Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tom O'Bedlam on Intelligence

Here are some interesting words on the topic of intelligence, and on related topics, from Tom O'Bedlam, who operates the marvelous Spoken Verse channel on Youtube--a link to which you'll see just to the right:

"There's no real advantage in intelligence to a man trying to make a conventional living. Like Isaac Newton, I had to invent a use for it. Literature is one possible use and it satisfied me until I found electronics which proved far more profitable.

When I'm asked what intelligence is I sometimes say "The likelihood of being right" and leave it at that if I want to be annoying. Otherwise I soften it by adding, "if there are no other factors involved, such as learning, experience, altruism and discernment". It's obvious that IQ tests measure the ability to give the correct responses to self-contained questions that have only one answer. The problem for the intelligent man is that he can often find reasons why they're not self-contained and have no single clear answer.

Sometimes I say something like "It's the ability to form internal Mental Models of the real world which can be interrogated for predictions, inferences and conclusions which, in turn, can be observed, measured and verified in the real world". In fact it's the ability to do a few parlour tricks that, when demonstrated, leave people no more impressed or envious than they would be by any other kind of incomprehensible magic.

Richard Feynman said something like "There are some people who are unteachable, who accept nothing on authority, who take in no piece of information unless they have verified it by conscious analysis, who tediously construct their own world from raw data and concepts - and it is on these people science depends" That's a wild paraphrase. I like Bernard Shaw's syllogism from The Revolutionist's Handbook "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man attempts to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on unreasonable men".

It takes a long while for technical innovation to make its changes to the world. We're still suffering from the effects of the industrial revolution, particularly on the effect of digging up and reintroducing to the environment all the elements, heavy metals and hydrocarbons, that bacteria and other early lifeforms spend a bilion years burying before human life was even possible. The effect of reintroducing these elements into the environment may, within a century or two, make human life impossible.

We're still adapying to the effect of eating starch, which wasn't possible until the technical innovation of cooking, and the major effects such as obesity and diabetes are still a scourge. However the other side effects, such as increased perception and relief from the perpetual need for hunting and gathering, made civilisation possible.

How the hive-mind made possible by free worldwide information sharing will affect humanity as a whole is harder to predict. Religion won't submit without a struggle to the death: it has more emotion to drive it than rational atheism. Even Dawkins and Hitchens are h=just as fervent in their belief in atheism - it seems that the propensity for fervent belief is an inherited trait, like the ability to learn a language. I'd go for selling the opposite of Pascal's Wager - that one should live as though there were no recompense in heaven - to stop peple from sacrificing their one-and-only lives.

Perhaps intelligence is coming into its own at last and, as you say, will supercede professionalism. Society has been dominated by professionals who educate their children to become professionals in their place thus maintaining the status quo and opposing change and progress. Another Bernard Shaw quote - "All professions are a conspiracy against the layman".
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