Phrenology and IQ – measurement exclusion

In the 19th century, scientists began to measure the intelligence and inherent difference of the races by means of measuring the circumference of skulls among racial groups and tallying numerics correlated to learning and capacity…


Phrenology as a means of testing intelligence and ‘inherent differences among the races’ has been an extensively debunked science, having had its motives and its findings and their inferences widely rejected. But there is now an arbitrary assessment that presents a number of mathematical, logical, and spatial reasoning questions of varying difficulty. An academically oriented person with a college education could pull an IQ of 145-160 in such a test, especially if their academic success reflects a life of hard work, studying and effort that does not correlate to IQ assessment.

As a chid I took the SAT test and got a 1580 and was then given a battery of pscyhological tests. Teachers at my school arranged this after my second year, after which I had started teaching a smaller class of kids who were having trouble reading. There were questions if I should be skipped to high school, or if I should take seriously the chances of going to university. I wanted to do things other kids did, though at the time I was spending weekends with a relative, tasked with teaching me Greek and Latin classics, literature and myth, the various philosophical schools of stoicism, epicureanism, and the works of Plato and Aristotle. I was never advised to take the Mensa test, but they sent me a box of puzzles with a letter after my Stanford test scores were reviewed. It was not my best result, but it was consistent with my earlier scores.

This is not something I am divulging as someone who believes IQ to be a valid assessment of someone’s capabilities. As a result of my circumstances, I was exposed to a number of things very early, language learning and with a drive to prove something. If there is natural, latent talent, it cannot be measured in a number that factors in the likelihood that such a capacity is partnered with the will to work and realize the latent potential that is only, perhaps, suggested by IQ test results.

When you talk about IQ results over 125, you are essentially talking about something that would be only known or considered after one’s works; it is not a reasoning forward that validates whatever intelligence a given person possesses. One must reason from said person’s works that their IQ must reflect it, or at least their natural intelligence. Natural intelligence can be understood as what one might be endowed with genetically. The genetic component comes apart when we consider the unknown number of geniuses who have slipped unknown due to unfortunate circumstances. Had Franz Kafka’s comrades honored his wishes, we would have never known of his work and subsequently would have lost the literary masterpieces he produced. The Hunger Artst, The Metamorphoses, Amerika and The Trial reflect what the partnering of effort and natural intelligence produce. Without Kafka’s dedication and will the works would not have realized themselves. It is the material evidence that suggests, not the pure assessment.

As a language student and tutor for many years, I’ve taught innumerable students, young adults and children, publishing five novels, two collections of poems, and innumerable short stories, academic essays and assorted fiction for money here and there, while working as a translator when I needed the money. My first poetry was done as a child, my first novels in my early teens. I did well in school, though I was never comfortable there. My 9th grade English teacher attempted to publish my poetry while I was still in highschool. I wrote my first book when I was 14, but lost it, and published my first book when I was 17.

In my college years, I wrote the essays of my more affluent students and earned a decent living off it. I did work in physics, biology, and literary critique. I wanted to do these things, mind you; I was compelled to do so and so put in many, many 20 hour days over the course of decades. In the meantime I learned to play guitar and piano, expanded my linguistic studies and took up the chess. None of this is easy to master, though within three years I made significant progress. To what extent does natural intelligence override or correlate to natural will?

Does this justify such a high IQ score? I never tried to justify the scores I’ve gotten throughout my life, and whether or not my work reflects it is something I am not fit to judge, being incapable of objectivity. But I don’t think the assessment beyond its indication of potential is capable of measuring outcomes in an effective way as to justify it as a scientific application. I tried to justify the word that hung over my head from my earliest memories: prodigy. It seems a duty that one become universally learned when so named, and do everything. Paint, draw, write, play instruments, have a classical education: everything is the lowest bar a prodigy must clear. The will to prove this to myself and my family drove me to realize whatever intelligence I had. Without the will, the intelligence is gas in a car without wheels: going nowhere.

The argument need not be sociological or philosophical, as to whether intelligence is quantifiable by measurement. We can understand this in historical, rational terms. The genius of the past is preserved by particular mechanisms. The works of Aristotle were preserved for centuries, passed into the hands of Arab translators in late antiquity and passed into Academia in Europe, handed off as a baton of wisdom preserved for future generations. The works of 20th century philosophers such as Satre, Camus and Wittgenstein have continued this tradition, an intellectual culture of humankind that belongs to all of us. The intellectual heritage of humanity is the possession we call knowledge and all human beings are heir to it upon birth. Whether their environments, circumstances and will compel them to contribute to this heritage is uncertain. It certainly cannot be exclusionary nor based on a number, no more than can the measurement of ones cranium.

The point is that one must be judged by one’s actions, to the point that intention and ability are unknown factors beyond the extent to which they effect and direction action. Phrenology never considered anything beyond the raw factors of numbers, much less the socio-economic implications that are deterministic factors in the suppression or cultivation of intelligence. My adoptive parents saw to it that I had the best tutors and that I worked hard to meet academic goals, and I was inclined to please them and make my father proud. Of course, we cannot exclude factors outside of my control. When we judge someone of a crime, we concern ourselves with the circumstances; one’s mental and emotional constitution being paramount. If one is beyond moral judgment if their crimes are compound by circumstances outside a person’s control, it is a difficult judgment to blame this person. No more than we should blame those of great ability who were unable to find their manner of expressing it. Measurements of logic puzzles, mathematical equations and reading comprehension assessments do little to suggest their reliability in measuring anything beyond potential, a factor that can or cannot be realized due to innumerable factors.

In light of this, we should not be so quick to assert that a person’s IQ is the ultimate sign of what their capabilities may be. It becomes even more difficult to evaluate across languages, learning methods, and cultural factors that are beyond an individual’s control. The same is true of the opposite scenario. Someone with great potential who realizes their potential are to be applauded, but their contribution is not the product of their genes but of their work ethic and individual circumstances. None of this can be derived by a test nor the measurement of an individual’s skull.