The Myth Of General Intelligence

And how it makes us dumb
5 min readJun 25, 2021


I began seriously questioning my intelligence when I had plumbing problems. I can fill out forms, read and understand things, but the toilet didn’t care. It just wouldn’t flush. At that point I needed someone with plumbing intelligence. Intelligence, like any evolutionary trait, is an adaptation. It’s relative to environment, to a problem, to a task. No one is generally ‘just smart’. You always have to ask, smart for what?

Intelligence Is Relative

There are not ‘general’ traits in evolution, they’re all relative. Take speed. We say Cheetahs are the fastest animals, but that’s actually not true. They’re slow (and miserable) underwater. An ibex is faster up a cliff. Even a human is faster over long distances. A cheetah is well-adapted to a particular environment, but they do not have generalized speed. Adaptation is always relative to whatever you need to do.

Adaptation is also highly dependent on where and when you are. You could probably outrun a T-Rex in high heels today because they’re used to an atmosphere with much more oxygen. The T-Rex was well-adapted for a particular environment. They are not ‘generally’ strong because there is no ‘general’ environment. You can see the illusion of evolutionary progress here. Change the environment and all your adaptation disappears. Evolution is always relative to a particular time and place.

We think we’re so smart, but you have to ask, for when, for where? We’re adapted for a particular Earth, and we’re fucking our own environment up. We’ve lived in a period of climate stability, and we’ve destroyed that for our grandchildren. And we have the gall to call this ‘higher’ intelligence. If you really think human intelligence is some magical trait that the universe cares about, go ask a cat. They are not impressed.

Humans Have Different Types Of Intelligence

Even within our narrow realm of human culture, intelligence is still not a ‘general’. Take speed again. The Olympics has dozens of different speed events (short, long, fast, over stuff, through the air, through water) and no one person wins them all. What makes us think that mental activity can be generalized any more than speed?



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at