Tag Archives: Psychology Today

Questioning Everything Includes Questioning Yourself

Is Mark Zuckerberg a genius? And can the traits of such geniuses be enumerated in a nice, tidy list?

Well, Jen Kim, through the Poor Little Rich Genius post on her Psychology Today blog, Valley Girl With a Brain, seems to have answered both of the aforementioned questions in the affirmative. But things aren’t as they seem.

I’m starting a new series of blog posts, entitled Stop and Think, the purpose of which being to uncover ignorance, bias, and faulty reasoning wherever they may be found. Welcome to the first post of much more to come. I’m a voracious reader. And after several years of consuming various forms of prose—such as books, essays, and articles—both online and off, I’ve developed the discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff in written discourse. Unfortunately, Jen’s piece, on Zuckerberg in particular and geniuses in general, doesn’t meet the criteria for wheat.

I believe in questioning everything and so, ostensibly, does Jen: her blog slogan is “Question, like, everything.” However, she never bothers to perform the mental exercise of questioning the very premises of her article…

Smart acquaintances and a movie

Let’s examine the sources from which she extrapolates the characteristics of genius.

I have been fortunate to meet a few of these gifted souls in recent years and have marveled in their mental and verbal jabberwocky…

Still, I have gleaned from my few experiences that geniuses live more than just lives of privilege and prestige.

In my brief encounters with the uber-brilliant…

They are looking for something more intangible, and until I watched “The Social Network” last night, I had no idea what that thing was…

This is how I saw Mark Zuckerberg portrayed in the film.

So, she thinks she knows what constitutes genius, based on anecdotal experiences with intelligent acquaintances and the fictional portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in a Hollywood film. Not exactly a stellar argument. No supported statistics. No cited results of empirical testing. The biblical parable of a house built on sand comes to mind. She does go on to quote journalistic entities when delving into Zuckerberg’s profile, but this doesn’t rescue her from the colossal blunder of using The Social Network as a primary source for her exposition.

What is genius, anyway?

As someone who has read much literature on intelligence, giftedness, genius, and IQ, I can tell you that the debate is far from settled on what exactly intelligence is.

Charles Spearman‘s general intelligence factor proposes the existence of g, or general intelligence, an abstraction of the principal factor common across a set of positively correlated cognitive tests. Howard Gardner‘s theory of multiple intelligences contends the opposite, that there are types of intelligence: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. And Robert Sternberg‘s triarchic theory of intelligence asserts that intelligence can be conceptualized through three subtheories: componential/analytical (i.e., book smarts), experiential/creative (i.e., creativity), and practical/contextual (i.e., street smarts).

If a particular something cannot be clearly defined, how, then, is it possible to accurately measure that particular something? Such is the case with intelligence. At best, IQ tests quantify a single aspect of intelligence—academic intelligence (i.e., logical-mathematical, spatial, and perhaps linguistic in Gardner’s theory and componential/analytical in Sternberg’s model), the kind of intelligence that’s highly valued in Western societies—and at worst, they’re used, and have been used, to support scientific racism, especially eugenics.

Thus, if intelligence cannot be clearly defined or accurately measured, how can we begin to know what constitutes genius? The simple answer is we can’t. If you still think IQ tests can be used to determine genius, as Mensa would have you believe, ponder this: Richard Feynman—the physicist who, through the Manhattan Project, participated in the development of the atomic bomb, who was a co-recipient of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the advancement of quantum electrodynamics, who pioneered the field of quantum computing, and who is widely and unquestionably considered to be a true genius—purportedly had an IQ of only 125, a score commensurate with above average to superior intelligence, but falls below the top 2% cutoff for Mensa.

Zuckerberg, a genius?

Perhaps the recognition of genius requires the passage of time. In that case, if Zuckerberg is indeed a genius, several decades will need to elapse before his intellectual prowess will be appreciated. However, it is a dubious assertion to say that Mark Zuckerberg is a genius. To say that is to put him on the same plane as Einstein, Feynman, and Mozart. Does he really belong there? Is Facebook—in my opinion, a medium for people to document the insipid trivialities of their daily lives through status updates—in the same league as Einstein’s theory of relativity, Feynman’s quantum electrodynamics, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Pascal’s IQ and Jen’s credentials

I have a couple of remaining morsels for you to mentally chew. Jen mentioned Blaise Pascal’s IQ of 195. Interesting. IQ tests were invented at the turn of the 20th century by Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon, to aid in identifying students with special needs. Yet, the mathematician, physicist, inventor, and writer, Blaise Pascal, who lived from 1623 to 1662, managed to score an IQ of 195, nearly 250 years before the advent of IQ tests. Of course, he never actually wrote an IQ test. The score of 195 is someone’s guess as to what his IQ was, nothing more.

The said literature on intelligence, giftedness, genius, and IQ that I’ve read has typically been put forth by authorities on those subjects, such as psychologists and neuroscientists. Jen, on the other hand, “is a writer, sometimes commercial actor, budding sociologist, former Psychology Today intern, and graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.” She’s nowhere near the radius of being an authority on those highly controversial subjects.

Critical thinking

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this exercise in critical thinking. And I look forward to the next piece of poorly thought out gibberish that I can logically tear apart and share with you. 🙂