History of Intelligence Theories

After money, comfort, and love, Raymond Cattell had to make one more sacrifice…

In Cattell’s (1974) autobiography, we find not only warm gratitude for his mentor (Charles Spearman) but also a taste of the kinds of personal sacrifices many have chosen to make while contributing to our field. After an idyllic childhood and a romantic courtship of his first wife, Cattell was unable to find a permanent academic position in England. After years of near poverty (and neglect from an especially driven husband), Cattell’s wife, with whom Cattell was still very much in love, left him for “more comfortable circumstances.” After the divorce and further failure in securing an academic position in Britain, Cattell (1974) considered leaving for America,

But England was deep in my bones…The personal crisis, well nigh of despair,…tested the truth of Scawen Blunt’s lines: “He who has once been happy is for aye, out of destruction’s reach.” The broken marriage and the bleak future could be met. But could I disloyally uproot myself from that which had created the fiber of my being? The die was cast one day when I received a persuasive letter from E. L. Thorndike, asking me to be a research associate with him for a year. Of course, I knew of Thorndike’s work and it seemed to me about the most imaginative and fundamental that I knew of in America…I was stirred by the privilege and the possibilities, and after three days of emotional struggle decided to go. After all, it was only for a year. It was characteristic of Thorndike’s perspective, and independence, that he had reached out to a stranger three thousand miles away, possessing no personal “pull.” He had reacted purely to what he had found in my publications. I have tried to do the same in my turn for oncoming psychologists, judging by performance, not the “old school associations.”

(p. 69)

After several temporary positions, Cattell took a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. He was extremely grateful to the taxpayers of Illinois that he was about to spend the next three decades pursuing any question that he deemed important to answer. He said that, for him, life began at 40. He spent his time productively, producing dozens of books and hundreds of articles:

For many years I rarely left the laboratory before 11 P.M., and then was generally so deep in thought or discussion that I could find my car only because it was the last still in the parking lot!

(p. 75)

Cattell, R. B. (1974). Raymond B. Cattell. In G. Lindzey, (Ed.) A history of psychology in autobiography (Vol. 6) (pp. 59–100). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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History of Intelligence Theories

Fun quote from Raymond Cattell on the importance of taxonomies

Raymond Cattell (1987, p. 61):

A taxonomy of abilities, like a taxonomy anywhere else in science, is apt to strike a certain type of impatient student as a gratuitous orgy of pedantry. Doubtless, compulsions to intellectual tidiness express themselves prematurely at times, and excessively at others, but a good descriptive taxonomy, as Darwin found in developing his theory, and as Newton found in the work of Kepler, is the mother of laws and theories.

Raymond Cattell

Raymond Cattell (1905–1998)

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Cattell’s thoughts about Spearman

Raymond Cattell studied with Charles Spearman. From Cattell’s (1974) autobiography, we can see that Spearman’s gratitude toward his mentor Wundt was repaid with the same level of gratitude and respect from Cattell:

Great men intrigue me, with something of the feeling one gets before a lofty mountain or other magnificent nature a spectacle but with more significance. Despite a marked shyness as a young man, I have been privileged to know rather well several men in psychology and associated areas I would call great or near-great—Spearman, Sir Cyril Burt, Haldane, Sir Ronald Fisher, Sir Godfrey Thomson, Thurstone, Thorndike, Terman, Lashley….It is not my purpose to try any ranking among them—their virtues are too diverse—but Spearman was uniquely great. He conveyed on the one hand, a sense of historical depth of scholarship, and on the other, an almost naïve freshness of approach. He would take up a conversation as if he had just been talking to Plato, and then stagger you with sharp experimental novelty that no contemporary psychologist had thought of. For this unworldly and absent-minded man, life was pared down to essentials: the fascinated pursuit of truth, the encountering of life’s absurdities by a sanity of droll humor, and an affection for family and coworkers. (p. 65)

Cattell (1987) also relates this fun story about his mentor giving a talk about the importance of specific abilities:

An anecdote of that meeting may be of interest as illustrating the absent-mindedness of a great theorist. Before a large audience Spearman reeled off, without writing on the chalk board, the various complex formulae supporting his main theoretical position. Perceiving the expressions of the audiences, the present writer, as research assistant to Spearman, ventured to put a piece of chalk in his hand. He held it faithfully to the end of the hour and then, saying, “And this is what I call the theory of ‘g’,” he wrote one small and very solitary “g” in the middle of the large board! (p. 31)

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