Today I entertained my hubris by taking an online IQ test by the most reputable provider I could find (although I must say, the name FreeOnlineIQTest still makes me question it). At any rate, after smugly noting what percentage of my species were “beneath” me, I began to contemplate the real meaning of intelligence. First of all, we know that IQ is just a measurement we try to make of intelligence, which A.I. experts have been trying to define for 80 years. Since we can’t even know what it is, we certainly can’t definitively measure it. So my disclaimer is that everything anyone (including me) says about intelligence is, strictly speaking, speculation.
Can IQ change?
Something in me revolts against the idea of IQ being a measurable, set thing. The idea that everyone has a certain IQ, and it doesn’t change. There are several problems with this. First of all, we know that not everything is in the genes. Philosophers have been having the Nature vs Nurture arguments for 100s of years, and the fact that they can’t disprove the other is a testimony to the incredible effect that both have on human development. With the overwhelming evidence we have on this, there’s no way you can say that anything mental is contained only in genes. (Also there are some studies today that indicate that genes can be turned on and off; we at least know that certain parts of them can.)
Furthermore, we know intelligence doesn’t have anything to do with the size of your brain or how many brain cells you have. These two theories have been discredited long ago. A National Geographic article on the brain showed that more intelligent people don’t actually think more; they think less. Their brains have optimized the amount of neurons needed to solve different types of problems. This has always resonated true with me; I am “smarter” than others in certain areas simply because I have figured out the most efficient way to solve that type of problem.
So intelligence has to do with how your brain works, not hardware. And of all the organisms known to man, the brain is the most complex. Our science still isn’t even close to understanding it. The feedback loops are incredible, in fact, the brain seems to be the most malleable thing within comprehension–or outside of it, actually. And we know that regions of the brain can shrink and grow, and we know that humans can learn nearly anything under the Sun. It’s not necessarily easy–in fact, it may take 10,000 hours to master a field (note: it also may not, depending on the field). But anything is possible.
So why would not intelligence itself be malleable? Would that not be the ultimate feat for a perfectly re-wirable circuit? If you read none of the other links on this page, read this article with a lot of good research behind it.
Now, think about your own life. When did you first discover how intelligent you were? Was it at four, your mother saying “wow”at your watercoloring, or your dad laughing at your writing? Or your brother looking up to you because of a math problem, or your sister mocking you because you weren’t socially savvy?
Now consider this: if the childhood years are a human’s most malleable, and the idea of how intelligent you were originated from voices outside of you…then you formed a belief about yourself based on outside observations and your experiences, which may or may not have had anything to do with reality. We know that beliefs are extremely powerful: they are the basis of religion, politics, family, and survival of the human species. And beliefs are hard to change, as evidenced by how many children have the same religion or political stance as their parents. Not all of them do, but the fact that there’s a strong correlation implies that beliefs are largely based on our environment. This is true even of adopted children. They tend to believe what their adopted parents do.
In summary, the truth is: you don’t have to go on believing that you are unintelligent. Everyone wonders about their intelligence; that is inevitable. I’ll use myself as an example: I graduated Valedictorian in high school, scored 34 on the ACT, went to a private university, received an engineering degree, and landed a decent job fresh out of college. But I question myself every day: am I really stupid? Or am I smart? I oscillate incessantly. I have come to realize that I subconsciously compare myself to peers constantly, wondering if I measure up or not. This doesn’t sound rational, but humans by-and-large are very insecure. You could point out my accomplishments, and I would think, “Yes, but maybe it wasn’t that hard to get Valedictorian, there was a small sample size, and there’s more to intelligence than test scores, and going to college doesn’t make you smarter, and I did almost flunk out at one point, and what if I’m really not as smart as others in my workplace?” I have come to realize that this is simply completely normal. But I fear for people who haven’t figured that out.
So please, realize your full potential. Don’t stop at where you are. Learn that you are intelligent; you have one of the same amazing engines of intelligence as everyone else on the planet. Using it is simply up to you.