Friday, August 12, 2022

On Intelligence

There was some reasonable pushback on the prior post, Moar Med School Malpractice. The pushback came from my assertion that in general there is a minimum level of intelligence one must possess to be a physician. As several people commented, including doctors, a lot of the medical profession has done some pretty stupid stuff and especially since Covid.

So for purposes of clarity I am offering some personal definitions on words and their application. These may not be dictionary definitions but dictionaries today are politicized, every-shifting, woke trash. This is simply a guide for how I use terms referring to human intellectual ability.

The term I used for medical school is intelligence. I use that term to describe raw intellectual capability, and we have traditionally measured this in terms of intelligence quotient or more commonly IQ. Intelligence is simply a matter of potential. You can be like me and be well above average in intelligence but also academically lazy. This is something I talked about in an early post, The Educational Malpractice Of Gifted And Talented Programs. I wrote:

Years after school, I ran into the other really smart kid from LEAP, a girl who was pretty socially awkward but also very smart. We got together one day for coffee when she was in town. I had gravitated to corporate financial services because it was something I could bullshit my way through with no effort and little actual work. I found out she was an out of work actress who did balloon animals for parties. Here we were, the two smartest kids in our school by a wide margin, doing very little with our lives. Meanwhile, at least two of the girls who didn't make the cut to middle school LEAP are now doctors. A boy who didn't make the cut ended up going to Yale and runs a very, very successful business and probably makes more in a year than I have made combined my whole life.

I would guess that the very top tier of intelligent kids don't often end up in medical school. On the other hand, you can't be middle of the road intelligence wise and hack it. It seems to me that the sweet spot is students in the top 10% intelligence-wise, but not the top 1%, who also have a certain level of drive to succeed. You have to put in the work. Lots of really intelligent people just find the whole school thing boring and skate through. Sure some top 1% intelligent people go into medicine but I suspect that is not common.

Being "smart" is different, and I define smart as being knowledgeable. You know lots of stuff. It usually comes paired with being above average intelligence, requiring you to pursue and retain a lot of stuff. Readers are smart. Math dorks are smart. On the other hand you can be smart and not super intelligent and you can be super intelligent and not very smart, aka "dumb". I have known quite a few pretty intelligent people who were straight up dumbasses. 

What about wisdom? Wisdom comes from experience and has little to do with intelligence or what is often derided as being "book smart". Old men and women who have seen some stuff are often considered wise as a result of having experienced lots of things and seen from first hand knowledge what works and what doesn't. Some intelligent people end up being wise, many don't because we think we already know it all. Some poorly educated people are very wise because they have been around long enough to have figured out how things really work. I know lots of older Amish guys who completed the 8th grade but are very wise. They know very little about the world and have little in the way of book smarts but they are successful in business thanks to experience. 

The opposite of being wise is being clever. The epitome of being clever is Barack Obama. Obama is lauded for being super intelligent but he really isn't. He is the product of affirmative action and the back room dealing of smarter people than he. Obama is clever, he knows how to manipulate situations and people.  He is a huckster, a shyster, a used car salesman writ large, a global urban black activist hustling White people for easy money. Bill Clinton was like this as well, as was Trump of course. George W. Bush? Not clever, not smart, nor wise and definitely not intelligent. 

There are lots of subcategories, people who have a high verbal IQ but suck at math or math geniuses who can't spell. Book smart people versus "mechanically inclined". Musicians are intelligent in their own way as are authors and artists. I just wanted to clear that up and maintain that even though there are doctors and med students that are dumbasses, they all in my experience possess at least a minimum, high level of intelligence even if they don't maximize that potential or have a lick of common sense. 


  1. Good post. And accurate, imho. My older son fits your description of the top 1% (I would say perhaps the top 5%) almost to a 't.' Tremendous innate intelligence (he likens it to a computer - immense memory capacity and extremely rapid processing speed). No patience with standard school work once he hit adolescence and no patience with stupid people. His wisdom - increasing in some areas as he increases in years, sketchy in others.

    While innate, genetic intellectual potential matters, I would agree that it's often of little use without conscientiousness, drive, diligence, and similar character traits. Some of these are also genetic - just as is the desire for risk taking (which my son has in spades). Others are environmental and/or parental.

    I'm no doctor and other than a brief flirtation with a fictional book about the now defunct 'candy stripers' when I was young, have no interest in medicine. But I would put my IQ and common sense up against almost any doctor I've met - and I have. They don't generally like that . . . because they like the prestige and authority their white coat gives them more than they do the truth and reality. If Covid hasn't convinced people of that, nothing will.

  2. Once again, excellent post. Yes, there are different types/manifestations of intelligence. Your post made me think of my stepson. He was about 10 when I met his mom, and had many behavioral issues that made navigating the public school system a grind (for him and us). He was deemed somewhat above-average in intelligence, but was academically (and somewhat physically) lazy. He was disruptive in school, always wanting to be the center of attention. Somehow, he stuck it out and graduated, and, in the four years between graduation and now, he has matured into a fairly responsible young adult in a key managerial job at a local businesses, in a well-paying position where he can put his social skills to good use. He's come a long way.