Re: IQ - A cautionary tale (Re: The ways of child prodigies)

From: Tennessee Leeuwenburg (
Date: Thu Nov 10 2005 - 20:36:00 MST

>a bouncer). Mensa states that it wants to provide a forum where
>intelligent people can work together to solve the world's problems.
I am a member of Mensa Australia, and they make no such claim. I
maintain my membership for the high quality mailing list which they
provide. Within that mailing list, I have found a variety of beliefs,
some of which I don't believe are genuinely defensible. However, I think
it's a mistake to believe that the "compellingness" of an argument is
ever an objective thing.

>But the people who are already solving the world's problems --
>doctors, scientists, engineers -- have already surrounded themselves
>with other smart people and get the stimulation that they need. They
>tend not to join places like Mensa, which is why Mensa will never
>fulfill its goal and will always be a place where people play
Well, as I said, my mensa makes no such claim. They *like* just playing
scrabble. Aspiring to some ideological goal is something else.

>What I also found is a place where a disconcerting number of people
>were devoutly religious, believed in UFOs, and other pseudoscientific
>and even nonsensical things. I couldn't understand then why so many
>smart people could believe such dumb things, but I think now it's
>because so many of them aren't part of the larger
>intellectual/academic landscape.
That is probably correct. I have heard that academic study *is*
correlated with atheism, and even more strongly so if you add in a
personal religious belief as opposed to a doctrinal one.

I think it's paternalistic to say that smart people are always believing
dumb things. I think that people adopt beliefs which are successful for
them - people are largely pragmatists and adopt beliefs structures which
allow them to function. If people prefer a metaphor of religion to a
metaphor of science, and are still willing to engage in an honest
process of reflection and theory refinement, then their choice of
metaphor is irrelevant. Being honest is, I think, about not discounting
the importance of falsifying evidence.

I have a number of religious friends who are, in any important sense, as
intelligent as I am. Yet they maintain their belief, largely (I believe)
because they are inherently idealistic. I believe that if I were
idealistic, I would also convert to a form of religion.

I also charge some people in the transhumanist / singularist movement of
being idealistic. Their religion is different, but no less faith-based.
For example, the adherence to the belief in rapid expansion post the
creation of superintelligent AI is, frankly, faith-based. There is
supporting evidence which some of us find compelling, but I've never
heard a compelling argument that such an explosion is actually
necessitated by superintelligence. I instead get versions of Pascal's
wager and people who are unwilling to consider things in a more
fine-grained granularity.

They believe that the *ideal* of the singularity is more important than
the *detail* of the singularity.

That seems to me to also be a dumb thing. I am better with ideas than
details, but do not ignore their importance.

Sadly, I lack the mathematical clout to phrase such arguments in a
compelling way to people who are mathematically oriented. Indeed, I may
be the one who cannot "see" the truth in this case.

Nonetheless, I also see within mensa many pseudoscientific and genuinely
... flawed ... positions which do not fit what I have been describing.
Partially, that's because mensa's hurdles are not very high. I don't
think I'd be playing russian roullette at odds of 1 in 50, for example.
And I am only at the lowest end of that hurdle.

>You can be intelligent without
>having formal training in critical thinking skills (as members of this
>list, so well versed in probability theory, should know). That, among
>other things, may be Langan's biggest problem. For anybody who has
>read Tversky et al. or the other suggestions on the SIAI booklist on
>human reasoning, you know that it doesn't necessarily come naturally,
>even for intelligent people. In fact, as Michael Shermer points out,
>intelligent people can be among the most intractable because they can
>defend erroneous beliefs with such alacrity.

>My point is that an IQ score is a pretty good predictor of success,
>but not the only one. A rigorous methodology for making accurate
>inferences must still be learned. Paying attention to the scientific
>mainstream is pretty important. Concensus science has passed the test
>of falsifiability by many smart people. Langan might think that since
>he's profoundly smarter than any individual scientist, he can
>pontificate in his ivory tower and come up with a closer description
>of reality than scientists can, but he's not smarter than the
>aggregate knowledge of the scientific community.
Again, I fully agree.

Although, scientific progress does often proceed through revolution.
Then again, that revolution only seems rapid from outside the system --
often the seeds of discontent are well-sown before anything hits the
popular press.

My line of questioning was made in the hope that people wouldn't assume
I was making that mistake, and would simply answer directly.


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