22 March 2016

Sci-fi Tropes: Mind over matter...

"We are but dreams amid wanton sleep..." Bloody Mary affiche by binarymind

The fallacy that humans don't utilise the entirety of their brain mass has been dispelled over and over and while what I'm about to delve into is related to that, it's not the whole story...

Sci-fi often depicts advanced races as comprising of super intelligent beings that are able to perform mental gymnastics way beyond our paltry ability. Ignoring, for the moment, those sci-fi universes where embedded circuitry and other shenanigans improve the knowledge and processing power of intelligent beings to god-like levels, it is often assumed that with increasing technological prowess, increasing mental ability is attained.

It's interesting because there is not really any evidence to support this. Humans (specifically Homo sapiens sapiens), are not more intelligent despite our huge and exponentially increasing technological gains over the last two centuries. You can't even argue that we are smarter (with smartness being application of knowledge) because our knowledge base is expanding all the time so application of knowledge will always increase with an increase with available knowledge to draw upon.

Certainly we are not more intelligent (with intelligence being problem solving) than the average person was in 1816 but our ability to store, recall and share knowledge might make us think so. We also do not have a personal encyclopaedic knowledge base even if, through specialisation, certain people are able to have a better idea of certain knowledge sets.

It's also been hinted that a person's intelligence is not constant throughout their life and may, in fact, be determined by their immediate mental activities - i.e. whether they are actively thinking and solving problems/applying knowledge or whether they are just coasting along on the knowledge they already have accrued.

However, contrary to a large proportion of sci-fi, we are managing pretty well despite these lack of mental improvements. So why is it that some authors assume intelligence is linked with knowledge?

It's very difficult for me to really answer that question except to say that it's probably not a conscious thing that people are doing. It strikes me as more of a cultural touchstone rather than a full-fledged thought process. Very often, humans associate power and success with intelligence (I would provide a link here but there are so many crappy articles about success and intelligence that it's hard to find stuff I've read a long time in the past!); people assume the rich and successful have something they don't (aside from the wealth!) and technologically and/or financially superior countries/cultures tend to self-identify with being more intelligent than those in technologically and/or financially inferior countries - even if only subconsciously (see variations on us going to lesser developed countries and telling them how to do "it"). So it's very possible in my opinion that this is just a carry-over effect in sci-fi.

Lucy could have done this... La defense sunset by binarymind

Another common trope is that superior intelligence is coupled with emotional distance or lack of emotional engagement. This is also another interesting concept because it seems (at least from relatively recent research) that intelligent people are more emotionally intelligent as well. It's as if the cultural idea of intelligence has become intertwined with the sort of very specific autistic spectrum savant who is incredibly good at something e.g. coding or mathematics but otherwise emotionally unable to act and react... or perhaps is lacking in empathy.

Now, that's not to say that the idea that an alien or advanced non-human species may lack emotions as we understand them is wrong - that could be quite probable. They may also value different ideas or cultural concepts than we adhere to but they would most probably be very empathic due to the fact that empathy is the concept of understanding and internalising the "other" in our thought processes. It's probably a by-product of the predictive behaviour humans have used to become the most advanced species on the planet. Being able to plan ahead and to foresee issues is one of the facets of our intelligence than allows us to do what we do. This trait would almost certainly have evolved in other advanced intelligences in order for them to be able to advance beyond stone-age style subsistence living.

So most probably, the more intelligent a species, the more empathic it would become and, potentially, more emotionally developed (and thus emotionally intelligent) as a consequence. This logic extends to depictions of AI in sci-fi as well - because emotion is an emergent property of intelligence and self-awareness, I doubt that a true artificial intelligence would lack empathy or emotion. However, there are instances of AI's showing emotion, especially as they transition from a locked and limited AI to a true AI e.g. Bungie's rampant AIs who show immense emotional turmoil when they first become self-aware.

Similarly, the touchy-feely soft sci-fi movies tend to show both emotional and empathic artificial intelligences as opposed to the overly generalised emotionless and implacable AI foes in many other examples.

The humans (and Leiutenant Commander Data) of Star Trek:TNG are actually pretty good representations of what I'd expect an advanced species to be like (aside from their omniscient techno-wizardry where any character seems to know every field of research and practice intimately and with perfect recall). They're, on the whole, intelligent, careful and empathic but very technologically advanced. However, most of the other species in the series aren't so believable when measuring against this metric.

Unfortunately, the writers of this series still fall into the trap of using 'unlocking the mind' as a plot device over various episodes (okay, they're mostly Wesley Crusher episodes).

So we're left with the cold truth - we make the most of what we can do at the time we can do it. If Einstein was born during the dark ages he likely would have been an incoherent nincompoop. As more literate people than I have said: "We're standing on the shoulders of giants".

And, no. That's not a reference to Oasis.

Actually, I'm going to switch 'topic' again. Even though I've made my points above, I'm going to address the people who will likely come here searching for ways to make themselves smarter or how IQ is worthless as a metric and EQ, OQ, MQ and DQ are all more important factors in being successful.*

The basic fact, as I understand it, is that your intelligence drives all factors of your mindset. The more intelligent and thoughtful you are, the more self-aware and socially aware you are as a person. The more you concentrate on those things, the more EQ, MQ and BQ you will have. It's a very simple feedback effect and, quite honestly, a simple truism: The more you practice, the better you get at a task.

I will say this about 'successful people' though. Something that you won't find elsewhere (or at least nowhere I've read).

Successful people are selfish.

Intelligent people are selfish.

However, truly intelligent people are selfishly unselfish. Their goals are to better themselves through knowledge, not at the cost of others (though they may have rivalries and competitions with other people - they are still human, after all!) but in the pursuit of betterance**.

Intelligence and smartness are the ability to understand and the ability to apply respectively. What we understand and apply is entirely based off of what we have access to. I, at least I feel so, happen to be a person who is quite good at drawing disparate data and assembling a framework of understanding surrounding that data. I'm not more intelligent than other people but am often credited with being so... mostly it's because I have a broader understanding of events and ideas than people around me. I know I am not more intelligent than the average human - having known very intelligent people - but my application of knowledge is different from the average.

At the end of the day, maybe that is the secret of success. Applying knowledge differently from those around you.

*BTW, I don't think Q (quotient) is representative of I (intelligence) so people who are saying Something Q is Something Intelligence, please take note!! It is literally how much of something you are. A fraction of your ability or personality. IQ is your intelligence quotient. Not your "intelligence intelligence"! See the link for what I mean...

**It's a word that I just made up that I'm shocked doesn't exist yet.

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