Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Despite what you hear on the internet circumcision is not the Holocaust

So PalMD of Denialism blog riled up the hardcore anti-circumcision types with a post about why male circumcision and female genital mutilation (FGM, aka female circumcision) are not equivalent, as any right thinking person can see (at least the form of circumcision practiced today is different from FGM as practiced today, some of the historical forms of circumcision were if not equivalent, at least of similar severity). I would like to make a broader point: those who think circumcision is some great terrible crime are dumb. Sure there are arguments against it (if I had a son I would probably not get him circumcised), but the anti-circ militia are just making stupid, provably false arguments. What I want to know is how does this become such a huge issue for them? I was circumcised and I may (or may not) have lost some minor feeling. This is not a big deal, I can (and do) still enjoy sex-- and the best parts aren't the raw physical sensations (why do people seek out a partner, the sensations aren't much different for solo and partnered sex? Hint: the brain is the main sexual organ of the body). So maybe it is a tradition that we should drop, but making the argument for that by comparing a relatively harmless procedure to one in which people die every year, and the ones who don't are often unable to feel any sexual pleasure, is just absurd.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A few thoughts on intelligence

So I read Gino Segre's book Faust in Copenhagen (which I quite like) a while back, and now I'm reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein. Both are about the doings of geniuses, Einstain being the obvious one, but Faust in Copenhagen is about people almost as revered in physics: Bohr, Pauli, Dirac, Heisenberg and Schrödinger among others. What separates these people from regular folks like me? I'm pretty smart, but by no means a genius. Obviously these people have accomplished far more than I probably ever will (at least in terms of physics), but what traits did they have that made these advances possible? Obviously a large amount of intelligence, but what is intelligence? Many people (and almost all game designers) think of intelligence as a single value, measured by IQ, and known by some social science researchers as "g" (for general intelligence). What is this "g", however? What traits do people with high "g" have? I've made a list of ones I can think of right now (it's by no means exhaustive). Also note that not everyone with a high intelligence has all of these traits (as a hint to where I'm going, I'm trying to figure out what one of these traits all geniuses have, and is in some sense true intelligence).

  • Education: This is more than knowing just a lot of facts, but understanding what they mean.
  • Memory: ability to learn quickly.
  • Computational ability: ability to do mental computations quickly. This mostly means math, but can also include other types of computation like finding anagrams, etc.
  • Creativity: ability to come up with new ideas.
  • Mental Quickness: ability to think on one's feet.
  • Mental Clarity: ability to reduce a problem to it's essentials, as well as to separate what one wants to be true, from what is true.
All of these are parts of intelligence. I would say that computation and memory are becoming less important as computers get more ubiquitous and powerful. Mental quickness is helpful in many situations, but not for making true breakthroughs. Of the remaining three Education is necessary but not sufficient: a thorough understanding of the topic is important to advancing it, but many people understand things and are not geniuses, also education is not inherent to a person and does not correspond to what we often think of as intelligence. It seems that a combination of creativity and mental clarity is the key condition of genius. Someone who is otherwise intelligent and is creative, but not mentally clear will become a crank. Someone who is mentally clear, but not creative would make a good critic or regular working person in their field, but not a genius. The combination is what makes genius.

Now different geniuses have had different relative strengths: for example Einstein is almost the poster by for creativity above all, whereas Pauli was known as the Scourge of God because he was able to see the flaws in an idea so quickly and is the perfect example of Mental Clarity.

I voted

It was pretty easy, there were almost no people at the voting place, but then I am living in a quite well off area full of white people. Hopefully things aren't crazy in, say, Philadelphia.