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An Interview with Björn Liljeqvist on the Next Generations, Reliable Highest Ranges, and the Uses of Intelligence and Other Human Characteristics for the Benefit of Humanity (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/22


Björn Liljeqvist was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1975. He joined Mensa in 1991 and is currently the international chairman of that organisation. Privately, Björn lectures on advanced learning strategies to university students. A topic he’s written two books on in his native country. He has a background in embedded systems engineering with a Master’s degree from Chalmers University of Technology. He is married to Camilla, with whom he has one daughter. He discusses: finance and support of the gifted through Mensa International and the Mensa Foundation; the size of Mensa; specialized initiatives for the most gifted; being aware of the ground while flying; and the refinement of material for channelling positively.

Keywords: Björn Liljeqvist, chairman, humanity, intelligence, Mensa Foundation, Mensa International, Sweden.

An Interview with Björn Liljeqvist on the Next Generations, Reliable Highest Ranges, and the Uses of Intelligence and Other Human Characteristics for the Benefit of Humanity: Chairman, Mensa International (Part Two)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*Interview conducted on March 4, 2020.*

*Note from Liljeqvist, as to avoid confusion between individual statements and the stances of Mensa International: “Opinions are my own and not those of Mensa, except if otherwise stated.”*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Sure, when you are looking at some of the funding of various initiatives for next generations of academics or just younger students, there are the awards. There are scholarships, and so on, through the Mensa Foundation. What do you consider some of the more effective ways in which to finance and support those talented next generations with some of these programs that Mensa International and the Mensa Foundation have ongoing?

Björn Liljeqvist: Off the top of my head, India is one example. I have a leaflet on my desk, which I am reading off. There is Mensa India. They have projects. One is called Tribal Mensa Nurturing Program. Another is called Dhruv. They conduct intelligence testing in poor villages in India and find children that are highly gifted, and who would benefit from getting an education. Then they try to help those kids get an education. I would say that in terms of – I don’t want to call it return on investment, but why not – return on a limited amount of money based on finding people with really limited money and having talent. I know people doing things in similar conditions like African countries. That is probably the most laudable thing that I can think of, because, if you look at the so-called developed world, what is needed in these countries, in my country and your country and the United States, Europe, Japan, and so on, is not more money. Money is not the issue. There is education. There is access to information. What is needed here is the right kind of knowledge and inspiration, we need role models. We need people to not stand in the way of gifted young people doing the best they can. We need to acknowledge the value of that. But if you look at many other countries, Africa, the African continent, will soon have 2,000,000,000 inhabitants.

India, already, has more than that. There are still many places in China that are less privileged – so to speak. There is plenty of talent that won’t be developed, not for lack of knowledge, but simply from lack of resources. So if you are talking about the funding aspect of it, my personal opinion is that funding or money can do a lot more if it went to helping kids where money is the thing stopping them from even getting a basic education, which would be the stepping stone to higher education, and so on. Whereas, in the rich countries, you need quite a lot of money to [Laughing] really make an impact there. What is needed is rather non-monetary ways of intervening and supporting people, that is something else. Of course, you could say, “To change culture, to change the way we talk about intelligence, you would need, imagine, $5,000,000,000 spent on raising intelligence.” I am not sure that is the thing that money can buy. Some things need dedicated work over a long time by people who believe in certain ideas. When the time is right for a certain idea, and people buy into it, that’s an interesting way of expressing it. They buy into it. They spend the money and money then is not an issue. In India, in Africa, in South America, and so on, there is so much talent that does not even get the first chance to develop. That is, I think, where we should spend more direct financial resources. Does that answer the question? Or is it completely off-topic?

2. Jacobsen: I think it works within the confines of it. When we are looking at the size of Mensa (International) as well, it is an enormous organization, larger than most universities.

Liljeqvist: In terms of sheer membership numbers, yes, that is true. Some groups are fairly large. I was the Chair of Mensa Sweden from 2007 to 2011 and had seen Mensa Sweden grow from 200 to more than 7,000. We have more members than any other on a per capita basis in Sweden. But the international organization is more like this umbrella, which is still putting the organization in order. So that, it can actually accomplish things. Organization and communication, and knowledge management, and getting things to happen is a very, very tricky problem in any kind of group. My personal goal for my term as Chairman is: I want Mensa International to become more focused, to be able to take some goal and work towards achieving it [Laughing]. So that, we are able to bring resources on a global scale to these goals. Also, as an organization, agree, we have had a lot of fun and are more than a social club. That it is more than just a slogan. That there is, in fact, tangible result in several countries, which we would spread to more countries. That’s what I am working towards. I am very optimistic about it, frankly. Because, I feel, there is a resonance for these ideas.

It is something that people, when you put it like that, tend to agree. That yes, we don’t need to pick and choose between other valid policy goals like ‘Save the Whales,” “fighting climate change,” or this or that. We have something important. That the world should know intelligence is important and should not be wasted, but we are wasting it because we do not even know what it looks like sometimes. Sometimes, we also try to force gifted children to fit into a mold. Many times, regular education is something that holds gifted kids back. The thing about education for the intellectually challenged at the other end of the curve. Normal, regular teachers with special educational training for that can be helpful to them. But to teach or train highly gifted kids, it is a very, very different thing. I remember growing up. That having the occasional extraordinary teacher. You could feel, “Yes, this person is not just the average Joe. They really understand what they are talking about. I understand them. They understand me. It means so much.” A good education system for gifted young people should allow them to find equally intelligent teachers who could give the inspiration that they need.

3. Jacobsen: Are there any special initiatives for the most gifted based on the most reliable ranges or at the highest ranges? So, 4-sigma or 4 standard deviations above the norm young people who join Mensa. Are there any specialized initiatives for that particular group?

Liljeqvist: Now, we come into an issue with logistics [Laughing]. The kind of test that Mensa uses. First of all, Mensa does not test people below the age of 10. In some countries, they don’t test people below the age of 15 or even 18. We do accept people of any age if they provide prior evidence. For example, there are 5-year-olds or, sometimes, even 3-year-olds who have shown extraordinary capacity in some way. The parents of the children take them through a battery of tests. They say, “Oh my God, you are 3-sigma.” We don’t have the resources to test at that level on a large scale, unfortunately. The tests that do work for the kind of mass testing that we can perform. Most of the time, if you can get accurate results at the top percentile, then that is a fairly normal thing. There are tests that you can test accurately at 3 standard deviations. A good test that can accurately test above that is very, very rare. Because, first of all, there has to be money in it. The companies who produce intelligence tests. In order to reliably test at 4 standard deviations, you need a control group, which is huge. You need to be very, very careful when designing questions like that. I know there are people who like to – I know some, myself – as a hobby design high-range IQ tests. Then they try to norm them by asking people on the internet to take them, and so on. By all means, they can give a pretty good hint. But Mensa only uses tests that have passed some scrutiny. Some scientific scrutiny and have been approved by the community of psychologists, which is why we have supervisory psychologists in all countries and an international supervisory psychologist (who is, by the way, an intelligence researcher). This is to validate the tests that we use.

The result is that it rarely shows up in our tests when someone is at that level. When people join Mensa, most of the time, we don’t even talk about their IQ. That is, we don’t usually compare IQs. I know it is something people think happens when you join Mensa:

1: My IQ is bigger than your IQ.

2: No, it’s not.

1: Oh yes, it is.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Liljeqvist: But that’s not really how it is done. Mensa is a nice place where you don’t have to talk about IQ. You don’t have to think about yourself as smart. You are normal.

Jacobsen: You don’t have to explain the joke.

Liljeqvist: You don’t have to explain the joke. People, often, are quite funny. It is a special [Laughing] kind of humour.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Liljeqvist: What can we do to people who are really, really out there? It is a good question. It is an area where a lot of work remains to be done. I would say, “Simply connecting young people with grown-ups of similar capacity, that they can be inspired by, will go a very, very long way.” You need somebody to look up to. You need to know, “Yes.” If you grow up, I’m sure, probably, many readers who grow up and realize the adults around you are not that bright. That is not all that healthy, I think, because, in reality, you, yourself, as a child, a young person, or as a teenager. You aren’t that clever, either. It is just that it feels that way because you happen to be intellectually ahead of your age. But there is still so much that you don’t know. There are so many intelligent arguments and so many things that you need to get from culture; that you still haven’t acquired. That, even if you have potential, you’re still just a kid, who thinks that you’re smarter than you actually are. Emotionally, you’re no different. Growing up and feeling superior is a very, very bad start, I think having some good role models could be beneficial in that sense. We [Laughing] want young people to soar and fly high, but we still want them grounded. Because, otherwise, you can fly too close to the Sun and that’s not healthy.

4. Jacobsen: Ha! It is also, and this is an old phrase I think in the American South, ‘Birds fly high, but they got to go down to the ground to get something eat.’ [Ed. Heard something like this from the comedian Paul Mooney.] It is different than the wax wings example that you just gave.

Liljeqvist: I agree with that. Also, you need to value other qualities. That is something that is very good with the Mensa membership because, once IQ and high-IQ stops being mystified, once it is no longer that rare thing that puts you above other people, meeting a lot of intelligent people and finding that, “Oh my God, these are just people too.” Sure, they are often very quick. But some people, you learn there are other qualities that IQ actually does not measure. There are other values. IQ in itself is great as a potential. But what about empathy? What about conscientiousness? What about a sense of fairness, for example, or things like that? Those are things. You can be an intelligent, nice person; or, you can be an intelligent, bad or rude person. Understanding that, “Yes, you have your talent. Now, what are you going to do with it? What? Do something.” This is implicit in what Mensa stands for. It is even in our Constitution. Intelligence should be used for the benefit of mankind. Fine, finding intelligence is one thing, the fostering of it is another thing. That needs more than just the raw power, the raw natural resource.

5. Jacobsen: How do you do that? How do you refine the material once you’ve mined it?

Liljeqvist: You refine the material partly by education. But it needs the right education. It needs the right culture in a society. That brings me back to what we talked about earlier about an hour ago. A culture that frowns upon the very existence of talent is not going to be able to foster it. You need a culture that recognizes the value but does not exaggerate it. When people begin to deny that there is such a thing as talent, then it becomes very difficult to identify it and foster it, a lot of it will be lost. Then those who would recognize it and cultivate it would get an advantage. They would get a leg up on those who wouldn’t. So, I don’t think that we can afford to not acknowledge talent of different kinds. I am not saying that we know the end of the story. In fact, an interesting thing that I heard from an intelligence researcher, “After 100 years of research, we know very, very well how to measure IQ. The downside is it might not exist” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Liljeqvist: Which is to say, it probably isn’t one thing. That is, IQ in a person. It could be that you have a collection, a very good number, a big number of specialized problem-solving circuits in your brain. That, taken together, allow you to solve problem, on an IQ test, and so on. It might not be one thing. But it could rather be many, many things taken together. To me, personally, my personal opinion here rather than fact: that would explain so much. Because it would explain why someone can be gifted with a very high IQ while, at the same time, sometimes make very, very stupid mistakes or, sometimes, be oblivious to things that other people notice who have a lower IQ. We don’t know exactly what IQ is, or what intelligence is. There is more research that can be done, should be done. There is some research by Keith Stanovich in a book called What Intelligence Tests Miss. He has proposed the concept of being a cognitive miser, cognitive misery. To be a cognitive miser, you have a high IQ, but you are lazy. You don’t want to expend mental energy unnecessarily.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Liljeqvist: To a certain class of problems, even those with a high IQ, they trend to get the problems wrong. One problem he gave is like this, “You have 3 people at a Tim Horton’s…”

Jacobsen: [Laughing] thank you.

Liljeqvist: “…You have John, Sue, and David. John is unmarried. David is married. We don’t know what Sue is. John is looking at Sue. Sue is looking at David. Do we have an unmarried person looking at a married person? Yes, no, or insufficient data.” Most of the time, people will say, “Insufficient data,” because they are cognitive misers. They don’t want to think through the steps, step-by-step, which would lead them to the inevitable conclusion that the answer is, “Yes,” which means Sue is either married or she is not. In either case, somebody unmarried is looking at a married person. Research into things like that. Different types of ways of using intelligence. A lot more research should be done in that field, I think.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Chairman, Mensa International.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 22, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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