What to do with a high IQ?

Living with a high IQ

Various strategies haven been suggested for living with a high IQ, including:

  1. Adapting to the slower pace of the masses
  2. Living like an adult among children
  3. Staying under the radar

Particularly note the absence of "using your IQ to become a successful and respected member of society". A high IQ not only does not help your career, it actually blocks your ways to success. In some independent studies, the IQs of university students were measured (e.g. [4]), and the results were rather chilling from a high-IQ point of view.

The IQ distributions of university students showed a mean of 125 and an average standard deviation of 6.5 (μ=125,σ=6.5). While the mean is to be expected, because it makes sense that students are, on average, more intelligent than the "normal" person, the variance seems odd at a first glance.

The right-hand slopes of both curves, the population's distribution and the student's distribution, seem to be almost congruent. This would mean that the percentage of highly intelligent people is about the same among students and the general population. In other words: there are no more high-IQ people among academics than in the general population. The highest IQ measured multiple times in above studies was 138 with one outlier at 149. Nothing above 149, not a single one.

When we zoom into the curve, we can even see that at 147 IQ points (3.1σ), highly intelligent people start to get massively underrepresented in Academia. Wherever the brightest people on this planet go, it's not research and education.

The mystery is easily solved using the Window of Comprehension. Students with an average IQ of 125 become professors with an average IQ of 125, so the average professor is quite a bit away from the lower border of the Window around 150 (131..139, depending on how optimistic you are). Interestingly, 125 is also 13 points away from 138, giving a Window of 14.

So what options are there?

"Dumbing down" may work for some people and might be good advice when it comes to social occasions. In a professional setting, though, this strategy may lead to perpetual boredom, resulting in underachievement and burnout. Even more importantly, adapting to the slow pace of the main stream does not solve the problem of intellectual disconnection from the people around you, more than often resulting in a sense of emotional disconnection, anxiety, and depression.

Making a virtue out of the sense of disconnection and just accepting that the world is a fierce and unintellectual place may sound like a reasonable idea but comes, of course, with its own dangers, most notably a complete disconnection from the shared reality of the general population and living in a reality of one's own, i.e. a dream world. This may be unavoidable in order to maintain some degree of mental sanity in a world that does not understand one, but is certainly nothing to strive for.

Adopting a benevolent attitude towards those who do not understand you may be a better approach, but its success depends largely on the kind of feedback you receive. Imagine living as an adult among children with access to credit cards, SUV's, drugs and, where law permits, guns. In such a setting it seems wise to choose your peers carefully.

So all of these approaches boil down to staying under the radar in one or another way, either internally, by adapting to the masses and burying one's own intellectual needs, or by withdrawing from the people and living a life on your own.

However, much of this advice comes from a time where little was known about the difficulties associated with high IQ and where there was no easily accessible global communication network like the Internet.


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