Monday, December 26, 2016

Much Ado About Extreme Intelligence

The Supreme Dark Lord of the Evil Legion of Evil wrote a post about the qualitative differences between Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs) Very High IQ (VHIQ) persons and Ultra High IQ (UHIQ) persons.

Speaking from my position in the fat part of the distribution, this qualitative difference looks a bit like an unnecessary threshold. Also, the comments on the post appear to be from very smart people, who nevertheless seem unaware of the basics of performance measurement, so: way-to-go MBA training!

On to the main point:

Since intelligence is something one has no control over, being determined mostly by factors of genetics and early childhood environment, it's strange to be proud of it. As a person of reasonable, compact stature, I noticed a similar behavior in tall people who were proud of being tall. It's not something you achieve; therefore it's nothing to be proud of. Thankful, maybe.

Furthermore, there's a measurement problem, once one moves away from pattern-matching and response speed tests (I used to think that psychometrics was put in the world to make phrenology look good; then I realized it happened by accident) and into real-world outcomes, which depend on a lot more than raw brain power, for example, observable outcomes depend on:
  • The opportunities to use that brain power, and the fields in which it's used.
  • The motivation to use it, and the goals to be achieved.
  • The skills and knowledge, including thinking skill (which is separate from intelligence in the same way that competitive weightlifting skill is separate from raw physical force) and a can-do attitude towards thinking.
  • Outside factors which distort the observables; they can be random events (what engineers call 'noise') or they can be environment biases.
So, from my position in the fat part of the distribution, but standing on the intellectual (and experimental) shoulders of much smarter others, here are VD's points (in blue) with my comments:

"VHIQ inclines towards binary either/or thinking and taking sides. UHIQ inclines towards probabilistic thinking and balancing between contradictory possibilities."

Maybe. This reads a lot more like differences as to when the mental decision trees are pruned rather than the binary/continuous difference (not just probabilistic, also threshold-thinking on continuous quantities).

Raw power may make a difference as to how many branches can be considered and how far each branch can be developed for any given problem, but then the boundary between VHIQ and UHIQ would be fuzzy,  porous, and contingent on the problem; not a situation conducive to qualitative differences.

"VHIQ seeks understanding towards application or justification, UHIQ seeks understanding towards holistic understanding."

Different tools for different objectives, I would think.

Certain problems (most engineering problems, thankfully) can be decomposed and processed in ever more cohesive and less coupled chunks which are processed separately and integrated hierarchically. Other problems require holistic understanding of emergent properties (most large-scale systems formed by similar small units communicating among them, aka complex systems) and a completely different mindset. (Here's an example of the two mindsets applied to economics.)

Other than that, practice with a field of knowledge will eventually lead to a holistic understanding of that field, though raw brain power makes that easier.

"VHIQ refines the original thought of others, UHIQ synthesizes multiple original thoughts."

Conceptually different, but in essence the same response as the previous one: what to do depends on the purpose of the doing.

"VHIQ rationalizes logical conclusions, UHIQ accepts logical conclusions. This is ironic because VHIQ considers itself to be highly logical, UHIQ considers itself to be investigative."

Maybe it's my observation sample, but I don't have this experience (with other people); the people I notice rationalizing [wrong] things tend to be non-high-IQ (when in good faith) or are high-IQ  but are doing it knowingly, in response to outside incentives (in bad faith, in other words).

"VHIQ recognizes the truths in the works of the great thinkers of the past and applies them. UHIQ recognizes the flaws in the thinking of the great thinkers of the past and explores them."

Maybe this is field-dependent, and in the fields I'm exposed to, it's a matter of knowledge and goal stratification.

"VHIQ usually spots logical flaws in an argument. UHIQ usually senses them."

This difference is a matter of practice, therefore differences in motivation (say, in curiosity) will be more important than differences in raw intellect. This is the case for almost all 'intuitive' or 'natural' skills, other than proprioperception and motion control. And even then, gym n00bs spend several minutes placing their feet for each deadlift attempt, skilled powerlifters' feet fall in place as soon as they enter the lifting platform.

It's true that mental capacity will put a limit on how fast and how far this 'intuitiveness' in skill development can go, but motivation, training, and opportunity differences will spread out any differences that separate VHIQ from UHIQ.

"VHIQ enjoys pedantry. UHIQ hates it. Both are capable of utilizing it at will."

I would venture that it's a continuous scale, starting at about one standard deviation below the mean, and negatively correlated with IQ. As for utilizing pedantry at will, this seems to be more of an operational decision, as when people who 'love science' (but don't learn any) start talking down to engineers and get a 'how many Joule in a kilowatt-hour?' question in return, for example.

For example, it's usually the people who can't recognize the period of a music piece by the music alone that make a big deal of correcting someone who says 'Bach' with 'Johann Sebastian Bach.' Musicologists, good and very good, only become pedantic to wave off the poseurs. So I'd venture that VHIQ might be more exposed to poseurs than UHIQ and therefore come across as more pedantic (which they are, in a small way, given their lower IQ and the aforementioned negative correlation) than the UHIQ.

"VHIQ is uncomfortable with chaos and seeks to impose order on it, even if none exists. UHIQ is comfortable with chaos and seeks to recognize patterns in it."

Different fields of endeavor have different requirements. Intelligence is, among other things, and with other things (motivation, skills, opportunities, environmental factors), the ability to adapt to and if needed change the environment and the field of endeavor.

"VHIQ is spergey and egocentric. UHIQ is holistic and solipsistic."

I've never observed this, so I can't comment; then again, I'm not a people person so it could well be true and hard to spot from the fat part of the curve.

"VHIQ will die on a conceptual hill. UHIQ surrenders at the first reasonable show of force."
"VHIQ attempts to rationalize its errors. UHIQ sees no point in hesitating to admit them."
"VHIQ seeks to prove the correctness of its case. UHIQ doesn't believe in the legitimacy of the jury."
"VHIQ is competitive. UHIQ doesn't keep score."

(These four are pairwise different but my response to all is the same.)

All four statements above appear to me as orthogonal to differences in raw brain power, as they can be seen at all levels of intelligence down to the middle of the curve; I'd place them in a two-dimensional space of (pragmatic-pigheaded x internally-externally motivated), but that's probably already been done better by some psychometrician.

This is reminiscent of the chapter on nerds in The Inmates are Running The Asylum, which summarizes nerds as more interested in being right than being successful. That's not because they're stupid, but rather a learned attitude (and some personality differences, which aren't intelligence differences).

"VHIQ believes in the unique power of SCIENCE. UHIQ sees science as a conceptual framework of limited utility."

People who understand science, as opposed to people who 'love science' (as long as they don't have to learn any) or great scientists [in their own minds, if no one else's], treat science as a collection of best models and a method for finding better models. This is a matter of knowledge rather than raw brain power, though more raw brain power makes acquiring and expressing this knowledge easier.

It's possible that some of VHIQ are more likely than UHIQ to be selected by certain institutional designs for compliance with a particular view of science and that impedes their understanding of science as I just defined it; however, this would be a case of environment (incentives) not a consequence of intelligence itself. Kind of a "A-grade managers hire A-grade employees, B-grade managers hire C-grade employees" survival rule for mediocrities.

"VHIQ seeks to rank and order things. UHIQ seeks to recognize and articulate concepts."

Orders are a subset of networks and to our best understanding of how people recognize and process concepts they do so by fitting them into networks of other concepts. So, this is again a matter of degree, though when networks are involved, all sorts of emergent behavior (what could pass for creativity or super-fast reasoning) can happen that are hard to predict.

"VHIQ asks "how can this be used?" UHIQ asks "what does this mean?""

Engineers vs scientists of all intelligence levels (well, at least those above the mean) exhibit this difference in thinking goals. Since they do so at all intelligence levels, this has a significant orthogonality to the IQ dimension.

Inasmuch as there's a correlation it may come from the mental power requirements of answering questions of meaning rather than doing something, but both questions are present in children before the education system takes away their will to think, so this would be an environmental influence, more than a difference in underlying abilities needed, driving the choice of problems to work in.

So, okay it may be that from my position in the scale I can't see the existing differences, but it appears to me that performance measurement theory has a pretty good explanation for most of these points, and it doesn't require too much smarts to understand.

Good for me, otherwise I'd have to go for a long walk to think about it. 😉

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Addendum:

Vox Day's response concurs [with his reading of my penultimate paragraph to mean] that I just don't have what it takes to understand really intelligent people. 😂

(That's not what that paragraph means.)