Degrees as general intelligence shortcut

Today I went to the library. Never mind the reason. Suffice to say, I decided the best use of my morning was to go to the library.

While I was browsing the shelves, I found this book Spent, by Geoffrey Miller. He’s an evolutionary psychologist, and it happens that his writing is a little… dry at times. Whole blocks of text with few bolds, italics and headings to break the flow.

Degrees and sexual evolution

I persevered and managed to skim through some of the chapters. Basically, his premise of modern consumerism and marketing is affected by sexual evolution. You buy stuff to show you’re a better mate. You buy expensive (but deemed as socially coveted) goods to show off. You buy stuff that’s seemingly a waste to show you can waste resources.

He also pointed out the 2 extremes: the people supporting consumerism (despite the credit card debts and other financial disasters), and the people opposing pure consumerism. He also said both are dangerous, which I agree.

Anyway, he said something about education. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said university degrees are used as a shortcut to determine a person’s general intelligence. He also used the term IQ as well.

He said the people who scoff at the idea of using IQ to determine a person’s intelligence are usually already clever, and hang around people of their intelligence level. “Anyone with average intelligence can understand string theory!”, ignoring the fact that they’re surrounded by janitors and other school staff.

Schools require stringent tests to determine if you’re intelligent enough to attend at their establishment. The most prominent of these tests is the SAT. But the idea of an IQ test to determine intelligence threatens these schools. Because anyone can easily take a short IQ test to determine their intelligence.

If it’s easy to obtain, it’s harder to use it as a screen or charge for it. Thus, the academia typically scoff at the usefulness of an IQ test, ignoring the SAT they used for admission.

If it’s easy to fake, or is almost indistinguishable from the original, then the original loses value. The example used here is cubic zirconia, directly competing with diamonds.

Our ancestors might have developed humour, creativity and kindness to compete for quality mates. Those are alternative traits to body musculature, body symmetry and other physical properties. In time, those “inferior” traits won. There are women who prefer a guy with humour, creativity and kindness to other human beings.

Social status (or showing off)

What I’m getting at (and what I believe Geoffrey was suggesting), is that a degree is a social status object, just like any other social status object. Having a degree shows other people that you had the time and money to pursue a degree, and the discipline to actually fulfill the requirements to get a degree. It’s a shortcut. Having a degree doesn’t necessarily mean you’re intelligent because there are some graduates who are frightfully stupid.

I will admit right here that I’ve never actually applied anything I learned for my degree in my jobs. Maybe that I learnt C and Unix shell scripts and commands.

My only regret is that I didn’t try to do more during my university days. Maybe learning about how businesses actually work. Did you know an employee typically costs a company 3 times his salary to employ him? This means an employee has to do work that generate a revenue amount 3 times his own salary just to justify his existence in company payroll. Where does the money go? The lights, the cleaning, the pantry, the security, the stationery. How can a company survive then? Because there are sales people that generate revenue amounts equal to 10 times their salary. That’s why sales people can be highly paid.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, degrees.

To increase the value of the original, you can increase the precision of getting the original and/or decrease the credibility of the competition. For example, the judgement of diamond quality and the emphasis that cubic zirconia rings aren’t rare (thus not as “valuable”).

The crux of the matter is that educational institutes are afraid their degrees will lose value. Just read the backgrounds of those who fervently support the obtaining of degrees, and those with a “meh” attitude towards degrees. Are they academics? Do they hold a job? Are they entrepreneurs? Are they open to new ideas? Are they ambivalent? Do they propose alternatives?

I suggest you get a degree if you can. But start a business while you’re there. A degree is still a valuable social status object. But don’t kill yourself trying to get one.

Consider what you want out of your life. I would hate to think you would waste 4 years of your life and tons of money to just scrape by and get a degree. Do something useful while you’re there! Make it more than just a piece of paper!

Did you know that because cubic zirconia is cheap to produce, the processes can be refined to the point where they’re less flawed than diamonds? Imagine, “fake” diamonds that are “purer” than real diamonds!