Sunday, April 21, 2013

Defining Intelligence & Why It's Not That Important

This week I read an opinion piece by Alain de Benoist who is a philosopher, critic and temporarily a member of Mensa. He points out that there are two types of eugenics- a "positive" and "negative". He says there is a positive because no one can argue that a society with fewer sick people is worse than a society with more sick people, it just depends on how that society is reached. People will surely still try to breed out hereditary diseases despite the fact that eugenics is indisputably considered a Nazi practice. 

Most people believe that "positive" eugenics is tied to intelligence and that is a trait that society has learned to consider good. However, defining intelligence is more difficult than we think. Do IQ tests really define the better people that the human population should strive to have more of? Alain de Benoist states that he joined Mensa but quickly left because despite the members' high IQ scores, they were largely mediocre (or a I understand boring and socially monotonous. There are many types of intelligence, some that cannot be measured or summarized with a score. So who decides which of those "intelligences" (i.e. crystallized, fluid, triarchic) is most valuable to the human race? 

Furthermore, who can prove that intelligence is hereditary? This question takes us back to the argument of nature vs nurture. The environment and the way a child is raised can have a greater effect on intelligence than specific genes. It can also be argued that significant differences in intelligence exist even in people with the same IQ. 

Even with numerous strict guidelines, the quality of IQ tests cannot be determined. Although most used IQ tests claim to be "culture-free" (not referencing any specific language, society, custom) all of those factors are extremely difficult to eliminate. Moreover, maybe intelligence doesn't make a person "better" no matter how it is defined. Does intelligence guarantee success or happiness? If intelligence was ideal in all cases for all humans, it would naturally occur and the lack of intelligence would disappear due to natural selection. 

The author argues that it is society that overvalues and obsesses over the concept of intelligence without even considering that most positive and certainly beneficial human qualities are in no way tied to intelligence. In the end, positive eugenics may be impossible to implement because of the biological rule known as "regression to the mean". Highly intelligent parents are likely to have less intelligent offspring and less intelligent parents, more intelligent offspring. Therefore, over time, the average intelligence of a population stays about the same. 

I have always been slightly confused by IQ tests because they are given more importance than is appropriate in society. In my opinion, intelligence cannot even compete with creativity and yet people are not trying to measure creativity in numbers or breed future generations with greater numbers of "creativity genes". Eugenics can be positive only if entirely negative and fatal properties are eliminated like disease and illness. That's where trying to cure cancer can start falling into the eugenics category. However, when it comes to highly subjective "qualities" like intelligence, it is nearly impossible to come to a conclusive way of defining and increasing intelligence (if that is even necessary). Thus, even trying will certainly lead humanity to irreversible mistakes.

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