompass human intelligence as we know it.
    Hfarmer
    What do you think of the following statement?  The human brain could not be duplicated with current micro electronics, but quantum computing could emulate the brain.
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    jtwitten
    I don't think that there is any reason to accept it at this point.  Our knowledge of how the human brain is constructed is too limited to suggest that micro-electronics are not capable of recapitulating brain activity.
    Hfarmer
    I see.  Neural networks do mimic many features of a biological brain.  I was thinking that the subtle quantum effects that occur in a biological brain are something else. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Oh, man. I have soooooooooooooooooo much to do this weekend (packing, etc.. I am moving to Boston in a couple of days; currently still in Cleveland-city-of-hell), and I am fighting the urge to jump full-on into this discussion of recreation of consciousness and neural networks.

    However, maybe I should just send in my stunt-double, Juan. He is actually attempting to reverse-engineer the brain and design a model that can correct itself, using seed AI.

    *sigh*

    Ok... I am not going to start a whole huge ethics-quantum-consciousness-philosophy-of-mind-centered discussion tonight, but you can bet I will have an article up here in the next few weeks addressing this. My sciency-nerd-friends and I on facebook have been having this on-going discussion for..... oh, maybe 5 months now. I should try and transcribe them all into one big document, because it is really quite interesting to get the varried opinions. Especially since our backgrounds range from cognitive neuropsych (me), philosophy, philosophy AND law, software engineering, computational neuroscience, and physics. Quite an interesting tea party. All we need now is a Rabbi and a Priest to round out the group.

    But, I will post this, which my friend Victor (the lawyer and philosopher) directed me to a few days ago. Very interesting page discussing Goedel machines. Which are:
    "self-referential universal problem solvers making provably optimal self-improvements".

    I want one for Christmas. Write that down.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Well, Juan asked me to post this response on his behalf. I quote:

    "That problem was first posed by Roger Penrose in his book "The Emperor's New Mind". This book is named after the Danish fairy tale: “The Emperor's New Clothes” - a lot of sarcasm!

    Two years later, Ray Kurzweil solved the problem in his book “The Age of Spiritual Machines - When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence”. The problem and the solution are also mentioned in the Kurzweil's books “The Singularity Is Near - When Humans Transcend Biology” and “Are We Spiritual Machines? – Ray Kurzweil versus the Critics of Strong A.I.”

    This problem WAS the only logical and well-formed critique (in the history of science) against the possibility of creating Strong A.I. The other critiques are too weak to be taken seriously. Kurzweil took 2 years to solve the problem. He debunked the Penrose's fallacious argument." ~ Juan-Carlos Kuri

    He also said you should completely read all four books to fully understand. In your spare time, of course.
    Hfarmer
    Perhaps I will read their books.  Has Juan studied Bohm's interpretation of quantum mechanics? 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    I'll have to ask him. If he hasn't, he probably will if you recommend it. He's that way. :)
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Regarding the rise of g as a construct, you should look to Jensen; The g factor. There seems to be a broken link to the actual book, so I can't link it up here, but here is a great review of it from Rushton. Or, if you want more of an all-encompassing-summarizing-decades-of-research-in-a-far-more-interesting-as-well-as-exciting-to-read-and-comprehensive-package, then I highly recommend Garlick's paper on plasticity as an explanatory mechanism for the individual differences in intelligence.
    Gerhard Adam
    I have been debating with some friends of mine about AI, and whether or not it is possible to create an "intelligent" computer
    In my view the only way a computer can be "intelligent" is if it has the capacity to deceive.  Since that would require the ability to know what is expected, but then behave in a manner to hide that knowledge.  Of course, it would also render the system useless.

    Regarding "intelligence" itself, it seems that we're either trying to measure experiencial knowledge and how it is applied, versus anything innate (which could be undeveloped).  Even the concept of Feynman as a "genius" has to be tempered by what was innate, versus what was opportunity, versus what was personal interest, versus what was actual insight.  They clearly all play a role, but without any of them would Feynman have been who he was?

    My own view is that what makes human "intelligence" unique is the ability to abstract concepts into the future, essentially playing "what if" scenarios with current knowledge.  In this, it would appear that animals are limited to applying their knowledge, experience, and creativity to problems that are "at hand", while humans can extend that out (which essentially is the basis of scientific inquiry).

    Anyway ... my two cents.
    Mundus vult decipi
    adaptivecomplexity
    Two of my favorite quotes from Feynman about imagination in science:

    The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific “truth.” But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations - to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.

    - Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1-1


    The whole question of imagination in science is often misunderstood by people in other disciplines. They try to test our imagination in the following way. They say, "Here is a picture of some people in a situation. What do you imagine will happen next". When we say, "I can't imagine," they may think we have a weak imagination. They overlook the fact that whatever we are allowed to imagine in science must be consistent with everything else we know; that the electric fields and the waves we talk about are not just some happy thoughts which we are free to make as we wish, but ideas which must be consistent with all the laws of physics we know. We can't allow ourselves to seriously imagine things which are obviously in contradiction to the known laws of nature. And so our kind of imagination is quite a difficult game. One has to have the imagination to think of something that has never been seen before, never been heard of before. At the same time the thoughts are restricted in a straitjacket, so to speak, limited by the conditions that come from our knowledge of the way nature really is. The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty.

    - Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol 2, 20-10
    Mike
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Michael.....................

    That second quote made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside! (^_^)

    Feynman is one of my all-time idols in science, along with Vygotsky, Einstein, and Sternberg... all intelligent men, but their imagination and creativity of thought, and their gift of communicating those thoughts, are what set them miles ahead of other scientists in their respective disciplines.

    People hear the words "creativity" and "imagination" and they think "short story" or "painting", or things of that nature. Creativity spans all domains... writing, art, science, even math. True, it is a different type of imagination, a different way of creating. But the process is similar, just the context, form, and purpose varies.

    I think part of the reason creativity research has had such a rough road of scientific recognition is because non-creative people were trying to research creativity, and therefore it was being defined incorrectly, studied incorrectly, evaluated and identified incorrectly.

    I feel that we are on the cusp of some real break-throughs in the understanding of the creative process in its truest, scientific definition-  not just the "street definition" of creativity (painting, sculpture, poetry, etc.), but across all domains, in different forms. What Feynman was so very eloquently describing, is the fact that just because the creative product itself has some necessarily defining parameters, does not mean that it is not a creative idea. It is the novelty, the uniqueness, and the usefulness of the idea which makes it creative, not the medium in which it is executed.

    Thanks so much for your post!

    (and now if I do not continue packing my stuff in preparation of my move in 6 days, I will be forced to forfiet the majority of my belongings to the new owners of my home... )
    jtwitten
    But the reality is, most intelligence researchers don't focus on the top 1 or 2%, they look at the general population, of which the average score is 100, and generally focus their attention on the lower to middle portion of the distribution.
    I could be off base, as this is not my field, but it always seems a bit disingenuous to me when psychologists discuss the distribution of IQ scores.  For example, the average IQ is not measured to be 100.  The method of IQ scoring fixes the global population mean IQ at 100.  My understanding is that IQ scores are usually determined by fitting an individual's rank score onto a gaussian curve (mean=100, SD=15) that has been previously determined.

    Sorry, this statistical slight of hand always gets my dander up and I look for an excuse to rant.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Josh. Ok, I am filling up my cup of coffee before I sit down to respond...

    There now. So...you actually bring up a few different points that have different explanations. While I was filling my coffee and sidestepping my leaping Yorkies, I was trying to think how much of this explanation I should give here, or if I should just direct you to my paper that I wrote a few months ago on the subject of correlations and IQ measures. Because, as you may be shocked by this, I actually agree with you on part of your criticism. In fact, I am the one carrying the flaming torches during the demonstrations protesting such things, and thus I often get my butt kicked around by the "old timers" (as I like to call them) of psychometric testing in intelligence research, as they tend to be quite fond of the good ole' correlational approach using standardized tests from the 1970s.

    With that said, here is my paper on the subject, which addresses the use of correlations when attempting to draw conclusions about an individual's level of intelligence. It is a statistical analysis paper, so read it with a glass of water if you aren't into stats. Although I must say, I tried to make it as exciting and page-turning as one can make a statistical paper. To sum up several month's work in a few mere words: I think the current methods used stink.

    Not enough info? Ok. Basically, I am not a huge fan of correlations, especially in regards to intelligence. I think the current popular notion of g is horsehockey. I also feel the construct of intelligence needs to be redefined, taking into account individual differences in neural plasticity as factors in intellectual capacity, as well as the creative and practical elements that I mentioned in the article.

    The bottom line is this: Many, many people think that IQ is fixed at birth. Many, many people also think that an IQ test is the best measure of intelligence. I am not one of those people. Because as a young, aspiring researcher, I am so bold as to come out and say these things in seminar, in conversations with colleagues, in the line at the grocery store... I have made quite a few enemies in the beginning of my career. But, meh. If no one ever questioned convention, there would never be any progress, right?
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Heh, heh. And I got so roused up speaking of statistics, I plumb forgot to address the second part of your comment. So now I switched to Sugar-Free Red Bull.

    You said:
    For example, the average IQ is not measured to be 100.  The method of IQ scoring fixes the global population mean IQ at 100.  My understanding is that IQ scores are usually determined by fitting an individual's rank score onto a gaussian curve (mean=100, SD=15) that has been previously determined.
    You are right about the fixing of the global population mean at 100. And you are correct about fitting scores into a Gaussian Distribution with a mean of 100 and a SD of 15. However, the way the IQ scoring system was first designed was by taking the measured abilities of oodles of test subjects (at the time, they were school children [I think], for the first funded studies by the Board of Education), looking at their age, and determining the average level of ability for that age group across the different sub-skills. After they saw that the skill levels across the population followed a normal distribution, they converted the raw scores to a quotient, calculated the chronological age....... oh, hell. Just go here if you want more of the math jargon. I start to break out in hives if I talk too much math. I am more of a philosopher at heart. :-) 

    Anyway, the point is, the raw scores are converted, and you get the 100 average. What that means is, of all of the people who take these types of tests, the point at which half are above and half are below is 100. Now, as college educated and brighter than average, it may seem that the average person is well above a score of 100 on for example, the Stanford-Binet (which is making a comeback, btw). But the truth is, your particular sample mean (the people you associate with and come into contact with) may score around 120 or even 125. So you hear of someone with an IQ of 115, and you think... pfffft... below average. But really, the population distribution takes into account mentally retarded individuals also, and so the population mean is still 100, however, your sample mean may be higher. I probably could have just saved myself a lot of typing and say it is a mis-perception of what the range of skills are in a population because your frame of reference is unique to your sample.

    Anyway, with THAT said............ I don't think that IQ scores as they are measured today are an accurate measure of intelligence, latent ability, or the capacity of someone to increase their level of intellect later on through training/maximixation of one's abilities.

    I am working on a new theory of intellectual assesment, though. In fact, I should be doing that right now, instead of posting comments on here. Thanks for the comments, though... it was fun! *\(^_^)/* .... (that would be a happy person cheering and waving pom-poms)

    kerrjac
    There may be a multitude of reasons why most researchers focus their
    study on the lower end of the distribution; one I can see is because
    the correlations between individual abilities measured on IQ tests and
    the actual overall ability level of the person taking the test are the
    strongest at that portion of the distribution- those IQ scores of 110
    and below.

    One suspicion that I've long had based on this notion (of "diminishing returns in intelligence") is that high intelligence is a different, looser, perhaps less meaningful construct than low intelligence.

    Consider an analogy to depression. Individual symptoms of depression might be common here or there, but overall depression is not normally distributed. If a survey reveals that someone has no depression symptoms, you may conclude that they are not depressed; but you can't necessarily say that they're happy. The same might be true of intelligence, whereby if an IQ score is above average, you can say that they're not ignorant; but you can't conclude that they're intelligent.

    Part of this, I suspect, has to do with the negative effects of certain traits (in contrast to the diminishing positive effects of those trait's opposites). If one's intelligence is below a certain hypothetical cutoff, then he'll experience negative consequences b/c of it. However, as one's intelligence approaches a level that's merely adequate, then those negative consequences will start to vanish rather quickly. As an example, consider that a raise from extremely low to moderately low verbal intelligence could very well enable someone who could not communicate with others to subsequently start doing so; the benefits of a raise from adequate to above average verbal intelligence, however, are more elusive.

    In this manner, empirical psychology I think often mistakes categorical variables for continual ones; or it assumes that continual variables carry the same interpretation at all levels, eg that lack of a certain trait is the opposite as abundance of it.

    I am working on a new theory of intellectual assesment, though. In
    fact, I should be doing that right now, instead of posting comments on
    here. Thanks for the comments, though... it was fun! *\(^_^)/* ....
    (that would be a happy person cheering and waving pom-poms)
    One consideration might be making more categorical cutoffs among people with different IQ. Within certain clusters, I wonder, you might find unique correlates of (or moderators of outcomes of) intelligence that don't apply to the rest of the population, particularly among people of low IQ. Above a certain threshold, I think, this construct loses meaning. Or working backwards, certain key traits might be particularly indicative of people with low IQ; this is the route that researchers of executive function, a related construct, have taken, by including screens that ask about everyday behavioral traits.
    kerrjac
    Just a quick reaction from your paper's abstract (it looks interesting), it's clear that the construct of g might be limited at the higher end. But I'd qualify that by saying that that might be more of a reflection of how intelligence works rather than of how the construct was created.
    jtwitten
    My main point is that people discuss IQ as if the measurements fit the distribution well as opposed to being fit onto the distribution. The way IQ is calculated, saying that the average is 100 has almost no meaning.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Actually, the number "100" is arbitrary. If they were just z-scores it would be a zero. It is just a way to give a reference point at which to judge where the center of the distribution is.
    jtwitten
    Exactly.  As it is fixed from the beginning, the reference to the "average" are both meaningless and deceptive, although not intentionally so.  More a case of sloppy language use.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    In this manner, empirical psychology I think often mistakes categorical variables for continual ones; or it assumes that continual variables carry the same interpretation at all levels, eg that lack of a certain trait is the opposite as abundance of it.

    I agree with you! I had been trying to make that case for about a year, but it was falling on deaf ears in my department.

    One consideration might be making more categorical cutoffs among people with different IQ. Within certain clusters, I wonder, you might find unique correlates of (or moderators of outcomes of) intelligence that don't apply to the rest of the population, particularly among people of low IQ. Above a certain threshold, I think, this construct loses meaning. Or working backwards, certain key traits might be particularly indicative of people with low IQ; this is the route that researchers of executive function, a related construct, have taken, by including screens that ask about everyday behavioral traits.

    Again, I totally agree. Get out of my head! :P

    Seriously, though... people who began intelligence research wanted a single construct to measure that would indicate the level of intellectual competence, and thus, the birth of g. They were sure that there must be some underlying "thing" that controls all intellect. The fact is, it is way more complicated than that. The idea that the "thing" that is measured in IQ tests is not the same for the whole population (low as well as high ability individuals), and therefore we cannot take a singly defined construct of "IQ" and apply it to an entire population distribution from low to high, is what prompted me to write that paper in the first place.

    Fogarty said this in his paper "Challenging the Law of Diminishing Returns" (1995):
    Spearman (1927) also noted that if we divide subjects into groups with respect
    to their performance on a measure of general cognitive ability, the size of the average
    correlation tends to be relatively small in high ability groups and relatively high in
    low ability groups. This finding was a consequence of another law - "The Law of
    Diminishing Returns"1. Detterman&Daniel (1989) have rediscovered this "law" (cf
    Deary & Pagliari, 1991; Detterman, 1991). Neither of these authors, however,
    expressed surprise at the presence of positive manifold within the whole range of
    ability, including the above-average levels. Instead, they focused on the implications
    of this finding for the nature of the general factor. For Spearman, this "law" indicates
    that the more g (or mental energy) "... a person has available already, the less
    advantage accrues to his ability from further increments in it."(1927, p. 219).
    Detterman claims that Spearman's interpretation implies that g represents stupidity,
    not intelligence. According to him, "Each person can be thought of as having a set of
    independent abilities related to each other by a set of weights specifying each ability's
    relationship to other abilities in the performance of a particular task or test; g arises
    from this set of weights in combination with a person's independent abilities"
    (Detterman, 1991, p. 254).

    Now, Detterman is saying (in this passage) that g is comprised of a combination of factors, distributed differentially based on a person's "independent abilities". I take this as meaning he thinks a person has various strengths and weaknesses in their sub-abilities, and the overall ability (g) is the sum of those abilities (actually, I know this is what he means by that because I took his course on Human Intelligence and that is what he said).

    But what he is not taking into account is that the factors that weigh in to a person's performance are not all positive (meaning present and measurable) traits; some factors may be the absence of necessary and sufficient levels of another trait all together. And the presence or absence of it may completely change all of the other veariables' meaning in relation to the construct as a whole. In this way, how can we take the individual sub-abilities of each person and place them on a gaussian distribution and weigh correlations of these abilities in a population when the meaning of each individual sub-ability is vastly different depending on the presence or absence of another factor?

    My argument (to the g-lovers) is that there may not be one all-controlling variable, even if it is the sum of all individual components.... because some populations (low or high) may have a trait that others don't, and therefore we cannot apply a blanket "rule" (such as an IQ) to the whole population and make assumptions about performance or intellect or ability or potential ability.

    Anyway... I am getting to in-depth here on this subject.. I just finished a paper on this argument a few days ago and I don't want to spill it all here before it is actually released. Otherwise, I will ruin the anticipation of reading it! ;)

    However......... regarding key traits common to people with low IQ: insufficient neural plasticity. And.... that's all I can say about it right now. I don't want to give away my whole theory; I need a LITTLE suspense to get people to read my paper! (^_^)

    Thanks for all of the insights! I'm sure this won't be the last discussion we have on the topic. Have a great weekend...
    kerrjac
    (without prompting you to elaborate on your paper/theory) I think a lot of this goes to show that often times in science, the issue is not so much with empirical results, or finding the right model/theory, but rather with the question being asked. You can die trying to link skull size to human intelligence, but you'll never find the connection. Likewise, it's impossible predict the weather or the stock market beyond a degree of precision. Too often people come across a question - a reasonable scientific-sounding one at that - and they get stuck trying to find the right answer, without considering the validity of the question.
    Hfarmer
    Yes that is well and true.  Perhaps intelligence is just a construct made up by people with too much time on their hands. 
    On the other hand the world has people in it who are not as intelligent as they should be.  From people who while slow are not stupid (think forest gump), to people who never advance beyond the level of a two year old child.  Intelligence exist weather we define it or not. 

    Consider these results:

     Evaluation of a “mental effort” hypothesis for correlations between cortical metabolism and intelligence. [PDF

    Which found that people of different levels of intelligence use glucose differently.  More intelligent brains using more energy to solve harder problems than less intelligent ones. So basically more intelligent people simply think harder.  Simple no?  




    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    kerrjac
    Up for debate, I think, isn't whether intelligence is a "real" construct, but what the nature, structure, and qualities of it are.
    Which found that people of different levels of intelligence use glucose differently.  More intelligent brains using more energy to solve harder problems than less intelligent ones. So basically more intelligent people simply think harder.  Simple no? 
    Studies like these, and imaging studies, generally confuse me. Why wouldn't more intelligent brains use less glucose on harder problems b/c it's easier for them to solve the problem?
    Gerhard Adam
    Up for debate, I think, isn't whether intelligence is a "real" construct, but what the nature, structure, and qualities of it are.
    No question, but even when we toss around terms like "genius" what do we mean by it?  While there seems little doubt when one examines a Mozart, or some 12 year kid getting a PhD, the problem is a little less well defined when we apply it to people like Feynman and Einstein.

    This isn't to say that they weren't intelligent, but what is it that makes us label them "genius"?  Is it that their work is really a product of "genius", or is it simply because we're startled by their discovery and can't imagine how such insight is gained?

    Even so, how does the idiot savant play into this?   Is there a difference between the idiot savant and genius when applied to their particular "specialty"?

    Overall, I still think there's too much confusion between intelligence and knowledge with the latter affecting our perspective in the wrong directions.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hfarmer
    Well speaking for Physicists people like Newton, Einstein, Feynman and a few others are considered geniuses by other Physicists because they created the frameworks in which the rest of us work.  Calculus and classical Newtonian mechanics, Tensor Calculus and General Relativity, Path Integrals with ordered operators and Quantum Field Theory, those are all frameworks that will be used for thousands of years.  To be honest even in the case of Einstein the genius of many physicist is not fully realized until their work has been tested by time, and they are now dead. 
    Basically to say Einstein was a genius was to say that he broke through a mental barrier that no one else did, and made the work of many possible.  Not all physicist do that.  Not at all. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Gerhard Adam

    Basically to say Einstein was a genius was to say that he broke through a mental barrier that no one else did, and made the work of many possible.

    What makes that genius?  Was it a mental barrier that required some special physiological process or unique brain function?  Basically, I suspect not.  Instead, Einstein had a particular insight, but I think it is a misstatement to suggest that there was some sort of "mental barrier" to that knowledge. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Hfarmer
    Let me give you an example of a mental barrier.  It is a deeply ingrained in all of us by intuition to think of empty space as just that, empty.  Space is a void.  What Einstein realized was that it isn't, space is dynamical it curves in response to mass and energy.  It can carry waves of gravity (not yet directly detected but predicted by General Relativity).  That is not an obvious conculsion at all.  Until much evidence was gathered it was not an accepted theory of physics, arguably until well after he was dead. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Gerhard Adam
    But that is simply insight.  There's no mental barrier there, other than people's own belief systems.  I don't dispute that there is a spark of creativity involved in many of these ideas be they scientific or artistic.  But why should that qualify as "genius" rather than simply as a brilliant insight?

    Virtually every scientist that ever lived and has contributed something to the pool of human knowledge has had such moments.  Dazzling insights and moments that have catapulted human thought beyond mental obstacles that had been placed there, but, once again, why is that genius?

    As I said, I'm not trying to take away anything from Einstein's abilities or scientific contributions, but rather I'm asking what distinguishes Einstein from the dozens upon dozens of brilliant scientists that have worked in this field as being a genius?  Is it simply because he is better known that most of the others?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    I think there can be a mental barrier Gerhard. We call it orthodoxy, and it's alive and well, in evolutionary biology for example.
    Gerhard Adam

    That may be, but I'm concerned about how easily we toss terms around that we don't have any real definitions for.  In fact, I would argue that applying the word "genius" actually diminishes the achievements of many of these men because it suggests that they had some element of their intellect that was beyond their control.  It wasn't the result of hard work or study or even thoughtfulness, because genius implies an ability that you don't have any real control over either.

    It's like the character in Rain Man, where there is some innate ability that basically renders them "freaks of nature" because they clearly possess abilities that are beyond learning or knowledge.  It's simply an anamolous "wiring" of the brain which produces the results, so it's a bit hard to credit someone with such a trait, any more than someone can take credit for being tall, or for being able to roll their tongue.

    In many ways, genius also provides the excuse to others to not try as hard.  Instead of crediting the high achiever for the hard work and discipline, we write it off as being something outside the norm because they're a "genius".

    Mundus vult decipi
    kerrjac
    A difficulty in studying or defining genius is that it is at the extreme of the positive end of intelligence. While case studies prove to be enlightening in many areas of science, keep in mind that here we are turning our gaze to an abundance of facility rather than to a deficit of one. The equivalent in medicine might be a case study of an extremely healthy human being.

    That you would never see a medical case study of an extremely healthy person speaks to the difference between studying deficits rather than non-deficits. Usually when something goes wrong, specific things are broken, and there is an impetus to fix them: there is a problem which demands a solution.

    However, when things go right - as in the case of an extremely healthy person, or a genius - the reasons for why they go right are much more elusive, aside from the absence of non-stifling factors such as disease or starvation. When things go right, the causal explanations are forced to focus more on the synthesis of factors, which is rather difficult to do scientifically. In contrast, when things go wrong, the answer can more readily be found by analysis, a task which science excels at.

    Suffice it to say, I think there is much more potential in eliminating the negative things in life and laying sufficient conditions for such positive outcomes to emerge on their own by, rather than jumping ahead&actively trying to aim people or society towards the positive. The latter, I think, is a flaw in the arguments for positive psychology and socialism alike. Given the right basic conditions, people will thrive on their own. They have for generations.

    That is why, I'd argue, it's more important for theories of intelligence to be able to describe low intelligence rather than high intelligence. That theories of intelligence or IQ tests maybe poor when discussing people of high intelligence, and even mediocre when discussing people of average intelligence, is acceptable so long as they thoroughly look at people of low intelligence.
    Gerhard Adam
    I have to disagree with your analogy.  "Genius" isn't simply being like an extremely healthy person.  It would be like a person that could run/swim substantially faster than anyone alive (or pick any physical activity you'd like).  "Genius" is also something having gone wrong, although we tend to view it more favorably since it plays into our own ideas of what we imagine we would like to strive for.  However, if an individual were truly an order of magnitude more intelligent than those around them, how would that be anything except a terrible disappointment and existence.  Is there such a thing as too much intelligence?  I would also return to a previous question regarding what does it actually mean to be more intelligent?

    In short, we refer to many people as being a "genius" when in fact we really mean that they are just very bright or insightful.  True "genius" is intimidating, since you are forced to recognize your own limitations.

    There would also seem to be more than a hint that real genius also leads to depression, mental disease, and, in many cases, suicide.  How is this not a sign that things may be "wrong"?
    Mundus vult decipi
    kerrjac
    You might be referring to that subset of genius perhaps known as mad genius (or arguably the outdated term idiot savant). Certainly the mad genius is a subset; if it weren't, there would be no need to distinguish any genius as such.
    However, if an individual were truly an order of magnitude more intelligent than those around them, how would that be anything except a terrible disappointment and existence.
    The day when concerned mothers bring their children to the doctors or psychiatrists with the chief complaint that they're geniuses, I just might be convinced.

    Socially, when people think of genius there might be some negative associations, but the term is primarily defined by an abundance of intelligence, not the negative side effects - should they even existence - of such intelligence. For there maybe some examples of people somehow torn apart by their knowledge, but there are many more of perfectly content geniuses.

    If there is anything negative about the term, then I think it is with the air of authority that goes along with it. As people turn more and more to the authority of science - over, say, that of the clergy or that of totalitarian rule - they are more likely to judge upcoming people by their reputations rather than by the content of what they have to say. But this complaint lies more in social people.
    True "genius" is intimidating, since you are forced to recognize your own limitations.
    This is only true if you allow yourself to be intimidated, or if a person is more concerned with ego or reputation than underlying content. Recognizing one's own limitations is an essential part of approaching anything in life - particularly science or the pursuit of knowledge.
    Hfarmer
    Instead of crediting the high achiever for the hard work and discipline, we write it off as being something outside the norm because they're a "genius".
    Einstein and Feynman were not hard working high achievers.  They both did in fact possess unique insights into the workings of the physical world. 
    As for Feynman look at this.  Consider what his sister says about him at 1:47.   Though the whole thing is a good watch.  She is describing a genius in physics, he internalizes the laws of physics...




    This is an older but still good one, one of my favorites.  Taking the world from a new point of view is easy little advice, but it can be hard to follow thorugh on. Suppose no one else can see your point of view?


    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    These are both great!

    (I wish I had more time right now to respond to all of these other fantastic comment, but I am extremely pressed for time until at least Friday this week)

    This is one of my favorite interviews with Feynman. What I like about it is the way he describes his thinking process, his motivation, and his upbringing that really helped to shape the way he looks at the world and physics and learning for the pure enjoyment of it.



    Hfarmer
    He Illustrates what you said about creativity so well.  He had general creativity in art and science.  I belive in some part of that one he's drawing.
    This looks like a good place to show him playing the bongo's.  One of many things he did which violate the stereotypes of scientist. 





    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    LauraHult
    Someone could have an IQ of 170, yet get lost inside of a paper bag, and not have the ability to hold a conversation with anyone other than a dog.
    One of my professors was very much like this.  He could give a cogent lecture, but if a student asked a question, or if the class deviated from the *script* in any way - he was lost.  I would classify someone like this as more within the savant range.

    BTW, you owe me a new keyboard.  ;)
    MarshallBarnes
    As someone who has been called a genius (LOL) I find this a very interesting discussion. I think genius can manifest itself in a variety of ways and not all of them readily apparent. Usually we recognize it when it is obvious in children or in the achievements of an adult. The problem arises when the opportunities to express that genius are not available or when the genius is overlooked. Also, being a genius doesn't make you perfect or always right or even particularly useful in all situations. 

    Another thing is that genius is not something that is strictly biological in origin. I believe it can and must be developed. I believe the key to that is lies in creativity. The more creative you become, the smarter you become. Eventually it leads to multidisciplinary achievement or at least abilities. When you demonstrate insights and abilities on that scale, then you also get labeled genius or at least renaissance man (or woman), which is often more valuable than the kid who got labeled a genius and then grew-up to be focused in just one area because of his exceptional performance in that area when he was still a kid. 

    I was never Honor Society material in school and only made the honor role a few times, but I don't know of one of those kids that has gone on to become anything even close to resembling a genius. 

    BTW, if I'm interpreting the data from the Tommaso's blog correctly, I'm just that much closer to winning my bet with Stephen Hawking...

    Aitch
    Can I throw a mini spanner in this glee roll for IQ?

    What does a genius, or the measure of a genius know of the mystical?

    And yet the Mystical is the true Mystery, and those who solve it truly genius

    "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."

    Albert Einstein


    "The job of the artist is to deepen the mystery."

    Francis Bacon



    So where is the genius in that art, and where is the measure of it?

    Aitch
    MarshallBarnes
    I'll tackle that one, Henry. A genius knows of the mystical the same as anyone else who has had the equal level of involvement with it. The true genius is in realizing that the mystical is subjective unless it manifests itself objectively. It is also not universally defined or recognized. As such, the value of the mystical can only be deemed by the value it brings to objective experience and life as it may be.
    Mysticism in and of itself is not beautiful. Adolf Hitler was into mysticism and in fact, Nazism was steeped in it. Hitler was also an artist.

    Well, at least he painted...
    Aitch
    Marshall

    Disappointed I am....

    There I was talking about something encapsulating awe, wonderment, intrigue, ....

    that hint that draws us toward the unknown.....

    and you mention that......*-@<>`_-''#~



    Shock it is,  that such association be in you

    Beware the dark force OB1....

    ;-)

    Aitch
    Gerhard Adam
    Two problems I have with the whole concept of genius.  In the first place, being a genius is no more controlled than being tall, so to take credit for it is a bit of a stretch. 

    In the second, genius is also something that is generally used as a "self-defence" description of people.  After all, if someone is a genius then we don't have to be self-conscious about not performing in a comparable manner.  If Feynman or Einstein were ordinary, then the question that follows is .... why are "we" not performing to similar levels.  One could also ask what the difference is between being a genius and being talented. 

    Of course, this completely begs the question of whether a genius is actually responsible for being a genius as I indicated in the first point.  It may certainly involve hard work, but it's also a matter of context and opportunity. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    MarshallBarnes
    Uh, that's basically what I said in my first post Gerhard. However, I wouldn't agree about the self-defense description. I don't know, maybe "normal" people use that some times. I wouldn't know. All my adult life I've been focused on being creative beyond the norm and had been inspired by geniuses most of my teen years. But whether people use that as a defense for their own lower standard of performance is neither here nor there. The question is what makes a genius, not why is everyone else normal or average or maybe just highly talented. I will say that the difference between being talented and a genius is the quality of the performance and the recognition and pursuit of that higher level.
     
    For example, I play guitar. So do a lot of other people. Many, are probably better at it than I will ever be or care to be, but most of them will not write as well or know how to take the instrument to the next level as a instrument of composition. The ones that can do that are fewer because it takes another level of talent. It takes the ability to see the instrument on another level and not just how fast you can play any particular set of patterns across the fret board. It's not a matter of how fast you play but what you play and what you play is a function of raw creativity focused with the purpose of communicating in an unique way, using the language of sound. That's why a lot of fast guitar players can't write their way out of a paper bag, they got so concentrated on speed that they forget that what they're playing is supposed to mean something. 

    On the rock star level, you have Joe Walsh, Jimmy Page, Clapton, Hendrix, Townsend, Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, Todd Rundgren, Randy Rhodes, Mark Farner, Eddie Van Halen, and a number of other rock guitar greats whose work stands out because they were able to find an original style and a number of them are viewed as geniuses of the instrument. However,  only one of the ones I listed has been viewed as a genius overall, and because he didn't try to conquer the world as a guitarist, he's not even viewed as good as he really is by most people (which reminds me..I'm going to call a few magazines and complain about them leaving him off their 100 great guitarists lists), although he could more than hold his own with the entire lot. Now, is he a genius because he was born that way or because he got certain opportunities or because he worked hard at it? Knowing his bio I would say it was all three. But I would doubt, had he become a computer programmer as he originally planned, that he would be viewed as the genius he is today. I don't think computers would have stimulated him enough in that part of his brain where the genius aspect lies, to invent, say Microsoft  before Bill Gates did. I could be wrong, but I'm just judging that from what I've read about how he thinks. This is where the opportunity comes in. Having had the chance to join a rock band, he did that instead and worked really hard at being a good guitarist. Then, from his exposure to the recording process he began to see insights into the art of production and arranging and started to do that. Then, because of luck, he got a gig being the in-house producer for a minor record label and a world famous artists manager. From this platform he was able to become steadily stimulated creatively and have the freedom to indulge and develop his more idiosyncratic tendencies and observations about sound and music and communication. The rest, as they, say is history.
    So yeah, there are a lot of guitarists that play better than me, but 0 have realized that there's been nothing essentially done revolutionary for at least the last 20 years with it, (not even the rock greats). So, no one has decided to do anything about it except for me, and fortunately, it looks like some of my work in that area is going to get released later this year. So is that because I was just born that way? No, it's because the initial environment in which I was raised and the fact I got inspired by that same rock genius I described because he was accessible as a genius because of his music career and thus was in a position to influence me at a time when music mattered. But the same thing that made him a genius overall in the entertainment field I have found is applicable to any field, which is why I have managed to do significant things in a variety of areas that I have chosen to focus my attention.

    So, like I said before, the kid who is just born a gifted is not really as important as the one that develops it. After all, the later will work harder and get better and there's really no ceiling or boundary level if you don't want there to be. At the same time, I'm not arguing for elitism at all the way Hank was because of one other thing that I learned from that rock genius back when I was a kid. All it takes is for you to walk out in front of a Mac truck one day, and that's just how much better you are than anyone else.

    Of course, I've since figured out that it would be really smart to expect morons to not look for me when I'm crossing the street, so I always look out for them...


    I don't know if anyone actively reads this post anymore, but some of you may get an email notification.

    My definition of a genius is someone who can synthesize something beyond what others can synthesize given the tools they have at their disposal. "Genius" is pushing ahead of the conceptual and perceptual boundaries of your time and returning with something you can share with the world. Of course, your "gift" can be malevolent or benevolent.

    Studies like these, and imaging studies, generally confuse me. Why wouldn't more intelligent brains use less glucose on harder problems b/c it's easier for them to solve the problem?

    'Less intelligent' people use less glucose partly because the reason why they are less intelligent is that they don't use their brain as much as more intelligent people. They will tend to give up more easily on a problem they don't understand and will try to escape situations where they have to use their intelligence. I guess it goes back to the whole 'the brain is like a muscle'; you have to exercise it.
    Everyone is capable of being very intelligent, but a lot of people don't like the effort needed to be put in.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    There may be a multitude of reasons why most researchers focus their study on the lower end of the distribution
    Probably because most researchers in this field are psychologists, and its much easier to patronise people with lower IQs than people with higher IQs, and let's face it, patronising is what psychologists like to do most.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Well, Helen, as a 'psychologist' I can assure you patronizing is not what I do best. Plenty of things ahead of that on my list of skills.

    Anyway, in regards to the question about imaging studies...

    More intelligent people use more glucose initially, utilizing more of their brain while they are learning new info. After they learn the skill and become fluent at it, the amount of glucose used dramatically drops. This indicates and implies that more intelligent people have more efficient brains; the swing in amount of glucose utilized is a lot greater, very high to very low, accordingly.

    The problem with imaging studies is often in the way lay people or uninformed scientists interpret them. The data presented is correct and usually accurate; the errors lie in the interpretation and conclusions drawn from it- you *just* need to know what you are looking at and what it means.