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Ugh-ing in unison

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Highly recommend Michael Sacasas - via Navneet Alang - on "affect overload," or the way social media drifts from ubiquitous emotional displays regarding one crisis to... the same thing, but re: the next:

"Even apart from crisis, controversies, and tragedies, however, the effect is consistent: the focus is inexorably on the fleeting present. The past has no hold, the future does not come into play. Our time is now, our place is everywhere."

Sacasas argues - and I think he's right! - that this phenomenon makes it very difficult to actually stop and think about... well, anything. I'm half asleep but have been wanting to yes-and this since reading it earlier today:

The thing on Twitter, maybe a bit on Facebook too, where everyone is upset about the same thing, all at once, and you feel like you're interrupting a meeting for those distressed about the topic of the moment if you opine about anything else... it's real. It's a thing. It's the thing where someone without any apparent connection to a story of the moment announces they're tired, and the assumption - the default assumption! - will be that this is a tired from the strain of the upsetting story in the news that day, and not any other sort of tired. Not the literal tired of having not slept, nor even the personal-and-political tired of having dealt with discrimination on a personal level. (Not that the not-having-slept tired can't have personal-as-political roots of its own...) No, the tired of terrible things having happened, that you have read about. The tired of something having happened to a member or members of a demographic you're not necessarily a part of, but that you definitely consider yourself an ally of. And it's not just "tired" - it's any out-of-context ugh. The assumption is that you are plugged into exactly what everyone's talking about now, even if you're in no way employed as a commentator, and that this is an ugh at what everyone else is ugh-ing about.

The impact, then, isn't just to reduce the thoughtfulness with which it's possible to analyze current events. Nor is it just to make any thoughts not about the news seem insensitive. It's this odd performance-yet-shaping of emotion. Think of your moods in a given day. When were you happy? Sad? Angry? I suspect that even for the very online, these don't especially track with news stories. Not never - for reasons I myself don't entirely understand, I find the Weinstein story incredibly sad and angering, even by awful-story-in-the-news standards - but... not as much as it would seem from social media? Because people have offline lives, as well as all sorts of idiosyncratic things going on in their online lives, inasmuch as those can be divided at this point, etc., etc., apologies but I am tired in the literal sense. 

The overshare era is done, replaced with intense displays of emotion about what would have to be a limited part of what's impacting anyone's emotional life. Yes, this relates - in ways I'm not quite awake enough for - to Jia Tolentino's argument about the personal essay feeling irrelevant unless anchored in an issue, unless - in a sense - an op-ed. Which is a win for privacy, I guess? But seems as it if would have some downsides as well.
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plewis
1 day ago
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Fresh Start

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plewis
1 day ago
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#1350; Here, There, Everywhere

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''You teach the KIDS, Ray! You teach it to 'em when they're KIDS!!''

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plewis
6 days ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Smoking Kills

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
The coolest people smoke cigarettes, cigars, and pipes all at the same time.

New comic!
Today's News:

Just four days until book launch! Go here and scroll down to see some preview comics!

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plewis
6 days ago
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Also against individual IQ worries

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Scott Alexander recently blogged “Against Individual IQ Worries.”  Apparently, he gets many readers writing to him terrified that they scored too low on an IQ test, and therefore they’ll never be able to pursue their chosen career, or be a full-fledged intellectual or member of the rationalist community or whatever.  Amusingly, other Scott says, some of these readers have even performed their own detailed Bayesian analysis of what it might mean that their IQ score is only 90, cogently weighing the arguments and counterarguments while deploying the full vocabulary of statistical research.  It somehow reminds me of the joke about the talking dog, who frets to his owner that he doesn’t think he’s articulate enough to justify all the media attention he’s getting.

I’ve long had mixed feelings about the entire concept of IQ.

On the one hand, I know all the studies that show that IQ is highly heritable, that it’s predictive of all sorts of life outcomes, etc. etc.  I’m also aware of the practical benefits of IQ research, many of which put anti-IQ leftists into an uncomfortable position: for example, the world might never have understood the risks of lead poisoning without studies showing how they depressed IQ.  And as for the thousands of writers who dismiss the concept of IQ in favor of grit, multiple intelligences, emotional intelligence, or whatever else is the flavor of the week … well, I can fully agree about the importance of the latter qualities, but can’t go along with many of those writers’ barely-concealed impulse to lower the social status of STEM nerds even further, or to enforce a world where the things nerds are good at don’t matter.

On the other hand … well, have you actually looked at an IQ test?  To anyone with a scientific or mathematical bent, the tests are vaguely horrifying.  “Which of these pictures is unlike the others?”  “What number comes next in the sequence?”  Question after question that could have multiple defensible valid answers, but only one that “counts”—and that, therefore, mostly tests the social skill of reverse-engineering what the test-writer had in mind.  As a teacher, I’d be embarrassed to put such questions on an exam.

I sometimes get asked what my IQ is.  The truth is that, as far as I know, I was given one official IQ test, when I was four years old, and my score was about 106.  The tester earnestly explained to my parents that, while I scored off the chart on some subtests, I completely bombed others, and averaging yielded 106.  As a representative example of what I got wrong, the tester offered my parents the following:

Tester: “Suppose you came home, and you saw smoke coming out of your neighbor’s roof.  What would you do?”

Me: “Probably nothing, because it’s just the chimney, and they have a fire in their fireplace.”

Tester: “OK, but suppose it wasn’t the chimney.”

Me: “Well then, I’d either call for help or not, depending on how much I liked my neighbor…”

Apparently, my parents later consulted other psychologists who were of the opinion that my IQ was higher.  But the point remains: if IQ is defined as your score on a professionally administered IQ test, then mine is about 106.

Richard Feynman famously scored only 124 on a childhood IQ test—above average, but below the cutoff for most schools’ “gifted and talented” programs.  After he won the Nobel Prize in Physics, he reportedly said that the prize itself was no big deal; what he was really proud of was to have received one despite a merely 124 IQ.  If so, then it seems to me that I can feel equally proud, to have completed a computer science PhD at age 22, become a tenured MIT professor, etc. etc. despite a much lower IQ even than Feynman’s.

But seriously: how do we explain Feynman’s score?  Well, when you read IQ enthusiasts, you find what they really love is not IQ itself, but rather “g“, a statistical construct derived via factor analysis: something that positively correlates with just about every measurable intellectual ability, but that isn’t itself directly measurable (at least, not by any test yet devised).  An IQ test is merely one particular instrument that happens to correlate well with g—not necessarily the best one for all purposes.  The SAT also correlates with g—indeed, almost as well as IQ tests themselves do, despite the idea (or pretense?) that the SAT measures “acquired knowledge.”  These correlations are important, but they allow for numerous and massive outliers.

So, not for the first time, I find myself in complete agreement with Scott Alexander, when he advises people to stop worrying.  We can uphold every statistical study that’s ever been done correlating IQ with other variables, while still affirming that fretting about your own low IQ score is almost as silly as fretting that you must be dumb because your bookshelf is too empty (a measurable variable that also presumably correlates with g).

More to the point: if you want to know, let’s say, whether you can succeed as a physicist, then surely the best way to find out is to start studying physics and see how well you do.  That will give you a much more accurate signal than a gross consumer index like IQ will—and conditioned on that signal, I’m guessing that your IQ score will provide almost zero additional information.  (Though then again, what would a guy with a 106 IQ know about such things?)

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plewis
16 days ago
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Self Driving

4 Comments and 21 Shares
"Crowdsourced steering" doesn't sound quite as appealing as "self driving."
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popular
15 days ago
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plewis
18 days ago
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4 public comments
petrilli
16 days ago
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So much this.
Arlington, VA
mkalus
17 days ago
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"Crowd Sourced Steering" doesn't quite sound as appealing as "self driving".
iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
JayM
17 days ago
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Ha
Atlanta, GA
tante
18 days ago
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Outsourcing AI work to people
Oldenburg/Germany
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