I have a confession to make. Many have outright disbelieved me. Some have immediately began to call me arrogant, full of myself and those closest to me have decided to either decide it means I do not need any guidance at all but instead should guide myself until it is not suitable for them anymore or have been deeply offended by it to the point of for some time blaming every complication in our relationship to this. So yeah I love being one of the smartest people I know. How smart exactly is an issue of debate in itself, some certified tests placed me barely in the brightest 2% category (which still means every 50th person I meet would be as clever or even more clever than I am) and some experts only dealing with gifted people think I am among the top 0.003%. So no big variation at all.
I decided to dig a bit into academic intelligence to understand all this. Partly because when I did I had plenty of free time at my hands, the internet was this new shiny library and because I had about as much self awareness as a teddy but unlike the toy named after an american president much heartache over it. So what did i find out?
- There is no clear definition of Intelligence but rather multiple competing ideas. My favourite and most flippant definition clearly illustrates the problem in a nice recursive way:
Intelligence is what the IQ test measures.
- the IQ value can vary within a confined range but is largely determined by genetics and early childhood
- Intelligence is thought to be distributed as follows:
- an IQ of 100 is assumed to be the mean of the populations IQ and also the most frequent.
- 68.2% of all people are within one standard deviation of 15 points meaning within an IQ range of 85-115. Meaning the people within this range can expect 2 out of 3 people they meet to be within the same range.
- 31.6% of all people are 15 points away from the average 100 IQ points, meaning 15.8% have a score of 85 or lower and 15.8% have a score of 115 or higher
- Moving away a further 15 points we are in the gifted or mentally disabled range: 2.2% of all people have an IQ of 70 or lower and 2.2% have an IQ of 130 or higher
- Summary: the majority of peoples IQs are to be found within a rather restricted IQ range: almost 70% score between 85 and 115, extreme values are increasingly rare
- Intelligence does not only affect your academic performance but also your sensitivity, thinking speed, ability to observe and many more aspects which are still at work when leaving school
- Some authors argue extreme intelligence comes with extreme emotional and sensory sensitivity, for this post I shall consider this true
Ok so that’s nice and neat science and so far has extremely little to do with everyday life. When my first gifted diagnosis came I had these confusing number in my mind and some Hollywood pictures. The guys who multiply large numbers, know to many languages to even keep track of their number, are wildly successful in their fields… I am afraid while some people perceive me that way I’m not very successful nor can I do anything as flashy as mentioned. Rarely if at all are the emotional and psychological consequences of one respective position on the IQ spectrum discussed. I think partially because the idea that we are born and shaped during early life with something affecting us so pervasively is largely unpopular. Since I am not concerned with popularity in this completely random online blog I shall open the Pandora’s box.
Lets start with a trival observation: when you deal with someone who is mentally disabled its hard to follow them cognitively and its hard to find ways to connect academically. Yet often mentally disabled people are very physical, they seem to connect in different ways. Similarly when people of average intelligence deal with someone who is MUCH more intelligent than they are (as in within the gifted range) its hard to keep up for them. The clever ones can prove the grass is red and the sun shines at night and the averagely gifted people are left feeling inadequate and disconnected again. So what do I take from this? Simple:
Intelligence affects the way we deal with people and how we connect to others.
Its about much more than your marks in school. You attach emotional and moral value to it almost automatically.
Ok I hope you are still with me, so how does it affect us? Well it depends on where you are on the spectrum of IQ scores. If you are somewhere in the middle you expect most people to be within a range that you can find a way to communicate and connect. Your thinking speed shouldn’t vary too much from each other nor should the way you perceive the world. Sounds nice? Oh wait there is even more: the world you live in expects people to be approximately as intelligent as you are so everything in your everyday life is designed to suit your mental capacities and sensory equipment. Let me repeat that:
the world is designed for people of average intelligence.
When stuff is too complicated its too complicated for most of your peers, but there will always be some smart dude somewhere in the crowd able to explain it to you, after all many people are smarter than you. When stuff is too boring, lacks mental stimulation it will be the same way for most of your peers. And there will always be someone in the crowd stupid enough to find more enjoyment in this task than you do. After all there are loads of people stupider than you. So where does this lead us? Privilege. When everything is about your level of ability you will quickly loose perspective of how people from more extreme ends of the spectrum perceive the same world.
Suddenly the following scenario is very likely: everything has to be your way or its wrong. If its too complicated you will be the sole judge of that and if you are insecure enough you will even claim there is something wrong with people who obviously struggle much less than you do. They also must have such an easy life because they face no adversity whatsoever and everything is easy to them. Likewise if something is too simple you will loudly demand things be more to your needs, its not your fault some folks are too stupid to keep up.
You might expect everyone around you to be of the same neurology than you are. I do realise most people do not consciously think about intelligence and are often not aware they might be thinking or behaving that way and I am convinced many of them have no ill intent whatsoever. However as someone on one extreme end of the spectrum I feel the need to speak out. If my expectation is true and most people have no ill intent they might very well be open to being educated on yet another privilege they weren’t aware they are having without being aware of it.
I want to share my perspective with you, one of someone at an extreme end of the spectrum. I want to make something crystal clear I attach no inherent moral or social value to intelligence. Smarter people might have an enhanced ability to reflect on moral questions and thus may behave more socially oriented in the best of worlds. In the worst of worlds they will use their brain power to argue how this bad world can only be fixed by being bad oneself or something similar and then they will use their brainpower to behave much less socially oriented. So brain power does not decide whether you are a good person or a bad person. Being smarter does not mean being better or worse in any way in general, it just means being different. Sadly I frequently struggle to communicate about intelligence in a neutral way because many things surrounding intelligence are heavily burdened with judgement. Smart is good and stupid is bad. But both are not conscious choices. To me they are similar to eye colour or height or skin colour. Your degree of intelligence is something you can not change. So whenever I communicate about intelligence it is a number for me. Not a reason to act like an idiot (pun intended). The question is always how you use what you were given.
Now finally after much deliberation my insiders perspective. I want to clear up some misconceptions i frequently encounter. Remember how I wrote how hard it is for people of average intelligence to get along with mentally disabled people? Well let’s see the difference between mentally disabled and average intelligence is 30 points. And the difference between gifted and average intelligence? Why, 30 points as well! So the difference is as pronounced in both directions looking from the middle point. Now we move to the smart point of the scale: for someone with an IQ of 130 or above it fundamentally difficult for them to connect to the majority of people. Comparable to the experience people of average intelligence might have when attempting to connect to people of an IQ of 70 or below.
Which brings us to the first misconception: intelligent people are smart, they should know how to connect with the others! I’m almost sorry to be so blunt with you, but that’s a mix up of academic and emotional intelligence as well as your privileged thinking. I will pop your bubble now with some very hard questions: Ever thought about why your brain power does not help you connect with mentally disabled people? After all you are much smarter than them you should know how to connect to them, right? No? Then why are the smart guys measured with a standard that clearly does not work for you? Because the people of the extreme ends of the spectrum are to blame for choosing such an extreme position and making your life difficult? The underlying thought process here seems to be both extremes should work to accommodate you in the middle even further when the world is already designed to accommodate you. After all that is what you are used to. And you do not need to leave your comfort zone because there is no reason to do so. You are fine.
Well I here in the top IQ range am very far from fine and all my numerous IQ points do not help me fix my issues, because I can not adjust and adjust and adjust to the unreasonable ideas of the majority. As much as the majority could not adjust to my world. At the end of the day gifted people live in a world where 49 out 50 people or more are as hard to connect to as mentally disable people are hard to connect to for 34 of these 50 people. In order to make this work everyone concerned needs to be tolerant and accepting. Else we are all much more miserable. I won’t be able to use my extreme brain power decipher a way for us to talk to our pets or cure cancer or save the world from the next virulent virus because I’m too depressed to even manage going to the loo. And you won’t get to have the benefits which comes from having people realise their unusual potential.
Another misconception is that we smart people do not struggle. Everything comes easy to us. Well I give you that: I passed my A-levels with flying colours while half asleep and malnourished and I wasn’t much more alert for my diploma. Shall I outline the number of friends I had? How whenever one of my crushes was revealed everyone just laughed of the idea that someone would want to date me? Or that I actually had feelings. I keep hearing about so many people having been bullied and then they tell me some ridiculous story of dating the most popular guy in school. If that is bullying then bullying and bullying are two different things. In fact my best friend during my school time was one of the mice we had for a biology project. To my peers, parents, class mates, teachers, doctors, psychologists I wasn’t human. I was too much work.
I’m well aware this is just one of many stories. Well let’s put it into context: there is this study claiming gifted people are more adjusted, more successful, more sane than non gifted people. Did you know the people conducting this long term study screened children participating not only for their intelligence but also for their issues? They excluded kids with behavioural issues despite being intelligent. So this study says this: intelligent people who showed no early signs of being troubled or insane were less troubled or insane later in life than a random group of people which was not screened for sings of insanity or troublesomeness. I leave it to you to judge the scientific value of this. And a further tidbit of context: I “only” struggle with long term pervasive depression. I do not do drugs, I didn’t quit school when barely a teenager, I am not a criminal. All of these stories are known fates for some undiagnosed gifted people. Questioning authority does not go down well with many professors and teachers, I will have you know. There are people who are too gifted to do well in academia. For someone who never got much support in how to navigate this world I am actually doing extremely well with my university degree. And to me that is the sad part.
For me extreme IQ scores do measure more than a potential academic performance which may never be realised because academic skill isn’t the only quality important in the work place. It measures loneliness. You are the nerd with no friends in the playground. And subsequently you have no reason to visit the playground. You walk the streets and know it’s not your depression telling you none of these random people you encounter would understand you. Its a fact. You think twice as fast as them at the very least. Compared to you they are blind and deaf. I understand why many gifted people hide behind a shield of “better than thou” to attempt to suffocate some of the emotional effects this creeping loneliness. But that’s not for me. I recently saw a biopic about one of these made- it- against- all- odds type of people. One of the taglines was how the protagonist was different and not less. Similarly I’m different and not more. I want a chance of fitting in and I want to be recognised for my struggles that come with superior abilities.