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Redefining Intelligence: Q&A With Scott Barry Kaufman
Scott Barry Kaufman (@sbkaufman) is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at NYU, co-founder of The Creativity Post, Scientific American blogger, and a friend. He is also the author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined - The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity and the Many Paths to Greatness. It goes on sale today and I recommend it. Scott was nice enough to do a Q&A with me. Here is our conversation.
McNerney: It seems like the history of intelligence is the history of psychologists – with a few notable exceptions as you point out in the book – reducing intelligence into one metric measurable with one test and educators using that metric to label students. The good news is psychologists are successfully broadening our understanding of intelligence by studying it from many different perspectives. I’m wondering, however, why we spent so many decades pigeonholing intelligence? And what were and are the negative consequences?
Kaufman: I think that psychologists have long known that intelligence, even as measured by the IQ test, was not measuring a single ability. Nevertheless educators treated it as such and I think a big part of that is the early IQ tests didn’t assess multiple abilities.
In the earliest days of IQ testing in the United States gifted programs were entirely based on that global, single score. Lewis Terman was a big advocate of using the IQ test to measure giftedness. A negative consequence of that is it didn’t pick up on the more nuanced pattern of cognitive skills that a person can show.
It also relied too much on strict cut off scores. You’re either above a certain IQ cut off, 130 typically and you’re gifted, or you’re under that threshold and you’re ungifted. It kind of sets up this false dichotomy, and it limits a lot of people who would benefit from more challenging accelerated resources.
McNerney: After finishing the book I got the sense that psychologists and educators are headed in the right direction but there is still a lot of work to be done with respect to measuring and defining intelligence. So I’m wondering if you could discuss where we are at this point.
Kaufman: I think there’s a huge split between what scientists are doing to measure intelligence and what educators are doing for gifted education programs. Part of the point of the book is I wanted to integrate the different perspectives - the scientific perspective with the applied perspective - because I still think that they are miles away.
The predominant thread in intelligence research is understanding g – the general intelligence factor. That’s really what excites scientists the most – understanding the psychological and neurological basis of g. You also have multiple intelligence theorists but they are mostly on the periphery – they are still the minority in the intelligence field.
In the applied psychology world – and in education – there is this understanding of intelligence still coming from IQ tests but I think there is more of an appreciation for different patterns of strengths and weaknesses on IQ tests. In a recent survey that was done by Stephen Pfeiffer and his colleague on all the state definitions of giftedness in the United States and how they measured giftedness, there are still some clear big losers when it comes to our conceptualization of giftedness - creativity, motivation, leadership, and the performing arts. All these things are still not, for most states in the United States, considered forms of giftedness. Intelligence is still the major construct and IQ tests are still used as a major way to measure a person’s intelligence. Like I said, it’s also pretty much a one shot deal: you’re either gifted early on and you’ll be gifted forever, or you weren’t gifted early on and you’ll not be gifted, ever. That’s still our way of thinking about these things.
McNerney: One source of anxiety for students is other students. When we compare ourselves to others – and it’s nearly impossible not to – we suffer. There is always someone getting better grades or performing better athletically or artistically. Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson further demonstrate how racial and gender comparisons are detrimental to academic performance. You make the point that mindset plays a crucial role in engagement. I’m wondering what mindsets we can adapt that reduce the anxiety that comes from making social and academic comparisons.
Kaufman: Clearly the growth mindset (talent and ability can be improved with practice) is better than the fixed mindset (talent and ability cannot be improved). You’re absolutely right that we live in a culture of a fixed mindset, and schools are structured around that idea. (God forbid you transcend your age in terms of abilities, or you’re grades, or these enduring labels we get.) Kids are given test scores and don’t have dynamic assessment - so they’re given a grade but they’re not getting a chance to revise it.
All these things don’t operate in the real world – they are not conducive to flourishing at all. The growth mindset is key and I talk about that in the book. A lot of research shows what happens in the brain when you are put in the fixed mindset; you’re brain kind of shuts down in a way while the areas in the prefrontal cortex associated with self-evaluation become heightened. The brain is a limited resource, so the more you become critical and self evaluate (because you’re so afraid of failing and you believe that you won’t get a second shot since it’s all fixed) the less resources you’re going to have to display your intelligence, to express yourself, to create new things. The fixed mindset is a really big problem.
McNerney: We’ve heard a lot about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (or the ten-year rule), the idea spearheaded by K. Anders Ericsson that expertise in any domain requires 10,000 hours of strenuous practice – the type of practice that targets our weaknesses. Could you explain deliberate practice, the 10,000-hour rule and the merits of each?
Kaufman: Ericsson defines deliberate practice as a particular state of being that is distinct from play and work. He makes this distinction: it’s an activity where you are working with a mentor who constantly pushes you beyond your limits and you are correcting for your mistakes; when you get to these sticking points the mentor helps you move beyond them. Since you’re constantly moving from state to state, as Ericsson sees it, the path from novice to expert is just a series of states. Everyone, no matter who you are, has to pass through those states. He argues that a person cannot skip all those steps without deliberate practice.
The other side of the field – which is like 90 percent of the field – argues that this kind of state of practice does not fully explain the emergence of a genius. It may differentiate an expert from novice but it does not differentiate the genius from the expert. There is something more going on there.
Talent is usually offered as the other major piece. But I was really curious: what is talent? How is it intertwined with deliberate practice? I define talent in the book as a passion or proclivity to master the rules of a domain. I think that’s the best we can do in defining talent when you actually look at what it really is. But that is an explanatory variable, so when you put that into the picture you can sort of see it this way: the more talent someone has - the more passion or proclivity someone has for mastering the particular rules of a domain - you see the less it looks like they are deliberately practicing.
You asked about the ten-year rule. It’s becoming clear that it’s not a rule; it’s an average.
McNerney: Would you call it a rule of thumb?
Kaufman: I wouldn’t even call it a rule of thumb because there is so much variability across fields. The fields that have been traditionally studied do conform to the ten-year rule: chess and music for example. But there are lots of other fields where the average is not ten at all. There are gross differences and trajectories. So to make these grandiose generalizations across all fields is leaving out so many nuances – it depends what field you’re looking at.
And within each field there’s huge variability. There are late bloomers as well, so the variability goes in the other direction. You see people taking 26 years, but they get there. I’ve done research on creative writing with James Kaufman. Creative writing tends to be a field where you see huge variability at both ends of the curve. The question is: if you produce something of extraordinary work after 26 years instead of 10 years does that make you any less of a genius? You still did genius level material. As far as I’m concerned who cares how long it took.
McNerney: The nature-nurture dichotomy is a false one. I’m wondering what the best way to think about nature-nurture is with respect to intelligence. In other words, how do genes and the environment interact to create intelligence, creativity, talent and other components you talk about in the book?
Kaufman: In my new theory of intelligence I don’t really view these constructs as different things. I view them all as being under the broader umbrella of personal intelligence. I think nature-nurture is one in the same because it’s all part of this re-conceptualization that I want to argue for potential - what it means to have potential or what it means to have ability.
Engagement and ability are absolutely inseparable. This is something we have not come to terms with in any theory of intelligence. We leave motivation and engagement out of the picture. We leave it out of the gifted education programs and we leave it out of intelligence research. Some intelligence researchers think that they don’t play a role in intelligence, and I think that’s wrong.
The intertwined nature of nature and nurture suggests that our genes drive us to engage in the world and view certain stimuli as exciting and interesting; they also make us ignore other information. I talk a lot in the book about implicit learning. I think that’s a wholly unrecognized area of research. Our genes are driving us subtly and indirectly to consume certain information and learn about the world – genes are mechanisms of experience, they are learning mechanisms. A lot of these people who look like prodigies or gifted kids, then, aren’t born with all this knowledge; what they were born with is how I define talent: a passion or proclivity to master the rules of a domain.
That’s why engagement and ability, in my conceptualization of intelligence, are inseparable; they are constantly feeding off each other. The more resources you give someone to engage in something they have a proclivity for the more their ability will grow and the more their potential will grow as well. Potential is a moving target. Once you view the world that way, I think a lot of things that seem like puzzles fall into place quite clearly.
There are too many cases of people far surpassing what was predicted of them when they were young. We’ve come to a point in our understanding where we really need to rethink this stuff because there is so much research showing that all these things we think are the best predictors of “potential” do not really turn out to be such great predictors. We must come to terms with that fact and recognize that that’s because potential is a moving target.
Take the weight example. People who are obese when they are young are said to have a small potential to be skinny when they are older. But if that person fundamentally alters their body through intense training, what they are doing in that engagement is changing the potential or the odds. When they are older and have shred all that weight, their potentiality for skinniness is almost 100 percent. This is driven so much by engagement, which is why I argue in my reconceptualization of intelligence that we need to give all children the opportunity to engage in more challenging intellectual material if they are ready for it without requiring an arbitrary IQ cut-off.
We're learning about so many different kinds of minds who are capable of extraordinary intellectual accomplishments and creative accomplishments. Unfortunately, we are letting them fall between the cracks because of our fundamental misconception of potential.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.
The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.