Commenter Gypsy recently sent me the following email:

I know it’s a little dumb to mention it again, especially after so much time has elapsed between convos about it, but I feel as though definitions of intelligence posed most commonly (Adaptability, problem solving, even potentially reasoning) lack an intuitive connection to an essential side of intelligence commonly ignored mainly because of our main practise for assessing intelligence: Problem POSING. We discover intelligence broadly by posing questions and assessing the ability of the candidate to deliver the correct answer, but the construction of a sophisticated plan is an essential and actually more used element of intelligence that is not immediately implied by the definitions we propose.

I know that problem proposition is implied by the definition, but the language doesn’t intuitively convey it and it is thus not immediately implied. I think the language used should be as intuitive as possible so as to immediately capture the essence of the thing itself all at once.

Thanks for reading,

If I understand Gypsy’s email correctly, he seems to be saying that the inherent flaw in how we define and measure intelligence is that we only look at the ability to solve problems, when a crucial part of being smart is identifying the problem itself.

Of course I would argue that it’s not our intelligence that identifies the problem, but rather it’s our feelings.  If we feel the slightest bit of discomfort, even if it’s something as trivial as an itch that needs to be scratched, it’s by definition a problem (since it’s bothering us), and our intelligence is just the brain’s problem solving computer that solves whatever problems our feelings identify.

Now we evolved to feel pleasure when we are engaging in behavior that enhances our genetic fitness (surviving, making money, making love, making friends) and feel pain when we are denied these achievements, and so we are generally motivated to use our intelligence to our genetic advantage,  at least to some degree, or it couldn’t have evolved in the first place.

However because everyone’s incentive structure is unique, one man’s problem is another man’s solution, so an IQ test must DECIDE for us what the problem is, so everyone’s problem solving computer (IQ) can be tested by the same standard.

However where Gypsy makes a very good point (if I understand him) is that the problem solving IQ tests often demand is very one dimensional, while in the real life strategic situations Gypsy is interested in, we have problems within problems within problems.

So instead of the problem being clearly defined like it is on most IQ tests (how do I fit the puzzle pieces together to make an animal?) it could be something as complex as “how do I win a war?”  This is such a complex problem that you have to break it down into lots of mini-problems, and solve them in the correct sequence, while at the same time, the problem is constantly changing because your enemy is adapting to each of your moves.

German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke famously stated ““No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

I actually don’t think IQ tests do a very good job at capturing this kind of dynamic interactive problem solving because all of the problems on IQ tests are static and simple enough to be solved in a few minutes.  What is needed is not so much an IQ test, but an interactive IQ contest, where people compete in a cognitively demanding zero sum game where one person must outsmart the other.

I used to think chess was the ultimate test of intelligence, but its sensitivity to practice and teaching, and the fact that computers do better than people, dampened my enthusiasm.

What is needed is a version of chess that’s constantly changing, so you can’t practice it or study openings, endgames, and traps, you must constantly invent your own; because one day the board has 64 squares, the next day it has 225.  One day each side has one queen, the next day each side has eight queens etc.  Perhaps some genius could write a computer chess program where such changes would occur randomly, so whoever had the highest rating on this constantly changing version of chess, would be judged the smartest person.

But unfortunately no matter how much you altered the size of the chess board or the number of pieces, computers would probably still beat people, so what is needed is a strategy game that computers can’t outsmart us at, if it’s going to have credibility as a test of intelligence.