On Intelligence

I have just finished "Hjärnrevolutionen; Varför din intelligens påverkar allt du gör - och allt du gör påverkar din intelligens" (= The Brain Revolution; Why your intelligence affects everything you do - and everything you do affects your intelligence) by Johan Norberg. I expected it to be interesting, but reading this made me jump to attention:

"Only about 5 percent of the population has exceptional cognitiv ability. That´s a very small share, but in a population like the Swedish, it´s still about 450.000 people. And that is 450.000 people who, through their ability to handle information and solve problems, are disproportionally well-represented among leaders in their respective fields. They are the people who run politics, economy, unions, media, universities, and organizations. This is probably you and most of the people you know - because most people who select a book of this kind has a cognitive ability above average, and we often hang out with people who are like ourselves." (my own very quick and dirty translation, and my own highlight)


Talking about IQ and intelligence can be very controversial. There is an implicit brutality in measuring intelligence - we may end up placing people on a scale from good to bad, from valuable to crappy, if we are not very careful. And this goes against what most of us consider decent and ethically sound.

Intelligence is not about knowing lots of stuff. It´s about the ability to learn and solve problems, and there seems to be a consensus on this, at least. But, as Norberg points out, being intelligent is no guarantee that life will turn out well. Many bright kids are, at least in the Swedish school system, held back by a firm resistance to what is sneeringly called "elite classes" and it is actually illegal for a school to only admit bright students, and home schooling is also illegal. Norberg is a liberal debater with right-wing leanings and is, not surprisingly, an advocate for a school system that stimulates scholarly bright children, as well as support those who have other talents. Not that the less academically inclined are the main focus here, this book is an appeal for the "clever" ones. At least in our culture, which is very focused on the group, on homogenity and normality, we want to pretend that all are created equal, that enough money and encouragement will turn anyone into an Einstein or an Olof Palme. Those who don´t agree with Norberg would argue that his society is an unequal society where rich stands against poor, elite stands against, as Basil Faulty would have said, riff-raff.

I find that I partly agree with Norberg, even though he is on the other side of the political spectrum from me. It can be challenging to be a bookish kid in a Swedish school, and no doubt that goes for most school systems where children are taught in groups that are put together on the basis of home adress. But it can be equally challenging to be a slowly developing kid, a functionally challenged kid, a socially troubled kid, whatever. Norbergs bottom line, as I understand it, is that a more intelligent population will create a better future, for themselves as individuals and for society as a whole. And it´s a pretty thought. Perhaps he is right. I would like to think he is, but I have my doubts. Intelligence and goodness do not go hand in hand, at least that is my experience.

He also advises the reader on how to remain intelligent as we age. Not surprisingly, active and curious reading is the Fountain of Youth. And excercise. If you also have the good sense to marry another curious person with whom you can have interesting and stimulating conversation, you have done what you can to stay on top of your game.

Considering that pensions are shrinking and care for the elderly is increasingly difficult to finance, health is probably one´s safest investment, although that´s a conclusion Norberg lets this reader make herself...

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