/ Homeostasis /
@ K. 2003 11 01
Intelligence, Homeostasis … Maintenance, Measurement …
The concept of homeostasis is an important thinking tool: but I put my first efforts on that subject at Knatz.com into a biographical note, then promoted them to a module in my Society directory: because of what I see as the pathology of our common, public misunderstanding of the concept — we think homeostasis applies to the other species, the other culture, the other nation, the other guy; and not to us. Furthermore, those words on homeostasis took a religious setting, more than a scientific: and I gather such modules there, not here. But: as with so many things, the areas — thinking, reason … and society … pathology — cross and crisscross.
Homeostasis “is” the tendency of any system, living systems in particular, to maintain itself: its stability, its balance, its averages … What humans see easily is that their institutions discourage incompetence; what we don’t see easily, if at all, is that our institutions also discourage competence: intelligence, imagination … excellence. We promote mediocrities and put them in charge of supervising both morons and geniuses; we do not commonly promote geniuses (they’re invisible to the majority (except as an irritant).
It would be nice if I were ready to compose a balanced, mature, digest of homeostasis by age 65, hell, I’ve been thinking about it long enough, but, alas, as usual, I’m merely going to be able today to sketch a few more thoughts, overdue here, on the subject. And I put them into my Thinking Tools directory in order to link the areas; not as any final, definitive map.
The millennium just past saw great strides in human ability to measure things. We’re not as backward as we were. Neither are we very good at it. Neither should we expect ever to achieve mastery. Kids in school have their “IQ” tested: measured: by those promoted to be the measurerers. The measurers seem incomprehensibly competent to the average; they’re not perceived at all by the morons; and, they don’t even count as sentient to the geniuses.
When I was twelve or fourteen I saw holes big enough to drive trucks through in the tests I was given. Do I remember any of the fallacies I thought I had found? Of course not. I was being tested, I was not being asked for my critique of the testing process. If you want Von Neumann to guide the mathematicians’ guidance of the Intelligence System for the Cold War, it’s best not to beat him with paddles while he’s supposed to be trying. No, give him a staff, a secretary, a chauffeur. Surround him with people trying to fathom what he trying to say. Not punish him, fire him, evict him, beat him up, cut off his electricity …
We bid tens of millions for Van Goghs: after we didn’t offer him two dollars: when a couple of hundred dollars might have been a fair price. We worship Einstein: after ignoring those trying to kill him (and while we still, on average, make little attempt to understand the implications of what he said).
Uh oh. My usual rants muscle their way in. It’s not that they’re not relevant; they are apposite in the extreme; but, rehearsed, they have legs: what I’m trying to say hardly even yet has feet: toes even.
I don’t know what my IQ is. And I don’t care. I have little respect for that test’s ability to measure my intelligence. Let me instead refer to a test where I do know my score: the GRE: the Graduate Record Exam. In high school I took the SAT a few times. My results were way out of line with my school record. My school had me somewhere in the middle of the student body: neither extremely competent nor extremely incompetent. My SATs however got me into the Ivy League: got me in despite my school record. For graduate school, I took the GRE. In graduate school I took the GRE for German: after studying that language for one month. I scored above 600: far more competent in German than the average German college graduate! Can that be true? I don’t even speak German, let alone read it well. How could I be more competent than the average lifelong speaker of the language? Well, that part that I do understand I understand “correctly”: according to promoted testers. Ignore that, that’s a side comment, part of my approach. My GREs in English, taken several times, a requirement for fellowships and renewed fellowships, never had me not in the top percentile: the most competent 1% of college graduates.
I reveal that to say this: I trust the GRE no more than I trust the IQ tests. I have never taken a test in my life where I trusted the test: or the testers. Furthermore, whatever attention I was ever paying to the test (as a taker of the test) was invariably matched by attention I was not paying to the test: different species of inattention. 1) Looking out the window: where “real” life was occurring. 2) Contemplating the test itself: A) What are they up to here? What’s the trick? B) What are their fallacies? What are they missing? C) Noticing what isn’t on the test: nothing about Miles Davis, nothing about Shang Dynasty ritual bronzes, nothing about Crazy Horse, not a word about Spooner or Tucker, not a hint of chaos …
I don’t believe that any of my test results are accurate. What? Do I mean that I’m not in the top 1% in my abilities with the language? No. I don’t doubt that I am. I mean that the test is still rough: how high am I up in that top percent?
Could I have discussed this with the test givers? Were there any other top percenters present? Not that I recognized. Were there any top ten percenters present? Any twenties?
My doctoral orals committee interrupted my attempt to answer their first question. That occurred after years of being convinced that the teachers, as much as they knew about the subject — including huge masses of material I had not yet familiarized myself with, were unable to process correctly what I had been writing and saying all along. Communication was one way: promoted “expert” down to “student.” They were teachers; not teachers/learners.
We see the Nazis, the Stalinists repressing thought, impeding progress, interfering with the possibility of learning. We can’t process the same behavior in ourselves. Oh, the Nazis burned books! What about our own book burnings? What about the books that don’t have to be burned because they weren’t published? Science for us isn’t responsible handling of data, imaginative comparing of data with theory: mapping, as Bateson said, a tautology onto experience … No, it’s a club: a feudally administered committee of mediocrities — a tame genius or two perhaps among them (but always looking over their shoulder, always knowing where the funds come from (and it isn’t from geniuses!)) … (See my teacher’s casual explanation to students regarding the college’s role in loco parentis.)
More later. When I return I’ll try to argue the hypothesis that tests such as the IQ work according to what homeostasis would predict: that a society will reward scores slightly above the average and punish scores well below: and well above. Further, that the society will be capable of measuring only close to the average, that the tests are meaningless except in the average. The society likes those who see the prepared illusion: and hates those who see through the illusion.
I’ll also add some words of the familiar practice of promoting from within. The basic story of Christianity is that “God himself” could not be promoted by his Temple: they don’t see what’s “above” them; only what’s below.
I should also work in considerations not limited to either life or to sentience. Chirality, for example. Asked why most molecules were “left-handed” Einstein replied, “Because they won the war.” That’s right. Why couldn’t chemistry be basically dextro-chiral (“right-handed”)? For all we know, it could. Or why couldn’t the molecular orientation mix? be “equal”? at least “random”? (Then, food we ate would be either nourishing, or irrelevant (or poisonous).) Maybe it’s possible. But in this universe it didn’t happen that way! Once levro-chirality got the upper hand, then levro-chirality got ever more of the upper hand until, as now, it has the entire upper hand. Homeostasis: a non-organic, non-sentient example. Good. So consider this: what if something happened in the universe so that only dextro-chirality (or some other previously unimagined orientation) could “save” existence? (That is, the only existence “we” “know”?) Well then we’re shit out of luck. Leftie chemistry will be deep deep deeply “prejudiced” against rightie (just as right handed people can’t bother to conceive why any concessions should be made to deviant lefties!) (In the latter example actual handedness — the bilateral symmetry of humans, mammals, etc. is being referred to: in chemistry, “handedness” is a metaphor, an analogy: molecules don’t have hands; but they are oriented one way or another in space.
2004 10 02: I have to stick the following somewhere till I find time to do something with it:
The bulk of persons with IQs of 140 (supposed genius level (ten points higher than are needed for Mensa) are still more than stupid enough to swallow most of the society’s illusions.
2015 05 19 IQ testing was first presented to me, a grade school victim, as objective, competent. But by the time I was testing for college I heard the city fathers admit that results were skewed by ethnicity: it wasn’t an accident that the “white” kid was going to do better than the “black” kid. Yesterday, right up the same alley, I read an article about the number of Jews who’ve won Novel Prizes compared to respective populations: only a few Jews / lots and lots of Jewish laureates. Insults were reserved for Muslims, adulation for famous British universities. Again, the fallacy is circular: the white jury rewards the blond beauty contestant. Not only are literates rewarding literacy, they’re rewarding their brand of literacy. Of course the Oxford scholar will outscore the Harlem school kid.
But so what? The tests are run by schools, the schools are run by universities which are run by corporations: the corporations have as always suckered the general public to pay for the dividing of populations into labor and management. There’s affluence for the technocrats, moderate wages for the laborers, and nothing at all for the Jesus, for the genius, for the independent.