Intelligence

In his book “On Intelligence,” Jeff Hawkins says that intelligence is the ability to detect and predict patterns. I would go a step further and say that the signature of human intelligence is the ability to then create new patterns. If we look to what it is that IQ tests test for, it is pattern recognition. The more complex the patterns are that one can recognize, the more intelligent a person is said to be. Of course, there are many kinds of patterns, and some people are better at picking up some kinds patterns than they are at others. Thus there could be social intelligence, emotional intelligence, psychological intelligence, artistic intelligence, literary intelligence, memory-intelligence, mathematical intelligence, etc. Some patterns, like those in math, are extremely simple patterns — so simple that math is difficult for many people.

So we see a variety of kinds of intelligence. We should also then expect that, with the way we measure IQ, we should see differences in IQ based on the complexity of a society one finds oneself in. People in more complex societies, cultures, and sub-cultures would then test as having higher IQs than do those in less complex societies, precisely because those in more complex societies would be more likely to encounter and have to recognize more complex patterns. Complexity in a society (or in a person’s mind) is something that emerges over time. Some places, due to any number of factors, have more complex societies than others. When an environment changes, a society can and oftentimes will react to become more complex. This helps to make sense of the fact that IQ has steadily gone up in Western countries throughout the 20th century (it doesn’t appear to be the case only because by definition 100 is average, meaning they have had to modify the tests). Obviously, evolution could not be working quite that fast, to make people at the end of the 20th century smarter than those at the beginning. However, I think we can all recognize that Western culture and society have gotten more complex over that same period. People living in the more complex societies, being exposed to more complex patterns, would naturally be able to detect the more complex patterns associated with high IQ. This also makes sense of the fact that IQ can and does oftentimes go up as a person gets older. Some children can see complex patterns right away and easily. Others learn to do so.

Is there a genetic component to IQ? Unquestionably. But with 1/3 of our genes being expressed exclusively in the brain, good luck figuring out what combinations make for high intelligence. Also, the massive shifts and migrations of people throughout history and pre-history, along with the bottlenecking that occurred several tens of thousands of years ago to make us almost genetically identical, makes any racial component to IQ so unlikely as to be almost laughable. Intelligence comes about through the interaction of genes and environment, and the more complex the environment is, the higher the IQ of the people in that environment. As noted, social-cultural-environmental differences are accidents of geography as much as anything, as Jared Diamond observed in “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” As the world becomes more complex, other cultures around the world will respond to that complexity — sometimes by lashing out, sometimes by becoming more complex themselves. But we have to recognize that this is where the differences lie: in our psychosocial complexity. It is that component to IQ that is variable among groups, not genes. The world we live in, and how complex we think the world is that we live in, makes a difference. Individual differences, rather than group differences, may be another matter, as different individuals may be better or worse at detecting patterns, or certain kinds of patterns. And there is certainly a difference in ability to create new patterns. Artists, poets, and musicians aren’t all that common, after all. But my guess is that they are also less common than they could be.

Leftist Values?

The contemporary Left is postmodern. Postmodernists say there are no values (or that there can be no hierarchy of values). So isn’t it an oxymoron for someone to say that they have Left-wing values? Wouldn’t this come into conflict with their postmodernism?

Of course, this is an issue not just with the postmodern Left, but with the postmodern Right as well. You may recognize the postmodern Right by another name: neoliberals.

Our contemporary culture is dominated by anti-value postmodernism. And Trump is the President of that movement. He is everything the postmodernists, Left and Right, have been saying they wanted. But now that they have him, we get the same old aw: “But that’s not what we meant!” Of course it’s what you meant, just like Stalin is what Marx meant. Fortunately, postmodernism has no principles with which to justify directly murdering millions, so there is that.

A Few Observations on Oil and Alcohol

Basic economics shows that we will never run out of oil. As we use up the supply of oil, the price will go up. This will make it more economical to locate and drill harder-to-reach reserves. Higher oil prices will also result in the creation of alternatives, as it will be worth looking for and developing those alternatives. Over longer periods of time, as oil gets used up and the price of oil goes up in response to supply, less oil will be used, and more alternatives will be created, until we are completely converted to the alternatives — sometime before we ever use up all the oil. There will eventually be a price where nobody cares to get any of the oil, and what is left will stay there. Thus, we will never, ever run out of oil. It’s basic economic principles. There will be alternatives.

The car, for example, is an alternative to the horse. A plane is an alternative to either one. A computer is an alternative to the abacus, to pen and paper, etc. During the bronze age, who would have thought of iron as an alternative? The microwave is an alternative to fire. Petroleum, when whale oil became expensive due to a shortage of whales, became an alternative. Some of these pre-existed. Some were invented later.

An alternative in the economic sense is not necessarily something that replaces another object exactly. When we run out of oil, it will become more economically feasible to come up with alternatives — many of which, like so many things in the past — haven’t even been thought of yet.

I have no doubt that it will happen, because it has always happened. Always.

Now one may object that all the alternatives to oil have, so far, been inferior. But just because they have been inferior so far, that doesn’t mean they will continue to be. Many falsely assume that the price of oil will remain constant, meaning people will continue to use it as the same rate, until it runs out, and that nobody will have any incentive to find alternatives. But, again, as the price of oil goes up as supply goes down, it will be economically viable to find better alternatives. What we are getting now is government-subsidized alternatives — so we shouldn’t be surprised at what we are getting. Things will change when market pressures create an actual demand for real alternatives. These new ways of doing things won’t be done with government — unless there is the coincidence of creating a bomb whose power source can also be used for energy production (i.e., nuclear power). I’d rather the market find a solution than to have the government bomb its way into one.

And this brings me to government-subsidized alcohol. Is it really a good idea to turn our food into fuel? That just seems like a bad substitute right on the face of it. One could argue that it’s also a bad idea to wash cars, since that uses up water we could be drinking, but we need to beware of false analogies. There is much, much, much more water than there is corn. If we wash our cars, it doesn’t raise the price of water enough not to drink it. But the rise in the price of corn that has already occurred has resulted in problems in Mexico with availability of corn for tortillas, driving up the price of a main staple there — among some of the poorest people. Further, it has driven up the price of meat, because corn is a food for chicken, pigs, and cows. When the price of feed goes up, the price of meat goes up. This, again, hurts the poor far more than any other group.

So, again, it is incredibly stupid to use food to fuel. And it hurt the poor. But that just means that ethanol is just another thing liberals have latched on to that causes harm to the poor. When your every economic policy harms the poor, one begins to wonder why you want so bad to make their lives worse.

The Kingdom of God

Once upon a time, Barack Obama asked a church audience in South Carolina to help him become “an instrument of God” and join him in creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth.”

I do not like such rhetoric coming from either conservatives or liberals. Think about it: what would you do to achieve heaven on earth, if you really though it possible? With conservatives, it is often a question of personal ethics. With progressives like Obama, it is a question of economics. Do not be mistaken: Obama’s concerns as President were materialistic, not spiritual. We were fortunate he didn’t actually do much during his eight years to try to fulfill that rhetoric. To the extent Obama was a successful President, it’s only because of the extent to which he was a failure at getting his vision enacted.

We have seen many attempts throughout history to make a Kingdom of God here on Earth. If Obama had meant what he said, he would have aligned himself with the likes of Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, and Chavez in their attempts to create a Heaven on Earth. The implications are troubling: each of these men attempted to in a real sense “finish God’s work” which He had poorly done of making the earth and human beings in it. If you are a Christian, Muslim, or Jew especially this should be most troubling. What person has the right to assume that God’s work on earth is incomplete and that they know how to make heaven on Earth? And for an agnostic or atheist, this should sound at best silly, and at worst dangerous.

But there are still those who buy into utopian visions. Impatient for Heaven, people want to create it on Earth. And I would venture to guess that their vision in no way matches that of Heaven itself. No, it rather is a vision of their own making. “If I were God, this is how I would formulate the world.” And indeed, the secular religion of Leftism/Progressivism which defies government now that God is dead are precisely interested in making the world in their own image. And it doesn’t matter how good a person someone is, or how moral or ethical, or how well-intentioned (oh, beware of the well-intentioned!). What is at issue is the disconnect these people have with the world. They abide by Marx’s dictum that “The point is not to understand the world, but to change it.” This is a recipe for disaster. And it has been, repeatedly — some more egregious than others. No, the point is to understand the world before you understand how you can change it to get the actual outcomes you seek. This, of course, assumes that a politician’s intentions are to realize the goals he seeks, and not to merely gain more power for himself.

One last word for those who still think we should try to create Heaven on Earth: we have—as William Blake rightly observes in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” And prior to that, he observes that if when the world is cleansed, “the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.” And there is the point: the world appears to us to be finite and corrupt, when it is in fact infinite and holy. If you cannot understand that the world is in fact and already holy—if you agree that we can and should try to make “Heaven on Earth”—then you need to have your doors of perception cleansed. To paraphrase Heraclitus: “Men have supposed some things to be unjust, others just, while God sees the world as beautiful and good and just.”

Shutting Down Argument

Isn’t it, on the surface at least, odd that progressives in the U.S. are attacking free speech?

First, there’s political correctness, which is a clear attack on free speech. It also has the effect of not letting anyone know who the real jerks are in society, as they don’t speak up as much, or as clearly, as they once used to. At least, until recently. Which is a predictable backlash.

What’s strangest is the recent bout of truthiness from both the left and the right. Trump hardly invented it, but he’s certainly mastered it. And in the media the more egregious forms of selective editing to literally construct a false accusation would make you wonder if they really think they can get away with what they do, with the current state of information technology and availability–and yet, they do. Of course, the promulgators of truthiness also know that many of their target audience will just accept them at their word. They prey on the ignorant. And that should worry us, that they would be willing to misrepresent what someone said to persuade those they know to be ignorant and lazy (too lazy to find out what was really said, at least). Shouldn’t that bother you, to know that that is what the media and politicians all think of you?

I said above that it appears, on the surface, odd that progressives in the U.S. are attacking free speech. But in fact, it is not all that odd. They have been doing so for a while now, particularly through political correctness. And we should equally be aware of what it is that they mean by “freedom of speech.” If you pay close attention to the way they talk about it, you will see that they do not mean that you should have the freedom to say what is on your mind. They use it more often than not to argue that people should not criticize what they say. To them, freedom of speech is freedom from having what they say criticized by others. That is not what freedom of speech is. It is in fact the freedom to both say what you want, and to criticize what others say. If you cannot criticize what others say, there is no freedom of speech. That is precisely the kind of speech which needs to be protected.

But these protections should only be against the government. It is the government which has no right under the Constitution to prevent anyone from speaking, whether it is directly, through force, or indirectly, through laws laws that regulate speech in various ways through regulating the media. If I don’t like what someone says, I don’t have to listen to them. If I don’t like what a talk show host says, I don’t have to tune in, and I don’t have to positively respond to their advertisers. That is my right. But the government does not have the right to prevent anyone from speaking. It does not have the right to shut down any T.V. or radio station for what anyone says on it. It does not have the right to prevent any book from being published. It does not have a right to silence speakers. Those who want to silence others do not themselves have anything positive to offer in rebuttal. And if their ideas are not finding a voice, it is because nobody wants to listen.

And that is the bottom line, isn’t it? Why else would you adopt strong-arm bullying tactics? You don’t need to force your opposition to stop speaking if you have a stronger argument. When you have to resort to force in face of someone else’s argument, that is a tacit admission that your argument is weak to the point of failure. You know you don’t have a leg to stand on, so you lash out. This is true if the argument is from the Left or the Right, from conservatives or progressives.

A Few Thoughts on Economics

In order to have a living complex system, which means that grows at an exponential rate, you have to have a few attributes. 1) You have to have a sufficient density of entities in the system; 2) they have to be able to interact freely to create rules that allow for complex interactions; 3) there must be a hierarchy of complex subsystems within the system as a whole that are themselves capable of freely creating their own rules of behavior. All of which means that 4) there must be a reduction of top-down control, meaning a reduction of dominance of one particular subsystem in the system as a whole.

An understanding of how one gets the creation of complex systems with emergent properties of behavior (Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”) would go a long way to helping one to understand growth in general, and economic growth in particular.

I’ve noticed in conversations with people that economic thinking is counter-intuitive, but if you can get the person to actually listen to the explanation, they end up with no choice but to agree with you. We seem to have evolved to understand the world in ways that are counter-intuitive to both quantum physics and economics. The former for reasons of dealing with macroscopic reality; the latter for reasons of having evolved in small social groups. Truly economic systems evolved only in the last few thousand years, and we have not had time to evolve to them. Economic systems are complex systems with emergent properties, and we do not always fully understand such systems on an intuitive level. However, people can be educated to understand the nature of complex systems in general, and economic systems in particular — and that is what we really need to work to do. Precisely because, though correct, economic thinking is counter-intuitive.

Zero Sum Games

In a free economy everyone has the opportunity to get better because the economy is a non-zero-sum game.

Most people in developing nations would rather be poor in the U.S. than middle classed in their own countries. And it’s because the working poor have it better off here than do most people (except the ruling elite, of course) in developing nations.

Certainly the U.S. isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have as free an economy as it could and should have, but its relative freedom allows for a positive-sum economy that makes it possible for all boats to rise. I don’t particularly care if other boats rise faster, either, as that sort of “fairness,” or egalitarianism, only pushes the economy toward increasing zero-sumness.

The point is, in a free economy, I am not hurt in any way, shape, or form if there are others who have more than I do, because they are not taking anything from me in a positive sum game. Their wealth does not impoverish me. To complain about someone else’s wealth is like complaining about someone else being ethical, as though their being good somehow prevented me from being good. The first attitude resulted in the gulag, and the second attitude resulted in the attacks by the Islamic terrorists on 9-11.

The bottom line is that the belief in a zero-sum world has resulted in a lot of deaths, and will continue to do so until we recognize that the world isn’t a zero-sum game, and never has been, and never will be.