Posts Tagged ‘Intelligence’

Kiss My APA!

Barbara Oakley has an article at Psychology Today about smart people who are so smart they are incapable of realizing when they are being stupid. As loyal readers, you may have detected a slight hint of snark about APA lecturer Steven Blair’s statements which surfaced in an earlier post.

The rot at the American Psychological Association runs deeper than we thought. Professor Drew Westen, from Emory University, spoke at the same APA conference in Toronto as Steven Blair.

The introduction to Westen’s session was a real eye-opener.  The moderator was so confident everyone in the room was a staunch Democrat that he jokingly interrupted his disclaimer that the APA couldn’t be seen as endorsing any particular political party with repeated exhortations of “Barack!”  (You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not.)  Party unity thus assured, the session began.

Alright, the moderator may have been acting out of line and should have been corrected. However, it should not reflect poorly on Professor Westin… right?

The heart of Westen’s presentation consisted of an uncritical compendium of Democratic talking points—he might as well have been speaking at party headquarters.

Smart people can be easily blinded because of an inability to accept criticism (which we will now refer to as the “Oakley effect”). It is especially problematic when trying to find solutions for large scale, complex societal issues.

In fact, natural smarties—the intellectual elite—often don’t seem to learn the art of soliciting the criticism necessary to grasp the core issues of a complex problem, and then making vital adaptations as a result.  Instead, they fall in naturally with people who admire, rather than are critical, of their thinking.  This further strengthens their conviction they are right even as it distances them from people of very different backgrounds who grasp very different, but no less crucial aspects of complex problems. That’s why the intellectual elite is often branded by those from other groups as out of touch.

The real crime in this particular case is the fact that the APA is supposed to be a non-profit organization, and blatant politicking at a conference makes a mockery of its status. Why should any clear thinking psychologist or mental health facility associate with an organization so ethically challenged?

…it’s a sad commentary on the lack of critical skills, blind inability to apply their own theories, and utter uniformity of thinking among today’s psychologists that not a single person in that room took issue with the extraordinary bias in Westen’s presentation, which literally made a joke out of profound violation of the APA’s not-for-profit status.

Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., P.E., is a Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers and an engineering professor at Oakland University. She is also the author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend.

Read Full Post »

Get Smarter

For a period of 2 million years, ending with the last ice age around 10,000 B.C., the Earth experienced a series of convulsive glacial events. This rapid-fire climate change meant that humans couldn’t rely on consistent patterns to know which animals to hunt, which plants to gather, or even which predators might be waiting around the corner. How did we cope? By getting smarter. The neuro­physi­ol­ogist William Calvin argues persuasively that modern human cognition—including sophisticated language and the capacity to plan ahead—evolved in response to the demands of this long age of turbulence.

On the scale of time used in evolution, the advancement of human intelligence happened at a breakneck pace. Sophisticated language is a uniquely human trait which no other creature on Earth possesses.

There are all sorts of doomsday scenarios for the coming century. Humanity survived until this point by being clever and we are likely so succeed in the future by using the same technique. The only difference is that we don’t need to rely on natural evolutionary processes to evolve greater intelligence. We use the tools we’ve created, such as the internet, to augment our intelligence to the next level.

There is concern that the nature of the internet has given people a sort of ADD, and that people are losing their skill to read long and in depth pieces of information.

With every technological step forward, though, has come anxiety about the possibility that technology harms our natural ability to think. These anxieties were given eloquent expression in these pages by Nicholas Carr, whose essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (July/August 2008 Atlantic) argued that the information-dense, hyperlink-rich, spastically churning Internet medium is effectively rewiring our brains, making it harder for us to engage in deep, relaxed contemplation.

Carr’s fears about the impact of wall-to-wall connectivity on the human intellect echo cyber-theorist Linda Stone’s description of “continuous partial attention,” the modern phenomenon of having multiple activities and connections under way simultaneously. We’re becoming so accustomed to interruption that we’re starting to find focusing difficult, even when we’ve achieved a bit of quiet. It’s an induced form of ADD—a “continuous partial attention-deficit disorder,” if you will.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment.

Scientists describe these skills as our “fluid intelligence”—the ability to find meaning in confusion and to solve new problems, independent of acquired knowledge. Fluid intelligence doesn’t look much like the capacity to memorize and recite facts, the skills that people have traditionally associated with brainpower. But building it up may improve the capacity to think deeply that Carr and others fear we’re losing for good.

Read the whole thing, since there’s a lot more where that came from.

Read Full Post »

Finding reasons why evolution would favor big brains and intelligence in humans is easy. A more difficult line of inquiry is to determine if there are costs involved in having advanced intelligence, and what they may be.

“The results from our analysis suggest that humans aren’t as efficient as chimpanzees in carrying out programmed cell death. We believe this difference may have evolved as a way to increase brain size and associated cognitive ability in humans, but the cost could be an increased propensity for cancer,” said McDonald.

This particular hypothesis indicates that increased cancer rates is one significant cost.

Read Full Post »