Intelligence is marketing

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A little while ago, I was talking with a friend about intelligence. That friend has that same interest in discussing weird ideas and arguing for ideas that he doesn’t always agree with, just for fun. This means that I have no idea if he truly believes what he argued for that day or not.

While we were discussing it, I could actually feel the cognitive dissonance inside of me. I wasn’t able to prove him wrong in any way, but I still didn’t get convinced. His idea was just too much for my biased irrational brain I guess.

Basically, he told me that intelligence was just marketing.

I’m not him, so I probably won’t be able to argue the point as well as he did (he’s very good at it), but I’ll still try my best to describe it, and I’d like to know if any of you agree, or if any of you, like me, disagree but have no idea why.

Here’s his point, in my own words. I will also probably send him this link, if he’s interested he might tell me what I got wrong. Selective memory sucks.

Everyone is good at some tasks, and bad at some other tasks, and average at doing the rest. For example, someone might be good at math, and able to solve complex calculations very quickly. Pretty much everyone agrees that you at least need some sort of intelligence to do that.

Then, there are other tasks, that people don’t agree as easily. A good example would be playing basketball. Some people are born tall, so scoring is easier for them, therefore they are good at basketball. Some people did a lot of physical training, therefore can run fast, throw hard and aim well, therefore they are good at basketball. Some people studied the game and think really fast in any situation to figure out the best location to go to and where the ball is likely to go, so they can get a headstart on the faster players, and therefore they are good at basketball. It doesn’t matter which of these strategies is the most efficient. What matters is that most people will think the third one is intelligence, the first one is not, and the second one will get a more polarized response.

Either way, you could say that being smarter will help you, at least in some ways, to play basketball. Yet most people don’t think that being good at basketball is a good way to test intelligence.

Basically, being smart will usually serve a purpose in completing any task, but a lot of tasks are not used as a metric for intelligence.

Furthermore, for every task in life, there is also an anti-task. For most tasks, like the math problem, the anti-task would simply be the inability to solve it. The better you are at solving it (if you can, then the metric is the time it takes you to do it, and if you can’t, then it’s how close you can get to the answer), the worse you are at “not solving it”. There is an obvious answer as to which is smarter between the person who is great at solving it and the person who is great at not solving it, if all else is equal. This might even seem like a completely pointless idea. But if you think about more qualitative tasks, like drawing, then it gets weirder. There exists the task of creating a realistic painting, and the anti-task of creating an unrealistic painting. Surely, if this was as clean-cut as the math problem, there wouldn’t be as many popular painting styles that are everything but realistic.

Now, who got to decide which tasks are intelligent, and which tasks aren’t? It can’t be just about using our brains, because we use our brains to do everything. We use our brain to decide to train our muscles, and if you try to be stronger than your opponent, the person whose brain got him to train more will most likely win. This can’t be about natural “forced” intelligence that everyone has in their DNA, otherwise we wouldn’t be so much “smarter” than the humans of thousands of years ago, yet we are genetically identical to them.

The answer is marketing. The human race, or more precisely society, decided, maybe subconciously, that some tasks are “smarter” than others, and decided in most cases which, between the task and the anti-task, is the real one that we should want to complete. Then, we have been brainwashed (victims of extremely efficient marketing) into believing it, and judging intelligence based on a completely vague premise, which is the idea that some tasks are a better test for intelligence than others based on a completely arbitrary metric.

That was pretty much his point. The discussion was a lot longer than that, so maybe I was being very uncooperative and didn’t let him talk, or selective memory made me forget most of it and I hate myself for it. Most likely both. It also felt a lot smarter the way he was saying it. Maybe since I disagree, I subconsciously described the idea in a dumber way. Or maybe he’s just very persuasive.

The closest thing to a good objection that I could muster was the idea of goals. If your goal is to solve this math problem, and you succeed at it, then you are smarter than the person whose goal was also to solve it but failed. This is still a very bad objection because of the fact that then, the point still stands that our choice of goals is because of the “marketing”. Furthermore, if intelligence only existed in relation to goals, then anyone who decides that his goal is to drop out of school, get addicted to drugs and die young in a street gang, and then goes on to do exactly that, would have to be acknowledged as a genius. So if goals are completely arbitrary, then anyone can easily be a genius by having low standards, and if goals are fixed by society, then this doesn’t conflict with the marketing idea at all.

So, what are your objections, if you have any? Or maybe you agree with that?