Aimé Michel

Le premier mystère est: pourquoi y a-t-il quelque chose plutôt que rien?
Et le deuxième, aussi grand que le premier: pourquoi suis-je là en train de penser?


Diogenes’s Invectives

I. Q. in the Kimono

Atlas – Air France n°83 – May 1973


Among all the things which I respect (and God knows there are many), there is none, I think, that I value more highly than psychology. After all, is there anything in the world more wondrous than the spirit? And thus, is not psychology the prince or sciences?

Especially when it provides us with a little amusement.

As you know, it has been very fashionable in recent years to measure everyone’s intelligence quotient. In schools, in businesses, they measure. Sit down, look carefully at these circles and squares and tell me the captain’s age. You have thirty seconds in which to reply. If his age is a matter of indifference to you, or if you regard squares and circles with horror, too bad for you. We will be obliged to give you a low score.

Although invented by the Frenchman Binet, I. Q. measurement has become a particularly well-developed pastime in the United States. Things were going along quite smoothly there until the day when an eminent psychologist, Ann Roe, had the clever idea of giving posthumous tests to the world’s great geniuses. You’re probably asking yourself how one goes about testing the dead. It’s simple. Each test is designed to pose a very precise kind of intellectual problem. When a person’s biography is detailed enough, it is not difficult to find episodes corresponding exactly to the nature of the intellectual problem in question. One must simply note how the problem was handled, and then give a commensurate score.

This is what Ann Roe did. And with very encouraging results. Encouraging, that is, for those of us who are hopelessly allergic to the circles and squares of Stanford-Binet.

As expected, she found many high I. Q.’s among the great men. Voltaire, Pascal, and a few others rated very intelligent. But much less so than Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Grotius. Now if you were to tell me that these three sublime intellects are not the brightest stars of intellectual history, I would agree with you wholeheartedly. I must admit I even find them a bit second-rate. And yet, according to Stanford-Binet, they reign unchallenged over the Universal I. Q. Pantheon with scores of 200 (the average is 100). This is a bit annoying for the inventors of the test.

But more bothersome still are the deplorable scores obtained by a whole batch of dunces named Copernicus, Newton, Johann Sebastian Bach, Faraday and Pasteur: they barely exceed the average; in short, they are mediocre.

Faced with these paradoxical results, I asked myself if perhaps the authors of the tests had only fuzzy ideas about the nature of intelligence. But what is it that the tests measure then, if not intelligence? Further results have enlightened me…

When American I. Q. tests are given to living Europeans, one finds that the peoples of Europe are on the whole a rather “unintelligent” lot. But those European cultures which contributed most to the formation of the American people seem to be less unintelligent than the rest. Judging by Stanford-Binet, the more intelligent you are, the more American you are.

I, who have lived in a European barrel for two thousand years and have the firm intention of continuing to do so, am not in the least troubled by this hypothesis. We poor Europeans would lose Bentham, Mill and Grotius. But on the other hand, we could always rely on Bach, Copernicus, Newton, and a few other backward souls to remain on our side of the Ocean.

But there is still a detail which troubles me. Could there be a group of people somewhere in the world more intelligent than the Americans? In fact, there is: on the average, the Japanese obtain higher Stanford-Binet scores!

Now if the I. Q. experts were mere blockheads themselves, we could simply ignore the whole situation. It would have no meaning. But it does have one: Stanford-Binet tests seem to measure conformity to the American ideal of intelligence. Bentham and Mill, spokesmen for utilitarianism and theoreticians of the triumphant economy, were American-style geniuses; Bach and Copernicus were not.

But the Japanese? Perhaps the results signify that in this highly Americanized age, Japan has, in the face of necessity, succeeded in being more American than America, though all the while retaining its distinctly Oriental character. Perhaps the tests are yet another indication of the extraordinary adaptability which has made Japan the rival of its conqueror.

I, Diogenes, have seen this sort of thing before. A century after Rome occupied my native Greece, a Roman remarked: “Vanquished Greece has conquered Rome.” The statement shows much perception. It is even more valid today, when change comes so swiftly and nations’ fates are so closely bound together.

Japan needed only a few decades to emerge from its ruins as a master of Western civilization. Traditionally the most isolated of Asian nations, it is now the living proof that Western culture is no longer really Western, but universal. And perhaps, just as Greece once taught the Roman Empire, We will now witness the Orient, as represented by a Westernized Japan, spreading its wisdom throughout the rest of the world.