EPISM

My previous post was a long ramble through my shitty lockdown mood. For some reason, it meandered down to talking about the amazing range of our human intelligence and the tools we have at our disposal to try and understand the world. Quite a few people managed to work their way through the swearing and ended up peering into the far reaches of the PhD I’ve been putting off for a decade.

I’ve had loads of really interesting conversations, so upon request, I’ve dug the narrative out (ctrl C + ctrl V) into a more concise link. So sincere apologies for reblogging the same old shite, but you get to taste the interesting bit, without having to knaw your way through the chewy bit.

Extraction…

A picture of Daniel Kahneman's face next to the cover of his book: Thinking Fast and Slow.

I have studied and worked with behaviour change for many years and I’m a practicing fan. If you’ve not read the paradigm-shifting book, based on the work of Dan and Amos, you are sorely missing out. The big message is: you have two modes of thinking; Type 1 fast and intuitive, like catching a ball; Type 2 slow and deliberate, like working out 17 x 23. Both have strengths and weaknesses but in everyday use you are typically neither one, nor t’other.

In short, behavioural economics turned accepted theory for how we make decisions, on its head. The field is pretty much all about the heuristics and biases that we use all the time, to make quick decisions. This stuff is peppered all over these blogs and I’ll certainly dedicate one to the subject but for now, think of it like tricks of the trade. You’ll find absolutely loads of perception tricks and optical illusions from a quick Google…. cutting a long story short, we have many more than 5 senses!

A picture of an imaginary human, with body parts resized to match the amount of brain power required to run them. A little naked man with huge hand and mouth.
Cortical Homunculus – the powerful little shit, who lives in your head.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, balance, direction, anticipation etc are way more integrated than the specific holes in your skin through which some stimulation arrives. Human ears are rubbish, discernment of odours pathetic, our eyes only focus on about 2% of the view and the hands, mouth and genitals are more neurologically expensive than everything else put together. This isn’t a picture of my personal homunculus, she’s female, but this is how you’d look if your body had the same proportions as their equivalent cognitive load.

We do not perceive the world around us, one sense at a time or just in our heads. We are cognitive beings and use all of us, all at the same time, but that also means it’s really easy to confuse your perception, when some of the stimuli are disrupted. So your homunculus fills in the gaps by just… making shit up.

One particularly amazing and accessible example of this is called the McGurk Effect and there are some lovely Videos about hearing being altered by sight, when the sound is unchanged. Hence banging on about your senses not just being the mechanical stimuli that pile in through your biological detectors, but also the formulation of that stimuli into a sense of the world.

The set of patterns, combined with memories, concepts, recognitions, relieving knowns and scary unknowns that make up perception and produce a physical feeling of yourself in that context. That’s right, your perception creates a feeling, not just an emotion, but also a physical feeling and one that often, you can’t easily describe. Afterall what does feeling something, actually mean?

EQ PQ IQ SQ MQ

No, that’s not the name of some super evolved Pokemon. When I worked my way through Dan and Amos for the second time, it’s a tough read, I mapped it all out as I went along, on a picture that stretched across all four walls of an empty office. I have 20:20 hindsight and should have taken some pictures, before the painters got to work, unannounced! But in doing so I thought Dan had missed a trick in the categorisation of thinking types and I came up with a Type 3 and two intermediate states. It wasn’t me, it was her, busy in the back of my head, kicking it all about.

There is no real Homunculus in the back of your head running your Type 1 thinking, it’s imaginary. But because it is, I can extend the imagination to assume that they’ve also got Homunculus Bluetooth and can wirelessly talk to each other, unbeknown to us, as they sit there in the back our heads. Don’t panic, I’m not completely mad yet, it’s just a metaphor, like Type 1 and Type 2 although I suspect that unlike Dan, my Nobel Prize is still in the post. If our internal cognition combines to form the emergent feeling, it’s not much of leap to suggest that when people get together there’s another collective emergent property. A Type 3 perhaps, but I choose to think of all these Types, as Intelligences.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised after all this, when I say that your intelligences all work, all at the same time and are bloody leaky. But most fascinatingly of all and where Dan and Amos were absolutely on the ball with Thinking Fast and Slow: is your intelligences all operate at different speeds!


Everywhere you go, all the time EQ is running in the background. Imagine yourself walking casually into a big room and then suddenly, you get a weird feeling.

Most people have heard of Emotional Intelligence EQ, afterall we are Homo Sapiens, so it should come as no surprise in terms of intelligence that we have more than just the traditional IQ. Unfortunately, I can guarantee that much of what you’ve heard, is utter gobshite. EQ has not got much to do with being sad or mad, very little to do with self control and nothing whatsoever to do with either suppressing your feelings or exuding continuous inane positivity. EQ is all that stuff I described above: the gathering of external stimuli together with the internal experience required to create that momentary, emergent state of awareness. The whole thing, again in Dan’s terms, is Type 1 all the way up to the moment when your homunculus rings a bell in your head and you look up.

This can be really disturbing when it’s exaggerated by stress and anxiety. It’s as if your homunculus escapes and goes mad. Sat on your shoulder like an invisible stress monkey, it jumps and shouts and rings the bell right in your ear, for just about bloody anything. It shatters your nerves, knackers you out and jumps on anybody who comes near. I play a game with people in team away days, to bring the naughty Homunculus to life. It has to be the opposite gender to you, adolescent, uncooperative and be completely and utterly bloody evil, with the extreme opposites of all your good points. It’s really good fun to let your friends help, as they’ll create something much more grotesque, but either way give the horrible little bugger a memorable name. Then when it shows up, sat on your shoulder, doing its thing, everyone knows what to shout, to get it back in its box #Rumplestiltskin.


Poised at the edge of the room, you’ve sensed something weird and then you stop. Your PQ is making sure that you don’t inadvertently step in anything nasty.

You may already be familiar with the concept of Physical Intelligence PQ. Have you got one of those friends who can play the piano beautifully, swoosh their drink and chat to you, all at the same time? I know, bloody annoying isn’t it, as they sit there looking so wonderful and effortless. It’s as if their hands and feet are doing it all by themselves, or even their homunculus is driving. There have been a few shitty articles about PQ being rubbish and it’s all in your head, but the idea is an analogy. Nobody is suggesting your body works without your brain, but it’s not just your brain and that’s exactly how it feels, when you’re really bloody good at something. Ok call it a skill if you like, but that’s a pitiful underestimate of the power of a complex sequence of actions embedded deep into your bones. Tools are in fact, a direct extension of your PQ so our species could even be reclassified as, Homo Faber, the Maker Ape.

In sports psychology it’s called flow, or in the zone, when everything feels effortless, your ability is tightly coupled to the challenge at hand and time slows, just for you. If that’s not intelligence, I’m a Englishman. Now there’s certainly a bodily fitness component to your physical wellbeing, but it doesn’t have to be athletic or head to toe in lycra. For us ordinary humans, PQ might appear when chopping onions, doing your makeup, stacking a shelf, grafting a cider apple tree, in a gentle external cephalic version, or just driving your car. When was the last time, you told your left foot to push the clutch? You lift your hand toward the gearstick and your foot’s already there. PQ is next fastest, because like the left foot, it starts operating before you really notice. Your nervous system belts around your body at 250 mph based on familiar cues and you don’t have to do much, to trigger it. So your PQ definitely has an element of Type 1 but when you’re not so adept, you can also concentrate and get it right with Type 2. In fact that’s how you turn an innateness into a talent, so clearly this is one of those intermediate states.


Inside the room and now fully aware of the field of play, you stand there concentrating on all the data flooding in. Your IQ slowly and deliberately loops down and around, to a bloody good guess.

Everyone is familiar with the concept of Mental Intelligence and a measure of IQ. It’s essentially a blunt instrument about processing speed in various directions. Down in and up out, it’s designed to see how quickly you can think about different things and how much thinking you can hold in your head at the same time. I was obsessed with this for a while and I’m not declaring any numbers (despite the spreadsheet) but I’ve never been able to beat my 10 year old self. None of the tests and I’ve done them all, go anywhere near the entire, creative imagination side of thinking, so it’s just a test of working memory, not deep memory – that is different and is obsessed with smells, for some reason. Dan might even say that this is pure Type 2 in action, logical and determined. IQ is still fast but a little late to the party. The freeze, fight or flight reaction is already in gear, but you do get a brief window of opportunity to make a choice, providing the stress hasn’t taken over and you’re already under the table. Type 2 kicks in and you get to look around, take it all in & square up the feeling, with what you can now deliberately and slowly attempt to interpret.

IQ is very context specific and weirdly just like PQ, if you don’t keep using it, you start losing it. So as amazing as this is, thinking really hard about a difficult problem can be really fun and stimulating, but only for a while. Cognitive overload is as dangerous in a moment of risk, as it is debilitating to all your other faculties, when it becomes chronic. Everyone learns and grows just by being alive, irrespective of any particular level of IQ, but if it is high, some of that learning will be a little bit easier. BUT and that’s a big but, I know a couple of people toward the top of the scale, who can’t tie their own shoelaces without banging their head and a couple toward the bottom, whom you’d gladly spend the rest of your life with.


Stood there, you’ve scanned the room and noticed that ‘Slimeball’ is looking mad as hell. Your SQ now takes over and you consider running across the room and high fiving your friends.

Not last and certainly not least, all types of primate yearn for a sense of belonging, or being a part of something bigger and understanding your place within it. It’s called Social Intelligence and the easiest way to understand SQ is when it’s absent. You all know someone who doesn’t understand how to behave in a room full of people. There’s even some pretty stunning research by Robin Dunbar to suggest that the size of the neocortex in your brain is directly proportional the number of people with whom, you can maintain a stable relationship: it tops out at about 150. The sad thing is, very few institutions take SQ seriously, despite the organisation only really existing in the interactions between its people. Go on remove the people and see what the building does on its own: even Bezos had to give in. Possibly one of the most undervalued of all the intelligences despite the inordinate amount of evidence for the positive effects of a sense of belonging, being connected and having opportunities to develop relationships.

If PQ is the speed of your body, SQ is like the speed of your mother. Social intelligence is slow to develop, takes a generation to change and for people pushed around from pillar to post, almost impossible. There are things that your parents could say and do in public, that would now certainly get you arrested or put on some kind of list. Despite that, a deep sense of belonging is the key to resilience, to be able to depend upon others is incredibly powerful and that’s squared, when you’re happy for other people to feel like, they can depend upon you. There are Cognitive Biases here too, like group think, so it’s important to share stories that expose it, like that of Kitty Genovese. So, I’d go a step further and suggest that SQ is all about understanding your place, your value, in the eyes of others and I call it Socience. A bit of Type 1 and Type 2 and Type 3 coming in from the outside that allows you to see into the minds and empathise with the homunculus of those around you. SQ is as much about the person you could be, as the one you are.


Mortified by the exuberance of your high five, you discover that Slimeball’s dog was in a hit and run. Your MQ now kicks in, late as usual and files the feeling deep in your soul.

Surely, it’s now not much of a stretch to imagine that you also have a distinct rather slow, but long living sense of right and wrong, irrespective of context and especially when there’s no single obvious or intuitive answer. I believe this is a collective sense, a collective Intelligence that develops from the outside in – the Homunculus Bluetooth – an intelligence that only really exists in the space between people. Now before you think this is some kind of Buddha-like transcendence reserved for the great and the good, Moral Intelligence is the achilles heel of egomaniacal Leaderism! You don’t even have to teach children an ethical way of thinking, as MQ is built into their genes. There are plenty of examples of psychological experiments on monkeys, apes, college students and normal humans that demonstrates our innate sense of fairness. So MQ starts off as pretty powerful, but continues to build across your entire lifetime. Albeit that it mostly involves learning lessons just after it would have been really useful to know them. An almost reflexive intelligence, useful only to make your next really tough decision.

This is the Type 3 system I felt was missing, but it doesn’t stand alone. It’s a synthesis of all the other intelligences working in chorus, in not just your head, but everyone else’s too. As an aside, if MQ is the emergent property of all the other intelligences in action, it makes the idea of declaring some institutional values, look particularly bloody stupid. MQ is our human ecosystem in action, as we have evolved to be much better at avoiding other people’s mistakes, than mimicking their successes, mostly using EQ and not knowing why, for 99% of the entirety of human existence. It’s why they invented religion. But the evolutionary consequence of surviving by learning from mistakes, is that we give ourselves a visceral mesocorticolimbic reward for occasionally doing the right thing, especially in the face of injustice. This is where your mind resides.


Epilogue

As promised! Now feel free to ask questions, poke fun, disagree, tell me what I don’t know or perhaps, extend the monologue from here, to a conversation somewhere else.

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