Social Question

OmegaGraham's avatar

Why are intelligent people always in the minority, as compared to the general stupidity of the masses?

Asked by OmegaGraham (115points) April 3rd, 2010

Has it got to do with evolution? Do the cleverer individuals help the masses progress and develop through invention and original ideas? Are you clever enough to give a valid opinion???

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

68 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” H.L. Mencken.

Pandora's avatar

It just seems that way because individuals always seem to think they are smarter than the masses.
Clever is different form intelligent.

dpworkin's avatar

Intelligence is distributed along a normal curve. If you were smart you would have known that.

bobloblaw's avatar

Depends on how you define “intelligent.” In any given population, most will skew towards the average—damn it, @dpworkin—you beat me to it.

sweetteaindahouse's avatar

Because stupid rednecks have tons of stupid babies. Smart people usually only have a couple if not any. From the plot of Idiocracy.

DominicX's avatar

Lake Wobegon effect. Illusory superiority.

No one ever acknowledges that they are part of the “masses” and yet they will label others as the “masses”, the same who also will not acknowledge that they are part of it.

The whole concept itself is flawed.

OmegaGraham's avatar

dpworkin – There is a difference between being smart and educated but I think you’re just being a smart – ass.

gailcalled's avatar

@OmegaGraham: Keep in mind that @dpworkin is an educated smart-ass.

wundayatta's avatar

To put what @dpworkin and @bobloblaw said, you can’t define intelligence without having something to compare it to. So what we do is test a large group of people, and then we spread them out along a continuum. Those with an intelligence rating about average might be called intelligent. However those that have an intelligence rating such that they belong to the top five percent of ratings are, by definition, very intelligent.

The rating for “intelligence” changes with every group of people tested every time a test is run. “Average” moves, and one group’s average will not be the same as anothers’. So, when defining intelligence using a scoring system, you have to expect that the scores of intelligent people will not be the same over time.

Of course, this doesn’t even get into what “intelligence” is, nor whether we are actually measuring it with the tests we use.

OmegaGraham's avatar

Ha ha, very good.

rebbel's avatar

I think you are smart enough to make wise-ass remarks, yet not smart enough to be in the majority group of intelligentsia.
I am part, a very small part, of the masses.

dpworkin's avatar

@OmegaGraham You have just made my point.

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

In the past intelligence was selected against because it consumed scarce calories. The most intelligent man in the world could only find so many more berries in the woods than a man of normal intelligence. If you consume 3% more calories to find 2.5% more berries you are better off being dumber.

Now intelligence is being selected against because intelligent people are choosing to use birth control and save money by not having children while dumb people are “choosing” not to use birth control and get paid for each child.

OmegaGraham's avatar

dpworkin; Where did you source that statistic, I’d be interested to know. If I can see it for myself I’ll back down… What exactly is your point, friend?

davidbetterman's avatar

“Why are intelligent people always in the minority, as compared to the general stupidity of the masses?”

Many people dumb themselves down to fit in with their stupid friends.

The masses are incredibly inept and lame because they truly believe that one day, if they keep their traps shut and don’t rock the boat, that the wealthy elite will let them join the club of greed…

And you better believe there is a massive group of people who are the masses, as opposed to a small minority who have opted out of the mass stupidity game and live life on their own terms according to their own ethics and morality.

It isn’t about evolution, it is all about living in fear.

dpworkin's avatar

It isn’t a statistic, it is simply a known state of affairs. All attributes in a large, random population are distributed along a “normal” or “Bell” curve, with the greatest part of the population within two standard deviations from the mean. That, in fact, is how we define “intelligence”: what do suppose “above average” intelligence could mean, otherwise? I was joking when I said you weren’t smart, but my point is, that in a discussion of intelligence you should have known that.

davidbetterman's avatar

Except that intelligence is not distributed along a “normal” or “Bell” curve. That is just poppycock.

dpworkin's avatar

@davidbetterman Have you even any idea what you just said? You really are something.

talljasperman's avatar

because the smart people don’t spread that they are smarter than anyone else… they are in hiding…

Buttonstc's avatar

It’s called a bell curve for a reason. Too bad we can’t draw cute little diagrams.

Do those of you questioning this principle actually have any idea what a bell looks like and how this relates?

Go find a pic of one and you’ll be amazed.

OmegaGraham's avatar

I feel that your response contains an attempt to intimidate, through the use of jargon. In my opinion you’re more interested in out smarting people than partaking in the discussion at hand.

dpworkin's avatar

Ahahahahahahahahaha! @janbb!!!!

nikipedia's avatar

@dpworkin: I do not think it is accurate to say that “all attributes” are distributed along a normal curve. Karl Pearson agrees with me: “I can only recognize the occurrence of the normal curve — the Laplacian curve of errors — as a very abnormal phenomenon. It is roughly approximated to in certain distributions; for this reason, and on account for its beautiful simplicity, we may, perhaps, use it as a first approximation, particularly in theoretical investigations.”

That said, intelligence, so far as we can define and measure it, is the perfect example of a normally-distributed trait.

OmegaGraham's avatar

You didn’t out smart me…

davidbetterman's avatar

@janbb There has been no proof from which to form a conclusion…
@dpworkin Why thank you kind sir, You really are something, too…
@nikipedia That was truly intelligent!

gailcalled's avatar

@OmegaGraham: Psst. It’s “outsmart.”

dpworkin's avatar

This is getting to be the most unintentionally hilarious discussion on Fluther. I have been advertising it. Like a trip to the zoo.

gailcalled's avatar

@dpworkin: I’m starting to feel in dumb.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Since we can’t really even measure “intelligence” ... what metric does anyone propose? ... it is hard to plot it on a bell curve, I guess. But since most other attributes are so distributed in a normal random fashion, if we could ‘measure’ intelligence, I’m sure that it would plot out on the same bell curve.

Part of the problem is, as we’ve discussed and admitted in other threads, there are so many different forms of intelligence.

If we’re measuring “IQ scores” from standardized testing (controlled for age, culture, language, etc.) then those certainly do distribute along a bell curve. But that might not be the same bell curve that ‘drawing ability’ and ‘mechanical ability’ etc. plots on. And it certainly wouldn’t describe the same individuals.

dpworkin's avatar

@nikipedia Perfectly stated. I accept the criticism and the accolade.

OmegaGraham's avatar

CyanoticWasp – That’s a good point and an interesting contribution to the discussion, psychology is indeed a complicated issue. Many of our best known genii were underestimated outside of their specific field of expertise.

janbb's avatar

Or their specfic brass lamps.

OmegaGraham's avatar

janbb – Brass lamps?

dpworkin's avatar

Well, @janbb? The man asked you a question!

janbb's avatar


DominicX's avatar

Nevermind. I’m gonna turn this post into a question.

OmegaGraham's avatar

google it janbb, google it…

dpworkin's avatar

How does one ask Our Founders to “save” a thread?

janbb's avatar

This thread is past saving.

dpworkin's avatar

@malevolentbutticklish Leave it to you to bring up a wholly discredited, irrelevant book.

gemiwing's avatar

No one defines themselves as part of ‘the mass of the stupid’ so the ‘dumb’ people will always be seen as more since they are not ourselves, close acquaintances or those we admire.

Everyone (mostly) is viewed as ‘smart’ by some person, group or method of thought somewhere.

This leads back to the question- what do you mean by intelligent? People who think like you and agree with your viewpoint? People who score high on standardized tests? People who excel in new tasks quickly? As it stands it’s too nebulous to say.

bea2345's avatar

Surely intelligence is relative. Years ago I visited a zoo with my mother and we greatly admired a peacock as it displayed its plumage. I noted that it must have a very small brain, its head was so small, and Mom said, “God has given it the amount of brain it needs.” What does the IQ test measure? the ability to answer multiple choice questions? By this measure the peacock must be quite stupid – it is – but the species is surviving very well. I don’t know that ‘intelligence’ is truly measurable without considering the environment of the subject.

That being said, ideas percolate through a society in many ways and it is fairly obvious that many inventions are the results of many inputs from many sources. Some cannot be acknowledged. The concept of vaccination derived from the practice, in country districts, of inoculating children with cowpox: it gave some protection against smallpox. The steel band – a sort of polyphonic gong – was invented by artisans with less than a high school education. They came out of the slums of Port of Spain. Now the University of the West Indies has codified all that is known about the engineering of the instrument.

Buttonstc's avatar

Since the issue was raised, I think it deserves comment.

Genii or geniuses ?

If one wants to give the impression of vast intelligence or erudition, then they will choose genii. But the key word is IMPRESSION.

At best it indicates that one has a knowledge of Latin roots. At worst, it makes one a tedious pedant, which is far different from erudite or vastly intelligent.

If one were referencing Roman or Arabic mythology, then genii would be appropriate. Also references to guiding spirits at birth or death would necessitate the same.
When octopus becomes octopi and focus becomes foci in common usage, then will genii make sense.

But Latin is a dead language whereas English is living and ever changing so we take our guidance from institutions contemporary to us which have a reputation for upholding standards of excellence.

Most of us are at least tangentially familiar with the annual MacArthur grants, often referred to as the “Genius Awards”.

So, I prefer to take my cues on proper English from such venerable institutions as The New York Times and others who make reference to the MacArthur Geniuses (NOT the MacArthur Genii).

Others in the company of The Old Gray Lady include, Slate, and Brown University Watson Institute for International Studies, all of whom reference the MacArthur GENIUSES.

Obviously there are others too numerous to cite. I just picked the cream of the crop.

So, the inevitable conclusion I would reach is that if I truly wanted to be erudite, I would follow their collective example.

If I would be content to merely give the APPEARANCE of being erudite, I would settle for genii, despite any snickerers out there. They don’t know Latin roots, after all :)

As for me, I prefer The Times. There really aren’t any dead Romans around anymore to appreciate genius and all its distinctions.


dpworkin's avatar

@Buttonstc Yeah, but you’re one of those smart guys from the majority.

Buttonstc's avatar

Smart enough to avoid being pedantic, I would hope :)

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Vaccination didn’t originate “from the practice, in country districts, of inoculating children with cowpox: it gave some protection against smallpox”, not a bit. The practice of inoculating people wasn’t some kind of folk wisdom. ‘It had been noted’ that country folk who kept and milked cows were generally immune from smallpox, yes. This was how Pasteur was able to arrive at the conclusion that cowpox, which these folks all got at some point in their lives, seemed to provide some kind of immunity against the more deadly smallpox… and from that he developed the cowpox vaccine to provide the immunity deliberately—to people who didn’t have the natural exposure to cowpox.

Don’t make the huge mistake of consigning the genius of one man to ‘oh, this thing that folks did at that time’ ... when they did nothing of the sort. Vaccination was a stroke of genius.

davidbetterman's avatar

@MrsDufresne Why thank you kindly my dear…Hi 5 backatcha!

davidbetterman's avatar

“In most cases, one can acceptably use geniuses as the plural. In fact, when referring to the “quality” of genius (as opposed to an individual possessing certain qualities or a certain nature), geniuses is the plural that one should normally use.
However, when referring to an individual as a genius, the most correct plural is genii (that’s three syllables). This is because genius is derived from Latin. It is the first-person masculine singular form of the word. The first-person masculine plural is genii.
There is one additional, and rare, case where the plural genii should be used. This is the form of the word that comes from Roman mythology and refers to a guardian spirit of a person or place.
If this is all a little too complex to remember and apply, just remember that geniuses will sound correct—even if not brilliant and erudite—in most cases. It’s actually quite infrequently that the general populace uses the word genii.”

Buttonstc's avatar


So you regard Wiki as an authoritative source in the same way as any other Encyclopedia?

A whole lot depends upon the veracity of whoever wrote that particular answer.

As for me, I much prefer The Times and Britannica.

davidbetterman's avatar

@Buttonstc Don’t be silly. I simply supplied that link as it jibes completely with what I learned in my three years of studying Latin. But thanks for your input.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Contextually speaking, “the masses” often sounds like “people the speaker thinks are less intelligent than they are”.

squidcake's avatar

Man see pretty lady.
Man want do nasty with pretty lady.
Man no bring rubber thing.
Pretty lady have baby.
Pretty lady want keep baby.
Baby cute. Baby cuddly.

Man see other pretty lady…

Roby's avatar

They are a lot of ‘educated idiots’ out in the masses.

wundayatta's avatar

Here’s an explanation of the normal curve and a discussion of people with the highest IQs.

This contains another graphic example, although it compares blacks and whites. The white curve is normal, but the black curve is somewhat skewed in comparison. I do not show this to create any controversy (most people are aware that IQ is related to socioeconomic status). I show it just to show the nature of the bell curve. If we were to look at the entire population together, we’d see something that looks very similar to the white curve.

Notice how at the right end, the line stretches out for a long way—there are some anomalous people with extremely high IQs. However, on the left hand side, it stops at zero. It makes me wonder how anyone could have an IQ of zero and still be alive. I suppose you might be unable to answer a single question on the test, but that just means the test isn’t fine enough.

FutureMemory's avatar

@dpworkin Leave it to you to bring up a wholly discredited, irrelevant book.

Why did you specify books alone?

janbb's avatar

Oh no, I’m part of the “general populace” according to wikipedia! (hangs head in shame.)

gailcalled's avatar

To confuse things more, the spirit who comes out of the brass lamp is a genie; the plural of that is genii. And most people use opera as the singular, and operas as the plural. I grew up with my piano teacher saying opus for the singular and opera for the plural. But it is always Saturday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera.

Personally, I take much pleasure in the remnants of the Latin and ancient Greek I learned. I bet that it is similar to knowing program languages. One cannot get sloppy, right?

Buttonstc's avatar


“The spirit who comes out of the brass lamp is a genie…”

Which gives rise to the obvious question: but is the genie emanating from said lamp also a genius ?

I would posit that in the case of the one portrayed by Barbara Eden, hardly likely.

However, in the case of the blue guy voiced in Alladin by Robin Williams, that’s a different story. Robin Williams is a comic genius, (and if there were two of him, they would be comic geniuses) or would that be genii ?


I think this is a question best suited for the Mensa mind of Richard Lederer at

Being a Mensan would qualify him as a bona fide genius, I would think.

bea2345's avatar

@CyanoticWaspDon’t make the huge mistake of consigning the genius of one man… – I did not do that. I was illustrating the point that “new” ideas may not actually be brand new, made out of entirely novel materials, but are a concatenation of many experiences. Pasteur’s genius was to conceptualize vaccination/inoculation (I have trouble distinguishing the two terms) from his research (into the germ theory of disease) and from the observation of behaviour. Who was it that said, “I stand on the shoulders of giants”?

@wundayatta – I remember the debate over race and intelligence, involving Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck. It was reported in Psychology Today and that issue was much in demand in the library where I worked.

wundayatta's avatar

@bea2345 What people usually don’t understand is that just because some variable (such as intelligence) is different between two groups of people, that doesn’t mean the obvious variable (race, in this case) explains any of that difference. It’s the old correlation is not causation bromide. From what I can tell, in almost everything you look at, once you control for socio-economic factors, race explains nothing.

In the case of intelligence, if we broke out the population by socio-economic status regardless of race, we would see results similar to the Black bell curve. Poverty means less access to good schools and less education and therefore poorer performance on intelligence tests.

Berserker's avatar

I find it pretty funny that the majority of people will claim that intelligence is in the minority.

bea2345's avatar

@wundayatta I found the whole affair very funny, not least a remark by the civil rights person who suggested that IQ test results should not be published. It was also quite sad, as the study did at least indicate areas for further research, e.g. as you just said, the effects of poverty, access to schools, etc. The real question, in my view, is why do blacks rate last in almost every social indicator (in mixed populations)? That is why I went out and bought Gunnar Myrdal’s book, An American dilemma. I haven’t read it yet, but it is on the list of things to do before I die.

mattbrowne's avatar

The average IQ is supposed to be 100. Perhaps your question is why are very intelligent people always in the minority.

We know why there are somewhat more male geniuses and male half wits: only one X chromosome.

bea2345's avatar

@mattbrowne – I like this story (it’s from Aesop): Zeus gave Hermes a jug full of intelligence with the instruction that he was to administer some to each person. Hermes gave exactly the same amount to each person. That is why, the story says, giants are stupid.

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