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A while ago, the Inquisition pondered the nature of intelligence, and whether a certain outlook or attendant mental abilities are guides to or from happiness. This has been obliquely in the news of late…
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A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland
Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.
The preface to HLA Hart’s publication of his 1961 lecture series on the meeting of law and morality is as prevalent today as it ever was.
There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.
False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.
55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.
Marriage is thought by many to be a fixed rite, one which is immovable and inflexible. The truth is that it has not always seemed so…
The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.
“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book, or you take a trip, and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
“The rigour of character for which he was so often praised, the severe mental discipline that he imposed on himself and others, was apt to yield to a deep-rooted urge toward apathy…”
The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino
There is a popular misconception that intelligent people must be more sombre, and consequently less happy, as they presumably spend more time on deeper levels of introspection. The preconception seems to be that the intelligent have a clearer mental vision than the rest of us, a greater conception of the inconsequence of living. Or something like that.
It is true that most people do not think to any great depth. They don’t ponder. They don’t spend their time figuring the world out, on questioning, essentially on introspection. They don’t contextualise themselves. They are just happy to keep on going. Conversely the hypothesis is suggested above that smarter people are less happy, presumably as their overly developed minds will question the accepted norms of society any idiot can, knowingly or not, question those accepted mores and values.
The obsequious attitude to life, as clung to by the masses, can be seen by anyone with a very ordinary job oiling the wheels of business. Most people just want a little cash and an easy life. Success is not about what you excel at – it’s about shouting the loudest. Just look at all those marketing gurus out there teaching you to sell, make a million, change your life. They just shout simple messages, things that everyone already takes for granted,very loud. Just look at this guy. You know the kind of stuff – Here are 7 steps to help your business succeed but really all they do is paraphrase what others are already doing, repackage it and send it back.
For some this lack of inner inquiry, and its concealment by, and focus on, the constant broadcast of superficialities, is a protective mechanism. If you don’t dig too deep, you give yourself a lighter mental load.
Theodore Van Kirk was the Enola Gay’s navigator and says he never lost a night’s sleep over bombing Hiroshima. He maintains this is a direct result of US air force practice that shielded its pilots from introspection. In other words, if you don’t question it, then it won’t bother you.
Thinking, and pursuing the subsequent course of action arrived at, won’t necessarily make you happier. Its much easier to toe the line, take the path of least resistance. Drive to work, eat packaged meals, watch primetime tv, play golf, drinks at the weekend and get your kids baptised but never go to mass. Modern life makes all that easy for you. The global economy is based on convenience, someone is out there feeding you easy answers to questions you didn’t even ask. That’s the issue – if you were to really ask some questions about yourself you would not get their answers. You can’t get someone else’s answers – that iphone app you really needed was designed to fill a whole in someone else’s life.
Why is it that things which, in themselves are not abnormal, are seen as being an alternative lifestyle choice; cycling to work, preparing your own food (god help you if you grow it too), being atheist? No-one thinks of you differently if you own a bicycle, but cycle one to work and you automatically become a cyclist.
Imagine you follow yachting, refuse to wear animal skin shoes and have a fascination with untranslated 15th century Russian literature. You can’t just go to the back page of the papers to get your sports fix, you need to actively seek out specialist news. You can’t just go to a shoe shop for new kicks and, in Ireland at least, you can’t get your reading fix just anywhere.
Defining ourselves is only part of the puzzle. As we become globalised we also have identify what we are as a race, a group of societies. The concept that culture is now floating, or maybe more precisely meandering, as detailed here is an interesting one in terms of thinking about ourselves in context. Since man left Africa we have all had our stories that justify our societies – the creation or origin myths. As suggested humanity is now floating, we don’t know quite where we are are. Globally we have become re-joined as barriers break down. Culture seems to be running circles around itself with ever-increasing ADHD. Race is no longer a clear delineator. Individually we are exposed to more influence than ever before. We are in flux – the old myths don’t apply anymore.
This question of definition is a difficult one, even on an individual basis. What is it that makes us ourselves? Below is an example of someone’s experiences of beginning a creative writing course. It is a familiar story of one who appears to be exceptionally talented but whose star wanes with wider exposure and compared with others on a greater stage. This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is only through investigation and knowledge that we find out who we are (and how to get to where we want to be), particularly, as in this effect, in relation to others.
“I have recently begun to write creatively as a different means of self-expression which I had not explored up until now. I sent a friend a copy of a short story I am working on, in the mistaken belief that it was finished. He looked at it with fresh eyes, and gave it some thought, returning to me with some well thought out comments. I had not really begun to understand the sheer depth of thought required to fully refine a piece and take it to completion. This threw me a little but I realised that, in isolation, we can only take self-examining so far. At some point we must try to relate all this to the wider world.”
This introversion is often confused with greater intelligence, as though an introvert’s thoughts are more weighty, than those who prefer discourse. The Atlantic magazine has a fantastic piece on Jungian introversion and makes some illuminating points: “With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations.” So again here we see this perception as the extroverts being the doers and the introverts, the thinkers.
It is often assumed, erroneously, that greater mental acumen will prove an emotional hindrance. There is, however, very little concrete evidence of a link between intelligence and lower rates of happiness. This, despite what no less a great mind than Lisa Simpson posits in the episode entitled “HOMЯ” (episode 257). Although intelligence will obviously present greater opportunities, along with abilities to make the most of those opportunities, it won’t necessarily make you much happier. Intelligence will, according to the NY Times Freakonomics Blog, make you less likely to be unhappy.
Bill Allin’s study is doing the internet rounds in support of this notion of intelligence to happiness correlation, but it seems too much of a social critique to be taken seriously as a scientific document. His entire standpoint hinges on Hemmingway’s quote “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know”. But then again he was just a part-time writer, while being a full-time cranky and unstable dipso.
The notion that it is harder for intelligent people to be happy stems from two ideas.
The genesis to the misguided idea that an intelligent and considered outlook gives rise despair may have been Socrates’ suicide. Socrates had the individual outlook we associate with those of extraordinary mental capacity. He saw life in a very different way to the prevailing morality of contemporaneous Athenian society. Socrates acted upon his ruminations, and led a unique life divested of prevailing mores and received wisdom. The suicides of other prominent philosophers would seem, at first appearance, to add weight to this theory.
But really this is not surprising – people who are exceptional in all human endeavour invariably make life difficult for themselves. Just think of people driven by dreams and convictions – Gandhi, Hitler, Jesus, Luke Skywalker. Or, less contentiously, consider sportsmen at their peak. Lance Armstrong was,is, bound by his abilities to go through extreme pain, his ability to suffer defines him, it is what makes him exceptional. To be this exceptional you have to undergo stresses beyond the norm. It doesn’t mean you have to be clever.
As for artists – Van Gogh anyone? Ah no, there have been far more rambunctious and frustrated artists than everyone’s favourite monoaural Netherlander.
Of course, some really smart people have been unhappy. From this list of clever folks (the author of the lists incidentally makes some salient points about not letting IQ define a person), you’ll find Chris Langan. Check him out, picture perfect misery.
As a unified global society we are moving from the capability for deep thought to information overload. As shown in tests where we now assess information superficially and adapt to this way of working very quickly. You can’t engage in nepsis when you are busy tweeting about what you ate for dinner.
Not that any of this to say that the modern age is devoid of fine philosophical minds. Quite the opposite. It is patently ridiculous to imagine there was a ever a time when the world was full of thinkers – as if there was a time when the hard-bitten peasants under their lord’s yoke would gather in the fields to discuss minor theological issues, or when ne’er-do-wells would stop picking the pockets of nineteenth century gentlefolk to ponder the meaning of their existence and its morality.
The issue today is one of the means of expression. While long ago long texts were produced and read sequentially, today we gather information from several sources almost simultaneously. Current modes of discourse do not allow easy expression with depth. Witness Alain de Botton, possessor of one such mind, twittering away statements that pretend to being profundities, but cannot convey sequential and serious thought in 140 characters. Maybe that’s why he still writes books?
There is still a place for deep thought. While libraries are disappearing, attendance at art galleries is soaring. Art is a deep contemplative experience about what it means to be human and experience the world as we do. As art has moved from statement of fact this has become an ever greater way to move our focus from insubstantial facts, figures and distraction to more open cognitive vistas.
Are IQ and depression levels linked?
Bill Allin’s very short paper is often cited as proof that clever people have less happiness in their lives
Lance Armstrong – Tour de Force, Daniel Coyle, Harper Sport, 2006
Physorg says there is no link between intelligence and happiness
WebMD supports the theory that intelligence does not increase happiness
You Are Not So Smart – great blog with some great insight. For a smart guy he even writes like he is happy…
Mental Traning for the Enola Gay crew – The Guardian
Introversion should be confused with neither reticent intelligence nor misery – Tomorrow Museum
Nepsis is sustained and focused thought
Further discussion of Nepsis by RedBooks
Wikipedia on Introspection
Noesis is instinctive insight, or intelligence by another name
Introversion should be confused with neither reticent intelligence nor misery – The Atlantic
The Journal has weighed in with a top eleven on the matter, because as a prime number it is interesting and unusual but also because on the internet information is invariably laid out in the most prosaic, sequential order. Real people’s minds don’t work like ordered lists and bullet points – information is a garbled mess, made sense of internally. Anyway: The Journal’s The Edge presents 11 Uncomfortable facts about how your IQ affects your life.
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Thursday, February 17th, 2011 at
It is archived in Culture, Environment, Health, Myth, Science and tagged clever, depression, happiness, intelligence, iq, smart.