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komponisto comments on Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism - Less Wrong

149 Post author: Yvain 13 September 2010 09:36PM

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Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 03:51:41AM 10 points [-]

According to the survey, the average IQ on this site is around 145^2

I can't possibly have been the only one to have been amused by this.

(Well, doesn't Clippy claim to be a superintelligence?)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 16 September 2010 04:13:20AM *  15 points [-]

According to the survey, the average IQ on this site is around 145

I can't possibly have been the only one to have been amused by this.

The really disturbing possibility is that average people hanging out here might actually be of the sort that solves IQ tests extremely successfully, with scores over 140, but whose real-life accomplishments are far below what these scores might suggest. In other words, that there might be a selection effect for the sort of people that Scott Adams encountered when he joined Mensa:

I decided to take an I.Q. test administered by Mensa, the organization of geniuses. If you score in the top 2% of people who take that same test, you get to call yourself a “genius” and optionally join the group. I squeaked in and immediately joined so I could hang out with the other geniuses and do genius things. I even volunteered to host some meetings at my apartment.

Then, the horror.

It turns out that the people who join Mensa and attend meetings are, on average, not successful titans of industry. They are instead – and I say this with great affection – huge losers. I was making $735 per month and I was like frickin’ Goldfinger in this crowd. We had a guy who was some sort of poet who hoped to one day start “writing some of them down.” We had people who were literally too smart to hold a job. The rest of the group dressed too much like street people to ever get past security for a job interview. And everyone was always available for meetings on weekend nights.

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 04:23:56AM *  11 points [-]

I should clarify that I was specifically referring to the interesting placement of that superscript 2. :-)

EDIT: Though actually, this is probably the perfect opportunity to wonder if the reason people join this community is that it's probably the easiest high-IQ group to join in the world: you don't have to pass a test or earn a degree; all you have to do is write intelligent blog comments.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 16 September 2010 04:31:25AM *  11 points [-]

Oh, then it was a misunderstanding. I thought you were (like me) amused by the poll result suggesting that the intelligence of the average person here is in the upper 99.865-th percentile.

(Just to get the feel for that number, belonging to the same percentile of income distribution in the U.S. would mean roughly a million dollars a year.)

Comment author: blogospheroid 27 September 2010 11:06:10AM 3 points [-]

Hmm.. Isn't the intelligence distribution more like a bell curve and the distribution of income more like a power law?

Comment author: BillyOblivion 05 October 2010 04:58:09AM *  5 points [-]

Both can be power-law or Gaussian depending on your "perspective".

There are roughly as many people with a IQ over 190 as there are people with an income over 1 billion USD per annum. By roughly I mean an order of magnitude.

Generally IQ is graphed as a Gaussian distribution because of the way it's measured--the middle of the distribution is defined as 100. Income is raw numbers.

(edited to move a scare quote)

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 04:42:44AM 2 points [-]

Upvoted for the quality of the analogy, although I also agree with you.

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 04:34:15AM 1 point [-]

Well I'm also amused by that, to be sure.

Comment author: faul_sname 16 November 2012 11:09:12PM 0 points [-]

And since the correlation between the two is about 0.4, that would suggest an income of 1.2 standard deviations above the mean, or about $80,000 a year in the US, not controlling for age. Controlling for age, I suspect LWers have approximately average income for their level of intelligence (and because regression to the mean is not intuitive, it feels like we should be doing far better than that).

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 04:48:04AM *  0 points [-]

the reason people join this community is that it's probably the easiest high-IQ group to join in the world

I find this sort of puzzling. There is clearly a demand for organizations which provide opportunities to interact and socialize with people carefully selected for their ability to solve clever puzzles (and whatever else is on the IQ test--I haven't taken a real one). Why is that? Does anybody here specifically seek out high-IQ friends? Do you feel like trying to explain the appeal to me? Intelligence is one of my criteria for my companions, to be sure, but I'm not sure it's in the top three, and I certainly wouldn't settle for it alone.

Also, I'm not sure that earning a degree is harder than writing an intelligent blog post. Not for everyone, anyway.

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 05:26:10AM *  10 points [-]

There is clearly a demand for organizations which provide opportunities to interact and socialize with people carefully selected for their ability to solve clever puzzles (and whatever else is on the IQ test--I haven't taken a real one)

That's not the sense of IQ that I mean; rather, I mean the underlying thing which that ability is supposed to be an indicator of.

(My guess would be that this underlying thing is probably something like "richness of mental life".)

Does anybody here specifically seek out high-IQ friends? Do you feel like trying to explain the appeal to me?

My experience suggests that it makes a significant difference to one's quality of life whether the people in one's social circle are close to one's own intelligence level.

Not too long ago I spent some time at the SIAI house; and even though I was probably doing more "work" than usual while I was there, it felt like vacation, simply because the everyday task of communicating with people was so much easier and more efficient than in my normal life.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 06:11:57AM *  2 points [-]

That's not the sense of IQ that I mean; rather, I mean the underlying thing which that ability is supposed to be an indicator of.

See my response to cata.

My experience suggests that it makes a significant difference to one's quality of life whether the people in one's social circle are close to one's own intelligence level.

I suppose it's possible that I'm merely spoiled in this regard, but I'm not sure. Yes, most of the people I've spent a lot of time with in my life have been some kind of intelligent--my parents are very smart, and I was taught to value intellect highly growing up. But some of the folks who've really made me glad to have them around have been less educated and less well-read than I am, which isn't trivial (I'm a high school dropout, albeit one who likes to do some learning on her own time).

I'm thinking particularly of my coworkers at my last job. We worked behind the counter at a dry cleaner. These were not people with college educations, or who had learned much about critical thinking or logic or debate. This is not to say they had below average intelligence--just not particularly higher, either. They were confused as to why I was working this dead-end job with them instead of going to college and making some of myself; I was clearly capable of it.

But those people made the job worthwhile. They were thoughtful, respectful, often funny, and supportive. They were good at their jobs--on a busy day, it felt like being part of a well-oiled machine. There isn't one quality in that list you could have traded for outstanding intelligence and made them better people, nor made me happier to be around them.

If your point is right, maybe all that means is that my brain is nothing to write home about. But I'm fonder of the theory that there are other qualities that have at least as much value in terms of quality of life. Would you be happy living in a house of smart people who were all jerks?

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 04:27:43PM 4 points [-]

Would you be happy living in a house of smart people who were all jerks?

Of course not. What caused your probability of my saying "yes" to be high enough to make this question worth asking?

I could with more genuine curiosity ask you the following: would you be happy spending your life surrounded by nice people who understood maybe 20% of your thoughts?

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 08:39:27PM 1 point [-]

What caused your probability of my saying "yes" to be high enough to make this question worth asking?

It was rhetorical, and meant to support the point that intelligence alone does not make a person worthwhile.

Would you be happy spending your life surrounded by nice people who understood maybe 20% of your thoughts?

I'd rather have more kindness and less intelligence than the reverse. I think it's clear we'd both prefer a balance, though, and that's really all my point was: intelligence is not enough to qualify a person as worthwhile. Which is why social groups with that as the only criterion confuse me. :)

Comment author: [deleted] 17 September 2010 02:47:43AM 7 points [-]

Here I go, speaking for other people, but I'm guessing that people at the LessWrong meetup at least met some baseline of all those other qualities, by komponisto's estimation, and that the difference of intelligence allowed for such a massive increase in ability to communicate made talking so much more enjoyable, given that ey was talking to decent people.

Each quality may not be linear. If someone is "half as nice" as another person, I don't want to talk to them at half the frequency, or bet that I'll fully enjoy conversation half of the time. A certain threshold of most qualities makes a person totally not worth talking to. But at the same time, a person can only be so much more thoughtful, respectful, funny, supportive, before you lose your ability to identify with them again! That's my experience anyhow - if I admire a person too much, I have difficulty imagining that they identify with me as I do with them. Trust needs some symmetry. And so there are probably optimal levels of friendship-worthy qualities (very roughly by any measure), a minimum threshold, and a region where a little difference makes a big difference. The left-bounded S-curves of friendship.

Then there is order. For different qualities, the difference between a person at minimum-threshold and at optimal is worth very different amounts of satisfaction to you. Some qualities probably have a threshold so low, you don't think about it. Not having inexplicable compulsions to murder is a big plus on my list. When that's the case, the quality seems to vary so slightly over most people, you almost take it for granted that people have enough of that quality. The more often you meet people at the minimum, the more amazing it will seem to meet someone at optimal. If you spend a long time surrounded by jerks, meeting supportive people is probably more amazing than usual. If you grow up surrounded by supportive people who have no idea what you're talking about half of the time, gaining that ability to communicate is probably worth a lot.

Finally, there's the affect heuristic. If a personality quality gain compared to the experienced average is worth a lot, of course it can distort your valuation of the difference of other qualities. If I were trapped all my life in a country whose language could capture only 1% of the ideas mine did, filled with good people who mostly just don't care about those other 99% of ideas, I would still feel greatly relieved to meet someone who spoke my language. Even if the person was a little bit below the threshold that marks em a jerk. But why is the person more likely to be a jerk anyhow? What if the person is actually really good and decent as well? I might propose.

I don't know if komponisto had the urge to marry anyone at the meetup. But I'm sure it happens.

Comment author: Relsqui 17 September 2010 03:02:12AM *  3 points [-]

I think this is a really excellent analysis and I agree with just about all of it.

I suspect that the difference in our initial reactions had to do with your premise that intelligent people are easier to communicate with. This hasn't been true in my experience, but I'd bet that the difference is the topics of conversation. If you want to talk to people about AI, someone with more education and intellect is going to suit you better than someone with less, even if they're also really nice.

I've definitely also had conversations where the guy in the room who was the most confused and having the least fun was the one with the most book smarts. I'm trying to remember what they were about ... off the top of my head, I think it tended to be social situations or issues which he had not encountered. Empathy would have done him more good than education in that instance (given that his education was not in the social sciences).

Comment author: komponisto 17 September 2010 03:58:16AM *  1 point [-]

I'm guessing that people at the LessWrong meetup at least met some baseline of all those other qualities

Actually, I was talking about my two-week stay as an SIAI Visiting Fellow. (Which is kind of like a Less Wrong meetup...)

But, yeah.

Comment author: cata 16 September 2010 05:02:48AM *  6 points [-]

There is clearly a demand for organizations which provide opportunities to interact and socialize with people carefully selected for their ability to solve clever puzzles (and whatever else is on the IQ test--I haven't taken a real one).

Really? I don't think that's true; I think people just tend to assume that IQ is a good proxy for general intellectualism (e.g. highbrow tastes, willingness to talk and debate a lot, being well-read.) Since it's easier to score an IQ test than a test judging political literacy, education, and favorite novels, that's what organizations like Mensa use, and that's the measuring stick everyone trots out. Needless to say, it's not a very good one, but it's made its way into the culture.

I mean, even in casual usage, when most people talk about someone's high IQ, they probably aren't talking about focus, memory, or pattern recognition. They're likely actually talking about education and interests.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 05:54:47AM 3 points [-]

I mean, even in casual usage, when most people talk about someone's high IQ, they probably aren't talking about focus, memory, or pattern recognition. They're likely actually talking about education and interests.

That's precisely what troubles me. I don't like that we use a term which actually only means the former to refer to how "smart" someone is in vague, visceral sense--nor the implied equation of either IQ or smartness with utility.

I'm not accusing you of that necessarily, it's just a pattern I see in the world and fret about. Actually, it reminds me of something which might make a good article in its own right; I'll ruminate on it for a bit while I'm still getting used to article etiquette.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 September 2010 03:11:26AM 1 point [-]

I definitely agree on this. It's an abused and conflated word, though I don't know if that's more of a cause than an effect of problems society has with thinking about intelligence. I wonder how we could best get people to casually use a wider array of words and associations to distinguish the many different things we mean by "smart".

Comment author: Relsqui 17 September 2010 03:24:09AM *  1 point [-]

I don't know if that's more of a cause than an effect of problems society has

You've hit an important point here, and not just about the topic in question. Consider body image (we want to see people on TV we think are pretty, but we get our ideas of what's pretty in part from TV) and media violence (we want to depict the world as it really is, but we also want to impart values that will change the world for the better rather than glorifying people and events which change it for the worse). How, in general, do we break these loops?

I wonder how we could best get people to casually use a wider array of words and associations to distinguish the many different things we mean by "smart".

So far, I haven't thought of anything better than choosing to be precise when I'm talking about somebody's talents and weaknesses, so I try to do that.

Comment author: cata 16 September 2010 06:09:17AM 1 point [-]

I don't like that we use a term which actually only means the former to refer to how "smart" someone is in vague, visceral sense--nor the implied equation of either IQ or smartness with utility.

Well, me neither; I think it's a reflection of how people would like to imagine other humans as being much simpler and more homogeneous than they actually are. I look forward to your forthcoming post.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 06:16:14AM *  0 points [-]

Well, me neither

That's reassuring. :)

I look forward to your forthcoming post.

Me too. I don't have a post's worth of idea yet. But there's cud yet to chew. (Ruminate has one of my favorite etymologies.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 September 2010 06:33:17PM *  3 points [-]

This surprises me. One explanation for the mismatch between my experience with Mensa and Adams' is that local groups vary a lot. Another is that he's making up a bunch of insults based on a cliche.

What I've seen of Mensa is people who seemed socially ordinary (bear in mind, my reference group is sf fandom), but not as intelligent as I hoped. I went to a couple of gatherings-- one had pretty ordinary discussion of Star Trek. Another was basically alright, but had one annoying person who'd been in the group so long that the other members didn't notice how annoying he was-- hardly a problem unique to Mensa.

Kate Jones, President of Kadon Games, is a Mensan and one of the more intelligent people I know. I know one other Mensan I consider intelligent, and there's no reason to think I have a complete list of the Mensans in my social circle.

I was in Mensa for a while-- I hoped it would be useful for networking, but I didn't get any good out of it. The publications were generally underwhelming-- there was a lot of articles which would start with more or less arbitrary definitions for words, and then an effort to build an argument from the definitions. This was in the 80s, and I don't know whether the organization has changed.

Still, if I'd lived in a small town with no access to sf fandom, Mensa might have been a best available choice for me.

These days, I'd say there are a lot of online communities for smart people.

All this being said, I suspect that IQ tests the like select for people with mild ADD (look! another question! no need to stay focused on a project!) and against people who want to do things which are directly connected to their goals.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 17 September 2010 07:09:58PM *  20 points [-]

I'd say that the problem is the selection effect for intelligent underachievers. People who are in the top 2% of the population by some widely recognized measure of intellectual accomplishment presumably already have affiliations, titles, and positions far more prestigious than the membership in an organization where the only qualification is passing a written test could ever be. Also, their everyday social circles are likely to consist of other individuals of the same caliber, so they have no need to seek them out actively.

Therefore, in an organization like Mensa, I would expect a strong selection effect for people who have the ability to achieve high IQ scores (whatever that might specifically imply, considering the controversies in IQ research), but who lack other abilities necessary to translate that into actual accomplishment and acquire recognition and connections among high-achieving people. Needless to say, such people are unlikely to end up as high-status individuals in our culture (or any other, for that matter). People of the sort you mention, smart enough to have flashes of extraordinary insight but unable to stay focused long enough to get anything done, likely account for some non-trivial subset of those.

That said, in such a decentralized organization, I would expect that the quality of local chapters and the sort of people they attract depends greatly on the ability and attitudes of the local leadership. There are probably places both significantly better and worse than what you describe.

Comment author: komponisto 17 September 2010 08:03:19PM *  1 point [-]

I suspect that IQ tests [and] the like select for people with mild ADD

I'm not sure about this. I doubt I would do all that well on a Mensa-type IQ test, and I suspect ADD may be part of the reason. (Though SarahC has raised the possibility of motivated cognition interfering with mathematical problem solving, which I hadn't really considered.)

and against people who want to do things which are directly connected to their goals.

This, however, I do believe.

Despite Richard Feynman's supposedly low IQ score, and Albert Einstein's status as the popular exemplar of high-IQ, my impression (prejudice?) regarding traditional "IQ tests" is that they would in fact tend to select for people like Feynman (clever tinkerers) at the expense of people like Einstein (imaginative ponderers).

Comment author: gwern 26 November 2011 10:19:24AM 2 points [-]

Despite Richard Feynman's supposedly low IQ score

While I'm passing through looking for something else: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1159719

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 September 2010 03:22:27AM 0 points [-]

I was generalizing from one example-- it's easier for me to focus on a series of little problems. If I have ADD, it's quite mild as such things go.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 04:29:20AM *  2 points [-]

That's fairly analogous to my worries about joining LW. I was afraid it would be full of extremely intelligent, very dumb people. ;)

Comment author: Raw_Power 07 July 2011 05:44:57PM 3 points [-]

How do you know this isn't the case?

Comment author: BillyOblivion 05 October 2010 04:51:18AM 0 points [-]

Intelligence is but one measure of mental ability. One of the critical ones for modern life goes by "Executive Function" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions it seems to be moderately independent of IQ. It could also be called "Self Discipline".

It is why really bright kids get lousy grades. Why kids who do well in High School, but never seem to study, tank when they hit college, or when the get out of college and actually have to show up for work clean, neat and on time.

I don't CARE if you can solve a rubics cube in 38 seconds, I need those TPS reports NOW.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2010 05:24:59AM *  0 points [-]

One of the critical ones for modern life goes by "Executive Function" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions it seems to be moderately independent of IQ. It could also be called "Self Discipline".

It's correlated with self discipline but it is actually a different ability. In fact, some with problems with executive function compensate by developing excessive self discipline. (Having a #@$%ed up system for dealing with prioritisation makes anxiety based perfectionism more adaptive.)