The Other I

June 13, 2010

The genetics of intelligence

Filed under: Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 2:21 pm

I was reminded yesterday by a friend from my Maryknoll days of an event that occurred at the girls’ school I attended during adolescence.  We’d all taken IQ tests and one of the students whose conscience was less overly-socialized than my own good-girl sense of right and wrong got a hold of the scores.

She told me my score although at that time I had little idea what it meant.  I think I thought 100 was the best possible grade one could get, and had no idea what to make of a number that was higher than that.  I did hope that 1000 was not the high-water mark.

I also had no appreciation of just how limited a part of human abilities are encompassed by the standard intelligence test.  It does not include creativity, interpersonal skills, musical or artistic talent, or athletic skill.  So it is possible for a very intelligent person by standards of an IQ test to be severely limited.

At the time, I mentioned my apparent IQ score to Father Basil, my father’s best friend from high school days and a wonderful Catholic academic priest whose weekly visits greatly enriched our family dinner.

“That’s impossible,” he said.  “If that were your IQ, you would be as smart as your father.”

And even at the age of 15, I accepted his conclusion without doubt.  Of course I could not possibly be as smart as my dad, because women are genetically incapable of being as smart as men.

It was a Maryknoll sister whom I’ve written about before who smashed this icon.  I took philosophy and history classes with her and sat there amazed.  It was not true that women were incapable of advanced analytic, incisive thought!

I’d always enjoyed thinking – quite possibly more than any other single activity I could name even now.  But Sister Edith opened that door for me.  It was, I think, the greatest gift I received during my nine years in Maryknoll.

It is obvious to me now that, admirable as many Maryknollers are, Maryknoll was the wrong choice for me.  If I’d not been kept in the motherhouse for so long working in the kitchen and bakery, the sewing room, and the pantry but been selected earlier to go to university, I might have stayed in the convent.  In retrospect, it is fortuitous that I was not.  Because I did ultimately end up in academia where I had a lot more to contribute than I might ever have been able to contribute working among the poor in a foreign country.

And perhaps it is not a total coincidence that I ended up being a cognitive psychologist asking “how is it that we know what we know?”



  1. is casting pearls among the swine less meaningful not too pc but is it? is it a waste of a talent to spend one’s life hooking rugs or pumping gas or as a monk? truly, is it? or can that energy be evolved in another way does one have a responsibility to maximize ones energies and how does one determine what that is, exactly, if this is the case. or is this another one of those i dont knows.


    Comment by kateritek — June 16, 2010 @ 1:25 am | Reply

    • Well, there was a time in my life when I thought I knew the answer to living a meaningful life. But that was many many years ago. I think now that the answer lies somewhere in the region of living as fully as one knows how and to the best of one’s ability. “Meaningful” certainly does not lie in status or recognition and still less in celebrity, does it? I walk through some of the churches here in Britain with their graves honouring the Great and the Good, and I am not convinced that it has anything to do with “meaningful.” Working in a clay pit or gum factory, maybe even working the streets to put food on the table once a day for ones family seems to me might be every bit as meaningful as any of those held up for our edification.

      You, I suspect, have thought about this every bit as much as I have, perhaps with greater insight. What do you think?

      Thank you for asking this question. It made me think about it again. Even if the answer is a lot closer to “I don’t know” than it used to be.


      Comment by theotheri — June 16, 2010 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: