Intellectual Sophistication

I am interested in what you have done, what you are doing and what you will do. I am supremely indifferent to what you could do, but won't. Consequently, I don't care very much about your IQ.  I care about your intellectual sophistication.

Awareness, if not understanding, of IQ is nearly universal.  It is a good predictor of life outcomes, save at the higher levels, and corresponds well with what people mean when they use the words smart and intelligent.  However, it is a relatively poor proxy for the likely quality of intellectual work product.  For that, I use the term 'intellectual sophistication'.  It is a function of IQ, erudition, objectivity and intellectual discipline.

IQ tests measure a polygenetic trait, g, that exhibits moderate phenotypic variation. Generally, the higher the IQ, the faster a person will master a body of knowledge.  The high IQ person will see more logical connections in that body of knowledge and will more quickly and with greater reliably draw logical conclusions from it.  It is critical to understand that g is applied to a body of knowledge.  If that body of knowledge is small or contains many errors, the conclusions drawn, even with a high IQ, will often be erroneous.  Consequently, intellectual sophistication requires erudition which is the result of a personal commitment to significant lifelong learning.

Confirmation bias, sometimes referred to as 'my side bias', is well understood. People often create world views that fit their ideological preferences and then preferentially notice and accept information that confirms their world view and disregard or find fault with dissonant information. Confirmation bias is often unconscious and many high IQ people, while recognizing its dangers, don't think it applies to them.   In fact, the degree of confirmation bias is uncorrelated with IQ.  In other words, smart people are just as prone to it as people of average intelligence.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE) states that incompetent people routinely overestimate their competence while competent people overestimate the competence of others and thereby underestimate their own competence.  In the high IQ community, DKE is almost always reframed into an issue of smart and stupid rather than competent and incompetent.  In fact, there is no evidence that IQ is inversely correlated with DKE and some evidence that the two are independent of one another.

For example, in 'The Singularity is Near', Ray Kurzweil stated that Economists don't like deflation because it makes it look like the economy is shrinking.  This demonstrates profound incompetence in Economics.  Paul Kruger does a very good job in explaining why Economists don't like deflation. One of the original observations was that 94% of college professors think they perform better than their peers.

There is some evidence that biases such as confirmation bias and DKE are cultural artifacts rather than basic human traits.  For example, DKE is much less among Europeans than Americans and virtually non-existent among East Asians.  In the case of confirmation bias, there is evidence that there are mental habits that can reduce the effect.  Therefore, there is good reason to believe that groups may choose to eliminate these significant impediments to objectivity. Social positive and negative pressure would be the primary tool.

Most IQ tests contain questions that are to be answered in a minute or so.  This is adequate to assess the quality of the intellectual tool but does not measure the personality trait of intellectual discipline. Intellectual discipline demands analytical completeness which, in turn, requires patience.  Many high IQ people will pursue one line of reasoning and draw a final conclusion without considering alternative approaches.  Intellectually disciplined people play devil's advocate for themselves.  By the time they draw a final conclusion they have already thought of and considered the objections.

There may be a small positive correlation between the four components of intellectual sophistication but it is nowhere near enough to render any of the three additions to IQ an unnecessary component. High IQ societies tend to attract people whose percentile intellectual sophistication is well below their IQ.  Academia tends to attract people who are educated beyond their intelligence, and consequently their intellectual sophistication is significantly higher than their IQ.

The most important takeaway from this is that the value of one's opinions correlates much better with intellectual sophistication than with IQ.  It's OK to be intellectually lazy. Objectivity requires a kind of courage to face and accept uncomfortable conclusions.  Erudition and intellectual discipline take dedication and, for many people, the payoff is insufficient.  It is perfectly OK, but it doesn't mix well with pontification.

Polymathicans are lifelong learners so that erudition is a natural outcome. Objectivity and discipline are not natural extensions of Polymathican ideals but most likely should be encouraged through social and cultural norms.  In other words, Polymathica may evolve to overtly embrace intellectual sophistication as a self definition.


  1. I've had an epiphany. My initials are the same as the abbreviation for Intellectual Sophistication. I like that.

  2. Can an average IQ person become a polymath if he stretches his mind to become as intellectually sophisticated as possible?