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What Is Intelligence, Anyway? - Isaac Asimov

When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that
all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at
the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made
a big fuss over me. (It didn't mean anything. The next day I was still
a buck private with KP - kitchen police - as my highest duty.)

All my life I've been registering scores like that, so that I have
the complacent feeling that I'm highly intelligent, and I expect other
people to think so too. Actually, though, don't such cores simply
mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions
that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the
intelligence tests - people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these
intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my
estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent
than he was. Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to
him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and
listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles -
and he always fixed my car.

Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an
intelligence test. Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or,
indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests,
I'd prove myself a moron, and I'd be a moron, too. In a world where
I could not use my academic training and my verbal talents but had to
do something intricate or hard, working with my hands, I would do
poorly. My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of
the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that
society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such

Consider my auto-repair man, again. He had a habit of telling me
jokes whenever he saw me. One time he raised his head from under the
automobile hood to say: "Doc, a deaf-and-mute guy went into a hardware
store to ask for some nails. He put two fingers together on the
counter and made hammering motions with the other hand. The clerk
brought him a hammer. He shook his head and pointed to the two fingers
he was hammering. The clerk brought him nails. He picked out the sizes
he wanted, and left. Well, doc, the next guy who came in was a blind
man. He wanted scissors. How do you suppose he asked for them?"

Indulgently, I lifted by right hand and made scissoring motions
with my first two fingers. Whereupon my auto-repair man laughed
raucously and said, "Why, you dumb jerk, He used his voice and asked
for them." Then he said smugly, "I've been trying that on all my
customers today." "Did you catch many?" I asked. "Quite a few," he
said, "but I knew for sure I'd catch you." "Why is that?" I asked.
"Because you're so goddamned educated, doc, I knew you couldn't be
very smart."

And I have an uneasy feeling he had something there.

-- Isaac Asimov


  1. Awesome story man!!! never thought Asimov would have to sufer such indignation..... :)


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