Posts tagged with intelligence

Statisticians are crystal clear on human variation. They know that not everyone is the same. When they speak about groups in general terms, they know that they are reducing N-dimensional reality to a 1-dimensional single parameter.

Nevertheless, statisticians permit, in their regression models, variables that only take on one value, such as {0,1} for male/female or {a,b,c,d} for married/never-married/divorced/widowed.
No one doing this believes that all such people are the same. And anyone who’s done the least bit of data cleaning knows that there will be NA's, wrongly coded cases, mistaken observations, ill-defined measures, and aberrances of other kinds. It can still be convenient to use binary or n-ary dummies to speak simply. Maybe the marriages of some people coded as currently married are on the rocks, and therefore they are more like divorced—or like a new category of people in the midst of watching their lives fall apart. Yes, we know. But what are you going to do—ask respondents to rate their marriage on a scale of one to ten? That would introduce false precision and model error, and might put respondents in such a strange mood that they answer other questions strangely. Better to just live with being wrong. Any statistician who uses the cut function in R knows that the variable didn’t become basketed←continuous in reality. But a facet_wrap plot is easier to interpret than a 3D wireframe or cloud-points plot.

To the precise mind, there’s a world of difference between saying

  • "the mean height of men > the mean height of women", and saying
  • "men are taller than women".


Of course one can interpret the second statement to be just a vaguer, simpler inflection of the first. But some people understand  statements like the second to mean “each man is taller than each woman”. Or, perniciously, they take “Blacks have lower IQ than Whites” to mean “every Black is mentally inferior to every White.”

I want to live somewhere between pedantry and ignorance. We can give each other a break on the precision as long as the precise idea behind the words is mutually understood.


Dummyisation is different to stereotyping because:

  • stereotypes deny variability in the group being discussed
  • dummyisation acknowledges that it’s incorrect, before even starting
  • stereotyping relies on familiar categories or groupings like skin colour
  • dummyisation can be applied to any partitioning of a set, like based on height or even grouped at random

It’s the world of difference between taking on a hypotheticals for the purpose of reaching a valid conclusion, and bludgeoning someone who doesn’t accept your version of the facts.

So this is a word I want to coin (unless a better one already exists—does it?):

  • dummyisation is assigning one value to a group or region
  • for convenience of the present discussion,
  • recognising fully that other groupings are possible
  • and that, in reality, not everyone from the group is alike.
  • Instead, we apply some ∞→1 function or operator on the truly variable, unknown, and variform distribution or manifold of reality, and talk about the results of that function.
  • We do this knowing it’s technically wrong, as a (hopefully productive) way of mulling over the facts from different viewpoints.

In other words, dummyisation is purposely doing something wrong for the sake of discussion.

I had to tell someone what £20−£12.25 was. At first I thought she was stupid. You really don’t know? But then I realised that many people can’t do mental arithmetic of the variety £20−£7.75; they just don’t admit it or ask for help. Then I thought she was smart.


I read somewhere that dyslexia is overrepresented among CEO’s. The person who pointed it out speculated that it’s because dyslexics are used to asking others for help. No matter how brilliant you are, you can’t be good at everything a large organisation needs to do. How are you going to be the person at the top if you’re more focussed on being brilliant yourself rather than seeking help from someone who’s smarter than you?

John Bonner’s slime mould movies (por princetonuniversity)

  • some slimes altruistically sacrifice themselves,
  • the individuals communicate based on micro rules to make a macro (emergent) decision “together”, yet without a central planning slime
  • the slimes move around (like animals), yet also form a “stem” and grow upwards (like plants), yet also shoot spores out of the top (like fungi).

Much learning does not teach understanding; else it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hecataeus.

Heraclitus (who died ∼475 BC)

via University of David

I might be exaggerating a little if I say things like

  • We’re taught to measure our personal worth against exam scores;
  • We’re taught that there is One Competition and those who win the tournament get the goodies;
  • We’re taught that the children of Tiger Moms go to Yale and then Harvard Law and then become McKinsey consultants and then go on to head large corporations or i-banking or essentially win at life and rule the world in myriad ways;
  • We’re taught that the rest of us suck.

But I wouldn’t be completely making sh_t up. Those messages, or something like them, ∃ in the culture I come from and maybe in the culture you come from as well. Peter Thiel described a tournament to get into an Ivy League school, followed by a harder tournament to get into Stanford Law, followed by a harder tournament on Wall Street, … and left out of his story the 99.99% of us who didn’t even make it to the first tournament.

What about the supermajority? I’m pretty sure a hundred weak people can lift more weight than the strongest man on Earth. And I’m even more sure that the 50 smartest people on the planet can’t run Wall Street by themselves—let alone all the shops, shipyards, data centres, and engineering the runways of the airstrips to a millimetre of precision, that make up the economy.


So what about the rest of us? How much sense does it make to see the world in Thiel’s terms—the best versus the rest?

Well basic economics 101 tells us that a modern economy is made up of many specialised actors. The people who bend the tubes to make neon lights don’t know much about sewing shoes or sourcing the material for shoes, and none of those people know—or should know—how to do Ruby on Rails or Haskell.

Some people who research expertise also have developed a theory of 10,000 hours. If you practise something for 10^4 hours—so five years of work experience or ten years as a very, very consistent hobby—then you become awesome at it. A related theory is that if I have been doing something for a year or two and Peter Thiel tries to compete with me on it, I will still win regardless that he’s a chess master and a Stanford Law graduate and handsome and so on.

In other words, ∃ an equally or more compelling narrative than the A Player narrative: about everybody being different and that being okay and in fact more efficient.

Viewing education as a signalling mechanism to rank a one-dimensional hierarchy of best to worst people is one possibility—and one that BCG possibly uses to its advantage in applying profitable friction to the large companies who for some reason decide that some A+++ 24-year-olds know how to run their business better than they do. (Ooh, I really wanted to work in ‘fiction’ and ‘friction’ somehow. Too bad I was never a good enough student or I could have worked it.) But the dominant messages I hear from people who went into highly-paid frictional professions—accounting, law, consulting, finance—are that they want their kids to “find their own path”—i.e., do something with a tangible contribution to the society. Not necessarily fundraising for Laotian villagers, but something profitable that measurably increases the wealth of their community.


So the “everyone is a special individual” message doesn’t just come from warmhearted Kindergarten teachers wearing seashell necklaces. If specialisation, difference, and diversity are more important than uniformly learning

  • the same parts of history,
  • the same mathematics,
  • and being compared to each other on a fabricated 7-dimensional scale (grades)
  • to see if we can get to be included in the golden inner circle of whatever mysterious ritual the white-shoe white-collar firms perform to add an order of magnitude more value to their customers per employee,

— then the hard-nosed economists are also telling us the same message. Maybe it is not about me being better than you and worse than Peter Thiel, but rather a high-dimensional poset network of symplectic skills and attributes, mostly not substitutable by smart people over dumb people and yet all worth pursuing as they complementarily add size to the world GDP.

We are telling kids who are good at school that they have better opportunities than others (and kids that are not good at school that they are doomed). Then we are telling kids who are good at school to stay in school. We (including politicians who make policy that entrenches this) are telling kids that being good at school is the key thing needed to earn a decent living.

This is ALL lies.

The fact that we then compound those lies by telling the people who are good at university that they should stay in university and that if they are really good someone will eventually pay them to stay in university is just the icing on the cake of lies.


(I changed s/that/who/ in a few cases)


In philosophical debates about absolute truth, people cite “the truths of pure mathematics” as beyond reproach—eternal and universal things discovered/invented by us fallible mortals. But the more deeply I look into these issues myself, the more I see evidence that mathematics is not as stable as I’d supposed:

  • constructivists and intuitionists argue that the foundations of mathematics don’t make sense
  • logicians accuse mathematicians of not being rigorous enough
  • mathematicians themselves admit they totally ignore foundational issues and just concentrate on getting interesting results that make sense within their set of assumptions and could probably be “straightened up” to satisfy the logicians
  • Bill Thurston referred to mathematics itself as a social entity — it is the dynamical creation of a community, it lives inside the heads of the people who prove these things and not on paper.
  • John L Bell and Geoffrey Hellman: “Contrary to the popular (mis)conception of mathematics as a cut-and-dried body of universally agreed upon truths and methods, as soon as one examines the foundations of mathematics, one encounters divergences of viewpoint and failures of communication that can easily remind one of religious, schismatic controversy.

Norman Wildberger thinks real numbers have been a wrong turning in mathematics. He also claims, here in the video above, that angles θ are illogical. (Or maybe I should say, certain angles are used illogically.) Some angles, like 60°, can be constructed via ruler and compass. But other angles like 34° and 26° are not constructible.

So although “I know what you mean” when you talk about a real number or an angle that measures 90.1°, maybe we should both recognise that they don’t really make sense and speak in air quotes.


Related but different. On the topic of left-brains, right-brains, closed-minds, and open-minds in science. You can see youtube user njwildberger being beaten up on the XKCD forums for suggesting such unconventional and—ick!—philosophical ideas. Listen to these self-satisfied, smarter-than-thou sabelotodos savaging the “ridiculousness” of someone who would undercut this Well Established Knowledge.

I find that incredible because XKCD’s vision of science seems to be about open-mindedness, learning from data, and accepting the truth based on logic rather than tradition or popularity.

The Data So Far


OK, “data” needs to be replaced with something else in theoretical maths. But you could at least listen to what the guy’s saying rather than his credentials or his sweatpants. (Conversely: if John Conway says it, does that make it true? He gives talks in sweatpants as well.)

I bet ≥ some of these know-it-alls have lauded Galileo for smashing the accepted wisdoms handed down from Aristotle with cold, hard logic. What’s the difference to making fun of njwildberger because he’s suggesting something weird or unconventional? Prima facie it makes sense to me.

Maybe you don’t care about the foundational issues (isn’t that called hand-waving elsewhere?), or maybe you can disprove what he’s saying—but this PageRank 7 site is just attacking him rather than his idea. (For example they look at his publication record to see if he’s “someone we should take seriously”.)

You want to know why people aren’t interested in science? I think it’s in part because science and maths is associated with such stuck-up, judgmental people—putting down everyone who’s less “intelligent" than they are.

You may have heard that attitude is everything. Perhaps. How you view the world will definitely affect what you do.

But that’s just it: it is what you do that is important, not how you feel or how you present yourself to the world. Attitude, then, is only as good as the actions that it supports. And in many cases, the actions themselves affect the very attitude you have.

"Sonshi", summarising Sun Tzu’s Art of War


  • ideas of “pure reason" without emotion send us in the wrong direction
  • D. Hume & A. Smith didn’t take such an impoverished view of rationality
  • funny images of successful people with no purpose
  • stories of people with high “EQ” (emotional intelligence / people skills)
  • an excerpt from I Am A Strange Loop where Doug talks about the enduring feeling of oneness he felt with his late wife even after she died
  • a list of traits that constitute a fuller view of intelligence:
  1. ability to get inside other people’s heads
  2. ability to work well in groups
  3. living with ambiguity and uncertainty
  4. gist-making / quick-summary thinking / better “gut instincts”

—David Brooks

[An] IQ test … only measures how good of an IQ tester you are.

1) Believe [it] or not, you can improve IQ test score by PRACTICE. See for yourself. It is no more than a computer game which some people may show great playing ability at first but eventually most of people can excel with lots of playing time. There was a time when some people believed Tetris can be a good measure of how good one’s brain is.

2) [The] IQ test was NOT created to evaluate [an] adult’s brain capability. Researchers devised the test to see if they can discover children with learning disabilities. That means [a] low score is the only meaningful [outcome]. The test was designed to estimate if the children are behind or advanced to their own peers. In other words, it only shows one has a brain as good as normal adults with perfect score.

3) Despite these facts, IQ test can sometimes distinguish smart/less smart people in certain areas. However, so can other measurements (e.g. education, family background, living environment). The issue here is how accurate the measurement is in evaluation of brain functionality. Basically, you will have to measure how fast and efficiently your neurons are working along with density of neurons. Even then, this measurement may have nothing to do in judging one is a genius or not.

4) Nobody’s brain is infinite and [neither] is genius’ brain. One can maximize the productivity in a certain area by eliminating the need of wasting the brain in other areas and solely focus on one area, say mathematics. You can brag about how much you know and fast you can solve a problem; however, developing a new idea is limited to still to the areas you are familiar with. Unlike 1600s, there is too much to know and understand to master the entire area of mathematics or a piece of area in mathematics.

5) Speaking of understanding, how do you accelerate the speed of understanding? As prof. Tao pointed [out], one should have enough knowledge to process the reasoning. As you know more about the field, your brain can eliminate the things that are irrelevant to the subject and also relate to the ones you already know; thus, works more efficiently. For instance, study the strategies in chess, then, you would be able to beat normal people in most of times in chess game. No matter how genius…an individual is, s/he cannot beat out an expert in understanding the subject without proper training or learning depending on the difficulty of subjects.

Still, the illusion of genius is fun to enjoy in a similar way to we want to admire an excellent individual in each area. I think it is no different than praising a sports star.

Sungwook Moon