I have the IQ of a goldfish and I am sure the goldfish is fins above me in the intelligence stakes. The truth is that I cannot take IQ tests seriously as they are deeply flawed and the history is riddled with right-wing agendas and supporters of eugenics.
So I was interested in Tuesday’s edition of Horizon which attempted to broaden the definition of intelligence.
Seven people (physicist, dramatist, artist, pilot, musician and so on) from different backgrounds were given a standard IQ test and other tests which were pragmatic such as working out 100 things to do with a sock, getting a cork lodged inside out of a bottle, creating a piece of art in ten minutes and emotional intelligence (EI) was tested.
This idea of “multiple intelligence” comes from Howard Gardner, a psychologist, who takes a much broader definition and practical understanding of intelligence. He doesn’t subscribe to the theory that intelligence (g) is a fixed quantity which can be measured using a psychometric test (though the 7 guinea pigs are given an IQ test). Gardner sees creativity as important as intelligence. But what is meant by creativity? Being able to think of different things to do with a sock? I think Gardner is trying to move on from the hang-over of psychometrics and the idea of intelligence is fixed and unchangeable. But what exactly is being concluded here?
The programme at least sought to look at alternatives to the IQ test even though the 7 guinea pigs sat it (the physicist came top). There was still mention of intelligence being inherited which, for me, failed to adequately explain why this was the case (there have been arguments critical of heritable traits like intelligence and the equation of "heritable" with "inevitable" by Leon Kamin, Steven Rose and the late Stephen Jay Gould). Why is there still an obsession with psychometric testing especially knowing the rotten history of its proponents? Are we anywhere nearer to understanding intelligence? What indeed is intelligence?
Theories from 19th century craniologist, Paul Broca, who believed "high intelligence" lay in the anterior region of the brain to Cyril Burt who proposed that intelligence was innate, unchangable quantity fixed by inheritance and therefore testable and during the 1990s Hernstein and Murray published the controversial "The Bell Curve" which amounted to a racist tome. These hideous theories in no way liberate individuals instead they oppress as they lay the blame for "inferiority" at race, class and sex. Environmental aspects don't come into it or play any part.
The whole fabric of the educational system was based on a damn statistical lie. Galtonian Cyril Burt had his own political axe to grind and his “results” propped up his own reactionary ideology. The remnants are still seen today with the obsession of testing, selection and grading. And the continued worship of the bell curve with its "normal distribution" of intelligence.
Oddly enough IQ testing seems to carry a whole series of normative assumptions and value judgements. The development of these tests since the 1930’s reflects the social engineering that went on from that decade on. In the middle years of the last century there was a need to build up a middle class cadre of skilled workers who would be able to carry out the more complex tasks demanded of the workforce in an advanced industrial economy. This may explain the “industrial” flavour of early IQ tests.
There was no widespread need to identify the quantum physics professors or concert pianists of the future. There was and still is a need to identify the people who could, for instance organise the logistics of a company’s delivery fleet. The sort of things being tested (and coached for, there a strong directive element to IQ tests) are the sort of tasks that capitalism needed its managerial cadre to do. It also of course contributes to the ideology of middle class professionalism that you do not question the social order in your work.
As some of the tasks that corporate capital sets its managers change so the things being “measured” change. Thus the more touchy feely interpersonal aptitudes are brought to the fore as managers become more involved in psychological manipulation of workers, customers and other managers. The logistical tasks of the transport manager of yesteryear are now performed by someone’s laptop.
On the BBC website there is a test called What Sex is Your Brain. Couldn’t resist it and it turns out I think like a bloke. Interesting, not?