Human IQ: Where Does It Come From?

"I'm Not Smart Enough" May Be Just an Excuse

Posted May 16, 2014

Is our intelligence due to nature or nurturing? Are we born with a certain amount that never changes, or can it grow over time? If you think you were not born smart enough to learn something new, you could be selling yourself short.

Thomas Edison was considered a pretty smart fellow, taking out the first of a thousand patents on his inventions by the age of 21. He also had a positive mindset about trying -- and failing. When asked how it felt to fail 999 times in the invention of the lightbulb, he replied, "I did not fail. I simply found 999 ways that didn't work."

Besides having a good sense of humor "The Wizard of Menlo Park," as he was called, probably understood that a fixed mindset can be crippling, so he refused to call his lightbulb experiment a failure, even after all those attempts.

Human intelligence appears to be a vast subject, and not one for the likes of me to discuss with any authority. But it's something that we all have, hopefully, and should probably know about, so why not take a stab at it?

To begin with, I'm pretty sure that I was not born as smart as Thomas Edison, which may be an example of a crippling mindset, but I came by it naturally. I grew up in an age when girls weren't supposed to be smart, an age in which fathers told their daughters not to worry their "pretty little heads" about anything important. Leave all that to the men, they said. Girls of my generation even downplayed or hid their superior intelligence because boys were supposedly afraid of smart girls, and who wants to be a wallflower?

Believing that you are "only so smart and no smarter" is an example of a crippling mindset. Telling yourself that you are "too old," or "too young," or "not up to the task," are more examples -- and excuses -- for not trying to do something. I have read that the brain believes everything we tell it, without question. That makes me cringe, because I almost always start out by telling myself that doing something for the first time is going to be too hard for me. If my brain believes it, doesn't that become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Not always, because most of the time I find that I can  do it, after a few false starts (or, like Edison, 999 ways that don't work). The trick is to remember a quote from Henry Ford, "Whether you believe you can, or cannot, you are usually right." 

Research suggests that one way to handle the limited intelligence mindset is to realize that what you are experiencing is simply unfamiliarity, or fear of the unknown. This is called adapting a growth mindset, which encompasses the possibility of failure as well as success. It assumes that when you are learning something new you are bound to make mistakes, and may become discouraged in the process. Failing has nothing to do with how smart you are. You are choosing to learn something new, whatever the consequences, which opens up a whole new approach to life. That is, one in which you are continually asking questions, realizing that you still have a lot to learn, and treating every challenge as an opportunity to grow and to change.

So far so good. But what about a genius like Mozart or Einstein, or the people of Mensa, the High IQ Society? Weren't they born with more brains than the rest of us? Doesn't it have something to do with heredity? That is, nature over nurturing? In what I read on the subject I didn't find the answer to that question, or whether adopting a growth mindset enables us to take the amount of intelligence we were born with and make it "grow," literally and figuratively.

Maybe I'm just not smart enough to figure all that out.