Tuesday, October 21, 2014


People have at various stages in my life described me as intelligent. I must confess I think of myself as intelligent, and at least 'above average' intelligence.

This is despite not knowing what intelligence is, nor having ever bothered to find out what the average of it might be. I also embrace the theory of multiple intelligences. Furthermore, I am in a position to understand that whatever brand of 'intelligence' I possess is not of great consequence in my ability to obtain success and/or happiness and know the many ways it actually hinders this pursuit.

So if I give you the following numbers:


You probably possess the capacity to create the following:


From this:


You probably possess the capacity to create the following:

112358132134 etc.

But it probably was less likely given the partial information provided in the second example '112' that your imagination would run away with the Fibonnaci sequence as it was that you would just count through the integers when given '123'.

Whatever it is about me that I and others seem to recognise as intelligence, what I can only suspect other people are seeing is my ability to take a part of a concept and infer or extrapolate the rest and quickly.

If you will what my mind does reflexively and rapidly is upon being shown a foundation - it builds the whole room, roofs it, decorates and populates it with inhabitants - before the tour guide says anything or I read a plaque on the wall. 

Often when the tour guide says stuff, inaccuracies are revealed to me - the building would have been finished in stucco rather than stone for example. But there is a bunch of stuff I guessed correct - distinguishing the kitchen from the bedrooms, the toilet from the fire pit etc.

Thus to describe how I generally live my life, if I can tolerate the consequences of the inaccuracies my models produce then I am happy to enjoy the speed and efficiency with which my mind builds them.

The pitfall is of course hubris (and not the only pitfall) which is to say being overconfident in my models. Thus if I listen to a Gabor Mate video (or hours worth) since his central arguments make intuitive sense to me, I take a small piece of information from someone who has spent a lifetime accumulating expertise - rapidly construct the implied universe that small piece of information is the foundation of and regard myself as an expert in this case the bio-psycho-social model.

Here though, my inaccuracies might be slight, the scale over which this expertise is then applied by me, means the inaccuracies I generate are actually frequent and consequential.

My mind does this with everything, and builds models using other pre-existing models as a short cut. I describe myself as an analogous thinker. This is my attachment to Musashi Miyamoto as a thinker, and his own 'Way' or heiho - that by knowing one thing you know all things.

The trick though is restricted that 'one thing' down to as small a principle as you can possibly retain confidence in. I then have to ruthlessly second guess all excessive things I am inclined to believe I know.

Predicting sequences from initial information forms the basis of much IQ test questions. Ironically maths is one area or one of the multiple intelligences I actually would rate myself as below average in and at the very least clearly not brilliant, in that regard its a poor example. Constructing a house from foundation stones is much more my forte.

But even with this aptitude, it does not render me qualified to take on situations. It renders me more likely to take on scenarios I am not qualified to deal with. One of my common pitfalls is psychotherapy and interventions.

I can build a very good predictive model of how someone will behave, and subsequently how a social situation will pan out. I can back fit that model with an explanation of the drivers of the relevant behavior. But I often mistake explaining for 'knowing' and what follows is that I try to intervene.

The trouble is that while I might 'know' that somebodies addictive behavior is driven by say medicating symptoms of depression, chances are that somebody doesn't 'know' this, and possibly neither 'knows' they have depression or that they are addicted.

And here's the gap, I'm not qualified and am dealing with much uncertainty. My models can be quite accurate predictors of future behavior - (it's in fact quite easy, you just predict they will continue to behave as they always have). It makes me good at gambling. It makes me terrible at intervening.

Truth is, much of what drives all behavior, including mine is not conscious. I tell people that I quit sugar because I'm addicted. Almost all the people I tell this to are sugar addicts, in the grips of sugar addiction. You probably are addicted to sugar.

Do you think this? Probably not, you are likely to have never tried to quit, nor thought of sugar as an addictive substance, nor noticed your purchases of candy are compulsive and often not premeditated. Furthermore the consumption of sugar is normal. As is Caffeine, 80% of the worlds population ingest caffeine on a daily basis. Does anybody identify themselves as a caffeine addict? A bunch, but when Caffeine is recognised as the worlds most ingested drug, refined sugar doesn't seem to be factored into study.

My models lead me into the impression that I know why people act as they do - but if they don't know why they do what they do, I am just making a bet, often using language as a proxy for an emotional state.

I spent I would say 80-90% of my psychology sessions talking about 'my problems' as other peoples problems that I couldn't figure out. My psychologist patiently sat through session after session as we tried to figure out why people around me were causing me so much duress, until finally I actually realised that we weren't talking about other people's problems but my own.

I don't know what in my psychologists training told her to not to disillusion me that I was attending therapy to deal with other peoples problems, but this is a patience and discipline I don't have. I am not a psychologist, I am not qualified. I haven't actually built a reliable model of my self yet.

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