Pic of the day: Kimura-sensei, the archetypal Japanese stupid teacher from the cult hit anime Azumanga Daioh. The girls thinks that all his thoughts are about high school girls, which he has pretty much admitted in class. They are surprised to find out that he has several good qualities and a loving family. He sure doesn't look like it.
Is stupidity forever?
There goes an old story around here, about a drunk that was teased mercilessly for his less than coordinated condition. This went on for a while, then the drunk drew himself up and proclaimed: "I am drunk, it will end. You are stupid, that will never end!"
I have largely tended to agree with this. But before we move on, let me
revisit my choice of words, for it is not always obvious. Generally I
think there are three different forms of thinking dysfunction in
otherwise sane people.
Approximately half of all people have below average intelligence, just like about half are shorter than average. There is simply no way to catapult everyone up in the top 5%, as one vocabulary course once offered at a reasonable price. Since society tends to be optimized for the ordinary, mainstream, roughly average person, it goes without saying that a number of people will fail at understanding everyday things. They are, in short, stupid. This is not a moral judgment (as would be calling someone a fool) but rather stating a sad fact.
To a high degree, you can look at children in kindergarten and make a pretty good guess as to who will drop out of high school and who will breeze through college. This is an unpopular truth, but we're getting used to those these days, are we not? And yet... it may be rare, I am not sure, but sometimes it happens: Robert W Godwin writes about "descent of mind" from Above into the human vessel, and a "descent of spirit". I think he means that fairly literally. He holds that the history of the individual often reflects the history of the species, and it certainly seems to have happened there. If a visitor from another planet had come here 100 000 years ago, he would have found humans that were physically impossible to tell apart from us (if we ignore clothes at least). But these people did not behave like us at all. They were very dull. They seemed to lack very nearly all creativity, although they were able to copy the lucky find of a fellow if it was not too complex. There is no reason to believe they talked, except basic utterances of emotion such as an ape will make. But then something "descended" into them and they changed radically. The most common theory today is that it was spoken language that caused this startling change.
Obviously if it is language, it won't happen after kindergarten in most modern humans. But it does indeed happen that sometimes a person becomes markedly more intelligent over relatively short time. I am not sure why. In me, it happened around the age of 16, in high school, after I had left home. To me it seemed to come from my religion, for this was 1-2 years after I had made a conscious decision to follow the Bible and become perfect. (I did not actually become perfect, at least so far! In fact I started seeing more and more imperfections, faster than I could possibly do anything about them. My grades shot up like awesome, though, and remained near perfection for the rest of my education years, with little effort from me.)
Those who do not believe in any supernatural power, or who believe that supernatural powers have very little to do with our grades in school (a valid viewpoint, I concede) may point out that I developed emotionally very slowly as a child, and also entered puberty very late. In effect the others had stopped growing while I continued, body and feelings, and I may simply have caught up with the rest eventually. This would preserve your atheism at no cost, I suppose, though I haven't heard of anyone else experiencing the same. I have however heard about people experiencing a "descent" of some kind of intellectual power, some of them in their mid to late 20es.
Actually something happened to me too, at that age. Until then I had been very focused on myself (more than now, really) and my religion was largely for the purpose of avoiding Hell. It was around this time that I read C.G. Jung's book Answer to Job (while I was jobless, but there is really no connection there...) and I was torn between on one hand learning truth and on the other hand avoiding Hell. I eventually decided that truth is independent of me going to Hell or not. Not a big realization, really, but you will notice that this seems to be an alien concept even to many Christians, that truth is primary, not dependent on their need for salvation. And it is certainly not limited to religion. Everywhere you find that people regard truth as something that depends on something else: If it does not fit their needs, it cannot be true.
In any case, my world exploded and has expanded outward ever since. Now, did this happen because I was actually more intelligent naturally and there had just been artificial blocks in my way? (I do after all hail from a highly intelligent family.) Or would any average person experience a dramatic upward shift in their thinking if they experienced the same as I? Know that I am well aware that my description does not match the event. It sounds so banal, something you can say in a line or two, how can it change the way a mind works? It was not just learning a fact, it was a revelation of sorts, a deep understanding. The first time, that my life mattered. The second time, that truth did not depend on me. Anyone knows these things, they are obvious, and yet they became obvious in a new way, and "suddenly" (actually I think it took a few months each time) my thoughts could function on a new, higher level.
I believe that non-spiritual experiences can sometimes also shift a person to a less stupid mode of operation. Marriage or parenthood can do this in some people. But I would not count on it: There is an amazing number of shockingly stupid spouses and parents out there. It is just that for reasons unknown, in some people it is a life-changing experience, almost spiritual in nature. Perhaps they are something like my Family Sims, and this is their hidden lifetime want. I don't know, but I know it is not something you can calculate with in advance. For some the death of a loved one may bring them to a new maturity in their lives, followed by a cleared and deeper thinking. But again, this is definitely not something you should look forward to.
There may even be those who don't experience anything earth-shattering, but over time they build up a kind of internal database, learning through hard studying and experience, and they begin to be able to see connections they did not see before, begin to understand how things work after having seen them for so many years. And even though they don't have a high IQ, they find the things that matter and learn them thoroughly. Conversely, many smart people fail to ever realize what is useful and what is useless, and they flit around restlessly, never achieving anything, not even happiness for themselves. Being born gifted is a very rich heritage; but like all heritages, it can be wasted.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.