IQ Anxieties

There is a debate on Scott’s blog about the ‘Growth Mindset’, that boils down to nature vs. nurture. Noah posts a rebuttal, accusing Scott of ‘derp’.

As long as IQ plays an increasingly important role in our increasingly competitive, winner-take-all economy, this issue will remain controversial. IQ is our new caste system, and these feel-good platitudes about practice and ‘hard work’ don’t allay people’s well-founded anxieties on the subject, that maybe some people by virtue of genes are intrinsically better than others.

As for practice, I believe practice allows one to live to their cognitive potential – but not exceed it. With a lot of practice, a person with an IQ of 130 can become a decent physicist, but not someone with an IQ of 90.

Second, in the talent vs. nurture wars, people’s positions on the issue depend on the said skill, as I explain here. People are more open to the idea of nature superseding nurture if the involved skills aren’t intellectual, such as athletic ability, versus an intellectual skills such as academic achievement, in which case people want to believe practice is more important than biology.

I guess It’s understandable why people feel anxious or unease about the topic of IQ when you consider how smart people, whether through higher wages, stock market & real estate gains, and web 2.0, have reaped most of the post-2008 economic prosperity. IQ has become a proxy not only for self-worth, but how important society perceives you to be – in that smart people earn more money and are more influential in the national debate, and that’s society’s, the ‘invisible hand’s’, way of saying those people are more important. That’s a very un-egalitarian idea that goes against what many are taught in school, by our family, or in Church, that we are are all important, valuable people; no, some people are born ‘better’ than others, and these people tend to rise to the top.

Athletes do make a lot of money, but there are far fewer professional athletes than engineers. You probably only need a 1-2 SD IQ (115-130) to become an engineer, but you need 5 SD physical ability (~1/10000) talent to play professional sports. People think it’s easier or more attainable to learn engineering than play professional baseball, and this true, but both require genetic endowments (IQ, athletic ability). But , again, people get worked-up at the idea that some people are born to do cognitive things, versus being born to hit a ball well.