Jocks are Smart

1 minute read


I’ve debated with others in the past about different types of intelligence. I’ve used the example of star athletes – a football quarterback for example – who can look at everybody on the field, judge their positions, velocities, and make a prediction such that he can lob a pass far down field with exactly the right angle and velocity so his wide receiver need only put up his hands and hold onto it.  I’ve held that this requires calculations that we can only simulate with calculus and supercomputers today. Others have held that this is “just instinct” and not really a sign of intelligence. It seemed like a fair point of disagreement given a lack of evidence to support one position or the other.

Imagine my surprise to find further data on the argument on a “History” Channel reality show that my eight-year-old son is enjoying. On the first episode of Stan Lee’s Superheros, they profile a man who is a “human calculator”. He can do any arbitrary arithmetic (including cube roots) in his head almost instantly, as if by instinct. The show adequately demonstrates the skill (using the UCSD Math Department as examiners), but then they put him into an fMRI to see what’s going on. What’s going on is that he’s doing math in the brain center that’s used for motion, not the typical brain center most people use for math.  Besides presaging the future of humanity, it effectively demonstrates just how marvelous the motion centers are at doing enormously complex mathematical computations.

Touchdown for “Jocks are Smart” (though I’m not yet claiming the field goal).