As I’ve discussed, my views on intelligence have been strongly influenced by a science teacher I had when I was young who felt that while intelligence has many different parts (memory, pattern recognition etc), the single umbrella that covers all of intelligence is the mental ability to adapt; to take whatever situation you’re in, and turn it around to your advantage.
However this definition is vague, and open to many different interpretations. Of course most abstract concepts have vague ambiguous definitions; what makes them scientific is measurement. Once you can measure something, you can simply define it in terms of how it’s measured. This is known as operational definition; the typical example being defining weight as the number that appears when you stand on a scale. Indeed, a psychologist infamously defined intelligence as whatever intelligence tests test.
While I do believe IQ tests measure many of the most important parts of intelligence, and do measure the ability to adapt to many kinds of challenges, they are still too simplistic and narrow to capture an entity as vast and multifaceted as intelligence. I don’t think it’s even scientifically possible to measure intelligence as my science teacher defined it.
But if it were possible; here’s what I imagine the test would look like: Life. The perfect test of intelligence is just the way you live life. But here’s the catch. Not your life only. Intelligence is how well you could live everyone’s life. And everything’s life. Everywhere in the world. In every world that life can exist.
So here’s how the test would work. A scientist would bring me into a lab and say “Pumpkin Person; you’ve had a moderately successful life as an IQ obsessed man living in modern Canada; now we want to see how successful your life would be as a beautiful sociopathic extroverted cheerful girl born to billionaire parents. Don’t worry, you get to keep all your cognitive abilities, but you’ll have a totally different body, social background, and location, and totally different drives, personality, motives, and emotions. This will tell us how well your intelligence functions under totally different circumstances”
After 80 years living as a sociopathic rich girl, I die, but return to get my test results.
“You did quite well,” the scientist tell me. “You lived 78 years of pure pleasure (physically and emotionally) and only 2 years of pain and suffering; a net score of 76. You really turned that situation to your advantage.”
“Well it wasn’t hard to turn it to my advantage,” I reply. “I had every advantage already. I was rich and beautiful, and since I was a sociopath, I didn’t even feel guilty about it. And on top of that, I had the type of personality that feels happy, even when terrible things happen, which they didn’t. Life was pure pleasure, no pain.”
“Yes,” the scientist replies. “Most people find that life pretty easy to adapt to. Let’s see how well you can adapt to another life. Computer, randomly generate a new life out of the data base of all lives ever lived anywhere in the universe.”
In my next life I am a snake slithering around. I have no hands so my spatial IQ is useless for making tools. I can’t speak and there’s no one to speak to, so my verbal IQ is largely useless too. I have a strong sense of smell and use this to guide me to food, but my human intelligence did not evolve to make sense of smells so this sense is almost useless to me. I starve to death almost immediately. I was not able to adapt to that life, but the scientist informs me that most humans suck even worse at that subtest, so my score was still relatively high.
After several dozen lives as creatures in other galaxies, I get to be a modern First World human on Eath again. But this time, I’m born a genetically morbidly obese man suffering from genetic depression who is addicted to constantly eating junk food, and who dreams of being a sprinter in the Olympics and is obsessed with having sex with supermodels. I drop dead of a heart attack at age 30.
“You weren’t able to adapt that life to your advantage,” the scientist informs me. “You only lived 30 years, and only a total of one year of that time was pleasure (the combined time you spent eating pizza). The rest were pain and suffering. A net score of NEGATIVE 29.”
“That life was hard to adapt to,” I explain, “because my constant desire for food made me way too fat to achieve my desire for super models an athletic success. The only time I felt pleasure was when I was eating. Perhaps had I eaten even more pizza, my score would have been a lot higher. I would have died sooner, but at least I would have enjoyed my short time on Earth. In the end, what else is there?”
The scientist takes the total of my scores on each life and converts it into an IQ equivalent.