The positive manifold of intelligence has fascinated generations of scholars in human ability. In the past century, various formal explanations have been proposed, including the dominant g factor, the revived sampling theory, and the recent multiplier effect model and mutualism model. In this article, we propose a novel idiographic explanation. We formally conceptualize intelligence as evolving networks in which new facts and procedures are wired together during development. The static model, an extension of the Fortuin–Kasteleyn model, provides a parsimonious explanation of the positive manifold and intelligence’s hierarchical factor structure. We show how it can explain the Matthew effect across developmental stages. Finally, we introduce a method for studying growth dynamics. Our truly idiographic approach offers a new view on a century-old construct and ultimately allows the fields of human ability and human learning to coalesce.

cognition, child development, idiographic science, individual differences, intelligence, quantitative methodology, network model