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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Frontiers of Human Intelligence

How far can we go?

In the last few days I have been reading James R. Flynn’s What is Intelligence? The book includes some extremely important information and arguments about the nature of human intelligence. In particular, it indirectly sheds light upon the nature of Integrated Intelligence, and why it is so poorly understood. Integrated Intelligence is my term for the transpersonal awareness which permits one to gain deeper insight into the spiritual aspects of life. It is what allows for the development of Deep Futures.

James Flynn is best known for his discovery of The Flynn Effect: that IQ scores have been increasing greatly since intelligence testing first began more than a century ago. In the USA between 1947 and 2002, IQ has increased about 17.5 IQ points. Logically, and via extrapolation, we might conclude that our grandparents were mentally retarded by today’s standards. However logic is only as good as the premises which underpin it, and as Flynn is at pains to point out, the massive increases in IQ scores probably do not equate to an equivalent real world increase in intelligence. However I am not going to discuss this specific point today.

Most interesting for me is what particular aspects of measured intelligence have been improving, and which have not. The greatest increases in the USA between 1947 and 2002 have been in Raven’s Progressive Matrices (27.5 IQ points), which involve visual manipulation of symbols and abstract reasoning. Raven’s involves such tasks as arranging blocks so that the view from above duplicates a presented pattern, building an object out of its disassembled parts, arranging pictures to tell a story and so on.

The task of identifying similarities has also improved about 24 points. How are a bear and a cat similar, for example?

Some domains have not shown so much improvement, such as reading comprehension (12 points), while scores in information, arithmetic and vocabulary have increased only about 3 points. In fact in Britain and the USA, recent data indicates that math and reading abilities have dropped off slightly in recent years.

Most nations have shown similar patterns.

People of past eras rarely or never took standardised tests, but now people are bombarded with them. This has to account for some of the improvements we have seen in IQ.

One point that Flynn argues is that our ancestors from the turn of the twentieth century processed reality quite differently. Their cognitive processing was centered in everyday reality, not upon abstraction, which is an intellectualised mental space. Modern education systems have greatly enhanced the capacity for abstraction. This is one indisputable conclusion we can draw from the data.

One of the most notable aspects of these findings is that the results of each intelligence subtest has been greatly influenced by social values and priorities. This is what I have long argued regarding the development of intuitive intelligence. The lack of valuing of the intuitive mind in modern society and education has greatly restricted its development.

The huge improvement in visual intelligence is almost certainly a function of the fact that leisure time for the young is now filled with activities requiring complex visual processing, beginning with television in the 1950s, and moving through to today’s explosion of internet usage via PCs, laptops and mobile devices.

The huge increases in Raven’s Matrices test scores also suggest that today’s children are far better at solving problems on the spot without having a prior learned method to work from.

The data and arguments presented in Flynn’s book appear to support, in a general sense, a schema which I took from science historian John Pickstone, and his book Other Ways of Knowing. Pickstone argues that there are three main ways of knowing employed in the modern world, and each developed out of particular historical contexts. Classification emerged around 1500 as universities in Europe adopted curricula based upon the scholastic movement’s need for lumping concepts (animals, plants etc.) into prearranged categories. Around 1800 analysis became more pronounced, and by 1850 experimentation was taking hold.

I have used this schema extensively in my own writing. However with a little further reading and reflection, I think that “experimentation” is too narrow a term to describe scientific thinking. It also incorporates the kinds of mental abilities that James Flynn describes in his idea of scientific thinking. Flynn argues that the gains in IQ scores in recent decades are largely a function of the development of the scientific mind, and its requirements for abstraction and logical thinking. He makes the distinction between the pre-scientific and scientific minds. Flynn writes:

A person who views the world through pre-scientific spectacles thinks in terms of the categories that order perceived objects and functional relationships…. If the everyday world is you cognitive home, it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and see the hypothetical from their concrete referents… Today we have no difficulty freeing logic from concrete referents and reasoning about purely hypothetical situations.

To back his arguments, Flynn takes fascinating and somewhat humorous examples from the research of famed Russian psychologist Luria in the 1970s, when the latter interviewed Russian peasants. I have listed a couple of interview  extracts, below.         
White bears and Novaya Zemlya
Q:  All bears are white where there is always snow; in Novaya Zemlya there is always snow; what color are the bears there?
A:  I have seen only black bears and I do not talk of what I have not seen.
Q:  But what do my words imply?
A;  If a person has not been there he can not say anything on the basis of words.  If a man was 60 or 80 and had seen a white bear there and told me about it, he could be believed.

Camels and Germany
Q:  There are no camels in Germany; B is a city in Germany; are there camels there?
A:  I don't know, I have never seen German villages. If B is a large city, there should be camels there.
Q:  But what if there are none in all of Germany?
A:  Perhaps this is a small village within a large city and there is no room for camels.
Now, here is the point I wish to draw from all this research, including the Flynn Effect. It is difficult for a person processing information and reality via one way of knowing to understand the thinking of those who are processing information via another way of knowing. Further, we have to make a distinction in that contemporary ways of knowing, at least to some degree, incorporate all the ways of knowing that came before it in history. This mirrors Ken Wilber’s idea of “include and transcend.” As one’s consciousness expands to a higher level, a person retains access to the cognitive processes that preceded the expansion. Indeed, at a higher level, the limitations of the lower level can be more fully appreciated. James Flynn can get his mind around the worldview of a Russian peasant, but the Russian peasant would simply be incapable of fully comprehending what the scientist is doing in his lab.

One hypothesis that I would like to put forward is that the development of mind from pre-scientific to scientific might actually retard certain forms of perception. The detachment and abstraction of the scientific mind creates a distancing from the world, and from the body and the subtle intuitions of spirit; and with that comes a loss of relationship knowledge.

My argument is that the development of Integrated Intelligence - as I define it, and as I experience it - transcends the scientific mind. It enables one to utilise scientific and logical ways of knowing, but expands upon them. It also enables a greater array of data to be accessed via the extended mind. The mind becomes more permeable, and the scientific assumption that mind is contained within the brain is seen to be a delusion. Having incorporated and transcended the scientific mind, it is easy to understand the limits of the scientific mind and why it is incapable of understanding Integrated Intelligence. However the reverse is not true. Using logic, abstraction, detachment, experimentation is simply inadequate to access and utilise Integrated Intelligence, and to understand it.

There are fantastic insights which are available via Integrated Intelligence. Perhaps most vitally, it allows one to intuit the inherent meaning of life and specific events that occur in one’s life. These insights are simply not available to the scientific mind. This is why in order for Deep Futures to truly evolve, there is a requirement for human beings to embrace an expanded range of cognitive development.

As a result of a commitment to developing Integrated Intelligence my own world is far richer than it once was. Many might suggest that such a world an extraordinary world where extraordinary “intelligence” is exhibited. This is only true from the perspective of the pre-scientific and scientific minds. For the Russian peasant, doing calculus must appear to be absolutely incredible, but it is standard fair in a modern university. I predict that one day in the not too distant future, Integrated Intelligence will be standard. I have already seen many “ordinary” people develop it.

However, in order for the potential widespread activation of Integrated Intelligence to occur, the relevant cognitive processes have to be employed in life and/or education. They have to be understood, and most of all they have to be valued. The recent massive increases in the capacity for abstraction and visual intelligence have arisen because of society’s increased valuing of these concepts. I predict the same will occur with Integrated Intelligence - if it is valued.

Whether it will be valued anytime soon remains to be seen.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a valuable perspective, Marcus, clearly and cogently presented. (And the Russian peasant stories are very entertaining, as well as telling.)

    Regarding your last question, I think that the human race simply isn't going to survive the pressures and stresses of the 21st century without developing more inclusive and less ego-driven modes of cognition and behaviour. Intuitive intelligence perceives the whole of life on the Earth as a continuous web of consciousness - and we urgently need to learn to respect and love the planet and its beings much better than we do at the moment.