• Apollo

Does intelligence matter?

Fifty years ago, a man named Polgár László set out on a brilliant quest of intelligence: With enough effort, anyone has the capacity to become a genius.


Despite being faced with such a daunting challenge, Polgár was well-prepared: not only was he an educational psychologist, but he was also a passionate teacher, with ambitious pedagogical goals.


However, Polgár didn't believe that any random person could be redefined with enough effort, such as a forgetful old man. He defined his theory with the following premise: Any child has the innate capacity to become a genius in any chosen field with certain preparations. One of these preparations would include being trained from a very young age. He would attempt to prove his theory by training his daughters in chess, as he deemed it a very accurate measure of general intelligence due to its ranking system and objectivity.


In the end, his attempts to prove his theory were futile – his theory was later disproved as it is now understood that IQ tends to be stable over time. Even then, he achieved something magnificent: In his quest to claim that genius can be shaped, his daughters Judit and Zsuzsa became the best and second-best female chess players in the world.


What intelligence is: the Polgár story begins


Being intelligent is a massive blessing. With developing technology and growing technical challenges in every sector, intelligence becomes a massive advantage in the workplace. Unlike Polgár's theory, it is now generally accepted that a person's IQ is stable and cannot be changed over time, not by a significant amount at least.


This definition isn't very controversial, but it is contested by some: It is an opposite but beautiful notion that it is action and hard work that defines success – not genetic status. That is why people like Polgár wanted to challenge the understanding of intelligence being a fixed quality.


From a very young age, Polgár's daughters were surrounded with chess and education. The living room of their modest home was lined with sketches of chess scenes, with thousands of chess books on shelves, and trophies and boards cluttering the room. The young women of the Polgár family lived and breathed chess, but were also taught various languages and high-level math at home. László even fought the Hungarian authorities to get permission to homeschool his children.


Brightness or just plenty of discipline?


László's eldest daughter Susan (then Zsuzsa) became a sensationally intelligent chess player through rigorous practice. László began teaching her at four, and just six months later she beat the veteran players of her hometown Budapest's chess club. She then dominated the city's girls-under-age-11 tournament with a perfect score, and defeated her father at chess at just five years old. At just 15 years old, she became the best female chess player in the world and went on to become the third female chess grandmaster just seven years later.


But her youngest sister Judit was even more astonishing. Judit isn't just considered the best woman chess player of all time – she overshadows all other contestants to the title by a long shot. She is the only woman in the world's top 100, and at her peak she was in the top 10 of all chess players. She refused to take the path many top-tier female players of competing in separate women's events, but instead chose to aim at the world title.


At this point, it wouldn't be unreasonable to question whether the success of the Polgár sisters was attributed to their own intelligence, their father's rigorous discipline, or perhaps both. What is extraordinarily interesting is that Susan herself described her early life as very pleasant: chess was considered a big game that both of her parents motivated her to engage in. Her interest was rewarded in a supportive environment that encouraged her to improve, providing her with new and interesting challenges.


A failure despite a positive aftermath


Even though Polgár's challenge to redefine intelligence was ambitious, his practical method was counterproductive to his theory: He was himself very intelligent as is obvious from his background as a psychologist. Intelligence is, as we now understand it, a very genetic and thus inherited trait.


This meant that his daughters were very likely to be intelligent like him, with or without his upbringing. Despite this, positive reinforcement and a structured upbringing are significant factors in the success and outcome of a child's life. For Polgár's theory, a better approach would have been to adopt someone completely random and raise them as your own. He considered this idea later in life, but let it go to focus on his own life. He realized there are more quests in life than to redefine genius, and chose to focus on his family.


There's a big lesson to learn from Polgár and her daughters: Like with many things in life, we have to play the hand we're dealt. We don't get to choose our life or our intelligence, so we must make do with what we have. This doesn't mean that it should scare us from trying to learn. Humans explore, develop, and grow. What we don't know we seek to know, and through that process we become more complex than what anyone expected.


The hidden similarity between low and high IQ


If you consider both high and low IQ at the same time, at first one might think they're very different worlds. To a certain extent, that's very true. But both ends suffer from similar problems, or at least benefit from the same cure. The destructive force of insufficient order affects them both.


It was discipline and routine that made the Polgár sisters remarkable: not only did Polgár give her daughters lessons on chess but he made them practice, compete and explore the world of chess. Order creates routine and routine makes intellectual development more consistent.


Intelligent people are often very intuitive. This is logical if you consider that intelligence can be defined as the ability to conclude something from given information. Intelligent people can put 1+1 together fairly quickly by understanding a mathematical concept or a solution to a problem with a work project.


This might often be their greatest weakness too, as they become used to understanding things very quickly and feel no need to schedule, plan or to organize the framework around their life. They want to do, not spend time planning to do. But that is exactly why they should consider order, as it is a very automatic system once in place and makes fulfilling obligations not only more efficient but more consistent.


On the contrary, order is beneficial for people with a low IQ as well, but for an entirely different reason.


Statistics are occasionally unsettling


1 % of the global population is accountable for 63 % of all violent crime convictions. In a group of 100 people, just one person would be responsible for 63 of all 100 assaults committed in the group. Why am I saying this? Because these top convicts often have one thing in common – a low IQ level.


According to research, chronic adult offenders have an average IQ of 85. They are exactly one standard deviation below the average intelligence of 100, which means that they are, on average, less intelligent than 83% of the population. I mean no ill will saying this, but these people do not just need order, they depend on it.


These people need someone to tell them from a young age that stealing is wrong and doesn't work, because they simply may not understand its long-term ramifications. They need someone to help them, to motivate them to go to bed early and to pursue a legitimate purpose, because these people might not be able to comprehend why committing a crime is a bad and irreversible decision.


Order is equally beneficial to every human being and both ends of the IQ range. We humans need direction and guidance, because we're very irrational at times. A consistent routine helps us keep our irrational behavior to a minimum so we can focus on the best possible tomorrow.


Order is consistency, and consistency is rewarding


Think about the most intelligent people in history: Steven Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton are great examples. All three of them are remembered for their actions and achievements, not their IQ or potential capacity.


Hawking redefined world history with his big bang theory. Einstein's theory of relativity changed our understanding of both time and space. Newton discovered the laws of gravity and motion and invented calculus. We respect them not because of their arbitrarily high IQ, but because of their contributions to science. Had they never worked to prove their theories, we wouldn't know their names.


What matters is not capability but hard work and achievement. The Polgár sisters would have never become chess prodigies without the discipline and routine their father created for them. Even though you most likely aren't the next Einstein, that discipline is still good for you.


Consider for a moment what kind of routine you could create for yourself. Imagine where you would be if you followed that routine like it was your fate, and you will shock everyone, including yourself.