Most people will readily admit that they enjoy reading a good book from time to time. Some people admit to collecting them in a library where they may reside. Books help us to keep track of the wide variety of things going on in our hectic, fast-paced lives. One book, reviewed here, is called ‘Mensa: The Society for the Highly Intelligent’, written by Victor Serebriakoff, who is a (past) Honorary President of International Mensa. It is primarily a history of Mensa up to the point of the book’s publication in 1985 and it includes an explanation of what we should know about people with a remarkably high intelligence score. In my estimation, this book is about Mensa (but from an obviously historical state of affairs) and it was well-written by an obviously reliable source of information required for writing on this subject. ‘Mensa’ reads like a history textbook, in my opinion of it, as it starts from the beginning of our humble association and takes us for a wild ride through the intellect to where it is going. The last chapter is actually a self IQ test which is intended for both our study and review. If you are ready to go, then follow along with the reading of this book (and this book review). You just might learn a thing or two!
One of the more important themes interwoven throughout most of this book is that of the ‘no collective view’ nature of Mensa. Here it is described for us:
“Members and groups within Mensa have views but Mensa itself has none. Nothing is to be done in the name of Mensa that could alienate or exclude people of any shade of opinion; no political action is to be taken by the society beyond the publication of the range of members’ views.” (Serebriakoff 1985, pg. 55)
Here it is again somewhat later in the book:
Mensa “is based on an objective criterion of selection, an assessment of the applicant’s ability to think effectively. Mensa aims to be a forum of the intelligent of every persuasion, so it is simply and permanently not possible for Mensa to have any controversial collective views or policies.” (Serebriakoff 1985, pg. 263)
It is my belief that this idea is so fundamental to what it means to belong to Mensa that it is almost as is a golden rule. We, as Mensans, do not see things eye-to-eye always and we can have very different and opposing points of view on certain issues.
“Mensa is the living proof that, contrary to the adage, great minds (or at any rate bright minds), think unlike.” (Serebriakoff 1985, pg. 28)
“An important function of intelligence, where an answer is not yet known or knowable, is to throw up options, to propose choices, to explore the ground and produce hypotheses, schemes and plans for test by experiment, by trial and error, by judgmental or by democratic choice.” (Serebriakoff 1985, pg. 29)
I, in addition, believe that having good, positive thoughts and making good, personal choices is a sure sign of a highly advanced intelligence – much like a good house has many different kinds of functional windows and doors.
What then exists in the name of Mensa? First, assessing IQ began when our scientists began to question error and chance in the process of making measurements and observations. What followed from this research was the science of statistics in general and probability theory in particular. The softening of many other sciences then began to take hold because making accurate measurements based upon good observations and applying new statistical techniques was now better than just making guesses at what happens. Soon this idea along with the mass production (even of our children in education) which came about with the Industrial Age brought scientific inquiry into why some students were more inclined to score better on tests than were other students. A few assumptions based upon hereditary and environmental influences followed – then the IQ concept came into expression.
Eventually these IQ tests had to be developed and publicized by Mensa to recruit new members. Combining this fact with the previously mentioned fact about the publishing of members’ views (although there still was ‘no collective view’ within Mensa), Mensa has a rich and fractured history and tradition of getting volunteers within Mensa to work as contributors, editors, and publishers on ‘official’ publications. Along these similar lines:
“Each new editor comes in with all the confident enthusiasm which arises from the combination of high intelligence and complete innocence of experience. Radical changes of style, size, format and content are the first step, then thinking about policy and searching for contributions.” (Serebriakoff 1985, pg. 67)
Another striking bit of information (from this book called ‘Mensa‘), which relates to the current state of affairs of what some know to be Mensa, is related to what was known as a ‘Think-In’. A think-in is a type of lecture + discussion which has evolved into what we now know as similar to the annual Colloquium, MAM’s Salon with a Twist, and other Mensa events. By way of illustrating this:
“A group which is ideally between twenty and forty assemble in a room with fairly comfortable seats and decent surroundings to hear a shortish talk by a speaker of distinction on some topic which should be speculative or controversial. The talk is followed by a long discussion with plenty of contributions from the floor and the chairman trying to see that everybody gets a word in and that no one dominates the floor.” (Serebriakoff 1985, pg. 63)
”There is always a lot of teasing and laughter in a climate which manages to be both hard-hitting and critical but essentially urbane and friendly.” (Serebriakoff 1985, pg. 63)
These types of information fragments are why I enjoyed reading this book ‘Mensa’ so much. True, ‘Mensa’ is really about a Mensa long ago, but it is not all that far away. When reading a history, think of walking through a forest with many twists and turns – because it’s a journey nevertheless.
Finally, years ago talk within Mensa was also about a ‘World Culture’. This was to be a global network for those of us who were both educated and informed. It would cover the world over at all levels: local, regional, national, and tribal cultures. It would transcend the divisions brought about by cultural, racial, national, and tribal structures. Just as the head (mind) was a subset of the human body, Mensa should exist as a subset within the ‘World Culture’. I am sure all of their intentions were good, yet bringing these lofty goals to human fruition was going to be somewhat more challenging than simply brainstorming at a board meeting. Also, most of us, including myself, probably have little or no recollection of this type of talk ever taking place, but it was addressed often throughout this book called ‘Mensa’.
What do I think about Mensa now after having read ‘Mensa’? Mensa is a fascinating organization in which to belong and ‘Mensa’ is a truly interesting book to read like I have done. It is textbook coverage of Mensa history (roughly 1945-1984) and also Man’s intellect. It is perhaps the best method that I know to recommend for getting anyone charged up if one feels lost in these subject areas. Read this book first; then branch out from there. It was well worth the price paid and just knowing what I now know about Mensa will pay big dividends to me in the future and to those with whom I will interact with later on. Do you believe, like I do now after writing this book review of ‘Mensa’, that society for the highly intelligent known as Mensa (with all of Mankind) is a living, world-wide ‘Think Link’? If so, then you are so right.