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.Powered by Sidelines