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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Peak human intelligence?" Are we nearing it? Have we passed it?

Recently encountered at The Neurologica Blog:
There is an interesting article at The Conversation asking the question – have humans reached peak intelligence? ... [A]re there ultimate limits to the ability of humans to think, understand, and hypothesize? If so, are we approaching that limit now? ... [I]s there is limit to our ability to manage complexity (as opposed to just comprehending reality)?...
Some might sadly conclude that we've passed peak intelligence, at least in some demographic strata.

Are the tails of the IQ bell curve distribution getting fatter ("kurtosis")? Asymmetrically so (epistemically skewed, with a thin upper tail of "cognitive elites" and a lower "fat tail" comprised of a "Dunning-Kruger" demographic)?

More from Neurologica:
...The article essentially focuses on what we are capable of when thinking clearly, but humans do not always think clearly. We therefore backslide and this also hampers progress. One question is – is the ratio of progress to backsliding changing over historical time? Will this also reach a point of equilibrium?...
...[W]e are also developing artificial intelligence. Whatever you think about the current state and the rate of progress of this endeavor, we are steadily developing more and more intelligent machines, and eventually we will very likely develop general AI with capabilities beyond humans. We may be able to evolve intelligent machines and select them for their ability to solve scientific mysteries...
I will have more to say about "AI" in the foregoing context shortly. See my prior post "Ethical Artificial Intelligence?" for now. Author Flynn Coleman in particular argues that our AI advances may well result in the "birth" of a "new species," one (or more?) with "cognitive" abilities far exceeding those of humans.

Highly recommend you read The Conversation piece in its entirety. Quoting from it:
Will science ever be able to provide all the answers? Human brains are the product of blind and unguided evolution. They were designed to solve practical problems impinging on our survival and reproduction, not to unravel the fabric of the universe. This realisation has led some philosophers to embrace a curious form of pessimism, arguing there are bound to be things we will never understand. Human science will therefore one day hit a hard limit – and may already have done so.
Some questions may be doomed to remain what the American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky called “mysteries”…

 Well, "two cheers for uncertainty." Two cheers for the "mystery."
If we all knew everything, there would be no point in living, no need for curiosity, for inquiry, for science. It would essentially all be "history" (or, for some people, the "Godhead"). Think about it. Why would you ever even bother to read a book, watch a movie, go to a ball game, take a trip, launch a startup, or whatever? Many uncertainties resolve into verifiable knowledge. Some do not (or have not yet). It's the process of sentient experiential inquiry that really comprises worthwhile living.

Ahhh... what do I know? (Q: Is being God boring? Or does that very question simply reflect a speciocentric, anthropomorphic projective neurosis?)
Tangentially apropos,


Back to The Conversation piece:
…Biologically, we are no different than we were 40,000 years ago, but now we know about bacteria and viruses, DNA and molecules, supernovas and black holes, the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum and a wide array of other strange things.

We also know about non-Euclidean geometry and space-time curvature, courtesy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Our minds have “reached out” to objects millions of light years away from our planet, and also to extremely tiny objects far below the perceptual limits of our sense organs. By using various tricks and tools, humans have vastly extended their grasp on the world…
Yeah. But, if you're seriously reflective with respect to the import of the word "infinity," the universe will always exceed our "grasp," given our finitude. So, again, Two Cheers for Uncertainty.
"One hopes not only for the courage of one’s convictions, but also for the courage of one’s doubts in a world of dangerously passionate certainties." - the late Eric Sevareid, Not so wild a dream.


Full disclosure on my "Two Cheers for Uncertainty" riff.
14.4 Two Cheers for Uncertainty 

Imagine a life without uncertainty. Hope, according to Aeschylus, comes from the lack of certainty of fate; perhaps hope is inherently blind. Imagine how dull life would be if variables assessed for admission to a professional school, graduate program, or executive training program really did predict with great accuracy who would succeed and who would fail. Life would be intolerable—no hope, no challenge. 

Thus, we have a paradox. While we all strive to reduce the uncertainties of our existence and of the environment, ultimate success—that is, a total elimination of uncertainty—would be horrific...

Hastie, Reid. Rational Choice in an Uncertain World (p. 331). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
One of my long-time favorite books.

More to come...

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