Intelligence is not additive or multiplicative

Saw these two interesting posts from the IQ-blogger Pumpkin Person:

The IQ of Chimpanzees

What does it mean to be twice as smart?

And I am going to relate these posts to why the 10,000 ‘rule’ is bullshit and why practice is hugely insufficient for attaining top performance for g-loaded activities, or any activity in which rank-ordered ability is inextricably linked with some sort of innate biological attribute.

What does it mean for someone to be two times smarter than someone else. Is it based on performance speed? To some extent, yes. If someone with an IQ of 150 can read 2x as fast as someone with an IQ of 100, then ignoring factors such as comprehension, two 100-IQ people can complete the task as quickly as the single 150 IQ person, assuming that, for example, one of them starts at the top of the page and the other at the bottom and they meet in the middle.

But by Pumpkin’s logic, and the logic of the above example, then a hundred chimps or a dozen average-IQ people can do what a single smart person can do. But that is obviously demonstrably false. Even if an IQ of 166 is 256 times smarter than an ape, if you put 256 apes in a room, you will never get the sort of intellectual output of even a low-IQ person: no written language, no abstract reasoning, no math…just a bunch of apes doing ape-like stuff. No number or quantity of average-IQ people will ever make groundbreaking contributions to physics or math, for example. At best, maybe some will grasp integral calculus, but that is it. Even if they worked together they would not make any further advancement.

Intelligence is not additive or multiplicative. Rather, it’s more like leveling-up in a video game. In addition to greater processing speed, it grants whoever posses it the ability to make abstractions and inferences that are unobtainable to people of lesser intelligence, which is even more important than speed alone and harder to quantify, yet the fruits are obvious in the creative output of intelligent people whether it’s math, physics, literature, writing, philosophy, music, etc. It’s like the difference between driving and flying. The increased speed of air travel is secondary to the fact that flying takes advantage of all three spatial dimensions, enabling planes to access regions that are impassible by car or rail.

When Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best-seller Outliers was published, it generated a lot of criticism, particularly the part about the 10,000-hours rule, and justifiably so. One can easily cite many examples of people who mastered subjects while requiring far fewer than 10,000 hours, or others who took longer and never became any good. But in recent years the pendulum has begun to swing the other way, and former critics seem to be conceding that although practice may not make you an expert, it’s still better than nothing, which I don’t think anyone denies, but Malcolm’s original claim was more ambitious: the implication being, that with enough enough practice, in his case, 10,00 hours, will make anyone an expert.

The reason why practice, deliberate or not, does not lead to world-class mastery, as discussed above regarding IQ, is that people with innate gifts as it pertains g-loaded abilities can make inferences and connections that people of average innate ability, no matter how long or much they practice, will never be able to make. Someone who is ‘wired’ to do math can look at a complicated problem and mentally construct a path to the solution whereas someone without such wiring will never make the necessary leap, even if both people can understand the rules such as integration and differentiation. The insufficiency of practice is analogous to microwave radiation versus gamma radiation. No amount of exposure, which can be likened to practice, to long-wave radiation (non-ionizing radiation) will cause changes at the DNA-level of the cell, which can be likened to mastery or the concept ‘clicking,’ whereas gamma radiation, which can be likened to high-IQ, does.