Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Intelligence and Wisdom.

Ferdinand Bardamu has put up quite a good post on the subject of intelligence. For the most part I agree with his views but it has got me thinking on the subject of wisdom and intelligence.  I suppose want to start with a few definitions.

Intelligence: The capacity to process information.
Wisdom: The ability to get things right. (I've chosen this definition because by implication the wise man always chooses the correct course of action, while the foolish man gets it wrong)

Now, I disagree with Ferdinand, in that I think we can measure intelligence. From the moment Binet started measuring intelligence, naysayers had always found "flaws" in his testing and all sorts of objections were raised against them. Binet's response to his critics was that the people who society considers intelligent are the ones who do well at his tests. I think this is fairly self evident.

The HBD crowd place a great deal of emphasis on the faculty of intelligence, seeing it as a some sort genetic Calvinism, separating the elect from the damned. Personally, whilst I think it is very important, I feel it's uber-elevation in amongst the HBD crowd is misplaced.

To make crude analogy IQ can be rougly compared to computing power. The high IQ man having a supercharged Intel processor, the common dullard, a simple transistor.

Now the quality of the processing is only as good as the data being fed to the processor, as the old computer adage goes, "garbage in, garbage out". What's happening right now amongst many of our high IQ set is that many of their input variables are simply rubbish.  Despite their high IQ, the conclusions that they form from their thought processes are wrong.

In a specialist fields such as physics and maths, reasoning is constrained by hard data, universally agreed upon constants and formulae,  and the rules of logic. There is very little "garbage in". As such the quality of the output is contingent upon the quality of the processor. Ultimately the test of any theory is its concordance with reality, and amongst the physical sciences this is easy to demonstrate.
Smart people have it easy in these fields and thrash their lesser endowed competitors.

The problem of the clever sillies really starts to rear its head when it comes to less defined subjects or subjects requiring data from broad spread of seemingly unrelated inputs. Here data does not resemble X=y, rather I believe X=y or let us assume that X=y. Here the predicate data may or may not have any bearing on reality. Crappy inital data produces crappy output, no matter how good the processor and the problem with many of the "high intelligence" advocates don't seem to recognise is many of the high IQ crowd have problems when it comes to non-rigidly defined input data.

The silly physicist does not approach the subject of the weight of carbon as an opinion, but as a fact. On the other hand, that same physicist's love life may be miserable because his assumptions about women, which are completely wrong, are treated and processed like facts. Likewise his finances may be a mess because of his financial beliefs, i.e house prices always go up, which are similarly treated as facts. In my experience, many of the intelligent people I know are usually very smart within their fields but go along with the crowd for everything else(SWPL). High intelligence is no protection against unrecognised erroneous assumption.

Sometimes the assumption is not erranous, but deliberately willed and information which directly contradicts it is filtered away. (See Orwell. Crimestop and Thoughtcrime). Paging Phil Jones.  Sometimes the assumption is simply not investigated because of time or dispositional constraints. The bottom line here is that no matter how good your brain is, if the underlying assumptions under which it operates are false then its conclusions are going to be wrong. The implicit assumption by the  HBD crowd seems to be that universal data objectivity is somehow correlated with high IQ. That assumption is tenuous at best.

These assumptions, with which a person operates with on a day to day basis, can best be thought of as a person's weltanschauung, and the average upper middle class man's assumptions can be thought of as conforming to the Liberal world view. As I have argued before, many of the liberal assumptions are wrong. It's no wonder that our managerial class gets it wrong on so many issues, despite it being the best and brightest.

Wisdom in a certain sense, precedes intelligence. Since wisdom requires an accurate(and reality conforming) weltanschauung. Wisdom's quality, lies not so much in an ability to process information, but rather, in not having faulty premises which will corrupt reasoning. It is a form of knowledge, and its correlate with age, simply a result of false assumption being "mugged by reality". It's also why simple people with modest intellects can frequently get things right whilst their smarter "betters" get things wrong: They don't start off with stupid premises. Wise people have a global grasp on reality.

Klaus Fuchs was without doubt a brilliant nuclear physicist. But his naivete about the rest of the world was astounding. He confessed in the false hope that he would be allowed to return to top secret nuclear weapons research work (after being found out as a spy for the Soviets!). His confession, an excellent example of the clever sillies.


Anonymous said...

Sowell's "Intellectuals and Society" is relevant here.

Jehu said...

People focus on IQ because it's fairly difficult to spoof and readily measureable. Other things, that are often at least as important, like executive function or wisdom are way harder to measure and tests to measure them can easily be deceived (particularly by those with high IQ). Here's a retrospective test for wisdom though in the US. If your answer is Yes, you're about a sigma above the mean in wisdom.

Do you find yourself able to live within your means?

My estimate is that no more than about 1/6 of the population passes this test, and it's a question that norms itself for your economic condition automatically through human nature (a lot of very high income people have truly awful balance sheets because they spend even more than they make).

Come to think of it, this may be a large part of the reason why so many folks like to use credit rating scores far outside their intended application.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon 4.20

I just wish I had time to read all of these book recommendations! I've had a look at Sowell discussing his book on Youtube, and can see how my thoughts and his are similar. Sowell however seems to using and Austrian type of argument is saying that intellectuals simply lack the prerequisite knowledge to run vast systems. (A point I would agree with with some qualification) My point is thought, that many intellectuals argue from false premises and their failure stems not from a capacity of their intellect, but from the consequences of reasoning from false premises.


Do you find yourself able to live within your means?

An there lies the long term failure of democracy. If 5/6 of the population can't manage their own affairs, what sense is there is giving them a say in the running of the country? Government is a reflection of the people.

Jehu said...

Democracy isn't about sense, or correctness, or virtue for that matter. It has precisely one virtue when it is within its envelope of operation. A majority vote generally accurately predicts the outcome of a question if a revolution were to be held on said question. This removes the incentive for said revolution. Unfortunately, this property breaks down if you get a dislocation of aggregate military power vs aggregate electoral power.

modernguy said...

Mental acrobatics in some abstract field is often a comfortable escape from the difficulties of ordinary life where intelligent but socially frustrated people can excel. The fact is that socially, intelligence is not much rewarded, at least not nearly as much as social savvy. Social situations present an element of risk and require a practical understanding that abstract academic pursuits don't, and the man who avoids development in that area will be ill suited for a position of responsibility. That's why people in power have expert advisers who are themselves not in a position to make important decisions.

The Social Pathologist said...
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The Social Pathologist said...


You've made quite a good point. Brains alone are not enough. A lot of individuals with high IQ have miserable "social IQ". Medicine is famous for it technically brilliant yet socially retarded individuals.

The other important point to note, is that getting other people to co-operate with you involves more than just putting forward a logical argument, there needs to be things such as charisma and style. Too many theoreticians bemoaning the world fail to take account of this.

Mike Courtman said...

The impact of intelligence is also limited by temperament.

Many high IQ people are introverts who don't get out that much and have to make a lot of assumptions based on logical reasoning. Since the world is often very complex and even irrational such assumptions can easily be wrong, making the the high IQ introvert look stupid.

By contrast, extroverted people spend more time out in the real world testing their assumptions. This can give them a big advantage, particularly in fields like advertising and sales where understanding of the irrational aspects of human nature is very important.

On the other hand extroverts struggle to have profound thoughts and are often quite intellectually superficial (even when they have a high IQ) since they are slaves to the external world and don't tend to reflect on things in private the way introverts do. Or to put it another way, if finding out about the truth gets in the way of being popular and successful, many extroverts would prefer not to know about it.

The Social Pathologist said...


Thanks for your comments, they're quite insightful.

I don't think extroverts test the real world as much as they experience it. Any false ideas being rapidly culled by the experience of reality.

I suppose the problem with many of our elites is, given their wealth, they actually manage to insulate themselves against the consequences of their decisions. I've often thought that one of the best ways to reform social policy is to get the policy advocates to live amongst the consequences of their decisions.

Once again, thanks for chiming in.

M. Simon said...

The wise man always gets it right?

OK. The wiser man knows how to course correct. Very valuable if you are not wise enough to always get it right.

BTW I'm not interested in having the wise man with me when there are a LOT of unknowns. I prefer the wiser man in such situations. Just in case mistakes are made.

The Deuce said...

I actually agree with FB that "intelligence" probably isn't an optimal word for what IQ tests measure, because the colloquial use of the term includes a lot of concepts that IQ tests don't measure (creativity, knowledgeability, rationality, etc).

On the other hand, I don't think "cleverness" is a good term for it either. For one thing, the colloquial use of "clever" includes an element of creativity, which, again, is something that IQ tests don't measure.

What IQ tests do measure is a person's ability to recognize and learn widely accepted, pre-defined rules, and to correctly apply them to pre-defined questions to reach pre-defined answers. Not sure there's an easy word for that though.

FB is right that what we really need is more wisdom (or "intelligence" as he calls it). But his desire to find a quantifiable genetic or environmental cause of that trait is hopeless, because we are banging into metaphysics here. Wisdom - the tendency to believe things that are true and to act accordingly - cannot be quantified or measured, because the truth cannot be quantified or measured.

Our culture is dying because it is foolish - it no longer believes very important things that are true. No amount of selective breeding, no "just right" average IQ, can save it from that.

Btw, I wrote something rather relevant to this not that long ago, followed by a long conversation with a guy who pretty obviously didn't get what I meant, forcing an excruciating exposition of what was supposed to be an amusing pithy remark:
(Yes, I did just give away my identity. Oh well)

Dirichlet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dirichlet said...

(@SP: Can you delete the previous post? I'm fixing the grammar here)

I'm late to this post, but I'd like to point out that Bruce G. Charlton has talked about this topic several times. There is an article in which he discusses his concept of the "clever-silly," an individual with a very high capacity for abstraction (i.e. a high IQ) who uses it to override and replace the instinctive responses for social situations that we humans possess, leading to catastrophic results.

As an example, consider the young man who is interested in a certain attractive female. Like all humans, he possesses the instinctive means necessary to court her, and he is likely to succeed if he follows them. The "clever-silly" will attempt to rationalize the possible responses and scenarios and come up with an optimization strategy based on unrealistic assumptions (some of them might even be informed by the modern ideology "gender theory"). He will probably be rejected.

What I like about Charlton's analysis is how he connects it with modern society. The majority of individuals in our cognitive elites are clever-sillies, as a consequence of the belief in the rule of the "best and brightest" (a modern interpretation of the philosopher-king ideal). The use of their capacity for abstract thought in social situations leads to large-scale social engineering with the disastrous consequences we are witnessing today.

Here's a link to the article. Totally pro-read.

Dirichlet said...

@SP: I just wrote an entire comment here, but the blogspot anti-spam filter killed it. If you received it in your mailbox, maybe you can copy/paste it? Otherwise I'll just type it again.

The Social Pathologist said...


Dirichlet said...

Thanks SP. I just saw that you are already familiar with Charlton's work, so maybe my comment doesn't have much to add.

Unknown said...

How can you constantly call people sheep for believing what they are told, yet subscribe to catholicism, easily the biggest BS story known to man?

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