It’s important to pay attention to what high IQ people like physicists and mathematicians think. IQ is highly heritable and polygenic, in the words of this study. The book Spent by Dr. Geoffrey Miller describes the neurological bases of intelligence. General intelligence correlates positively with:
1. overall brain size
2. sizes of specific cortical areas
3. concentrations in the brain of particular neurochemicals
4. age at which the cortex is thickest in childhood
5. speed of performing basic sensory-motor tasks
Before getting into the details of the misapplication of my IQ, it’s important to note that I don’t blame myself or anyone else for any problems I’ve encountered in education or in life. This post is an effort to view myself dispassionately and describe how others can overcome obstacles to maximizing their genetic potential. Scientists have convinced me that free will doesn’t exist, so blaming myself or others is totally counterproductive. I certainly don’t blame my parents for anything, since they invested a lot of effort in creating an enriched environment for me through reading and discussions and play – all of which are associated with enhanced cognitive development. Instead of searching for people to blame, I’ve learned that it’s more important to make decisions in accordance with the scientific method.
I was recently discussing the heritability with someone in my family. I described the research indicating that intelligence has a largely genetic component and is stable throughout a person’s life. She told me about how I had taken the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children test in second grade. My scores indicated superior intelligence. My scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills also put me in the 99th percentile of intelligence. My score on the ACT test later put me in the 97th percentile of graduating seniors nationwide. Here are some of the results from my early IQ tests and standardized tests (click to enlarge):
Despite having a high IQ according to standardized tests, I ended up graduating college with a degree in English. This isn’t necessarily terrible, since data shows that people who major in the humanities, and especially English literature, can have average or even high scores on verbal and analytic writing tests and sufficiently high intelligence:
All the talk about valuable vs. worthless degrees in the blogosphere has still gotten to me. Engineering majors are on average better than me in nearly every way – which has been proven both in my research and in my personal experience. I have experience working in engineering environments where I’m basically a second-class citizen, even though the people have still been very nice to me. If you are an engineering student or graduate and feeling down about anything in your life, this may lift your spirits. Keep in mind that this could also be due to my multi-decade experience with depression and anxiety, so your mileage may vary if you graduated with a humanities degree.
To be fair, all of my scores on standardized tests have indicated higher scores on verbal sections than quantitative sections. Mathematics ability has major genetic and neurological components, as described in the post The Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Mathematics Ability and Math Anxiety. It can also go the other way. I remember talking with a CEO who had graduated from MIT and Harvard Business School. He said his daughter was taking SAT practice tests and had great mathematics scores but was struggling on the reading and writing sections.
Personality is also important for succeeding in engineering. I wish I could have been an engineer, but personality is difficult to permanently change without medications, and the right medications may not have even been created yet. Engineering students tend to be tough-minded, emotionally stable, and even extroverted and confident. This is the opposite of me. The following papers describe the role of personality in engineering:
1. A comparison of computing and non-computing students’ personalities based on the five-factor model. (Link)
2. Family and psychosocial variables in the choice of university studies. (Link)
3. Investigation of broad and narrow personality traits in relation to major satisfaction for students in engineering, education and psychology majors. (Link)
4. Key factors that influence engineering students’ academic success: A longitudinal study. (PDF)
5. Personality Characteristics of Commerce and Engineering Graduates – A Comparative Study. (PDF)
6. Personality characteristics of engineers. (Link)
7. Personality differences between writers and mathematicians on the EPQ. (Link)
I also want to specifically highlight a very informative dissertation by Dr. Yonca Toker titled “Non-ability correlates of the science-math trait complex: searching for personality characteristics and revisiting vocational interests” (PDF). This paper goes into great detail about the role of personality in how well a student succeeds in studying engineering in college.
So where did it all fall apart? The following factors probably contributed to my downfall, and I am in the process of reversing them.
As I child, adolescent, and young adult, I had a suboptimal diet. I ate plenty of wheat, sugar, fructose, soy, and trans fats. You can see from my extensive health posts in the archives or by reading blogs like Evolutionary Psychiatry that those foods are associated with poor mental performance. My family didn’t eat beef, which has the cholesterol and saturated fat that are very important to cognitive health. Fish oil is also incredibly important to cognitive development, and the supplement wasn’t as popular back then as it is now. I also made the mistake of trying a vegetarian diet for about a year in college, which accelerated my decline into depression and despair since it didn’t have the animal protein and saturated fat needed for proper brain function.
Social and emotional problems:
I most likely have a hereditary predisposition towards anxiety. Research by Harvard Professor Jerome Kagan shows that temperament is heritable and persists throughout the lifespan. The New York Times article Understanding the Anxious Mind provides a useful popular overview of his research. His book The Long Shadow of Temperament goes into greater detail. It’s difficult for a student to do well in college if they worry about death every time they leave their home. A person doesn’t have a sufficient future orientation if they frequently worry about the end of the world, as I did, due to religious obsessions. My high level of anxiety qualified me for an MRI study (High Resolution MRI Images of My Brain). There are probably SNP variants associated with panic in my genome (New 23andMe Data).
For a few years, I tried to live according to the Bible as closely and literally as possible. I would say that it was impossible and a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. People aren’t meant to live according to arbitrary rules. In reality, humans are primates with very little free will. See books like Spent or The Consuming Instinct or Sex at Dawn or Essential Evolutionary Psychology or Looks or The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption or The Mating Mind or Living with Our Genes or Principles of Behavioral Genetics or Brandwashed or Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences or A Mind of Her Own or Evolution and Genetics for Psychology or Biological Influences on Criminal Behavior for what really drives human behavior.
I later enjoyed The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, who had more fun than I did with a literalist interpretation of the Bible. As I will discuss in a moment, religiosity has genetic influences. I have grandparents and relatives who are very religiously observant. After taking SSRI’s, I now fortunately have fewer literalist religious beliefs. That indicates, at least in some people, that religiosity is a result of problems in the brain’s serotonin system. The study of scrupulosity shows that religious obsessions are related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Treatments for OCD, such as medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and supplements like 5-HTP and inositol, may reduce religiously-motivated obsessions. Hopefully as the use of antidepressants increases, global religiosity and fundamentalism will continue to decline. Interestingly, whether a person is religious or not isn’t really their fault. Heritability of religiousness actually increases from adolescence to adulthood. The Biology of Religion blog explores the biological influences that lead to religiosity. The book The Neuroscience of Religious Experience describes some interesting research on neurology and religion.
It was therefore fitting that my research journey began when I fainted at church. Fortunately, now I know more than ever before about medical research and the brain and can help others maximize their potential.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Learn about the right foods to eat. Dr. Emily Deans’ Evolutionary Psychiatry blog that I linked to earlier is one of the best resources for learning how nutrition affects the brain.
2. Get medications and nootropic supplements to correct any weaknesses in your brain. The books by Dr. Stephen Stahl are an excellent illustrated introduction to psychiatric medication. Studies indexed under the nootropics subject heading in PubMed are also very useful.
3. Embrace the practice of living scientifically. As far as I know, scientific causality determines everything that happens in the world.
I’m excited to help people become more intelligent and improve the world through science.