I don't think it's superiority. A counterpoint in thought experiment form:

  1. "Hi, I'm the president of the United States"
  2. "Hi, I run my own business."
  3. "Hi, I'm a model."
  4. "Hi, I'm Albert, the guy who came up with E equals MC squared."
  5. "Hi, I'm a genius."

I think the numbers do make statements sound bad (I couldn't figure out a way to word the above using a number without making it sound like bragging) but that's irrelevant to the question I'm trying to answer, so it's essentially one of those factors that should be removed from an experiment. I added an additional statement in the same format (an introduction using an identity of some type) about intelligence which does not include a number so that we've got a comparable intelligence-related option.

Here's what my intuition says:

  1. No negative reaction (more likely a positive reaction like excitement).
  2. No negative reaction (admiration seems as likely as jealousy).
  3. Potentially some amount of negative feelings from jealous females, and some amount of excitement from males or lesbians.
  4. No negative reaction (more likely a positive reaction like excitement).
  5. Strong negative reaction.

What's interesting here is that 1 and 4 are not only some of the biggest claims of superiority that you can make, but have also referred to something verifiable, which should theoretically intensify the reaction. If making a claim of superiority was the problem, those should trigger much worse reactions.

I think the difference between the genius claim and the others in my thought experiment is that all the others are claiming to be doing something constructive. This makes the superiority less threatening. Another possibility is that the claims to genius and high IQ are not verifiable with LinkedIn or other research, so they're not as believable.

Here's a thought experiment on with some non-verifiable claims, where there are varying levels of superiority and threat:

  1. Hi, I'm a secret government agent.
  2. Hi, I'm very powerful.
  3. Hi, I'm an elite computer hacker.
  4. Hi, I'm highly gifted.

I think the reaction to 1-3 would be curiosity while the reaction to the fourth would be extreme dislike. I'm interested in other people's reactions because I think my own are too influenced by having thought about this previously. Interestingly:

  1. Secret agents are probably far less common than gifted people. If I remember right, the entire government is 3% of the population whereas gifted people are 2% and I doubt that 2/3 of the government consists of secret agents.

  2. Not all gifted people are powerful, as giftedness does not automatically lead to any type of success. Claiming to be gifted is not claiming as much power as "powerful" is.

My current idea is that if a person with a high IQ makes any type of claim to this, they are more likely to be accused of lying or regarded as a threat than is sensible, and that the negative reactions provoked are disproportionate when compared with reactions to other claims that are comparable but don't involve IQ / giftedness / genius.

I found your comment refreshing and thoughtful. +1 karma.

If you can think of any good counterpoints, I'd like to read them. (:

I'd suggest something that is related to what you're saying: the problem isn't that "I'm a genius" is an objective statement. The problem is that a statement made with more objectivity than is warranted.

The person saying this thinks it makes him objectively better. It doens't just apply to intelligence; consider "I'm a model" versus "I'm beautiful". The latter would get negative reactions. Stating that you're a secret agent is actually an objective statement; you either are or you're not. Stating that you're a genius i... (read more)

Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK?

by Eliezer Yudkowsky 2 min read26th Oct 2007527 comments


Idang Alibi of Abuja, Nigeria writes on the James Watson affair:

A few days ago, the Nobel Laureate, Dr. James Watson, made a remark that is now generating worldwide uproar, especially among blacks.  He said what to me looks like a self-evident truth.  He told The Sunday Times of London in an interview that in his humble opinion, black people are less intelligent than the White people...

An intriguing opening.  Is Idang Alibi about to take a position on the real heart of the uproar?

I do not know what constitutes intelligence.  I leave that to our so-called scholars.  But I do know that in terms of organising society for the benefit of the people living in it, we blacks have not shown any intelligence in that direction at all.  I am so ashamed of this and sometimes feel that I ought to have belonged to another race...

Darn, it's just a lecture on personal and national responsibility.  Of course, for African nationals, taking responsibility for their country's problems is the most productive attitude regardless.  But it doesn't engage with the controversies that got Watson fired.

Later in the article came this:

As I write this, I do so with great pains in my heart because I know that God has given intelligence in equal measure to all his children irrespective of the colour of their skin.

This intrigued me for two reasons:  First, I'm always on the lookout for yet another case of theology making a falsifiable experimental prediction.  And second, the prediction follows obviously if God is just, but what does skin colour have to do with it at all?

A great deal has already been said about the Watson affair, and I suspect that in most respects I have little to contribute that has not been said before.

But why is it that the rest of the world seems to think that individual genetic differences are okay, whereas racial genetic differences in intelligence are not?  Am I the only one who's every bit as horrified by the proposition that there's any way whatsoever to be screwed before you even start, whether it's genes or lead-based paint or Down's Syndrome?  What difference does skin colour make?  At all?

This is only half a rhetorical question.  Race adds extra controversy to anything; in that sense, it's obvious what difference skin colour makes politically.  However, just because this attitude is common, should not cause us to overlook its insanity.  Some kind of different psychological processing is taking place around individually-unfair intelligence distributions, and group-unfair intelligence distributions.

So, in defiance of this psychological difference, and in defiance of politics, let me point out that a group injustice has no existence apart from injustice to individuals.  It's individuals who have brains to experience suffering.  It's individuals who deserve, and often don't get, a fair chance at life.  If God has not given intelligence in equal measure to all his children, God stands convicted of a crime against humanity, period.  Skin colour has nothing to do with it, nothing at all.

And I don't think there's any serious scholar of intelligence who disputes that God has been definitively shown to be most terribly unfair.  Never mind the airtight case that intelligence has a hereditary genetic component among individuals; if you think that being born with Down's Syndrome doesn't impact life outcomes, then you are on crack.  What about lead-based paint?  Does it not count, because parents theoretically could have prevented it but didn't?  In the beginning no one knew that it was damaging.  How is it just for such a tiny mistake to have such huge, irrevocable consequences?  And regardless, would not a just God damn us for only our own choices?  Kids don't choose to live in apartments with lead-based paint.

So much for God being "just", unless you count the people whom God has just screwed over.  Maybe that's part of the fuel in the burning controversy - that people do realize, on some level, the implications for religion.  They can rationalize away the implications of a child born with no legs, but not a child born with no possibility of ever understanding calculus.  But then this doesn't help explain the original observation, which is that people, for some odd reason, think that adding race makes it worse somehow.

And why is my own perspective, apparently, unusual?  Perhaps because I also think that intelligence deficits will be fixable given sufficiently advanced technology, biotech or nanotech.  When truly huge horrors are believed unfixable, the mind's eye tends to just skip over the hideous unfairness - for much the same reason you don't deliberately rest your hand on a hot stoveburner; it hurts.