Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010


I distinguish smartness from intelligence in the following way: intelligence, specifically human intelligence, is simply what the human species is and does. Every human has intelligence, and roughly the same as another, from the dumbest idiot to the brainiest genius, barring large amounts of brain damage. This is because we're all the same species, our brains are all more or less the same "hardware", our genes are more or less the same, etc.

The difference between intelligence of a chimp and a human is staggering, even though we share about 95% or so of our DNA with a chimp. Put simply, the smartest chimp can't match the dumbest fully functioning human. There are thoughts a chimp brain is literally incapable of holding due to its design, that a human brain can hold.

Yet there's clearly variation among humans. I call this smartness. Intelligence is a spectrum, with a minimum (a rock) and a maximum (AIXI with some modifications), with humans and chimps occupying points on the line very near each other. I hope we as a species will be able to build the next step up from human intelligence and create something not only smarter than us in every measurable way, but simply more intelligent.

Intelligence built the pyramids, intelligence created the vast electronic system that runs the world today. Smartness conceived of the ideas, smartness crunched the numbers to make things work, smartness (and lack thereof) made mistakes.

Even though all humans are roughly the same intelligence wise, many of us feel very strongly as if there's a huge difference smartness wise. And there is, in a way, it's just important to not lose sight of the intelligence aspect to avoid suffering deep depression. (Poetically, I've lost 'faith' in humans but I still have 'faith' in humanity.)

How do we measure smartness then? IQ is typically thrown about, also known as the g-factor. There are other measurements as well that are more narrow than IQ. Let's stick with IQ for a bit, though.

Assume for a moment that IQ corresponds perfectly with smartness. Does it now follow that a higher IQ is better than a lower IQ, that it's better to be smarter than less smart? Put more directly: given someone with IQ of 145, and assuming they're not depressed, do you think they'd take a pill that lowered their IQ to 70? Conversely, do you think a person with IQ of 70 would take a pill that raised their IQ to 145? The second option seems less likely to me... a person with 145 IQ can imagine what a 70 IQ must be like; the reverse is not true. You can look down the scale but not up.

I think the 70 to 145 (or even just 105 to 110) problem, if it actually exists (I don't know anyone with IQ of 70), might be a typical case of rationalization. People will, for various reasons, make up excuses why something clearly bad for them is actually good, or to be desired or worshiped. The most innocent form of this is telling yourself that the new phone you got is actually really cool even though you only started saying that after you saw a super-sweet new phone that, did you not have your current phone and its investment, you would have gotten instead. The dangerous and, frankly, evil, form of this is people rationalizing excuses for why death is something good and desirable.

Anyway, back to IQ, still assuming it corresponds perfectly to smartness for the sake of argument. IQ is meant such that a score of 100 is the middle of a bell curve. This means that 68% of the population has IQ between 85 and 115. It means if your IQ is above 100, there are at least a full 50% of humans dumber than you. (Yet they all get one vote, just like you...)

I don't know anyone with an IQ less than 100. Do you? Online IQ tests typically have their average at 104 or above, not 100 like usual. People who go online and take IQ tests then tend to be smarter than 50% of the population. That's about 3.5 billion people by the way, half the population. Do you think everyone really deserves an equal vote? Do you think a person with an IQ of 50 could even understand why one might want to vote, or why other forms of government have been even worse in the past?

One thing smart people share with dumb people is that both can be brainwashed or otherwise made to parrot back beliefs. Smartness is insufficient for being rational. (Though I suspect it may be necessary.) What does this mean for any democracy or any republic? You guessed it: whoever can persuade the masses will win the majority vote. The last century of US history has been the refinement of mass control via corporations and the government, it has worked pretty well.

Unfortunately for those in power, the law of GIGO -- garbage in, garbage out -- holds for a republic. Our politicians are the same people previous generations of politicians brainwashed. They're just as unthinking as the mass they now manipulate into not thinking. It's no coincidence that so many people name-drop Ronald Reagan all the time now in 2011--his era which our leaders grew up in was one of the best displays of propaganda in human history. The Russians still adore Stalin. The Germans would still adore Hitler, had they not evolved into a shining light of humanity after defeat.

A modification of Libertarianism might win in the end, since they've started winning the masses. Unfortunately it's a long shot. If you want your government belief to succeed, you not only need to get enough people believing it or just parroting it, but you also need to get it together to overthrow the current system. The American Marxists of the 20th century never got to that last bit, but they had a lot more chance than the Libertarians of that time. Marxism gives you, the ruling class, wealth, power, and probably women. Libertarianism gives you... satisfaction that an intellectual idea was implemented. It's hard to get parrots to rally around that long enough to actually take over. Not to mention after taking over, that power must be relinquished.

A lot of intellectuals have moved on to Anarchy, Neocameralism, and small-l libertarianism (which is basically a sprinkle of socialism or regulation or monopoly-destroying-power mixed with an otherwise powerless republic) rather than the type of Libertarianism espoused by the party and by, say, Objectivists. A lot of intellectuals used to be for Marxism. I once was. It takes a lot of smarts to fully understand and refute Marxism, I don't think a person with IQ of 70 could do either. But they can still shout their lungs out for it. They'd still think they'd get something out of it.

Let's move away from IQ now. It's fairly controversial, but I notice that it only seems controversial from the 100+ side. (This could just be an availability heuristic because, as I mentioned, I don't know anyone with IQ less than 100 and I doubt you do either.) It's not even all that useful either at the edges, and we know it doesn't correspond perfectly to smartness. My last comment on it is this: if you think a person with measured IQ of 70, who is in the bottom 2% of humanity, isn't going to have a tough time in life and should probably ask for as much help as they can get, you have an overly optimistic and flatly wrong view of humans.

Let's consider four factors in cognition.

Analysis: this is the ability to work with multiple concepts and structures of concepts at once without loss of consistency. It's necessary to do well at math, programming, logic, or any formal system. It's the process behind constructing a mental model of concepts and reasoning off of such models and submodels in a logical fashion. Over half of the population lacks this trait, as measured by experiment, which leads to them thinking based on magic instead of logic. A magical thinker can at best compartmentalize everything, only understanding one thing at once. They can't see contradictions in their own belief structures because they lack the capacity to hold consistency. There is evidence that people lacking this trait cannot learn it over time, either.

Synthesis: this is the generation of 'original' abstract concepts, nearly synonymous with creativity. I have an estimated more than 90% of the population that is severely lacking this trait. The highest form of reading as told in How to Read a Book is Synoptical reading, which is related: a reader reads several books on the similar subject and spontaneously forms a new perspective, or a growth of mind, on that subject that isn't found in any of the books alone. The further synthetic you are, the more unconscious your ideas become. Your brain will be doing all sorts of fancy footwork all the time, like classifying people you talk to, and automatically following recursion and indirection and meta-steps. People lacking this make good corporate drones.

Memory: this is simply the ability to memorize and a measure of memorizing speed and fidelity of memory. It's related to long term "crystal memory" (which seems to be set at birth, can also have poor fidelity, but can be 'refreshed' through spaced repetition) and short term "fluid memory" or working memory (which seems more malleable, you can increase how many things you can remember at once through things like n-back training). People with no memorization skill will find everything else difficult as they will need to "relearn" things over and over. People high in memorization may end up lacking in the other two areas, possibly just through neglect. The public school system encourages this: this is what people mean when they say that school kills creativity. It's easier for many students to just memorize than to actually try to understand, analyze, or be creative, so that's what they do. The medical industry is almost entirely about memorization.

The fourth isn't so much of a trait as a viewpoint, but I think it's an important one to consider. The idea of Intellectualism means that a person believes that you can pursue ideas for the sake of the ideas. The ideas have value that doesn't depend on some particular application. I think this is necessary for human progress, and thus pretty important, though not as important as the others (listed in descending order of importance). Much of the math that runs the world today started out as a toy problem for the mathematician.

Taking these traits into consideration, the smartest people around should score high in all of these. While listed in descending order so that analysis is the best trait, combinations are obviously even more valuable than single traits alone. A lot of historical big ideas started with a creative person noticing something interesting, perhaps looking at the work (or doing themselves) of an Intellectual merely playing around, when a sudden spark comes up. So they publish, and the icky details are further worked out by those high in mathematical ability and analytical skills while teachers make grad students memorize it all.

Look at the US's politicians. How many score high in any of these? Judges and lawyers are probably pretty good at memorization since they have to know a lot of cases, but what else? The Iroquois League used to consider the 7th generation for each policy action they took. While I think it's ridiculous to try and extrapolate that far ever since the industrial revolution, nevertheless our current leaders are incapable of extrapolating to even one generation. They use "for the kids!" as a talking point, not as any attempt at analysis. It is thus why raising the waterline is so important, getting people away from magical thinking so important. It's why religion is dangerous even if it's completely personal and not a single person was inconvenienced/killed due to another's religion. It's why being atheist isn't enough, being a scientist isn't enough, you have to be something more. We have to strive for the top end of the smartness spectrum and beyond, jumping up levels in intelligence to become Jupiter Brains spreading humanity across the stars and other such fantasies of awesome.

My hope is that we'll make it to the point where people can be forced along that ride to something more, or perish, just like whatever species was around and perished once the proto-humans developed language. We need to get to that point before we are wiped out by the ones reluctant to change. Humans are at the brink of either total devastation or total awesomeness, depending on the choices we make this century and the ordering of technology we develop.

Edit: I wanted to share a classic George Carlin quote...

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.

Posted on 2011-10-16 by Jach

Tags: cognition, government, philosophy


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