The book

The author

  • David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

    More info here.

    Contact David.

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    Speaking inquiries here.


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April 07, 2007


Dave Russell

This all rings very true to me. Here's a slightly different slant on the subject. I've frequently met senior managers in business who seem to be far from the "brightest and best" people in the organisation in terms of analysis, lateral thinking, clarity of expression or other factors. So their intellect (subjectively and superficially) appears "low". However they often have the right skills through their experience and learning to sum up situations, take tough decisions and show compassion and leadership in implementation. Their AQ is high.

Dave McDougall

What I meant by "Abstraction" is the ability to extrapolate higher-level concepts from practical knowledge (which lends itself well to the application of higher-level concepts to practical circumstances).
Lateral thinking puzzles are closer to this process than math because they involve a particular relationship to puzzle-solving that I think is what's measured on most IQ tests. (Let me know if I'm wrong, as I haven't taken an IQ test since I was 5).

Jane Shevtsov


In high school, I was lousy in math, the most abstract subject. But my ninth-grade math teacher was absurdly easy to stump with lateral thinking puzzles, which specifically go after mental flexibility. Abstraction is part of flexibility, sure, but it's not the only part.

Dave McDougall

"Intelligence" tests record abstract abilities; real-world success is tied to practical abilities. It's easier to go from abstract problems to practical aplication than vice versa. Success corellates with practical ability but abstract ability translates to the practical with reasonable consistency. Practical ability itself can't be measured in isolation (because it is not abstract it's also not abstractable).

The ability to consciously abstract to principles and then apply those principles to new, specific examples is what we call intelligence. Abstraction helps solve problems that occur outside of already-learned paradigms, and thus implies some greater mental flexibility.

One might argue that at least some the abilities of abstraction are heritable.
How does this study refute that idea?

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