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Reification

Here's the bald truth: There is no such thing as "intelligence". There are only many, many different abilities. Some of us are genetically luckier than others; some of us got better environments; some of us had more motivation or curiosity to learn; some of us had more free time to use for learning. Some of us have problems with the skills that are required in daily life and at school, and we call them "intellectually disabled". Others have unusually high levels of socially valued skills, and we call them "gifted".

Certainly people differ in what they can and cannot do. Even performance on an IQ test can be a useful gauge of what one might be good or bad at doing.

But "intelligence", as a real thing independent of anything else? No. Doesn't exist. It's a social construct. It's an abstract idea, an estimate, an opinion that one person has of another. We may use it as a shortcut to talk about what a person might generally be capable of doing, but the less specific your statements about someone's capabilities, the less they apply to a real person. By the time you get general enough to talk about "intelligence", you've become so vague that your statements have no practical application and no predictive value--or else your statements have become stereotypical, limiting, and ultimately false.

Book recommendation: The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould.
Includes a very accessible discussion of factor analysis, explanation of how error and bias creep into even honest experiments, and an overview of the history of mental measurements, from brain volume to IQ tests.


Comments

Have to disagree - if intelligence was purely a social construct, we wouldn't be able to judge it in other animals. The fox that lures an entire hunting pack to their doom by leading them into a path of an oncoming train shows that it more intelligent than the hounds (and most humans, for that matter).
As with any other trait, intelligence can be judged by what it achieves.
I disagree, it is possible to trick an entity with a greater "IQ" by taking advantage of misdirected attention. If your thesis was correct, smart people wouldn't enjoy prestidigitation.
And my cats would never trick me into an ambush around the corner of the hall. :)
I found this incredibly interesting article about the parallels between child prodigies and autism, and how IQ was not all that.

Titled: What child prodigies and autistic people have in common

Edited because I forgot the fracking link. O lulz.

Edited at 2012-07-11 03:07 pm (UTC)

(Anonymous)

Indie Film about Autism

Hi everyone, my name is Sam Fleischner, I'm a director of films and music videos. In November 2009, I read an NY Times article about a 13 year-old boy with Autism who ran away from home, riding the NYC subway for 11 days. The story captivated me and a year later I reached out to meet the family in hopes of learning more about their experience.

With their help, I spent the next two years developing the screenplay, STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS, the adventure of an outsider kid looking for his place, and trying to survive a system that wasn’t designed for him. I am reaching out to the Autism community for support and collaboration. As a film that will illuminate the multi-faceted nature of Autism in a positive light, I hope to engage individuals and organizations that work to spread awareness and raise funds for research.

Check out our Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/44007702) and Facebook pages to share with friends, and help support this project! If you have any questions it, send me an email at autismfilm@seethink.com -- thanks guys!

https://www.facebook.com/StandClearOfTheClosingDoors

(Anonymous)

Very true. A dolphin is an idiot on land, but an absolute genius in water.

I would say, though, that learning ability is something that exists and varies widely. Some people are able to easily and quickly absorb just about any idea presented to them, while others struggle with the basics. "Intelligence" might be better expressed as "learning ability".