Instigator / Pro

Nicola Tesla was the smartest person in history


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 5 votes and with 21 points ahead, the winner is...

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Round 1
First of all, I would like to state that no one has made more inventions than Nicola Tesla. If you can find someone who has made more inventions, and ones that are equally significant, then I will give you my entire paycheck next week. Nicola Tesla basically invented the entire modern world. Here are a list of his patented inventions, keep in mind that a number of his inventions where not patented by him, the credit to which was stolen by JP Morgan and the filthy lying patent fraud scumbag Thomas Edison.

Firstly, we need to determine what exactly it is that Pro is contending. That is: (1) how should we define and measure "smartness?" (2) Furthermore, what do we mean by "in history?" Does this refer to everybody who has ever lived, or only to notable historical figures?

The obvious answer to (1) is by using a standardized intelligence test, but this approach brings up three insurmountable barriers, each independently sufficient for preclusion:

1. Nikola Tesla is dead, and therefore of course cannot be given a standardized intelligence test.

2. Modern mainstream intelligence tests only reliably measure intelligence up to around I.Q. 140 with a Standard Deviation of 15, or a rarity of about 1 in 250. This is, obviously, vastly insufficient for proving that someone is the smartest person in history. There are speculative tests which claim to measure intelligence with some degree of reliability beyond this, but those cannot be given full credibility.

3. To definitively show that any given person was "the smartest person in history," it would be necessary to administer a standardized intelligence test to every single person in history. Otherwise, there could always potentially be another person of higher but unmeasured intelligence within our population. How could anyone possibly do that?

Or perhaps we should attempt to determine "smartness" based on someone's intellectual legacy. Then, regarding (2), it should firstly be noted that attempting to estimate someone's "smartness" by their contribution to society does not account for potential differences in opportunity which may have also played a role in their creativity. If "in history" is defined as "amongst everybody who has ever lived," then Pro's point is unprovable. It could be that the smartest person to ever live was held back by some unfortunate circumstance from displaying their genius: for example, maybe they were enslaved, or blind and deaf, or exiled from society.

On the other hand, if "in history" is defined as "amongst notable historical figures," then the burden of proof rests upon my opponent to show that no other figure in history has made intellectual contributions as great as Nikola Tesla's. Pro is asserting that the burden of proof rests upon me: "If you can find someone who has made more inventions, and ones that are equally significant, then I will give you my entire paycheck next week." This is simply not how debating is supposed to work.
Round 2
1) So far everyone I've debated on this site has had similar issues with definitions. I will provide you with the basic definition of intelligence: 
a (1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : reason;also : the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (such as tests)

2) Con refers to IQ tests as the "obvious" means of quantifying intelligence. The IQ test is good for providing a rough estimate of certain pattern recognition capabilities, but is also heavily flawed in that it is useless in measuring many aspects of intelligence and often relies upon previously acquired knowledge. A trained mathematician will do better on a standard IQ test than someone who is technically capable of learning at a higher rate or more intelligent in certain ways but who is mathematically illiterate in comparison due to a lack of training in the subject. IQ tests are also useless in determining one's creativity and focuses solely on either spatial or mathematical pattern recognition, making it absolutely useless for assessing social intelligence or abstract reasoning. An IQ test is something that a computer can be programmed to ace.

3) The opponent asserts that the burden of proof is on me to show that no one is more intelligent than Tesla, rather than on him to show that someone is. This is entirely redundant and meaningless because that is the subject of this debate in the first place. My job is to argue that Tesla is the smartest person known in history, your job is to refute that claim. The burden of proof is equal. That being said, it's already been established that to my knowledge there is no one more intelligent, and if you know of someone you suspect to be more intelligent then the proof is yours to present. 
I rebut my opponent's contentions point-by-point.

1) I counter Pro's implied argument here twofold.

Firstly, while my opponent provides a technical definition of "intelligence," there is no single universally accepted definition of that term. Computer scientists Shane Legg and Marcus Hutter point out that, "Despite a long history of research and debate, there is still no standard definition of intelligence," and then go on to provide a total of dozens of definitions from dictionaries, psychologists, and artificial intelligence researchers. [1]

Secondly, Pro is contending that Nikola Tesla was the smartest person in history, not the most intelligent. "Smartness" and "intelligence" may be taken to mean the same thing, but the term "smartness" is colloquial rather than technical, and can just as well refer to intelligence as to specific talents or academic achievement or historical legacy.

2) Here my opponent makes some patently false statements about I.Q. tests. For example, he claims that an I.Q. test "focuses solely on either spatial or mathematical pattern recognition." But the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) contains four Verbal Comprehension subtests and six Working Memory subtests in addition to five Perceptual Reasoning subtests, the last of these categories probably being what Pro means by "spatial or mathematical pattern recognition." [2]

Pro also claims that I.Q. tests are "absolutely useless for assessing social intelligence or abstract reasoning." But "social intelligence" has little to do with lone scientific genius, and the WAIS-IV contains a "Matrix Reasoning" subtest, described as follows [2]: "The examinee views an incomplete matrix or series and selects the response option that completes the matrix or series. This subtest measures fluid intelligence, broad visual intelligence, classification and spatial ability, knowledge of part-whole relationships, simultaneous processing, and perceptual organization." This quote does not explicitly mention "abstract reasoning," but that is obviously what it describes.

Pro even attacks the very validity of I.Q. testing, claiming that it is "heavily flawed in that it is useless in measuring many aspects of intelligence." This is an extremely bold assault on a family of mainstream psychometric instruments which are backed by decades of laborious research and known to be a reliable statistical predictor of life success [3]. Such an attack therefore cannot be accepted without a thorough argument behind it.

3) No, the burden of proof rests on you. You created this debate with the explicit contention that "Nikola Tesla was the smartest person in history." My failure to produce a counterexample does not imply the absence of a counterexample.

Suppose that I walked into a store, claimed to be the richest person there, and nobody showed me a bank statement proving them to be richer than me. This would not imply that I am definitely the richest person in the store. To claim otherwise would unjustifiably shift the burden of proof to the accused because there might be richer people there who, for whatever reason, did not demonstrate their superior wealth. The only way to prove myself to be the richest person in the store would be to exhaustively check the monetary assets of everyone there and verify that, for each other person in the store, my monetary assets are greater than their monetary assets. This is essentially what you are not only failing to do, but demanding than I do for you.


Round 3
I rest my case.

Vote Con.