Alone near the edge

Anyone who’s ever seen a bell curve knows what it means in terms of population distribution. We don’t, however, always consider the effects of that distribution:

Take, for example, a typical working class Irish guy from a Boston neighborhood. He will easily socialize with people in his neighborhood and other working class guys from other Boston neighborhoods. The further you get from his natural environment, however, the less he will have in common with people from other states, countries, etc. There comes a point where socializing becomes impossible. It’s why dropping Bantu warriors into Lewiston Maine is a very stupid idea.

In IQ, a similar relationship between distance and commonality exists. If you have a 100 IQ, you will be roughly as smart as 90% of the people you will encounter on a daily basis. That means you will be able to understand most of the same things and not understand most of the same things. That last bit is vital. Ignorance is bliss, especially when shared with friends.

The further you move to the right on the curve, the smaller the population pool of people in your intelligence range. That means most of the people you meet will not know what you know and will probably never know it. Worse yet, the vast majority don’t think like you think. That’s not always appreciated.

According to entirely too many tests taken in my younger days, I’m supposed to be way to the right of that particular curve. I do understand the distribution. However, I have always maintained that I’m not so damn smart, and I suspect that I would not be surrounded by people who are likely to agree with me even if I were sitting in the middle of that curve; whether I’m three or four (or more) standard deviations to the right really doesn’t make that much difference. And there are people ostensibly far smarter than I who have similar difficulties dealing with Joe and Susan Sixpack:

The two best examples of the latter are John Sununu and Chuck Schumer. Sununu tested into Mega Society and Schumer hit a perfect score on his SAT back in the 60s when it was still a real test. Sununu had some success in politics, but his prickly personality was a problem. Schumer, of course, is known as the most unpleasant human on earth.

I suppose, in the case of Schumer and Sununu, it can be argued that their unpleasant demeanor was overcome by their high IQs. Chuck Schumer’s position is entirely dependent on his ability to push through sophisticated legislation allowing the financial sector to loot the economy.

I did not, I hasten to note, hit a perfect score on my SAT back in the 60s when it was a real test. (I took it twice, in fact; I scored 34 points higher the second time, which was not the first thing I noticed.)

Anyway, this, to me at least, seems indisputable:

In some respects, a 1% IQ is like being seven feet tall. There’s some value at the fringes, but otherwise it has no value and can be a burden. There’s a low demand for seven footers and to most people it is a little weird being around a freakish giant. A 1% IQ is not in much demand and most people don’t like being around Wile E. Coyote for long, unless the genius is also blessed with a high agreeableness and extroversion.

Which I most certainly am not.


  1. fillyjonk »

    24 April 2015 · 2:09 pm

    High agreeableness here, but high intraversion. Basically a conflict avoider who would rather avoid people. I did also rank high on reliability, which is really no surprise.

    I’ve been led to believe I am smart but some days I question that. I may be too agreeable to be a true genius.

  2. neal »

    24 April 2015 · 2:52 pm

    Off the charts intelligence, see ultravoilet, hear dog whistles.
    Triple rows of teeth. When I put out the cat, we just stare. They say that runs in the human family, if one does not stay dead. It helps to have a sense of humor.

  3. McGehee »

    24 April 2015 · 4:06 pm

    Before there were IQ tests, exceptional people became insufferable for reasons other than being told they were smarter than everyone else. Perhaps instead they were told they’d been anointed by God, or that they were the Master Race, or that their ancestors suffered some horrific indignity — or that they themselves are suffering indignities every day, too subtle to notice but nevertheless having world-shattering moral significance.

    Whatever the source of the specialness, the effect is universal.

  4. backwoods conservative »

    24 April 2015 · 5:11 pm

    I could probably qualify for membership in Mensa, but I’ve never felt motivated to join. Being a member of an astronomy club gives me the opportunity to be around people who do understand what I’m talking about, and others whose intellect reminds me that I’m not the smartest person in the room.

  5. jsallison »

    24 April 2015 · 9:23 pm

    My army GT score (140) was such that I could’ve joined MENSA but the group that’d have me I wouldn’t join, err, hmmmm. My buddy that signed up with me tested out at 157, think max was 160. I signed up for tanks, he took combat engineers. And we’re both ‘smart guys’?

  6. Andrew B »

    25 April 2015 · 6:02 am

    I am not nearly smart enough to know about the effect a high IQ has on feelings of alienation. My father, however, was a certifiable genius. He spent most of his life being misunderstood by his peers. All he wanted to be was a regular guy, but his intellect made it impossible. I’m not as bright, but I think I am more contented.

  7. Tatyana »

    25 April 2015 · 1:22 pm

    I never officially took IQ tests, excepting online versions, which I’d attempt to concentrate on for a 5-6 first questions, then get mystified by some math problem with seemingly random numbers, directed at programmers, and get too bored to continue. (“4, 18, 29, 43…continue the row”.- whaaa?)
    If I’d persevere and finish the test, my result, I suspect, would be about IQ of 3. And yet, when I was in H.S., I was cracking similar math quizes like giant – walnuts.
    Does it mean that my IQ regressed with age? Fractionally – sure, but overall, the test entertain only people who like to take tests. It’s their big competition in life. Their only “win”.

    As to theor[ies] about having little in common with people of diminished intellect: what kind of intellect? My best friend in college – I haven’t got a friend any better than her ever since – was never my intellectual equal, +/- 15 pts. Maybe 20. Despite that, nobody understood each other better and felt closer to than us two, then.

    Oh, and about dis-Hon. Schumer: his position is entirely dependent on his abilities to lick backside of Dem sponsors.

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    25 April 2015 · 1:34 pm

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