On the Subject of Intelligence: An Enquiry on the Utility of IQ as a Metric of Value

D.W. Svenson
7 min readFeb 19, 2021

by, D.W. Svenson

In the course of natural conversation, whenever the subject of intelligence is addressed, I am occasionally treated with the harrowing tale of the troubled genius. This invariably results in the speculation that those with inordinately high IQs have the peculiar tendency to be miserable, unsuccessful, or both despite possessing the gift of stellar cognition. The follow-up is, of course, then, “If we take that to be true, what is it that makes them so prone to being miserable and unsuccessful?” While the previous assertion may be true under certain circumstances, to some varying and unknown extent, it ignores a fundamentally deeper question — by making this inquiry, are we acknowledging a systemic bias towards those with what contemporary society defines as higher levels of intelligence? More specifically, the narrative that those with higher intelligence are somehow supposed to be proportionately more successful than their mid- to low-IQ peers, and that this success predicts happiness? While there may be a wealth of correlational literature on the subject of intelligence and success, social scientists and interlocutors, alike, will inevitably overlook the fact that it may not be a question of intelligence, but one of “differential cognition”, which leads to heightened consciousness. I will begin this short essay by first briefly addressing this issue and then move on to discuss how painstakingly erroneous it is to place value assignments on individuals on the basis of IQ.

Differential cognition, in this context, refers to the altered cognitive lens through which atypical (e.g., outliers in the population), neurodivergent, or non-neurotypical people view the world. We live in a prescriptive society that, in order to maintain, requires a level of assimilation that some may find rewarding and others daunting, or even crippling. Thus, in the instance of the latter, the differential thinker, irrespective of IQ, seeks to pivot away from the prescriptive oversight of the society in which they live, in an attempt to fabricate a reality that more adequately suits their needs. This attempt to pivot away is almost necessarily met with friction, and, as a consequence, it produces internalized dread. Further, from this dread (or perhaps even before it?) the differential thinker ascertains the absurdity and the futility of life, but, in it, must find some morsel of meaning. Where some metamorphose and emerge from the…

D.W. Svenson

D.W. Svenson is a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, with a focus on behavioral pharmacology and toxicology. Follow me on Twitter: @DWSvenson