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Am I Really That Smart?

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Apparently I’m a genius.

Well, that’s overstating it a bit. I’m no Leonardo da Vinci, idly sketching designs for advanced machines and not being particularly bothered about whether the necessary engineering technology exists yet to construct them. I have only a foggy understanding of how an electric motor works. Nevertheless, I do seem to be something of an egghead. To explain, I need to drag you into the regions of the mundane for a second, but only to illustrate what got me thinking about this. So bear with me.

I’ve had to cry off my college badminton class this evening because of a bad back. When I contacted the coach to let him know, he e-mailed me to point out that I could still hobble to the gym, show my face and at least get credit for attendance. It’s nice of him, but I figure that I can take the hit: it’s a one-unit class and more to the point, my GPA is already over 3.8 and I’m really just killing time this semester until I can afford to transfer to the local university.

I know that there are plenty of other students in that class who need a good grade; for whom every participation and fitness point really counts. But I’m sitting pretty. I keep getting enthusiastic letters from the college honors society, encouraging me to send them a nice check for the privilege of adding bits of the Greek alphabet to my resumé. The only reason I have a 3.8 instead of a 4.0 is a few classes in which I earned a B grade. These were classes in which – with one exception – I could have gotten an A but didn’t think it worth the effort. I wasn’t going to give up on a trip to Australia, for example, for the sake of one test, especially when I could still earn a respectable final grade even if I missed it. I'm not one of those driven students who will just die if they don't have a 4.0.

I’ll come back to that one exception in a bit, because it is important. But the badminton incident got me wondering whether in fact I really was that bright, or if my apparent super-intelligence was just relative to the infamously low (it is sometimes said) caliber of higher education in the United States. So I went online and took a few of the free intelligence tests that are available there. Not rigorously scientific, of course, which is why I took several. On the three tests that actually deigned to give me my score before inviting me to fork over some of my hard-earned, I scored 133, 144 and 151. This puts me, according to Wikipedia, two standard deviations to the right of the bell curve, in the 95th percentile of the world’s cleverest. According to one of the tests, my score categorizes me as ‘gifted’. (Of course, I’m expected to pay in order to find out exactly what I’m gifted at.)

I’ve been told I was smart ever since my second year of high school (equivalent to the seventh grade: in England, high school covers ages 11 to 18), when they streamed us according to ability. I hadn’t regarded myself as exceptional prior to that, although my primary (elementary) school did have a high reputation, so perhaps all of us were little Einsteins. But for various reasons I won’t go into here, I didn’t do exceptionally well, graduating with respectable but not outstanding final exam grades in a respectable but not outstanding number of subjects. Neither did I, at that time, go on to university, which explains how, more than twenty years later, I come to be plugging my way through junior college.

Of course intelligence is always relative. One thinks of Conan Doyle’s Watson, a medical doctor and no dummy, but intellectually dwarfed by the genius of Sherlock Holmes and humble enough to recognize the fact. I run across folks who are smarter than me all the time, not least here on Blogcritics. I couldn’t hope to grapple with certain individuals on complex questions of economics, for example, without looking like an utter fool. Yet there are other topics on which I am more sure of my ground, and on which I can triumph in an argument.

Which brings me back to that exception: that one class in which I feel that I could never have gotten an A, no matter what. It was a biology class, and while I am deeply interested in the subject, I ran into trouble once we descended to the interior of the cell with its awesomely complex chemistry. No matter how much I tried, I simply could not grasp the exact processes by which, on a molecular level, ATP is synthesized or DNA polymerase replicates genetic information. Clearly, cellular biology is not my strong suit. Neither, apparently, is mental geometry. The IQ test questions I struggled on – and had to guess – were the ones that asked things like whether it was possible to divide an equal-sided octagon into six equilateral triangles with four bisecting lines (or something of that sort).

Conversely, though, I’m sure that if you were to have asked Fritz Lippman – who first described the function of ATP – to write you an essay on foreshadowing and symbolism in Bleak House, he would have struggled. And this is the point. Everyone has their limits: no one, except the few true polymaths like Leonardo, can be universally clever. Holmes, although he possessed deep knowledge of the subject himself, usually deferred to Watson on medical matters.

So, all right, I’m smarter than not only a fifth grader but also 95% of everyone else. (One of these days I’ll go out and take a proper IQ test just to make sure.) I’m pleased about that, but just don’t ask me to find you a cure for muscular dystrophy or end the recession, because I wouldn’t have the remotest clue how to even get started. And I’m not going to look down on the guy with an IQ of 95 who can’t divide 8 by 2 but can replace my car’s serpentine belt so that it won't die in a distressing pall of smoke on the freeway. Such humility should serve me well for the possible day when I get into university and suddenly realize that among a constellation of bright intellectual lights, I’m actually a not very luminous bulb.

Which may or may not have anything to do with why I won’t join the honors society, or why I very probably will put in an appearance at badminton tonight.

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About Dr Dreadful

  • Lou Novacheck

    I was once tested and informed I was eligible to join Mensa. But I took the Groucho plea. I told them I wouldn’t belong to any society that would let somebody like me in.
    Seriously, I liked the article, but was a little puzzled by your last sentence in the mini-bio, where you say you don’t understand why you like techno. I’m … well, let’s say I qualify for Social Security based on age. And I like techno. A lot. But I also like Tchaikovsky and Jimi and Benny Goodman. Seriously, it has to do with math. But you know that already, don’t you? Most highly intelligent people have an affinity and quick grasp of math, or at least math principles, a lot of which as to do with the absurd amount of sense it makes in an absurdly nonsensical world. And techno is highly mathematical in structure. 2 + 2 = 4. Simple!

    Or was that comment about techno meant as humor, and I’ve just made myself look completely idiotic because sometimes I’m just too stoopid?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    No, I’m just satirizing myself.

    It is quite surprising how inventive techno (or trance) music can be. It’s cool, fun to listen to and perfect for housework and exercising to!

  • Clavos

    143

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Clav, is that your IQ or the number of techno CDs you own?

    ;-)

  • Clavos

    My age (at least in the morning).

    What’s a techno???

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    It’s a type of electronic dance music, generally designed to get the discerning nightclubber pumped up without having to resort to interesting substances.

    Which is especially odd because I very rarely go clubbing and dance like a demented gecko. Actually, I’m thrashing around to a techno track at this very moment. Quite a sight, I can tell you.

  • STM

    135. Dang. I’m just not very bright.

  • STM

    Plus, I don’t particularly like techno, unless a couple of groove armada songs count.

    Superstylin’ (the extended dance mix).

    What a classic track for a surf movie – which is where I first heard it.

  • duane

    Interestingly (to me, anyway) my IQ, bowling average, and golf average (18 holes) are all the same. Damn! Never really noticed before.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Australians say ‘dang’???!?

  • STM

    Only for a laugh Doc.

  • hef

    Dr. Dreadful

    There are many studies that show the greatest asset to success in life, both as a professional and in business, is the ability to relate to and get along with people. When you’re on a job interview, or when trying to get a new client for your business, no one ever asks, or even cares, what your IQ is. What they want to know in the great majority of cases is what kind of person you are, first and foremost, then they want to know if you can get the job done.

    You’re piece on “Am I Really That Smart?” is the most shameless, unabashed, self-aggrandizing display of arrogance I’ve seen in many years. What’s worse, you’re nowhere near as smart as you’d like to believe. If you had any idea how absolutely distasteful and repulsive such a nauseating display of ego is, you’d crawl into a whole till people forgot how arrogant you are.

    With that high IQ you think you have, you cannot even comprehend how people look down at such obvious fools. A great actor once said, “If you gotta tell them who you are, then you ain’t.” For someone to toot his own horn like that, you can’t be getting much respect in your personal life.

    If you’re still in school, stay there. If you’re already out, go back. The real world holds nothing but setbacks and failures for such repulsive personalities. You better wake up and smell the real world, it has nothing to do with IQ. You’re in for a long series of disappointments and rude awakening.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Hef,

    Didn’t read past page one, did ya?

  • stella

    Dr. Dreadful, It doesn’t matter if he read the whole thing. An article about yourself? Who cares? How vain can you get?!!!

    [Stella, we don’t usually tolerate the changing of people’s online names here – and certainly not when it is by an anonymous commenter with 6 different names coming from one IP address. That will get you banned.
    Comments Editor]

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    It matters if his gripe with it turns out to be the whole point of the article: that IQ in and of itself is not a reliable indicator of smartness.

    I’m guessing you didn’t read it all the way through either.

    But you’re right: talking about oneself is always vain. I guess Maya Angelou, Frank McCourt, Marcel Pagnol and the like just shouldn’t have written all those autobiographies. Next time I go to the doctor, I’ll insist on discussing someone else’s medical issues.

  • duane

    Ah, yes, the internet at its best: gratuitous, anonymous, triple-exclamation-mark insults based on a lack of comprehension and a disregard for “the ability to relate to and get along with people.”

  • Davy

    I’m trying to follow the logic of this blog, but it fails me.

    1. Maya Angelou: American poet and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement.
    2. Frank McCourt: Winner of Pulitzer Prize.
    3. Marcel Pagnol: Several best foreign film awards.
    4. Dr. Dreadful: Run-of-the-mill blogger, somebody-wannabe.

    Is there something I’m missing about item 4 that should make it part of this list?

    It seems stella makes a good point.

  • http://canadiancinephile.com/ Jordan Richardson

    So bloggers should never talk about themselves because it’s “vain” to do so. Hmm.

    I wonder what that says about commenters who feel the arrogant desire to make their thoughts known online to random strangers via obscure and insulting personal insults and ramblings.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Stella, if that’s your attitude, I would recommend that you stay away Ruvy’s latest article.

  • Davy

    Listen up, people, try to follow this. It’s not that complicated.

    Dr. Dreadful put himself in the company of three highly-accomplished people.
    It can be interpreted in only one of two ways; he is also highly accomplished, or he has an ego that goes far beyond his accomplishments, if he has any accomplishments at all.

    Which one is it? Please do fill me in on his background that I may be missing.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Or: it could be an example to illustrate why writing about oneself is not necessarily vain.

    What’s up, Davy? Did I run into the back of your car or something?

  • Clavos

    Woo Hoo!! What fun!

    Doc, ya shoulda stayed in the Politics section, these “culture[d]” types play dirty!!

    Stella sez:

    It doesn’t matter if he read the whole thing. An article about yourself? Who cares?

    Well, Stella, apparently you do, cuz here you is, commenting on it…

  • Davy

    Clavos-Watching a cockaroach for a few seconds so you can step on it doesn’t mean you care about it.

    dreadful-you do a poor job of even avoiding an issue. How did you put yourself in the company of those accomplished people?

  • Clavos

    Clavos-Watching a cockaroach [sic] for a few seconds so you can step on it doesn’t mean you care about it.

    So, Stella needs you to answer for her?

    Blind leading the lame. Or, in this case, the illiterate leading the ignorant.

    Try actually reading the article; at least then you might be able to talk about it intelligently.

    Nah.

    You’ve already demonstrated the impossibility of that…

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Davy, Stella:

    The article is not about blowing my own trumpet. I presented my IQ scores as a simple fact, not a boast. Did you expect me to hide my light under a bushel? Would you have been happier if I’d written about my friend Shlomo rather than myself? I would suggest that false modesty is at least as vain as what you’re complaining about.

    I wrote about myself in this piece because my experience with the online IQ scores is what prompted me to think about the subject in the first place. I’m well aware that IQ is not the be-all and end-all of smartness. There are many different types of intelligence, some of which I rank highly in and some of which I don’t – as I acknowledged in the article.

    As far as ‘putting myself in the company of’ Angelou, McCourt and Pagnol goes, I make no pretensions of grandeur. I brought them up simply because Stella seems to look down on people who talk about themselves. Your insistence that I must either be as gifted as them or highly conceited is bullshit. It’s an example of the logical fallacy known as the false dilemma.

    As I said to Stella also, perhaps I shouldn’t talk about myself when I see my doctor either!

    Hef:

    I’ve been making a living in ‘the real world’ for over twenty years. Again, I was not putting my GPA out there to be self-congratulatory. I’m in college now because I want to be, because I didn’t go when I was young and always regretted that.

    I work full-time and have numerous other activities, so to avoid burnout, my strategy includes identifying classes in which I can attain an acceptable grade without wasting effort. I’m not being arrogant, just pragmatic.

    And that’s all the explanation I feel I should offer. Why the hell should I have to repeat every damn point in the article simply because certain people didn’t have the common courtesy to read all the way through before commenting on it?

  • Davy

    dreadful “Why the hell should I have to repeat every damn point in the article”

    Well, why do you bother? You’re so full of horseshit it’s coming out of your ears.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    …Still didn’t read the article through, eh, Davy?

    Or my last comment.

    Probably because it would mean having to admit that you’re the one who’s full of shit.

    So all you have left is puerile insults.

  • Davy

    dreadful “you’re the one who’s full of shit.”

    Boy that’s really original. Did you think of that yourself? Try multiplying your IQ by -1, that should be just about right. You’re about the most arrogant fool I’ve seen on a blog yet.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Obviously Davy hasn’t visited our Politics section yet

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Heh.

    Interesting, Davy, how instead of responding to the thrust of my comments you cherry-pick the bits that you think allow you to continue throwing insults.

    Almost as interesting as the fact that this is the one and only article you’ve commented on on this site, ever.

    I guess I should be flattered, but I think it’s simply that you enjoy being an asshole.

  • Wario

    I enjoyed your article and related to it very much. The people attacking it are the worst kind of complainer, those who find who do something and then find fault with someone who is doing it to a lesser degree.

  • http://kpip.uicc.edu Sara Wateres

    This is a quote i picked up from above that was really baffling……….

    “”””You’re piece on “Am I Really That Smart?” is the most shameless, unabashed, self-aggrandizing display of arrogance I’ve seen in many years. What’s worse, you’re nowhere near as smart as you’d like to believe. If you had any idea how absolutely distasteful and repulsive such a nauseating display of ego is, you’d crawl into a”””” whole”””” till people forgot how arrogant you are”””

    How does one go about crawling into a whole?

  • Yeslek

    Hi im 12 and I know this has nothing to do with the topic but I want a photographic memory not a verbal memory which I already have. Any help?

  • jack

    Dr. Dreadful,

    You really are dreadful. For someone who went to school after regretting their life you ambitiously relate to doctors. Getting a high IQ score on a random internet website late at night after jacking off does not make you “apparently a genius”. get a fucking life

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Jack, apparently humour goes right over your head so you may not get this, but re-arrange the two following words into the right order – off jack…

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I think I’ll leave you two pals to play…

  • STM

    Lol. Clicked on Doc’s link, got here, checked out the fantastic new bio pic, and I’ve just read through all the comments here after re-reading Doc’s piece on how smart he is.

    Coupla real rocket surgeons at work, or was it one masquerading as half a dozen?

    Managed to get ‘em out of the woodwork, eh Doc?

    Delicious irony.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    lol!

  • John Lake

    I didn’t realize you were such a delightful guy. I can’t compete with those darn fifth graders myself.
    as to the first paragraph of my January article on Chicago, don’t tell — it was clear when I wrote it but, well, editors are busy people.
    Great day.
    True. I swear.

  • Jordan

    Great blog. Random that I read this. Pretty close to my exact thoughts, but with better grammar!

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