Author defines the main idea of this book as to look at and find answers for the following questions:” Why do smart people act stupidly? What skills and dispositions are they missing that can explain these mistakes? And how can we cultivate those qualities to protect us from those errors? “
Author begins his introduction with the story of Kary Mullis Nobel prized scientist who promotes all kind of crazy staff on internet. From here author goes to his discovery that:” Intelligent and educated people are less likely to learn from their mistakes, for instance, or take advice from others. And when they do err, they are better able to build elaborate arguments to justify their reasoning, meaning that they become more and more dogmatic in their views. Worse still, they appear to have a bigger “bias blind spot,” meaning they are less able to recognize the holes in their logic.” Author believe that it is result of what he calls “Intelligence Trap” – tendency of highly intelligent people to overestimate their knowledge and understanding.
Part I-The downsides of intelligence: How a high IQ. education. and expertise can fuel stupidity
This Part “defines the problem. It explores the flaws in our understanding of intelligence and the ways that even the brightest minds can backfire—from Arthur Conan Doyle’s dogged beliefs in fairies to the FBI’s flawed investigation into the Madrid bombings of 2004—and the reasons that knowledge and expertise only exaggerate those errors.”
1: The rise and fall of the Termites: What intelligence is—and what it is not
Author begins this chapter with the story of Termites – the group of children selected for observation and study because of their exceptionally high IQ by Lewis Terman. Author then discusses IQ tests, types of questions used, theory of general intelligence and multitude of its use. After that author refer to high IQ study results that demonstrated relatively high, but not especially outstanding life achievements of extremely high IQ individuals. Author also discusses Flynn Effect that demonstrated changes in average population IQ over the time. Author also discusses here “Triarchic Theory of Successful Intelligence, which examines three particular types of intelligence—practical, analytical, and creative—that can together influence decision making in a diverse range of cultures and situations.”. Author then provides an interesting definition of intelligence by Sternberg: “the ability to achieve success in life, according to one’s personal standards, within one’s sociocultural context.” Author describes results of Steinberg’s research, some of which demonstrated ability to predict outcome of business projects based on tests of participants. Author also discusses later addition of Cultural Intelligence that allow people with different backgrounds to cooperate.
2: Entangled arguments: The dangers of “dysrationalia”
Author begins this chapter with another story of highly intelligent person falling into irrational exuberance: Artur Conan Doyle and spiritualism. Author also refers to sceptic Harry Houdini who: “intuitively understood the vulnerability of the intelligent mind. “As a rule, I have found that the greater brain a man has, and the better he is educated, the easier it has been to mystify him”. Author then proceeds to discuss work of Kahneman and Tversky on cognition and then defines term “dysrationalia” – mix of biases and heuristics that causes people make illogical decisions. This follows by discussion of some statistical notions and formal logic tools. Author presents some very interesting examples of lower practical abilities of high IQ individuals such as:” Around 14 percent of people with an IQ of 140 had reached their credit limit, compared to 8.3 percent of people with an average IQ of 100. Nor were they any more likely to put money away in long-term investments or savings; their accumulated wealth each year was just a tiny fraction greater.” Another very interesting point author makes about biases is that higher level of knowledge and education actually increases bias because it provides more ammunition to defend them. Here is nice illustration:
Author concludes this chapter by sumarizing: “We have now seen three broad reasons why an intelligent person may act stupidly. They may lack elements of creative or practical intelligence that are essential for dealing with life’s challenges; they may suffer from “dysrationalia,” using biased intuitive judgments to make decisions; and they may use their intelligence to dismiss any evidence that contradicts their views thanks to motivated reasoning.”
3: The curse of knowledge: The beauty and fragility of the expert mind
Here author retells the story of false identification individual as terrorist based on poorly analyzed partial fingerprint. Based on this story author presents his list of potential intelligence trap forms:
Part 2 – Escaping the intelligence trap: A toolkit for reasoning and decision making
This Part “presents solutions to these problems by introducing the new discipline of “evidence-based wisdom,” which outlines those other thinking dispositions and cognitive abilities that are crucial for good reasoning, while also offering some practical techniques to cultivate them. Along the way, we will discover why our intuitions often fail and the ways we can correct those errors to fine-tune our instincts. We will also explore strategies to avoid misinformation and fake news, so that we can be sure that our choices are based on solid evidence rather than wishful thinking.”
4: Moral algebra: Toward the science of evidence-based wisdom
In this chapter author refers to Ben Franklin to demonstrate workings of specific type of mindset that author calls “evidence-based wisdom”. He provides as example this idea:” The idea that “I am wise because I know that I know nothing” may have become something of a cliché, but it is still rather remarkable that qualities such as your intellectual humility and capacity to understand other people’s points of view may predict your well-being better than your actual intelligence.” After that author makes point that this mindset is not given, but rather could be developed and describes results of supporting experiments. Author also refer to works of Tetlock and his “Good Judgement project”. At the end of chapter author discusses cultural differences between West and East – one tending overestimate and another underestimate own ability and even height.
5: Your emotional compass: The power of self-reflection
Here author looks at another specific problem:” The problem is that most people—including those with high general intelligence, education, and professional expertise—lack the adequate self-reflection to interpret the valuable signals correctly and identify the cues that are going to lead them astray. According to the research, bias doesn’t come from intuitions and emotions per se, but from an inability to recognize those feelings for what they really are and override them when necessary; we then use our intelligence and knowledge to justify erroneous judgments made on the basis of them”.
Author then refers to work of Damasio and Barrett on unity of intellectual and emotional processing that demonstrate how much more complex is human behavior and achievement that could be expected from IQ driven approach. At the end of chapter author provides a very interesting graph of expertise levels:
6: A bullshit detection kit: How to recognize lies and misinformation
Here author presents quite a few examples of BS and then provides a nice compilation of BS indicators:
Part 3—The art of successful learning: How evidence-based wisdom can improve your memory
This Part:” turns to the science of learning and memory. Despite their brainpower, intelligent people sometimes struggle to learn well, reaching a kind of plateau in their abilities that fails to reflect their potential. Evidence-based wisdom can help to break that vicious cycle, offering three rules for deep learning. Besides helping us to meet our own personal goals, this cutting-edge research also explains why East Asian education systems are already so successful at applying these principles, and the lessons that Western schooling can learn from them to produce better learners and wiser thinkers.
7: Tortoises and hares: Why smart people fail to learn
In this chapter author returns to super high IQ Termites and compares them with Richard Feynman who had decent but not outstanding IQ of 120, but achieved a lot more that Termites with IQ 190 and discusses reasons for such occurrence. He then presents rules of behavior that lead to scientific success:
- I actively seek as much new information as I can in new situations.
- Everywhere I go, I am out looking for new things or experiences.
- I am the kind of person who embraces unfamiliar people, events and places.
He also provides a list of believes that impede success:
- A failure to perform well at the task at hand will reflect your overall self-worth?
- Learning a new, unfamiliar task puts you at risk of embarrassment?
- Effort is only for the incompetent?
- You are too smart to try hard?
8: The benefits of eating bitter: East Asian education and the three principles of deep learning
Author begins this chapter by contrasting Western and Eastern approach to education as demonstrated by teacher’s choice of the student for interaction before class. Former approach calls for choosing the best student in order to demonstrate how easy it is, while latter would choose the one who is falling behind in order to demonstrate that with hard work result the positive result is achievable. Author then presents three stages of good teaching as defined by research into the process:
Author also present similarly developed effective approaches to learning:
Part 4—The folly and wisdom of the crowd: How teams and organizations can avoid the intelligence trap
“Finally, Part 4 expands our focus beyond the individual, to explore the reasons that talented groups act stupidly—from the failings of the England football team to the crises of huge organizations like BP, Nokia, and NASA.”
9: The makings of a “dream team”: How to build a supergroup
This chapter begins with a few stories of failure of seemingly superior sports teams and then expanded to political and business teams. From there author moves to describing the latest research on group dynamics. This research concentrated on 4 tasks:” generating new ideas; choosing a solution based on sound judgment; negotiating to reach compromise; and finally, general ability at task execution (such as coordinating movements and activities).” The interesting findings were that quality of thinking was correlated across the tasks, and not that much correlated with IQ of group members. The most important was member’s social sensitivity and most destructive intragroup competition. Author expands on it and concludes that the team of stars oftentimes fail. Here is the graph based on sports example:
10: Stupidity spreading like wildfire: Why disasters occur—and how to stop them
In the last chapter author analyses large scale disasters, which in reality do not really happen without warning. The typical sequence is: large number of near disaster accidents that were ignored until some unlucky circumstances made it happen. After that author looks at internal dynamics and refer to “functional stupidity” ideas when group dynamics make it beneficial for highly intelligent people behave stupidly. Author retells some stories of real disasters and then provides the list of characteristics of high-reliability organizations:
At the end author returns to Flynn and his discovery of consistent IQ increase and stresses that it is not really that important. Much more important is wisdom and author refer to work of Chicago Center for Practical Wisdom which is doing research to find out how it really works.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is quite interesting compilation of research descriptions and real-life cases demonstrating how much IQ and other similar testing procedures are overestimated as tools for predicting future performance of individuals and groups. I very much agree with this conclusion, but I always wonder why people so often forget reasons for existence of all this staff. It is not a coincidence that it was developed at the end of XIX century when traditional believes in God directed birthright selection of leaders and rulers became painfully obvious as being ineffective and increasingly pushed aside by pressure from raising middle and upper classes of capitalist society’s members self-selected for top positions via talent, hard work, and luck. This self-selection worked wonderfully at the business level, but was deemed inappropriate and cumbersome for government and big corporation. IQ, other testing, and credentialing was the response to demand to find methods quickly and cheaply identify who is good for what. I think it is time to outgrow this primitive approach for two important reasons: first it does not really work, and the second it is not really needed because AI driven computers would beat any human being hands down in this game similarly to century ago when the earliest steam engine would beat hands down any human runner. It would probably not be possible to remove until humanity still continue to be organized mainly in hierarchical order of big government and big corporation, but if humanity eventually moves away from hierarchy to different forms of organization of society, for instance as conglomeration of free agents in possession of clearly defined and sufficient resources (ownership society) voluntary coordinating their efforts in achieving some objectives, then testing and credentialing would become obsolete and takes its place in museum somewhere between Zeus worshipping paraphernalia and socialist/communist tractates on future society organization.
The last thing I want to note is author’s hilarious demonstration of the same high IQ stupidity when using global warming QA:
Here are problems with this picture that author seems to be missing:
- Global warming is controversial issue, which means that correct answer could not be possibly known. Science normally does not provide true/false answers to anything without also providing detailed description of area of application. Trivial example: Newton’s mechanics vs. Einstein relativity vs Quantum mechanics.
- Over concentration on human activities and neglect of other factors such as solar activity and about a dozen others that identified by real climatologist.
- Huge politization of the issue and complete control of government and universities by climate alarmists. If instead of democrats and republicans author used “career dependent” vs “career independent”, the result would be the same. I guess it a bit better than in Giordano Bruno times so nobody will be burned alive, but any contradiction to global warming would mean the end of scientific career. That’s probably why only retired climatologists and other STEM scientists dare to express skepticism about validity of alarm.
- It would be interesting to know what percentage of responders actually listened to congressional hearing when alarmists debated sceptics with sceptics presenting logic and factual data, while alarmists mainly emotional demonstrations.
In short, the high IQ stupidity is so prevalent that even the book about this phenomenon demonstrates high levels of high IQ stupidity of global warming / cooling / change alarmism.