January 25th, 2009

breaking bad

Performative intelligence

I've said before that I think intelligence is a role you can step into: you decide what level of performance is appropriate for you, and you expend the energy you need to maintain that position. When you need to act smart you can, when you don't, you relax. Some people try hard on IQ tests (and exams etc.) because it is important to them to do well. Others don't try, or panic, or don't have the confidence to keep at difficult questions.

I think it's particularly difficult for people who are told by the people around them that they aren't very good. When a confident person is confronted by a hard maths question, her thought processes go something like 'OK, Don't panic, you've been through this before. Time to concentrate. Now what worked last time...' Someone with exactly the same level of maths ability who thought 'This is impossible, I'm no good at maths, hurry on to the next question' would get a lower mark, despite being just as clever.

Here's an interesting study which seems to support my theory:

Dr. Friedman and his colleagues compiled a brief test, drawing 20 questions from the verbal sections of the Graduate Record Exam, and administering it four times to about 120 white and black test-takers during last year’s presidential campaign... On the initial test last summer, whites on average correctly answered about 12 of 20 questions, compared with about 8.5 correct answers for blacks. But on the tests administered immediately after Mr. Obama’s nomination acceptance speech... black performance improved, rendering the white-black gap “statistically nonsignificant,” he said.


I think the same goes for women, the same goes for working class people. If you can make people more confident, if you have a theory that differences between people are flexible, then people can do much better. Which actually proves the point.

ETA - obviously that study is only a few days old and has not been peer-reviewed yet. I'm not claiming it literally 'proves' anything. I just mean this is the sort of thing I was talking about.
breaking bad

As You Like It

I saw Kenneth Branagh's As You Like It last night. I felt the same as I did with his Magic Flute. The setting was bold, and boldly realised, and it was beautiful to look at, but I didn't think it made much sense at all. The play is set in 19th century Japan, in a European enclave. Which allowed beautiful artificial costumes and interiors.

I don't know the play very well, but I think he hacked it down too much, because it just proceeded by a series of inexplicable but vivid events without any coherence. I have a feeling (guess) that Branagh felt that the play was basically a nonsense underpinned by poetry so he decided not to fight it, to make the plot even more ridiculous and surreal, but to support the emotional performances. I thought the acting was very good. Brian Blessed plays the good and evil brothers really well. Kevin Kline plays the melancholic Jaques with a gentle touch. Bryce Dallas Howard was good as Rosalind.

But for me, the lack of coherent structure spoils a film or play. I like a sparser chillier style with an implacable logic more than a lush emotional set of scenes without structure. But it wasn't poor, it just wasn't quite what I like best. I still admire Branagh for his vitality in giving Shakespeare to us in lots of different ways.