This Frankenstein of Ours. Or, Do Individuals Exist?[1]

IQ and a Hopeless Car Analogy

This thought occurred to me amidst the IQ wars. One side posits the primacy of IQ as determining or, at least, explaining, much of the modern world. Contra two primary assertions:

Education, Where Bad Data Breeds

In education, there’s much research on inflection points in national education systems for triggering the birth of a modern economy. They all reference a critical mass of “high-IQ” people (≈5% of the population) that feed a critical mass of intelligent/educated people (≈30%). Again, it’s IQs operating within a system. As such, apart from contributions to and interactions with the system, what’s the purpose of discussing individual IQ?

Value in Complex Systems

The British operated much of the world in the late 19th century, and they debated the ingredients a successful society required. Of particular interest for them were parts of the middle east and north Africa that they controlled that seemed to be (1) an incorrigible mess and (2) could never provide any direct benefit for England. Egypt would always be a net loss, the British assumed, so why assume responsibility for it? In exploring what made Egypt an incorrigible mess, the British did not focus on “IQ” or “education” or anything related. They did not opine that Egyptians were stupid. Instead, the British observed that the two key elements for a successful society are (1) an innate moral compass and (2) organizational skills.[2] Morality, as expressed in society, is an individual characteristic, but organizational skills are obviously an expression of an individual impulse within a system. However much organizational skills exist or reside within an individual, their value exists in a system or group.[3] Regardless of the “IQ” that resides within an individual, its value resides in its expression within a group.

So what?

The impulse to isolate and elevate the individual qua individual, as a meaningful stand-alone unit, may perhaps be one substantial source of friction in the modern world. The basic unit of the modern west, we believe, is the individual. The ancients (up through the Puritans) would tell you that the basic unit is the family and the “individuals” are necessary but incomplete components. Many societies, particularly in Asia, still largely believe that individuals don’t really exist in the ways that the West thinks they do or believed it up until the 20th century (Japan certainly did until they were nuked).

Emergence & Epistemology

The transmission analogy above is an example of emergence, an interpretive framework that spans science and complex systems, art, philosophy and religion. Emergence is the observation that systems contain features that none of its components possess; or, the whole is greater (or, more importantly, different) than the sum of the parts. A car has features contained in none of its components (most obviously, auto-motion). This is simple and obvious. But consider whether a society has features that are contained in none of the components. We measure the components ad nauseum and miss the systemic features (which isn’t simply an assessment of the whole but rather an observation of the parts creating the whole).



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