Saturday, August 02, 2008

The intelligence paradox

There are a few paradoxes surrounding the general concept of intelligence. Most of them are academic constructs, making no notable points. I've listed a couple here. The second one is a good take-away, and possibly something to reflect on as we go about building our lives following markers that society defines as measures of intelligence and success.

1. The un-PC paradox: Yes, I've named it myself. It's a throwback to a pet topic, Darwin's theory of evolution. Ideally, as we tend to infinite time, the selected random mutations in our DNA should make us supermen. This conceivably includes our becoming super-intelligent as well. The paradox however is in the reality of our times, economic and social. Those of our species considered to be elitely intelligent tend to have way fewer children than the lesser-blessed crowd. These are raw statistics. The intelligence gene pool is skewed towards devolution. Random dna mutations vs a lesser number of intelligent pro-creators.

And then there's

2. The intelligent life -

Society pushes the more intelligent beings of our species to take up jobs that demand they use this intelligence to the fullest capacity. As a result, an intelligent person ends up becoming a lawyer juggling five corporate cases, or an investment banker paying meticulous attention to her commas and zeroes. This leaves them with fewer mental cycles to exercise their intelligence for themselves, having sold most of it off to the highest bidder.

The blue-collar joe then becomes today's thinker. A big step for joe, a smaller step for mankind.

As a result, the sum total of our intelligence is hard-pressed to grow. Call it the devolution of intelligence, or just the paradox that holds us back.


Anonymous said...

Esteemed Sir,

Very nice as always. Regarding #2, I think we put the kibosh on evolving into supermen the day we started using medicine to save lives, instituted social programs to help the poor and sick and downtrodden etc. In other words, when we became human :) Evolution is cruel, to put it in anthropomorphic terms. Maybe in a million years, there will be superlions and superspiders that will overtake us, until they start caring for their weak and poor ;)

Regarding #3, I am not as skeptical as you are, although I may be wrong. I think there is a subset of the intelligensia that are still seeking out academic lives devoted to furthering our knowledge and understanding beyond the current frontiers. So our thinkers may not be the second class citizens you are afraid of.

Sincerely yours,
-Michael Jayasuriya.

indra said...

Touché MJ.

#2: There are holes in that paradox, and you've totally speared me there with the one you brought up. The flaw is that we evolve not into stronger-fitter-faster, but into a mold that best enables us to live in the environment we inhabit. With medicine, vaccines and all the new crutches, our evolution may be at odds with the very term.

#3: Glad to hear it. And second-class? no, I wouldn't go so far as to put that label. Not if someone's actually taking the trouble to grow our collective intelligence. If anything, that vaults them up to first class right there.

My point was more how the metrics of society work. That our raison d'ĂȘtre is largely economic comfort, and when we talk about intelligentsia furthering our knowledge, we attenuate it with references to subsets, as though it's an underground movement, a revolution against the machine :)