What You Think, I Don’t Think

One of the benefits of learning I am on the autism spectrum has been the realization–the very deep realization–that practically nobody thinks like me. I don’t think most people really realize that others don’t think like them. At least, not in such a way that it affects their world view.

Most people think that other people are exactly like them. If someone acts in a way different from them, that difference is seen as a flaw or fault (the social justice warriors only invert this and declare that Western differences are flaws). Many men see women as flawed men; many women see men as flawed women. They’re both wrong.

The social sciences and the humanities are a complete mess because of this. Academics think everyone else thinks like them–like academics. Practically every stupid thing Marx thought can be traced to this fact. He looked upon the working masses with pity that they have to work at jobs they did not inherently enjoy, not realizing that only a few people thought that any work at all could or would be inherently enjoyable. The academic, the scientist, the artist, the inventor, the entrepreneur all find their work inherently pleasurable to do. Them, and nobody else. 20% of the population at best. The other 80% would rather be watching TV or browsing the internet. There is no work out there they would find inherently enjoyable. They work only because they must, and if they didn’t have to, they wouldn’t do a thing.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I recently had some middle school kids tell me they thought the reading and writing I love was boring. Well, of course they did. Almost everyone on earth agrees with them. Very few love to read, and fewer still love to write. I decided to tease them by telling them I didn’t like sports because I find sports to be boring. They couldn’t even begin to imagine such a thing. They couldn’t imagine me finding sports boring any more than they could imagine finding reading and writing interesting, let alone a great joy.

So long as social scientists think everyone is really just like them, they are going to get practically everything in the social sciences wrong. There are a few who manage to have a great enough connection with non-academics, with that other 80%, to have non-stupid ideas in the social sciences, but they are very few indeed. Even those who come from working class backgrounds seem utterly oblivious–they likely spent most of their own childhoods with their nose in a book, and didn’t realize nobody else around them did or thought the things they did. And when they got into college, let alone grad school, that was the last they set eyes on any non-academic outside their own parents, who they called less and less often as the years went on.

And think about this: the people who most love learning and academics are the ones who are trying to reform education for the 80% who don’t.

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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.

Yes, the Social Sciences Are Sciences

There are many who do not think the social sciences—including economics—should be considered to be sciences. They do so for a variety of reasons.

One objection I keep seeing is that because you cannot make accurate predictions within the social sciences, they cannot be sciences. By this logic, biology isn’t a science, either, because you cannot make predictions in biology. Some of the earliest work in genetics fooled many people into believing you could, but it turns out that 1:1 gene:expression is extremely rare. Mendel lucked out with his peas. Most traits are expressed in rather complex ways, within the context of the other genes, epigenetic effects, and the environment. This generally renders prediction impossible.

Another similar objection is that the social sciences are too complex to understand. But the presence of complexity doesn’t mean understanding is impossible. It is possible to discover patterns and emergent laws in a complex system. In economics, we have discovered the law of supply and demand. It’s always and everywhere true—all other things held constant. The fact that different contexts will affect the degree of elasticity or overwhelm the effect or require major digging down to see how it applies in no way means supply and demand isn’t a law of economics. Complexity actually requires the emergence of laws for there to be complexity. Otherwise, you don’t have complexity, you simply have randomness.

Too many others simply reject the social sciences as sciences because the discoveries don’t fit their ideologies. In this they are like those creationists who reject evolution as science (declaring as “merely a theory”). Just because you want to increase the minimum wage because you think it’s “fair” to do so, that doesn’t mean that the economic law of supply and demand is bunk. If you increase the minimum wage, you will increase unemployment (again, everything else being held constant).

Just because the social sciences aren’t simple like physic and chemistry, that doesn’t mean they’re not sciences. They are sciences. They are complexity sciences. And in many ways, chemistry and physics are only recently starting to catch up and describe many of their processes in similar ways. Does the unpredictablility of the weather over the long term mean meteorology isn’t a science? It would be foolish to claim so. Meteorology is a complexity science. Because it deals with a relatively small number of variables and known laws, we have a fairly high level of predictability. But even so, the weather person can be off even the next day.

We have to get our minds around the fact that there are complexity sciences out there. When we study them, we are trying to work out their emergent laws. The fact that the processes we are studying are complex doesn’t mean they don’t have laws. That’s an important point to understand. Those laws do exist, and those laws interact with each other to create emergent patterns of behavior. In other words, precise predictions are impossible in complex systems, but pattern predictions most certainly are not. We have to get past our demands for absolute, clear, black-or-white answers and embrace instead strange attractor, edge-of-order-and-chaos, ambiguous answers. Because those answers are also true.