Friday, June 24, 2005

The Roots Of Thought

I recently read Freakanomics (see related blog link to the right), and one of the issues the authors explored was extent to which parenting can affect child development. After analyzing a large amount of data, they concluded that playing classical music, reading to your kids, etc. probably has a negligible effect on their development. Rather -- according to their analysis -- the key determinent is genetics. Smart parents breed smart kids. Dumb parents breed dumb kids. Smart people who adopt kids birthed of dumb parents...well, at least someone loves these kids. If this is all true, my kids will be fucked.

But, is that really true? Leaving aside the racial/eugenics undertones of some of their analysis, the authors certainly analyze a vast amount of data, but there is a certain conceit to their virtually religious adherence to the notion that data can answer the question of what makes a child apt to be smart. Data is infinitely manipulateable depending on how creative you want to be. Moreover, this conceit rests on a fallacy (which in turn rests on a bed of lettuce): that intellectual development is static and immutable. Does 2 coming together with 2 make 4? Or is 4 the coming together of 2 and 2? Does 2 have to come before 2 in becoming 4? If you think so, what to make of the coming together of 3 and 1? Or 1 and 3? It probably depends on who Sesame Street is sponsoring on a given week.

So, the question is whether we are hardwired at birth to process information in complex ways or whether we can train our brains to process information in complex ways, at least more deductively (which is probably more productive).

IQ, in my opinion, is derivative of the way we think as much as the amount of brain mass at our disposal. Most problems are knots. Untieing the most complex knots are not the providence of special breed or special stock.

More often than not, we don't think far enough. I do not agree with Noam Chomsky on much -- which I am sure troubles him greatly -- but I do agree with him on one key notion: intentions are irrelevant to judging the morality or rightness of actions, only consequences matter.

But, I find that mostly intentions, not consequences, drive many people's decision-making/thought processes. It is kind of a narcissistic, two-deminsional way of thinking at some level: what you do is based on how you think you'll be perceived for doing it. Many people do things because they feel they are doing the right thing -- mostly right for themselves -- without contemplating the consequences. A lot of things that we do that are "dumb," could probably be avoidable if we spent a few seconds mapping out the consequences.

But, then again, can you blame an inductive, intention-based actor if they are acting in service of an honorable principle? What of religion, then. Nevertheless, I believe that intellect can be shaped effectively by changing reactive thought to proactive thought. Call me naive. But, rest assured I have considered the possibility.


Blogger Sharfa said...

As that great thinker once said: "Momma always said,Stupid is as stupid does". Look at how bright Forrest's son was....oh wait - that wasn't real, it was a movie.

To me, there are way too many undefined and uncontrollable factors involved to come to such a pompous conclusion.

Did they only study Alabama residents, maybe? Those dumb enough to marry their blood relatives....well...

(No offense to Alabama residents intended - it's a joke people!)

11:36 AM  
Blogger Joseph K said...

Great hearing from you, Sharfa. I agree that the whole nature versus nuture debate is too simplistic. Everyone knows that the quality of the child you have depends on how much you are willing to bribe the stork.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

I am continually amazed at what scientists come up with regarding the raising of children. Then, I realize that most of these people are childless - they have to be, considering the crap they come up with.

I was raised under the PC doctrine "all races are the same, both sexes are the same; there are no differences."

They tried to delete cultural, racial, and gender differences, and my school board bought it hook, line and sinker.

These scientists should observe baby girls and baby boys. See how the baby boys like cars. They simply do. See how the baby girls like to flirt, with their hands curled under their chins. It's just natural.

Does it mean that anyone's inferior? I'm not going to wait for an answer. I'll just wait for another 5 years; by then, science will have a totally different opinion (oh, I'm sorry, "set of findings") by then, and America will be strong-armed into beleiving those, too.

3:12 AM  
Blogger Sharfa said...

Thanks - been a lurker for a while. Good stuff - love your wit.

8:23 AM  

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