Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why IQ tests don't work

We've all heard people decrying the value of IQ tests: particularly that they are either culturally biased, or that they only exhibit one dimension of intelligence.

I suggest additional reasons for that value being limited.

I have always found IQ tests relatively easy - but I'm mathematically inclined.  Further, in my experience people that are clearly below an IQ of, say, 80, are clearly lacking some general capabilities.

My thinking is that  the upper end of IQ results reflect mathmatical/logical capability, but it doesn't measure the broad range of human capabilities.  Likewise, low scores are indicative of a disability.  Yet for those who score mid-range, it's hard to say anything useful about their intelligence.

There have been a number of alternatives suggested for the straight IQ measure, such as intelligence that is social, emotional, visual/artistic, musical, and so on.  I find myself in agreement that "IQ" measures only a limited range of a person's intellectual capabilities.

My suggestion is that those IQ measures that score mid-range are only demonstrating their mid-range logic capabilities, and that we have no sufficient measure of their capabilites in the broader aspects of human capabilities.

It was suggested to me that those with aptitude for classical music are likely to be pretty intelligent on typical IQ measures.  Yet my reading of the music industry more generally suggests that there are many musicians that are neither very logical in general, nor very capable of managing their own lives - even equalising for other factors such as self-medication.  Syd Barrett is typically held up for this measure in the music sphere; Van Gogh - and many others - are rightly or wrongly depicted as exemplary in the musical world.  I would be surprised if surrogate IQ tests didn't place them mid-range; however, I'm sure there are vast swathes of musicians that are highly intelligence in the IQ measure - it's just that such a measure is not directly relevant to their  particular expertise.

[What it has to do with brain function is an interesting question.  Recent findings have, for example, suggested that autism is much to do with a differential ability (or dis-)  of different regions of the brain to communicate with each other - and that high-functioning autism (so-called savant) may be an aspect of the same, that is, abnormality in the networking of different regions of the brain.]

Comments welcome.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Art prize scandal: trustees look even stupider

The $25,000 Wynne prize is looking pretty tatty at the moment.  The newly-crowned winner should be dethroned, sent home empty-handed, and the trustees should look suitably abject, and cast around forlornly for a replacement.

The problem: the winner, Sam Leach, has copied from a 1660 painting, Boatmen Moored on the Shore of a Lake, by a Dutch painter called Adam Pynacker.

The Wynne Trustees were out and about today, defending their decision.  One spouted something about there being no conventions for referencing another work... even Edmund Capon, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and himself a Trustee, has been stubbornly holding his line.

"Referencing", my foot.  It's out-and-out plaguarism, as can be clearly seen from a side-by-side comparison in today's Herald.

The Wynne prize, one of the more lucrative art prizes in Australia, is dished out each year by the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for an Australian landscape painting.  Past winners have stretched the meaning of the word landscape (one, I recall, seemed more of a self-portrait than landscape).  But it's never been awarded for a landscape originally done before any European had even heard of Australia.

The media has been remarkably restrained, for some unfathomable reason.  They reiterate that the painter had not tried to conceal the similarity - but then, he had not made clear the extent of similitude - which omission was quite egregious. The exact composition of the painting has been retained, down to reproducing the tendrils of branch across the top and the variegated wood snaking across the bottom.  Only the subject boat/men of the original have been painted out.

Whether you argue the blatancy of the act or the lack of Australian landscape, the award should obviously be revoked.

In their favour, the Trustees cannot be expected to be across the full catalogue of the last five centuries of European art.  But once the truth is made clear, it is remarkably stupid to attempt to defend the indefensible.  They only get egg on their faces if they open their mouths.

Edmund Capon, a highly respected member of the Sydney establishment, has in recent times made increasingly serious noises about retiring.  If he doesn't change tack on this issue, one way or another his retirement will be hastened.

The whole thing is so stupid, and to persist is even worse.

Update  29-Apr-2010:
The Trustees' verdict is in.  And if you're of the same mind, "common sense has prevailed" and the artist will keep his prize.  The decision is reported here in the Herald.  The more telling comments:
a) The Trustees said that when awarding the prize, they recognised the winner had the "light and air" of a Dutch 17th century painting, but also "appreciated its quality and mysterious implications of the natural world".
b) "none of the 10 trustees present was in favour [of revoking the prize]".
c) ...however, "some felt that the artist should have made a greater declaration of the source of inspiration".
d) Capon: "there's no way in the world that the same board of trustees will look at the Wynne next year without the recollection and the memory of what's happened this year".
e) The art gallery board said the painting was an "idealised landscape, one where time and place are indistinct."

Bollocks.  The clear translation: the Trustees had egg on their faces, but didn't want it to seem even worse by revoking the prize.  Idiots.
The last words go to some letter-writers to the Herald (to be found here):
"The Wynne Prize judges could not have done otherwise. By revoking the prize, they would have disqualified themselves and made themselves unfit in the first place to award the prize for a copy of a painting made in the Netherlands before the discovery of Australia."
Bela Somssich-Szogyeny

"The board of trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW must be living in an ''idealised'' reality. They are either disingenuous, ignorant or plain wrong to suggest that Sam Leach's Wynne-winning painting was an ''idealised landscape, one where time and place are indistinct''. I can inform them the time is 17th century, the place, Italy."
Glen op den Brouw

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Are you sure this is reality?

We do not know reality: we only perceive it.  Our perceptions are constrained by the limitations of our bodies, the chief of which is the body’s drastically limited timespan.  We extend the range of our immediate ability to perceive, but we are ultimately still very much constrained.  Our perceptions are affected by:
a)      The body’s limitations, such as hunger, fatigue, tolerable temperature range, and so on;
b)      The necessity to mediate our way through the body’s world: to sufficiently fit in to the world around it.
That latter encompasses both physical limitations and the dominant necessity to navigate through interactions with other bodies.  Those other bodies may or may not be inhabited by consciousnesses like ours – it matters not, it’s the verisimilitude that counts.

So in effect, we could be in a comprehensive simulation: that is, trapped inside a “virtual reality” environment that we know not how to exit.

Consciousness of that effect has been heightened in recent years by the emergence of new technologies that get ever closer to simulating [our own understanding of] reality.  This to the point where a syndrome has been documented whereby some people have become convinced that this current “reality” is some sort of simulation.

Philosophically, this is not new.  Science fiction writers in particular have expressed this idea from time to time.  Two writers who have explored this theme several times are Daniel Galouye and, of course, Philip K Dick.

In Dick’s case, the theme is obsessive, something that has in fact dominated his life.  There remains debate over whether his pathology was drug-induced (he had a long and deep history with various psychoactive drugs) or whether he had a pre-existing condition which he reacted to by self-medicating.  There are arguments both ways, but they’re academic now.  What is clear is that the theme (that reality is not as we perceive it) is deeply pervasive throughout his work.  Interestingly, this may be what led to him being the hottest commodity in Hollywood amongst traditional science fiction writers*, albeit mostly after his death, as technological improvements better enabled Hollywood to realise his visions.

Galouye is another story.  Largely unheralded, and dying young,  first encountered by me through the novels Counterfeit World and Dark Universe (when in the course of absorbing my high school library’s science fiction collection).  The former (published as Simulacron 3 in the US) exemplifies this sub-genre: how do you ever tell if you’ve escaped from the simulation into reality?

In fact, a common feature in these science fiction treatises is the discovery of a flaw in the simulation: a thread pulled which unravels the simulation.  (the answer: construct a better simulation that plugs the hole.)

I was reminded of all this on a simple bus ride, observing the people outside my vehicular universe and trying to verify whether there was a difference between reality and a simulation thereof.  Technological advances are going to make it increasingly hard to be confident of tha tdifference.  We’re likely to see much more simulation/reality psychosis.  But as Dick might say: is it really psychosis?

*Some films based on his work include  Blade Runner (‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’), Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall (‘We Can Dream It For You Wholesale’), Next (‘The Golden Man’).