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Folly to be wise - The Ex-Communicator

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December 10th, 2008


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01:37 pm - Folly to be wise
I was just opining the other day that higher intelligence is not an unequivocal advantage in reproductive terms, let alone a marker for a pseudo-Darwinian 'fitness factor'. Now someone has posted on this subject on metafilter.

More intelligent people are more likely to be alcoholic and suicidal. Animals forced to act smarter suffer stress and die younger.
Forming neuron connections may cause harmful side effects. It is also possible that genes that allow learning to develop faster and last longer may cause other changes. “We use computers with memory that’s almost free, but biological information is costly,” Dr. Dukas said.

My guess is that relatively high intelligence is a social choice, and requires the expenditure of energy - or you could say it is a higher stress choice, a higher risk choice in terms of life fortune. I think even getting a high mark on an IQ test is about subjecting yourself voluntarily to stress, or if you like exerting greater mental effort. There probably are also limits to intellect imposed by genetics - but as I say, if high intelligence was an unequivocal good, there'd be more smart people about.

Also - why do smart people do dumb things?

(these all quoted from the blog linked above)

  • Hubris. Pride to the point that you no longer feel shame, no longer believe that you are subject to public opinion, and no longer need to fear “the gods.” Examples: Gary Hart’s involvement with Donna Rice that ended his run for the presidency and the Dennis Kozlowski’s (Tyco) $2 million toga party.

  • Arrogance. From the Latin word arrogare: “to claim for oneself.” Arrogant people believe they have claim to anything and everything they want--they are “entitled” to it. King David, for example, felt entitled to the wife (Bathsheba) of one of his soldiers. Modern day King Davids feel entitled to corporate jets and an entourage to tell them that their keynote speech rocked.

  • Narcissism. Self absorption to the point that you are blind to reality. The world only exists to provide you gratification. Examples: Richard Nixon and Watergate; the Clintons and Whitewater—really just about every politician and CEO who falls from grace.

  • Unconscious need to fail. If you think failing is hard, try winning. The questions that go through people’s minds when they they are on the doorstep of success are: Do I really deserve to win? Do I want the pressure of constantly having to win in the future? Can I really handle success? Perhaps this explains why professional athletes still take performance enchancement drugs even after watching their colleagues get busted.



Still, it's addictive isn't it? Once you've tried it, you can't go back, you have to keep on trying to get smarter, and of course failing.

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:azdak
Date:December 10th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
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I don't think any of those failings is specifically linked to intelligence, any more than it's specifically lionked to wealth, or beauty, or being an aristocrat, or any one of a dozen factors that may, under certain circumstances, make you highly valued by your fellows and therefore inclined to act like a shit because you can get away with it.

Anyay, beauty conveys a self-evident potential reproductive advantage, but there are still lots of ugly people around! So intelligence could also not have any particular downsides, but still not spread that fast for all sorts of reasons that don't relate to reproductive fitness.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:December 10th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure that intelligent people are more highly valued, like beautiful people or rich people. More like an annoying necessity.

ETA - but beauty is a good analogy in respect of reproductive fitness. Why is beauty comparatively rare? Perhaps it's because of age and wear and tear and sickness and bad nutrition. If we were all young and healthy we would all be beautiful. Perhaps.
[User Picture]
From:iainjcoleman
Date:December 10th, 2008 03:22 pm (UTC)
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Let's hypothesise that:

1) Intelligence and beauty are both unambiguously beneficial to inclusive fitness.

2) there are many more ways to be stupid than there are to be intelligent, and many more ways to be ugly than to be beautiful (i.e., high intelligence and beauty each occupy small regions of the space of all possible states of intellect and looks respectively).

(1) implies constant selection pressure towards higher intelligence and greater beauty. However, (2) implies that non-adaptive variation, genetic drift, will tend in the direction of lower intelligence and less beauty.

It's important to bear in mind that not all variation is adaptive. This point seems to solve your intelligence conundrum without recourse to social explanations that are not supported by the data.
[User Picture]
From:azdak
Date:December 10th, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry - I didn't mean to sound so abrupt, and rude, but I had to rush off, so I was in a hurry. I do apologise.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:December 10th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
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me too! I'm trying to do this while doing some very important and time pressured writing at work. Why am I sabotaging myself like this? Not too bright I guess :-)
[User Picture]
From:andrewducker
Date:December 10th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
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I think smartness can cause depression in the same way that religion makes people happier - believing in a simple, intuitive universe makes us feel much more comfortable than living in a cold, unfeeling, meaningless one. Thinking about things outside of your immediate sphere makes you realise how much is out of your control, and how horrible and inhuman the universe can be.

Of course, there are advantages too - but a lot more smart people seem to have ennui problems.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:December 10th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
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That's my feeling too
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:December 10th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
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Hmmm, but this theory doesn't account for the smart people who have religion.
[User Picture]
From:andrewducker
Date:December 10th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
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Absolutely. It's a combination of intelligence and a drive to question everything. One without the other leads either to rationalisation or conspiracy theories :->

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