Brand Christopher - The g Factor

Author : Brand Richard Christopher
Title : The g Factor General Intelligence and its Implications
Year : 1996

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What the book is not about: answerable questions. l The four main questions about human differences in intelligence to be addressed in the four chapters of the book. l No blandness or cover-up: the book will address arguments and anxieties about intelligence, including those that are 'political'. l Acknowledgments. Some questions about intelligence are hard to answer, at least for scientists. Are people more intelligent than animals? Will machines soon be more intelligent than people? Is good intelligence necessary for office work, for obtaining a university degree, for organising a modern family holiday, for enjoying any art that is worthy of the name, or for harnessing creatively the deeper human instincts and impulses? Or might society organize such matters so that no great intelligence was required? Could 'intelligence' retain whatever is its usual meaning if it were sharply distinguished - as some say it must be - from whatever IQ tests measure? These are fascinating questions about intelligence; but they do not look answerable at present. For example, what tests of abilities could provide a fair method of comparison between people and animals? Humans do not fly, echo-locate or navigate by built-in magnetic compasses; and even man's closest fellow-primates do not have the capacity for propositional thought that human language provides. Assuming that intelligence is not just some general 'capacity to adapt' (which might be attributed loosely to virtually any species - cf Schull et al., 1990), it must have evolved (when it did) against the background of the radically different sensory worlds and ecological requirements of different species (see Candland, 1993, for full consideration). Recent primate research has provided a new appreciation of the capacity of apes to learn arbitrary symbols and interact with humans (Marler, 1995); but such communication is not assisted by a grammar that highlights agency and the sequencing of events. Because of such differences in faculties between species, virtually any intended test of intelligence would be 'biassed' except when the species to be compared were closely related. It is thus no wonder that Mackintosh (1988) should think that "the central task of a comparative psychology of intelligence analyse the idea of intelligence - to the point where we can probably dispense with it entirely." For the 'intelligence' differences that distinguish homo sapiens from other mammals might simply turn out to be different principally in quality from those that distinguish eagles from other birds, whales from mammals or pigs from other farmyard animals; and such an observation would rule out any useful talk of all the differences involving any single characteristic of 'intelligence'. Human-computer comparisons are similarly problematic. Computers 'crunch' supplied numbers impressively; whereas people possess knowledge of a wide environment - and of its dangers and its opportunities for them. No current robot would have a conventional, all-round IQ as high as 2 without the help of a human guide, interpreter and button-pusher; yet a computer allowed a human operator of mediocre intelligence would easily do far better on some tests - for example, if arithmetical operations, spelling or the provision of common synonyms were required. The point is that fair comparison is only possible when the various 'testees' - whether people or animals or computers - can all make a start with the types of problem that are to be set, and when the tests sample the range of activities that the testees might be said to undertake intelligently. Animal intelligence cannot be gainsaid because of lack of symbol use; and computer intelligence cannot be proved by superlative performance at chess. Yet to assess a person's intelligence without examining symbol use or to assess a computer's abilities without considering speed of information processing would be equally unfair and strangely neglectful of important capacities. Questions involving species comparisons cannot be answered until there are sensible and systematic ways of comparing species. Other questions about intelligence, however, are hard to answer even for man alone; and even the best-thought-out definition of intelligence cannot be guaranteed to prevail over future empirical discoveries and social changes. To work out and establish tests for a new concept of intelligence that was unrelated to IQ would require a discovery of correlations between mental abilities that had escaped the notice of IQ's many critics for almost a century. Any such 'new IQ' would have to be expressed in a wide range of tests and tricks that correlated with each other, but not with the 'old' IQ tests. Yet such a huge change might just be conceivable as people work increasingly in tandem with computers and word-processors and differ in their adjustments to changing social expectations. Abilities summarised as 'computer literacy', 'skill at virtual reality games', 'social sensitivity' or even 'political correctness' might replace IQ testing in future - just as IQ tests themselves once replaced knowledge of Latin, Greek and English grammar as publicly usable criteria of people's employability. If a society encourages the performance of certain rituals - whether demonstration of familiarity with the works of Jacques Derrida, or the scrupulous avoidance of wearing ties - supposedly intelligent people will presumably be over-represented among the first to grasp what are the latest local requirements for ease of passage and socioeconomic success. ...

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