Don’t Ever Forget Wisdom

Indonesia has a peculiar obsession with IQ tests. The populace believes that the series of exams are capable of accurately judging one’s intellect, be it in the sphere of academics or otherwise, and that those with high IQ scores are hence guaranteed to succeed in whatever field they choose to pursue. Unfortunately the truth is not so simple. As even if IQ tests are 100% accurate—and this is just a supposition—they are not mystical crystal balls able to predict an individual’s future.

For one, intelligence is an extremely abstract concept. For instance, one who excels at mathematics may very well have a lacking capacity for writing in a comprehensible, engaging manner. And those who are more than capable at writing may have troubles with solving the most basic of equations. A problem then appears with us being unable to determine which of these two characters are more or less intelligent than the other. Thus it is a rather impossible task for anyone to conjure an exact definition of what intelligence is.

Yet despite our inability to define intelligence sufficiently, we still managed to come up with a definition that is relatively easy to understand. Intelligence, according to most English dictionaries is defined as, “The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Not the most robust of definitions, but at least it allows us to comprehend that to be intelligent, a person must be capable of quickly assimilating brand new information and successfully apply the aforementioned info in real-world situations—be it in problem solving, writing, teaching, et cetera.

IQ tests are designed to measure how efficiently and effectively one could utilize his mental assets for something concrete—intelligence, according to the aforementioned dictionaries. The tests gauge how quickly an individual performs calculations, follow obscure instructions, solve the most devious verbal and written riddles, construct random blocks into a distinct structure, and many more, depending on the types of tests given. When one has finished being evaluated for his IQ, he would receive a numerical score which tells him how “smart” he is. These numbers range from 40 to 175, with multiple ‘Intelligence Intervals’:

40 – 54 Severely challenged (Less than 1% of test takers)
55 – 69 Challenged (2.3% of test takers)
70 – 84 Below average
85 – 114 Average (68% of test takers)
115 – 129 Above average
130 – 144 Gifted (2.3% of test takers)
145 – 159 Genius (Less than 1% of test takers)
160 – 175 Extraordinary Genius


As we can see, IQ tests have provided us with an easy to understand classification system, for us to know where exactly we are on the intelligence hierarchy. However, the test’s meticulous structure notwithstanding, IQ scores still fail to predict the future successes of tested persons.

An ongoing research originally conducted by psychologist Lewis Treman in the 1920s, was concocted to assess the reliability of IQ tests as a predictor of success. Treman gathered a test pool composed of 1,500 children between the ages of 8 and 12, with a minimum IQ score of 140 points while around 80 had scores around 170. In other words, these are some of the brightest elementary-school children in terms of IQ.

Treman’s research entails observing the 1,500 highly talented individuals from childhood to adulthood, and in some cases until the observed person’s death or resignation from the project. Throughout the decades-long observation, Treman observed where these gifted peoples ended up in life—whether they became successful, middle-class, impoverished, or worse, Treman and his successors would know.

Now if we consider the IQ test to be omnipotent in nature, then Treman would find himself awed by 1,500 adults who have managed to excel at any and fields that interest them; be it in the natural or social sciences, politics, business, what have you. Yet the truth of the matter is, not all of observed subjects turned out to be what we’d call the cream of the crop.

Two-thirds of the Treman’s subjects did manage to succeed in life. They became wealthy businessmen, scientists, doctors, university faculty members, essentially the kinds of vocations that demand extensive mental acuity. But what of the rest?

The less successful one-third succumbed to numerous maladies; divorce, alcoholism, drug abuse, and other woes. The luckiest of the unlucky one-third had menial jobs such as providing janitorial services, bottom-ladder corporate work, and the kinds of occupations that do not reflect these high-IQ individuals’ aptitudes. What happened to these men and women? How did they fail to realize their incredible potentials? There are of course many factors at play.

A harsh truth of life comes in the form of things that we cannot control. The death of a loved one, sickness, poverty, these are the types of things that many men and women have suffered despite having contributed nothing to their realization. The research subjects of Treman underwent problems outside their control as well; issues primarily originating from their socioeconomic environments and their internal psyches.

An unspecified number of Treman’s research subjects did not enjoy the most pleasant of lives. While they retained their IQ—the score fluctuated every once in a while but eventually returned to above 140 points—thus intelligence throughout their growth, they did not have environments supportive of intellectual development. For instance they may be unable to afford higher education, or they fell in with a bad crowd, grew up in a household uncaring of academics, the possibilities are rather endless.

Another series of hindrances plaguing Treman’s unsuccessful research subjects partially come from within, but is as uncontrollable as a natural disaster. I am clearly speaking of psychological disorders.

Those born with high IQs are more vulnerable to Asperger’s Syndrome—an inability to understand subtle social cues—Major Depressive Disorder—absence of self-worth accompanied by suicidal tendencies—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder—inability to direct one’s attention on a specific subject for longer than a few brief moments—plus a plethora of other mental illnesses.

Although Treman acknowledged the fact that not all of his subjects enjoyed perfect lives, they considered the uncontrollable factors to have minimal effect. Even if a subject lived with a dysfunctional family, or is haunted by the ghosts residing in his own mind, he is still capable of attaining success. The reason being that to Treman, and anyone who actively studies psychology, is that intelligence isn’t everything. After all, the subjects who proved to be successful also underwent numerous challenges in their lives, with some having undergone identical or at the very least similar pains of the less successful group.

What the unsuccessful group lacked was clearly not intellect. Instead, it is something far more abstract, and thus even more difficult to define. The element missing from these failed geniuses is “wisdom.” I.e. the quality of wanting to and knowing how to propel oneself against whatever blockade standing in the way of our objective.

Treman noticed that successful test subjects shared certain traits: They are prudent, patient, possess a long-term outlook, perseveres whenever they meet the most daunting challenges, and most of all are hungry for success.

I personally agree with Treman’s assessment. My IQ is above 130, thus allowing me to stand alongside the privileged 2.3% of “gifted” individuals.          Unfortunately, as with Treman’s less successful subjects, my life does not exactly radiate intelligence.

For one thing, I cheated my way through high school, grabbing my diploma through less than legitimate means. When I first entered university in 2012, I had to drop out after two years. There were external factors at play, but to be perfectly honest I was simply being a lazy imbecile. Now I’m attending another university with an altogether different major. At 23 years-old I am still in the sixth semester with next to no chance of graduating on time, as I have piled up a debt of more than 36 college credits due to my inherent laziness. My desire to excel, to preserve, to be patient, to overcome challenges continue to waver or disappear altogether. And more often than not I fall into the lethargic embrace of apathy. Clearly, I am not living up to my intellectual potential.

What we can take away from Lewis Treman’s research is this: Intelligence isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, and IQ is at most a predictor for how one would perform in school. No matter how quickly one can solve equations, how elegantly he could write poems and novels, how accurate one can be when conjuring up hypotheses, all these abilities are next to useless should they wisdom be absent from them.

High intellect is undoubtedly a useful perk to have. It permits us to assimilate knowledge quickly and then use what we have learned to aid us in real life at speeds unimaginable to the less intelligent. But as we have seen from Treman’s research and my minuscule anecdote, intelligence does not equal success.

Intelligence is nothing more than an asset. It is not the secret ingredient for success. What likely plays a greater role in determining one’s fate is wisdom. How he handles the problems facing him, deals with failures, resists the temptations to abandon his long-term plans for immediate yet meager satisfaction; a wise man realizes that whatever beneficial qualities he has, they mean nothing should he not use his gifts as best as he can.

Wisdom is the more accurate predictor of success. As the wise would do anything in their power to accomplish the tasks set out for them, and to never stop chasing after their respective goals. Such a drive is necessary for anyone to succeed, as no matter how bright one is, if he lacks the motivation to push himself, he would end up as just another forgotten character in the tapestry of history.