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

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

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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.