Curse of the High IQ

curse of the high IQ

If you read this site, I’m guessing you’re more intelligent than average. Most normies aren’t interested in the kind of geeky science we discuss here.

Assuming you are more intelligent than average, you’ve probably noticed in your life that you don’t fit in with other people all that well. They bore you. Their interests differ sharply from yours.

If you’re unable to correctly diagnose what’s going on, you start to believe that the problem is you, that there’s something wrong with you that makes you unable to fit in or share common interests with most people.

But there isn’t anything wrong with you, and the answer is simple.

Because you’re intelligent, you find yourself at the right side of the normal distribution of intelligence. The more intelligent you are, the rarer the bird you become.

Society, at least in its public aspects, is geared toward the average. If most people are interested in the Kardashians or in whatever team is playing on Sunday, than that’s what society will present to you.

An analogy is that if you stand 6’8″ tall, you’re going to have a hard time finding clothes that fit. Society isn’t geared for the minority.

Aaron Clarey correctly diagnoses the problem in his new book, Curse of the High IQ. The problem isn’t you, it’s just that by definition the world must work that way. But if you don’t understand this, it can lead to unhappiness and worse.

It turns out the those with very high IQ, say over 135, are inappropriately excluded from high IQ professions. This seems to be due to a couple of things: 1) leadership positions are optimally filled by people whose IQs are no more than 20 IQ points higher than those being led; and 2) social isolation, the very phenomenon discussed in Clarey’s book.

The curse of the high IQ seems a bit like psychotherapy, in that bringing this knowledge to consciousness is a big part of the cure.

What can you do about it once you understand it? For one thing, the internet is a godsend. The internet functions as a filter, a much better one than real life.

Ed West (https://twitter.com/edwest) remarked recently how the advent of the bicycle changed mating patterns in Europe. Suddenly, a girl who lived 10 miles away was withing courting distance. If you take this 10 miles as a radius, and 3 miles as the distance you would have walked before, and population density being uniform, then the bicycle would let you filter about 10 times as many girls as before. (Calculated using differences in the areas of circles with 10 miles and 3 miles radius.)

The internet acts similarly. Instead of your immediate neighbors, you can now filter the whole world.

I really wish that I’d figured out a long time ago how being intelligent makes you something of an outcast. It’s best to know this when young.

The curse of the high IQ manifests itself everywhere: on the job, in public education, in entertainment, shopping, anywhere the tastes and proclivities of the majority are catered to.

Even so, the curse has its bright side, since higher IQ is associated with better health, greater financial success, and lower rates of social pathology like crime or out-of-wedlock births.

But if you’re young and don’t know what the problem is, it can seem like a curse.


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42 comments
Murray says February 16, 2016

I’m probably around 135, based on tests done in my youth, so top 1-2%–not brilliant, but pretty high. I was told I’m the smartest in my pretty smart family (probably all 120+), but am also, by some distance, the least successful among my closest blood relatives. I made some huge mistakes in my personal life that my siblings mostly managed to avoid, and while my professional occupation keeps me comfortably in the middle class, they are by most standards wealthier and better established than me. (Also, I have pretty terrible executive function, which I’m usually able to mask successfully with my higher intellectual capacity.) This gives me no cause whatsoever for resentment, but it does prevent me from being too starry-eyed about the benefits of high IQ.

I wonder what the correlation is between high IQ and sociability? I was a pretty lonely kid but figured out how to play the game in my early teens, and have never had problems getting along with people since then. But I notice that since I basically have low sociability, I have no problem rejecting crowd consensus, which led me into the alt-right/reaction, traditional Catholicism, and wacky health websites like this one.

(I kid, I followed you here from the old Miscellany blog. Yuge admirer. Yuge.)

Point is, I only realized late in life the power of the herd for most people: it’s just unthinkable to most people to go against the prevailing mores, no matter how ridiculous, incoherent, or reality-denying. But many of the herd do seem to be very smart people nonetheless–smarter than me, in many cases–so I wonder what the relationship is.

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    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

    Interesting, thanks, Murray. I can play the social game too, but what normal people and their concerns do mainly is bore me. Therefore I find myself avoiding them.

    I agree about the power of the herd; most people seem like they’re incapable of really thinking about an issue.

    PS: Thanks for being a fan, I always appreciate hearing that.

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Timo Fischer says February 16, 2016

Not sure how high my IQ is never checked it, but I can relate to that feeling of being a loner and an outcast. I never enjoyed the trivia and celebrity bullshit that most people consume and I always talked and interacted with people who were years older than me (still do that). Great post and I’ll probably get this book in the future.

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    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

    Thanks, Timo. The fact that you’re writing a website in a foreign language, and doing it well, and at a young age, strikes me as evidence of high intelligence.

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Benjamin I. Espen says February 16, 2016

I had heard this idea before, that somehow super bright people are excluded from the kinds of professions that you would think they would thrive in. I just don’t buy it. It doesn’t match up with my personal experience, and it doesn’t match up with the IQ research that I am familiar with.

I am a National Merit Scholar winner, so I should be a member of the cohort in question. When I went to college, my university made a concerted push to recruit a large number of National Merit Scholars at the same time, so I had the benefit of meeting a number of other exceptionally bright people at the time. All of us have exactly the kind of jobs you think we would have.

The other thing that makes me suspicious is Louis Terman’s longitudinal study. This study, and others like it, find that high IQ is correlated with high everything, height, health, mental stability, you name it. This just doesn’t jibe with the idea there is a significant cohort of excluded high IQ people.

However, I do know exactly what you mean when you say that society isn’t geared for you. It is nice to be able to interact with people with similar tastes and interests, and the Internet is perfect for that. In some ways, the world on Twitter can be very small. You can interact with people like yourself no matter where they are, and that is a good thing.

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    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

    Benjamin, if you were a National Merit Scholar, then by definition you were included. Society recognized you as very intelligent. As for the very bright people in the Terman study, well, they were included too. Weren’t they family members of Stanford faculty and the like? In any case, their success doesn’t in terms of the factors you named doesn’t mean that they entered the most suitable professions.

    This topic hits home for me because I scored above the 90th percentile on the GRE in verbal, math, and the special biology test. Yet no one – not ever – tried to ensure that I was in the right place for my abilities. Not my parents, not my school teachers, not my college professors. And I didn’t know enough about it to do it myself. I attended a junior college and then the California State University system – you know, the second-tier system that’s for those not smart enough for the University of California – because I thought they were good enough, and no one ever told me otherwise. (In contrast, a bright family member just finished his first quarter at the UC system at the age of 16.)

    I can’t complain about how I’ve done in life because I’ve done alright, but society as a whole failed me miserably, which is one of the reasons I don’t care about it much anymore.

    PS: There was one instance when my junior college physics professor took me aside for a two-minute talk about what my major and my goals were, because he could see I was pretty smart. The rarity of such an event as that prof talking to me is evidenced by the fact that I remember it as if it were yesterday.

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      OFWHAP says February 16, 2016

      Your answer here is a good response against Jayman’s “Parenting Doesn’t Matter” argument, but unfortunately it seems hard to quantify. Although I’m probably not as intelligent as you are, I probably fell into the same trap. I didn’t come from a savvy family with parents who were pushing me to the max during the college applications process, and I figured State U was good enough (and free). On the other hand, some of my classmates were aggressively test prepping, tutoring, resumeʼ padding, and credential hoarding before going to college. Some kids these days are even test prepping for the PSAT. This is where Tiger Moms can be quite effective.

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        Undercover Slob says February 17, 2016

        Maybe…but isn’t there a happy medium to be attained? I mean, speaking of Tiger, btw, look at what the spectacle that his life became as a result of what I believe was a “Tiger Dad” (literally). It’s one thing to raise an ambitious, problem solving yet well adjusted young adult but it’s another to raise a socially disaffected robot. Guess which one Tiger Woods is closer to….

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      Elam Bend says February 16, 2016

      This is partially a function of your age. Around the nineties there was a push to test and recognize gifted students and try to push them further. Your social-economic-status also plays a major part. If you’re parents didn’t go to college, maybe they didn’t expect as much for you. Nowadays, bright kids are recognized and college is pushed on them. The problem is that many bright kids don’t function well in typical schools that maybe don’t have the resources to keep them interested. I went to a rural school that didn’t have the right resources, but I had a mother in education and parents wealthy enough to send me to ‘smart camps’ growing up. I’ve seen other, obviously smart, rural kids drift sideways due to feckless, through loving, parents. Or, by getting into a good school and then getting shocked to find out that a school that never challenged them made them ill-prepared for a more rigorous setting. There was definitely the isolation, though, compounded by personality (alternating isolationist and gregarious). Out of my high school class of 34 (public), myself and another went to Ivies [very rare, in fact, the only ones from our part of the state, essentially]. Out my old high school class 35 ten miles away, two others could have, but didn’t for various reasons. One of them knocked up a girl in high school (maybe the first he slept with) went to a local commuter school, joined the military, but is now a doctor with said branch. It wasn’t an easy route, but he had the chops. That’s a high populations of smarties, but none of us were that close. You definitely learn to have an inward life in that situation. BUT, we all got a lot of encouragement and support (as much as could be offered) from our schools. [I admit, at slightly larger school districts it may have been less, but with highschools of 120 people, it was more like family all around].

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        Benjamin I. Espen says February 17, 2016

        Hmm….that is an interesting idea, that this is an cohort of smart people within a certain age range. That makes this idea more plausible to me.

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      Benjamin I. Espen says February 17, 2016

      I went to an otherwise unremarkable state university myself, because it was a better deal than a more famous school. At least in my case, people *did* try to help me find a place in the world, but I think since I grew up in a small town, most of that well-intentioned help didn’t amount to much because nobody really knew anything about the kinds of things I am good at, and how you go about getting there.

      I am sorry to hear you got a raw deal.

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    Gerald says February 16, 2016

    What state did you live in when you took the PSAT? Being a National Merit Scholar suggests that you were in the 99th percentile for your state, but that doesn’t mean you were in the 99th percentile overall. Qualifying scores for some states (West Virginia, Arkansas) can be as low as 201 for West Virginia and as high as 224 for New Jersey or D.C. The article linked above on The Inappropriately Excluded suggests that real problems occur for those with an IQ over 140, which would be around the 99.5th percentile for IQ. Lots of National Merit scholars are probably in the 130-140 range.

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      Benjamin I. Espen says February 17, 2016

      The cutoff *is* roughly 99.5% for the National Merit Scholarship program. Based on the numbers, how many high school students there are in a given year, and the numbers of Finalists, you get a cutoff of about 2.6 standard deviations.

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Philomathean says February 16, 2016

I feel this way all the time, even with family and women, but I’m conscious of the fact that in most cases the people around me are less intelligent. I also find myself consciously tailoring my vocabulary when speaking to most people.

The downside is real for me because in meat world it’s hard to meet an intellectual peer or intellectual better from whom I can learn.

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Laguna Beach Fogey says February 16, 2016

Combine a high IQ with good looks, charm, an impressive physique, and Neo-Nazi views, and life can becomes even more of a challenge. Personally, I cope in large part by drinking a lot.

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Shaq says February 16, 2016

OT: PDM, if you’re not following Malcolm Kendrick, he’s doing a series on “what causes heart disease.” In the latest installment, there are a couple of comments about iron – his responses indicate he’s not overly familiar with iron as a catalyst. You might hop over there to share some of your findings.

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Blacklabellogic says February 16, 2016

I score in the 135 – 145 in range (multiple administered tests) and for the most part I had mediocre grades growing up, the comment I got from teachers a lot was “He’s really bright, but he doesn’t put in any effort”. This was the story of my life until I started post-graduate education when I was motivated and interested in achieved an A average while finishing in half the normal time.

After the fact, I recognize that it was a combination of not being supported and not having the self-discipline to force me to study uninteresting things. I’m an autodidact across a range of subjects, but I still haven’t found the button to make me focus if I’m not motivated and interested.

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    Murray says February 16, 2016

    BlackLabelLogic,

    It sounds like you have a similar executive-function issue to mine. My problem is that I’m interested in too many things to maintain the proper level of focus on the things I should be doing. At work, I’m surrounded by highly competent high-IQ professionals, but it’s amazing to me how incurious they are and how narrow their range of interests. It’s incomprehensible to me that smart people wouldn’t be interested in … everything.

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      P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

      I second that, but I do question whether those seemingly high IQ people are really that bright. I associate intelligence with curiosity, and if someone doesn’t have much of the latter, then I question the former.

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        OFWHAP says February 16, 2016

        While I disagree with the reasoning that most people use for saying, “IQ isn’t everything,” I actually agree that it isn’t everything. You can look at guys such as Christopher Langan or Rick Rossner, who both intellectually underachieved tremendously, to see that.
        Regarding having a narrow or broad range of curiosities, there are actually terms for those aptitudes. Idea fluency represents narrow, in that you are good at taking a single idea and expanding upon it. Ideaphoria represents broad, which means that you’re very good at generating new ideas but are limited at expanding upon any single idea.

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          Blacklabellogic says February 16, 2016

          @All 3 of you:

          Curiosity is always an element, like Mangan said, I always question someone’s intelligence if there is no curiosity there. I don’t care if you’re idea fluent, or ideaphoric but you need to be curious about something.

          It’s not really a case of executive function, so much as it is me thinking pragmatically about the time I have on this earth and reasoning: Why spend time doing things that do not interest me at all?

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          Murray says February 16, 2016

          Ofwhap,

          I’ve been told (by my thesis supervisor, among others) that I have an unusual talent for synthesizing ideas from seemingly completely unrelated fields by perceiving connections that are not apparent to most people. But I don’t seem to myself to be much of an original thinker, in the sense that I come up with anything new; I read *this*, and understand its relationship to *that*, and that helps deepen my own understanding, but I’m always working with someone else’s material. That would seem to be an example of Ideaphoria, no?

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    Timo Fischer says February 16, 2016

    As if we lived the same life haha. My teachers used to say that a lot as well and as you, I didn’t have super good grades either. Instead of paying attention I often brought my own books to school and read them instead. I am also an autodidact seems like “intelligent” people have a lot of things in common.

    I have issues staying motivated as well, but I developed my self-discipline in the last couple of years so this isn’t really a problem for me anymore and when I am interested in a subject (quantum physics or Neuroscience for example) then I’ll read about it and study it with a passion.

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      Blacklabellogic says February 16, 2016

      One of my teachers actually told me “If you spent as much time on the information in the curriculum as the information outside it, you’d be a straight A student.”

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David says February 16, 2016

What score you got on some test doesn’t mean anything. Show me something you’ve accomplished with your intelligence – a book you’ve published, a math conjecture you proved, a song or piece of art you’ve written, a business you started or something similar. Show me something you’ve done.

The world is full of people bragging about how high their IQ is when really they haven’t accomplished shit with their lives. If they really did achieve something that indicates intelligence or creativity, then they wouldn’t have to brag about their IQ. It would be totally irrelevant.

“Society as a whole failed me miserably” someone wrote above. Good Lord, society doesn’t owe you anything. Nobody owes you anything just because you scored high on some test. Get off your rear end, get to work and go do something with your above-average mind and don’t expect anything from anyone. Nobody is going to hand you anything.

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    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

    That someone was me.

    Bright 14-year old kid: “Should I try to get into a top-notch university, or go to State U.?”
    Counselor: “It doesn’t matter, kid! Society doesn’t owe you anything! Get off your ass and don’t act like anyone owes you anything!”

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    grey enlightenment says February 16, 2016

    While not every >130 IQ person will become the next Einstein, his odds are much higher than someone with an IQ <100. IQ measures the potential to succeed and or be creative, not actual creativity or success itself.

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    OFWHAP says February 16, 2016

    You do realize you’re bitching at the author of this website, right?

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    Murray says February 16, 2016

    “What score you got on some test doesn’t mean anything.”

    Sure, in a sense. I pointed out above that my lower-IQ siblings and my (probably mostly lower-IQ) coworkers are actually more effective in real-world terms than me (even though I’m decently successful by most measurements). But that doesn’t mean that the *internal* experience of having higher cognitive abilities is null and void, and the thrust of Mangan’s post related to the way those experiences work themselves out in the world.

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Simon says February 16, 2016

I believe we’ve had a brief conversation with regard to this on Twitter in the past. Needless to say, I can relate to this topic, and it’s a good post on the subject.

As a society, we ought to be nurturing our best and brightest – from the most gifted individuals comes a disproportionately large number of innovations which benefit the rest of society as a whole.

A forward-looking civilisation would encourage its most intelligent members to marry off, and attempt to eugenically increase the percentage of geniuses (genii?) further.

Instead, we force everyone through the same banal indoctrination camp known as mainstream schooling, where gifted individuals are usually extremely bored and disengaged, and get ridiculed by normies or branded trouble makers – or worse still, diagnosed with ADD and dosed with sedatives.

Really, children with high IQ should be identified at a very early age, and fast tracked through a much more advanced education system, to prepare them for a life on a different intellectual plane than the majority of people are capable of where they can make the most of their gift.

But of course, “The Establishment” won’t do this. Highly intelligent people have a nasty habit of thinking for themselves, and seeing through the paper thin narrative that’s woven around us to keep us pacified.

For the longest time, I thought I was an introvert. I became extremely tired at parties unless I was blind drunk, only being able to keep up witty parlance for short bursts before needing to go somewhere and recuperate quietly for half an hour. It was only when I got older and much more self-assured that I realised I wasn’t an introvert – I was just bored shitless by most people.

There are some interesting discussions on Quora about this, here’s a randomly selected one I recall reading in the past.
https://www.quora.com/Whats-it-like-to-have-a-150-IQ-Is-life-easier

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Tuba says February 16, 2016

I flunked out of high school then the draft grabbed me. While in the Army I decided I was either insane or very smart. Being both did not cross my mind until later. As a vet I got into college, finished in three years Suma Cum Laude. I joined Mensa and have been a member for decades… if I get Alzheimer’s will they demand a retest? Not to pick on Mensa specifically but as it is one of two high IQ groups I know well Mensa is well-stocked with unaccomplished geniuses, lots of high-powered motors not in gear and going no where. And… there are a lot of social misfits. Mensans are as skewed from the norm as idiots. We recognize the idiot has social issues but not the genius. Is it better to have been smart than dumb? Yes, but for every attribute there is some price to pay. Even smarts come at a price.

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Padre55 says February 16, 2016

There is also a large danger of having an IQ outside of the avg range becoming a shield. Protecting social and emotional autism, to the point of not even bothering to attempt interaction with..people.

Goodness a simple cure would be to read a Dale Carnegie book..of course that would be plebian, to which will point out a single pushup is worth a thousand words, a touch of empathy a dozen handshakes.

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Paloma says February 17, 2016

Good post,
I can tell you that it is a double course when you are intelligent and also a good looking woman. I must be doomed because I have to dig into clever men’s blogs to satisfy my curiosiy! 😛
But being intelligent is not as bad. Once you know how to hide it and regain some social habilities (this took me 38 years to master), you can use it on your benefit 🙂

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Jim J says February 17, 2016

great comments and ideas. I’ve done some work in my career (as a psychologist) on testing (for employment mainly) and follow the “IQ” topic from a distance. It is the subject of much vitriol from the egalitarians who want the world to be without distinctions between individuals.
they piss me off.
but…more to the point…there is a reasonable amount of literature on the relationships of intelligence and personality features. Steven Pinker e.g. seems to believe sociality and intelligence co-evolved–smarter protohumans who could cooperate had more success in the big kills.
Once key dimension of the so-called Big 5 personality model (very well researched) features a dimension call Openness to Experience (sometimes call Intellectance). These people tend to be interested in many things, curious, multi-skilled (if they choose to be) etc.
I work for many years in a company with hundred of very smart, PhD chemists and engineers. They seemed to vary as much as less intellectually gifted people in their ability/interest/motivation to interact with, enjoy others (even tho I know they found them sometimes less smart)..that to me says the affliction that started this thread is not about IQ only–but about the miriad complexity of human features. A really smart, socially bored or inept individual will find other normals boring. They also often it seems are caught up in their own abilities and like to discount others.

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Undercover Slob says February 17, 2016

Most excellent. I’ve long suspected that the ever widening rift between myself and a large part of society was something a little bit more than just “normal aging” nor simply a product of working around folks in an occupation where formal education and appreciation for academics isn’t a necessity. Of course, it’s always nice (and sometimes mandatory) that we are at least justified in such a notion by an outside source. Enter your post. Thanks again.

P.S. Could you take a look at my question from your blog post: “Targeted Lean Mass Gains?”

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    P. D. Mangan says February 17, 2016

    Hi Undercover, I answered your question over there. Let me know if you have any other questions.

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      Undercover Slob says February 17, 2016

      Yes, thanx. For whatever reason, I didn’t get an email notification of it.

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Tuba says February 17, 2016

There are many different kinds of intelligence. Even within the niche of IQ tests they can vary greatly, such as the Cattell which was verbally intense whereas the California Test of Mental Maturity was language light but required cultural knowledge and was for many years horribly out-of-date. There are some IQ tests which require higher university math which one will fail no matter how brilliant you are if math is not your area of study. Doctors are famous for knowing their specialty but idiots when it comes to listening intelligence. There is also the issue of “to what end?” Is the point of school to make competent workers or people who can think? That said the American school system, in my opinion, has become an expensive waste of time. It is a prison sentence every child is forced to go through. Indeed, schools have given up on education and spend much time on punishment. I bombed out of high school badly because it was set up to handle only a certain kind of intelligence and in limited ways. And most of that brainpower is geared towards employment rather than being educated (note in how much disdain a liberal arts major is held because they dare to be educated instead of employable.) Thus I found my own way. I am an expert and at what I do the most watched in the world. And the only damned thing I learned in 15 years of education of any value in life was typing. The rest was a pointless waste of life.

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Shaq says February 17, 2016

Convert your SAT (and/or GRE) score into IQ!

http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/GREIQ.aspx

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Adam says February 20, 2016

Good post. My IQ was last measured at 136 and I’ve frequently encountered the problems you mention here.

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Neil M White says February 21, 2016

I really enjoyed reading this and found your blog after Timo Fischer (timo-fischer.com) wrote about this book review. I’ve added the book to my Amazon wishlist (I’ve got plenty to read just now) but I identify a lot with your summary and it makes me want to read the book.

It can be intensely frustrating when there are people less intelligent than you in positions of power, particularly in work, school etc. If you let your intelligence show, people can feel threatened and treat you with caution like some kind of psychopath. Part of my coping strategy has been to dumb down my contact with ‘normies’ as you put it. That way they don’t feel threatened and that aspect of my life becomes easier.

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EH says June 19, 2017

“It turns out the those with very high IQ, say over 135, are inappropriately excluded from high IQ professions. ”

In the comments to the article you linked in that quote, a commenter, Gwern, showed with some clear and concise R (statistical programming language) code that the data cited by the author of the article to show that the high IQ are being discriminated against in fact shows the reverse, that after accounting for truncation selection (the left tail of the distribution is excluded from elite professions), increasing IQ increases the chance of success in elite professions. Though I’d like to believe that the high IQ aren’t getting their just deserts, certainly they’d generally make better decisions than our elected leaders, we aren’t being grossly discriminated against as a group in entering and remaining in elite professions.

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