Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Wondering about the link between intelligence and meaning (scientificamerican.com)
186 points by headalgorithm 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 152 comments





I think modern society suffers from a lack of life philosophy. I don't think it gets much better than ancient greek philosophy. There are no new fundamental insights into the human condition in 3000 years. Epictetus talks a lot about tranquility, which is neither happiness or sadness, but staying centered. It doesn't matter how you feel, feelings are just an appearance in consciousness. What matters is that you move forward with your purpose, something you define outside of the day to day grind.

Happiness and sadness are fleeting for most people. If you chase happiness to the exclusion of boredom and fulfilling a greater purpose there will be a reciprocal crash where there can be no happiness. This is why Epictetus cautioned us to always view happiness with just as much skepticism as sadness. Not to become boorish, but to maintain a state of being that you can rely on every day.

To that point, intellectuals have always had this struggle. When you value mastery over purpose and you don't find a point of tranquility in your life there will always be a struggle. Intellectuals and smart people often spend a lot of time worrying on externalities they can't control. It is the curse of high awareness / intellectual capability. There is only so much you can possibly change and influence. This is why being a billionaire doesn't drastically alter your happiness. Even with billions of dollars you are still stuck in a mortal shell with the same brains and bodies as the rest of us.

Also, MENSA is a self selected group and I have never held a high opinion of it.


> I think modern society suffers from a lack of life philosophy

No, we never had that many people reading philosophy, trying to practice some kind of vision or another, asking questions and the like.

I think the current tendancy is a symptom of people being freer to ask themself questions and do something else than survive. So we hear about it more.

Anybody looking at the astonishing phenomenom called life will be stunned and desoriented. It's part of the deal. And with internet, we can now not only express that in mass, but we can share with each others the result of our soul searching.

I believe the current "crisis" is actually good news. People feel lost, not because they were not before, but because for once, they have the opportunity to look around.

That doesn't make it less painful though, and of course, anybody in that state pays for it. Growing as a specie has a price.


> I think modern society suffers from a lack of life philosophy

To me life philosophy is just another way of saying religion. And people in the west I think are slowly but surely losing their religion. Religions used to give people purpose, now the silent agnostics and atheists need to figure out how to have purpose in their lives.

I definitely agree with everything else you're saying though.

https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx


> life philosophy is just another way of saying religion.

Have to disagree. Religion, for most, is imposed. Some come to it by choice, but for most it a given that provides context, community, and a set of rules to operate with.

Religion is also dogmatic and static and to make it relevant to modern society often requires lots of obviously inconsistent double think.

We're replacing religion with science and the rule of law. These might be poor substitutes for some of the context that religion provides but at least they are mutable and not quite so incoherent. And these slowly adjust.

Similarly, a life philosophy is mutable. I find it difficult to believe that you go through life with a static life philosophy. Things change, you experience stuff, and that forces you to change.


Sorry I phrased my comment wrong. Saying religion and life philosophy are the same thing is definitely incorrect. Religion usually has life philosophy incorporated in it. But life philosophy definitely doesn't have to have religious features to it.

>Religion is also dogmatic and static and to make it relevant to modern society often requires lots of obviously inconsistent double think.

I think this is a narrowminded view of religions in general, based solely on how various regressive factions have co-opted certain Abrahamic religions to justify their regressive politics. Other religions exist, and the even the ones in question can be "relevant to modern society" by allowing them the be less "dogmatic and static". Conservatives are drawn to religion because it's traditional, not because accepting religion forces to to be conservative. Plenty of scientific and liberal minded people are able to see the value in a belief in some greater order to the universe that comes with a strong community of individuals with shared beliefs.

I recognize that religion has hurt a lot of people, but that doesn't make it useless or inherently evil.

>We're replacing religion with science and the rule of law.

The good parts of religion, the ones which guide your life philosophy and contribute to your "Sense of Direction and Fulfillment", are totally separate from those two and can easily coexist.


I feel like people tend to forget that a religion like Christianity is an entirely new way of framing the universe. Re-discovering Christianity in my 30s was like learning how to read and write for the first time in my life.

Activist atheists tend to paint religious folk as just mindless sheep blindly bumping through ceremonies because their parents did. It's similar to how anti-drug education tries to paint, say, cannabis as just this ritual people do out of peer pressure and no other reason. Then, when you actually experience cannabis for yourself, you suddenly realize, oh. People do this for a reason!

It's fashionable to talk about how it's so good to be non-judgmental. Come join our rave, bro, everyone here's so open-minded and chill! But what I found is that those groups are just as judgmental as religious folks, only the rules are unwritten. Which makes it that much worse. I love how in proper Christianity, the baseline assumption is that everyone is utterly, hopelessly depraved (yes, even the pastor). Only when you start from a common assumption like that (I find) can you actually start to realize a truly welcoming and non-judgmental society.


>I love how in proper Christianity

One common thing religious people tend to share is that they all think their own interpretation of their religion is the right one. Is there any reason to believe your use of "proper christianity" here is any different from that?

Besides that, though, I found your comment about how christianity makes the assumption that everyone is utterly, hopelessly depraved very good. I agree with you, but I haven't considered it in that way before.

I'm an ex-christian, because I've found I can't bring myself to believe in the supernatural, but I still see valuable things in the religion.

I don't think that you need to start off with the assumption that everyone is hopelessly depraved in order to have a non-judgemental society. I'm not even sure that's really desirable, or how that would work. But I definitely agree that we tend to be too judgemental and ego-driven.


Trying to come up with the one correct interpretation is as futile as trying to get to heaven by good deeds (impossible). All interpretations fall short just like all humans do. Salvation is not won by ingenious interpreting, but by grace through the sacrificial death of Christ, given to believers regardless of denomination. See 1st Corinthians 3:12-15.

That said, I think certain denominations do a better job of spreading Christianity. Some liberal denominations seem to think they can win hearts and minds by being bland enough. Who would go to a YMCA with a preacher, when they could just go to a regular YMCA instead? See Proverbs 14:12; James 4:4.


Religions, because of their nature, are used to motivate behavior, hold jugement and organise communities.

Since behaviors, jugments and communities are subject to dispute, it's only natural people will attack their source and motivation.

If you kill somebody, you are hated. If you kill somebody in the name of something, that something is what's been hated.


> Religions, because of their nature, are used to motivate behavior, hold jugement and organise communities.

You're describing culture, not religion. The two are often intertwined but are not the same.


"We use the weight of a hammer to hit nails"

"What you are describing is gravity, it's not the same thing"


It's hard to pinpoint a definition for religion.

Does that imply some kind of practice ? Does that imply veneration ? Does that imply you hold something sacred ? Does that imply you have dogmatic principles ? Does that imply you have a mythology ? Does it mean you need a crowd ? Do you have an external reference driving your conduct, your view of the world, your morality ? And most importantly, should they all resolve around the same source ?

Having a life phylosophy doesn't seem to be attached to most of those, and doesn't limit itself to one source. And a lot of those don't seem to necessarly imply a life philosophy.

Besides, there is a huge difference between religion as it's designed, and religion as it's lived. Not to mention people of the same religion disagree on the living AND on the design part.

But I do agree with you on one point: religion used to answer to those pesky deep life questions for everybody. Now that our source of points of view is much broader, we do miss the easy sense of purpose that was provided by many religions.


Yea good catch I phrased my comment wrong. Saying religion and life philosophy are the same thing is definitely incorrect. Religion usually has life philosophy incorporated in it. But life philosophy definitely doesn't have to have religious features to it.

My working definition of religion is a system that produces easy answers to tough questions. These tough questions can eat away at a person so religion has an important “damping” function in a society, especially with the 90% of the population who need an answer to these questions to stay mentally healrhy

When I read deep religious thinkers works, I find that those questions are only easily answered by those who didn't scratched the surface. The honest ones are full of doubts.

People use religion for the purpose of getting easy answers, but does it mean that the purpose of religion is to give easy answers to people ?

Religion can be seen as a cultural phenomenom, or a tool, and it doesn't look like the same thing at all depending which you choose.

I'm pretty sure that any tool you give to humans, they will turn it into a cultural phenomenom.


I’ve been playing around with a thought lately, that religion is to philosophy what engineering is to science - the practical application of otherwise esoteric ideas about the world in which we live.

More like one field of engeenering then. Because they are other ways to apply philosophy.

This is a false read of history that is biased by the false positive trajectory. We've never had this many people completely distracted by consumerism.

The population has been systematically distracted. Chomsky talks about how well read British working class laborers were in the 19th century: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CFwSQiTu3I

The work cited based on a huge study: https://www.amazon.com/Intellectual-Life-British-Working-Cla...


> We've never had this many people completely distracted by consumerism.

Those are not opposite.

We never had that many people.


I don't think it is a lack of philosophy so much as it is a crisis in the currently accepted philosophy of society. Basically, people are starting to realize that empiricism is incomplete, but society as a whole is so married to it that we suffer cognitive dissonance about this realization. One part of us wants to double down and insist that it is reality, rather than our model of it, that is wrong, while the other grasps desperately for a better model.

Also, MENSA is a self selected group and I have never held a high opinion of it.

I recall a comedic/editorial column in the old Omni magazine about MENSA. (I think it was the early 80's) The author knew he couldn't qualify for MENSA membership, so he got together with a friend, then he phoned the organization's office and asked if he and his friend, with their IQ scores added together, could qualify for a joint membership. The secretary put down her phone and went to ask.

At this, the writer hung up. He then spent the rest of the article describing how he was going to establish the DENSA organization, which only would exist to oppose the MENSA organization, which he maintained had no point for existing.

(Insert Dr. Evil meme here.)


I always imagined that MENSA was the final test of intelligence. You scored high enough on the IQ test, but if you pay a self-congratulation fee to get your name printed in a book, you're still a rube

There was a psych experiment Lisa performed on Bart in The Simpsons. I think she electrified a candybar then proceeded to count the number of times Bart would shock himself trying to grab it. In other words, "Forrest Gump."

I would hold compassion in higher esteem than stoic virtue. Remember that society where stoics came from considered enslavement as good and natural and feeding people to animals as good sport.

That's not to say Epictetus does not have lots of worthwhile things to say, but that there are other facets to living a good life in addition to what was stoics prescribed.


Oh man, Emperor Commodus[0] is a perfect example of this. Commodus was the first emperor to be 'born in the purple'. His father was Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Yes THAT Marcus Aurelius, the stoic of all stoics. Commodus was likely insane and participated in daily gladiatorial combat against people and animals already behanded or hamstrung before the fight (so as to not actual pose a threat to the emperor), slaughtering hundreds. He was drowned in the bath by his wrestling partner. His death kicked off the year of the five emperors and civil war in the empire.

So, even when the prime example of stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius, is given the sole reigns of power to the prime example of an empire at it's height, Rome in the Nerva–Antonines, it falls apart at the hands of familial duty/love.

One thing to remember about Romans is that there is not 'thesis' to them. They did whatever they needed to do at the time. For example: look at the Roman Honor of the Republic days. It was fierce, passionate, and swift. Any slight was dealt with in total violence and societal honor was worth much more than your life. Compare that to the stoics, where nothing could 'slight' a person, only their internal life was important, and society was to be nearly forgotten. The Romans were, if anything, adaptable to the extreme, which is why they lasted nearly 2000 years.

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodus


Stoicism was a coping mechanism for a brutal world. You see the same ideas in Eastern Philosophy as well.

An example is that people lost children much more often.


> I would hold compassion in higher esteem than stoic virtue.

I do too, but "compassion > stoicism" is not something science can prove. That's why I find articles like this one a little silly.


> "It doesn't matter how you feel, feelings are just an appearance in consciousness"

I wish that were actually true. It is however, objectively, quite false. You cannot simply will yourself out of a lack of motivation, or depression. Sure, you can to SOME degree, but your feeling of motivation is not trivial. It dramatically impacts how you function, down to the level in which your brain is engaged.


It isn’t about will power. Will power can and will fail you. This is not a proposed solution to depression. Though, you will find, these same ideas I sketched from Stoicism are at the center of CBT, which is one of the few modern therapies that helps improve depression. This is more about having a framework for coping with negative emotions and positive emotions. I understand the biological issues with depression, this is just dealing with life from a relatively well adjusted starting point. If you are clinically depressed, life philosophy is important for maintenance and staying out of the hole (IMO). You certainly can’t get out if you are caught in a cycle of self defeat and the brains chemicals are out of whack. There is no universal advice that will work for everyone. But Stoicism is a powerful tool that has helped people endure unimaginable circumstances. (Stockdsle, Vietnam POW, concentration camp survivors, etc).

Final thought, depression is about recognizing the thought patterns of depression. Having awareness of thought patterns is a key part of how psychology treats modern depression.


Maybe you can, maybe we just don't know how.

Several religions include "mastery of one self" at the top of their list for hapiness. Whether it is possible and how is another question. Meditation, for example, is advertised as having exactly that purpose.


>There are no new fundamental insights into the human condition in 3000 years.

I'd say the discovery of evolution along with the big bang and much of the rest of science are some fundamental insights. They have the effect of making some of the prior religious stories seem less plausible than previously. I think we're still working on making sense of that.


My cursory understanding of the stoics is that they are focused on excellence in virtue (wisdom, morality, courage, and moderation) and mastering the self. What I don't understand is whether these constitute the purpose. In other words, is life purpose according to Epictetus mastering virtue or is mastering virtue a way to achieve a purpose that one defines for oneself? Any pointers?

As far as I can tell, stoics believe that being an excellent man (or woman) is the purpose of a man (or woman). Just as being an excellent horse is the purpose of a horse, or being an excellent chair is the purpose of being a chair.

Yes! But they also viewed society and connection to others as vital. So many people think Stoicism is a dour internally focused philosophy, and that is very nearly the opposite of truth. Being excellent meant being as good at your profession as you could be. Being the best father, etc.

If anyone is interested in learning what the greek philosophy of life was all about, I don’t think gets more entertaining then listening to Rufus Fears lecture on it. The message is definitely buried but oh what gems when he goes off on a tangent.

https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/famous-greeks.html


> There are no new fundamental insights into the human condition in 3000 years.

Human nature has not changed much in the meanwhile, if at all.


To my eyes the main difference between today and ancient societies is lack of central narratives. Greek philosophy was hung up on appeals to nature, souls, and the greats unequivocally believed in a creator god of some kind (not the Pantheon). Today philosophy is much more detached from these ideas that were once central. Today a rational explanation of reality leaves little necessity for invoking God.

Greeks could take solace in the unexplainable by chalking it up to a creator's will. We don't have that luxury anymore. Science has been so powerful in explaining reality that the natural instinct is no longer to invoke theistic reasonings. We take the wait and see approach.

Well wait and see is antithetical to narrative building. Yet at this point there are no other tenable stances to take. Agnosticism is the only justifiable stance to take, but it is a very unfulfilling one for many people.

There are smaller narratives around today such as humanism (and capitalism?), but they are not all encompassing. Would love to hear others' thoughts about the (in my opinion) unqiue philosophical setting three centuries of deferring to science has left us.


I don’t see that much has changed. Life events unfold around us largely out of our control. We have a few scraps of knowledge and can frame our place differently, but nothing fundamental about human existence has changed. We live a bit longer. We have some cool gadgets. But we still die. We have not spread beyond earth. People still murder and kill and conquer and the only way to save ourselves is through ourselves. Call it a creator. Call it life. Most of it, we have no control over, just like the ancient Greeks. Until we radically alter the human condition, not much changes.

For a time, science had a very strong finalistic narrative too - that science itself would remove all misery from the world. The strength of this narrative is much diminished today, even if it's not dead - it's often visible on HN, especially when commenting on themes like climate change.

Personally, I envy those who still believe in that vision.


Long time lurker here. Created an account just to say that I agree with this comment.

> Their giftedness as potential group consisted of 198 members of Mensa. Membership in Mensa is granted to individuals who score at the 98th percentile or higher on recognized standardized measures of intelligence.

And almost exclusively sought by those lacking in other forms of achievement or sense of identity. Doesn't really seem like a sample that would be generalizable in the way the article presents it.


I wonder whether the following result stems from that sample bias (Mensa membership, rather than random sample from >= 98th percentile IQ):

> Their most striking finding was substantially diminished levels of meaningfulness and subjective well-being among the giftedness as potential group compared to both the giftedness as achievement group and the control group

EDIT to add: Note that the author addresses the sampling bias in a footnote:

> Of course, a major limitation of this study is the preselection of the gifted populations. It's likely that members of MENSA have their own unique struggles that motivate them to seek out membership and connect with like-minded individuals. While this is a real limitation of the study, at least it's a real attempt to look at the understudied population of intellectually gifted adults, a population that is hard to study because they are statistically rare in the general population. After all, for a non-preselected sample, you would have to administer IQ tests to 5,000 people to attain a modest sample of 100 people in the top 98th percentile!


> And almost exclusively sought by those lacking in other forms of achievement or sense of identity.

Careful, that generalization can be used almost anywhere (like on HN). Warily scream into the abyss.


I'm not really sure HN is really comparable to Mensa but at any rate it doesn't invalidate what the parent is saying. If an article was talking about, say, programmers in general while only sampling HN users it would probably suffer from a heavy bias as well.

I worked remotely for the first few years of my career. I assumed most programmers would be like HN, as reflected by my one other friend who programmed & also happened to read HN. Then I began working in an office with programmers, & was shocked to realize most programmers don't want to go on a forum after work that'll often discuss programming..

Well, there are lots of very high achievers (great engineers at top companies, people with important contributions, industry legends, even people like Alan Kay occasionally) on HN, so there's that...

Mensa probably has a couple antidotes floating around as well, so there's that...

'Mensa members' as a proxy for IQ was literally an example of selection bias in my undergrad research methods course.

I agree to a certain degree but for some it’s just a place to play board games with people who are too into board games.

You applied to Mensa mainly in order to play board games? I find that hard to believe.

I didn't apply but I know some people.

It's not how you test. It's who you know!

Just to be clear, I wasn't a member, I knew the people in a non-mensa function.

Agreed, it's a board game club that makes a lot of people extremely mad.

It feels good to learn something at the intro/hobby level. It provides an easy dopamine hit.

In order to become an expert in the population it requires a mastery that is hard. It requires a few orders of magnitude more effort with less and less reward as you become more and more competent.

Collectors of basic intro knowledge could be looking for something they enjoy but there are a large portion of people who do it because it feels good to learn. This is a trap for smarter people and I'm sure everyone knows the career academic with a multitude of academic degrees or a friend with a new hobby every month.

I think everyone should try to be a in the top 1-10% of some pursuit at some point in their lives to see the amount of effort and planning it takes to be at the top of something. You don't have to stay at the top. It makes you appreciate the people at the top of things more because you more easily recognize the effort it takes to be great. Too much of society is focused on the natural ability or luck involved to be at the top. It could be argued that a PHD is this, but I believe that its sort of forced because there are economic and structural motivations that are available that aren't the same as only having a personal motiviation.


When I was in high school I was playing World of Warcraft arena competitively and got top .5% (the highest general rank) in seasons 1-4, later on multiple characters in multiple brackets.

As I approached college I realized that I had done something that, if I had dedicated myself to almost anything else, would have resulted in me being a masterful expert at it. By the time I was 17 (I played WoW from 13-17, 2004-2008) I had put over 8,000 hours into that game. I spent a quarter of my life playing it for that four year period.

It was, of course, an insanely massive waste of time in hindsight. I went from scripting and building custom maps in Neverwinter Nights to playing in Blizzards theme park for a few years where the most coding I managed was hex editing the game models and changing a few labels in addon scripts. I was a directionless dysphoric teenager who had an interest in computers but no real ambition or friends at the time so distraction was tantalizing. It absolutely cost me opportunities to go to more prestigious universities I could have likely qualified for it if I had applied myself to the discipline of getting into elite schools instead of topping ladder ranks.

I like to think I came out of that black hole of my life at least knowing the value of dedication. Its only really more recent that I finally came to terms with the total realities of distraction, including writing this post on HN right now. At least this is at the tail end of my 30 minute break from coding this afternoon, so now I'll be getting back to work.


> In order to become an expert in the population it requires a mastery that is hard.

I think that it's not just that it's hard, it's that it's psychologically painful.

If you're good at anything, you get filtered into a group of people who are also good. And not everyone will continue to be top of the class. If you tied your identity to being good at this thing, suddenly you are going to have a reckoning.

Anecdotally it's often the people who can deal with this that get further, not just the ones who were already further ahead.

You'll hear this story often if you come across interviews with sports people. At some point, they got put in a group at a level that was competitive, and they had to deal with not being the shining star.


This is a wonderful insight. I had a few jobs and had been through college before I realized just how superficial my knowledge (and really most people's knowledge) was on most subjects. Really specializing in any subject would take years of intense work. I had made it to my late 20s before ever undertaking anything like that, and it began to dawn on me that many intelligent people could get through their whole life without ever really dealing with complexity.

It was at this point that I realized what Plato's Allegory of the Cave was really about; the apparent complexity of the world and the actual complexity of the world diverge strongly.


I've found that this 'crisis of meaning' is driven by having personal values that are based on extrinsic criteria.

That is, when you value things that are based on things outside your control e.g. social validation, financial success, you will struggle to be happy.

When you value things that are intrinsic e.g. integrity, contribution, creativity, you will have a much better shot at staying happy.

The problem with 'intellectuals' is that they are more often pulled into the rat race where you are chasing extrinsic things. Also, they often value 'intelligence' itself, which makes you feel bad when you realize that the world is filled with smarter people. Also, intelligence deteriorates as you age.


The idea of intrinsic vs extrinsic validation is called "Locus of Control"[0]. A great book that explores that concept in a little more depth (while still accessible) is Non-violent Communication [1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication


It's also a core principle of Stoicism.

>when you value things that are based on things outside your control e.g. social validation, financial success, you will struggle to be happy.

These are outside our control? I found both were achieved by choosing to be an engineer and going above and beyond.


Yes, they are outside of your control but you just don’t realize it yet. The “financial success” aspect can become a thing of the past pretty quickly if a dot-com crash were to happen again or if the next recession were to bring the FANGs back into “normal companies” territory when it comes to their total valuation, and I assume the “social validation” aspect will become a thing of the past for most computer programmers pretty soon, especially if AI will end up consuming even more existing jobs among other the general populace.

I think you probably have a lower bar for social/financial success than what OP is talking about. You are neither famous nor rich, and people want to be famous and/or rich.

Mad props to you if you are 100% satisfied with you social status & financial success, though. I wish that I were. :)


As someone who works in tech, the misery I feel on a fairly regular basis is experiencing first hand the disconnect between the stereotypical "change the world for the better" Koolaid narrative and the reality of what I was actually working on and enabling, which is not necessarily 1) purely good for the world and 2) always that "innovative".

The happiest employees I see (at least outwardly) are those that fully buy in to the Koolaid and do not consider the nuance of what a company or technology enables.


I've had a difficult time finding meaning in the same things as others do. If I spot inconsistencies, I lose faith and get the opposite reaction than those who are receiving something from it.

It's when I let go of the search for meaning that I find something like contentedness. I often find myself falling back into the hunt, but sometimes thinking about the vastness of space and time, the interwoven causality of the external and 'my' internal mind, there is some release.

Hope that helps partner. Maybe I'll see you on down the trail temp1928384.


Yes, perhaps ignorance really is bliss.

>The happiest employees I see (at least outwardly) are those that fully buy in to the Koolaid and do not consider the nuance of what a company or technology enables.

the magic of the blue pill.


>The happiest employees I see (at least outwardly) are those that fully buy in to the Koolaid and do not consider the nuance of what a company or technology enables.

yep, this. those who focus on what is directly in front of them at all times are often the most content. these are the people who are convenient cogs for any machine.


Hence religion.

I'm not sure the lack of meaning here would just apply to intellectuals. It talks about finding a job in the world that is something that makes them happy. That would seem to apply to everyone, and I'm not sure has much to do with intellectual ability.

It talks about expectations placed on gifted children and what that 'might' do, but failure for anyone else can be terrible too.

I'm just not sure when you get to the outcomes being gifted or intellectual or whatever term they want to use, is all that different from anyone else.


I think, and I'm generalizing, when we start discussing people in the higher percentages of intelligence, they are more apt to be able to more accurately conceptualize the scope of their life and the lives of those around them within the greater fabric of existence.

I've always been a believer in the idea that belief in a higher power was the genetic mutation that allowed humans to gain significant higher intelligence than other animals, as well as language, while still functioning productively and altruistically. People with significantly higher levels of intelligence are much less likely to believe in a higher power.

I also speculate that this is why there tends to also be a hard upper bounds of intelligence and why we have such a significant amount of people in the middle of the bell curve with very similar levels of intelligence.


> this is why there tends to also be a hard upper bounds of intelligence and why we have such a significant amount of people in the middle of the bell curve

This is true by definition for any randomly-generated trait which can be measured on a single dimension.


Yes, but the question is in part of why is the bell curve centered where it is today? Time was not against our side in the past, in that we had plenty of time to evolve for stronger intelligence criteria. Thus there must be a counterbalance for intelligence for general populations. Today I am curious as to what the average IQ of parents, weighted per number of children the parents have, is in comparison to the average IQ of the population.

You don't evolve for the sake of it, thats not how natural selection works. Evolution, espeically in the short order time spans it takes for things like humans to evolve from our last common ancestor with chimps, requires strong environmental pressure to see rapid change such as the development of language or our large brains.

We evolved until we outcompeted our relatives (its why we are the only homo left) and until we were the apex species of our biosphere. After that the pressures were much more diffuse over the nebulous optimization space of "what makes humans have more babies".

It should be completely unsurprising that our brains are functionally only as smart as they need to be to be able to handle complex language, social interaction, planning, and spatial / self awareness. With some slight bias upwards over the millennia - probably moreso from more caloric availability, in the same way we have gotten markedly taller in 300 years mostly from just being food rich and nutrition aware, than from genetic drift from natural selection.

To evolve substantially larger brains past what we already had would have been evolutionarily contrary to fitness. Bigger brains require more calories, moreso endanger the mothers in child birth (and our births are already extremely dangerous due to just that), required more developmental time to mature (15-25 years is insane in terms of developmental maturity in nature) and would have had minimal or no competitive advantage (complex reasoning skills aren't really valuable when all you are born into or will ever have is a tiny tribe and the tactic of exhausting gazelle all day for dinner).


The only problem that I have with this line of reasoning is why we ended up being capable of complex thinking processes at all, though I do suppose then that is answered by how rare such an evolutionary line is (with a 'success state' of one).

Going back to the second question of mine, is it feasible to see a divergence on the genetic basis over time amongst humans, in that the top academics tend to marry amongst themselves, and we have the strongest meritocratic system available that has been ever known to man? Looking at the Nobel Sperm Bank, there is some evidence of such a divergence already in place.


> Yes, but the question is in part of why is the bell curve centered where it is today?

Answer: it isn't [0]. It's been steadily increasing (and pretty rapidly, at a couple points per generation).

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect


Though one could debate about the "hardness" of the upper (or lower) bound. Gaussian RVs have some "softness" there, though of course the double exponential falls off rather quickly. (To which extent intelligence is well described by a Gaussian at the extremes is yet another can of worms.)

You are probably right, in the larger picture. On the other hand, this is focused on intellectuals, and further, the study's control group implies that intellectuals feel the problem more.

I was listening to a podcast which says that a lot of men in US have stopped looking for jobs, as there is no manufacturing jobs available. I wouldn't count them as searching for intellectual jobs(no offense). Sometimes, meaning is what we attach to it.

Everyone is really, most just can't map their emotions to a mindshare or set of words which accurately describes the condition.

You've got a large number of people looking at their lives and seeing that this whole system that has been constructed around them seems to do more to stifle any attempt at meaningful change or self-determination.

Seeking a change of career outside of minimum wage gets locked away behind expensive licensure. Attempts to improve one's space gets locked away behind permits, and tax reassessment, and other bureaucratic hurdles.

Looking back at history one can't help but feel a bit of envy that somehow our ancestors were more free. Or perhaps just less prone to despair due to a naturally more tightly bound worldview.

I'm not making any comments on the objective truth or falsehood of historical circumstances, just pointing put that many feel helpless in the face of the sheer size and breadth of the waves and problems that can seemingly pop up out of nowhere at a moment's notice.

This extends to the meaninglessness of work. You can try to advance a cause, say environmental activism, but actually end up being able to objectively measure that you're doing more harm than good in the process of being able to just get people to admit there is a problem.

The scale of modern problems are just so large it seems like the only winning move is not to play at all, over and over again.


>The scale of modern problems are just so large it seems like the only winning move is not to play at all, over and over again.

This is a bit of a drive-by comment and I apologize for that, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about "only-winning-move-is-not-to-play" games, and wanted to share what I've learned.

OWMINTP games seem imposing and impossible when we talk about them, but often their solution comes from outside the game. And the great thing is that often these games don't constitute the whole of our lives, which means we can focus on other games. Eventually OWMINTP games can get solved from the outside, which is great, because we live outside.

Anyway: unasked for, and kind of off-topic, but I wanted to share.


I appreciate the comment, and agree with your viewpoint. It's somewhat of an interesting area of thought of mine as well.

The difficulty is what counts as "outside" of the civilized world as we've built it, and if we found it, would we find ourselves in a crisis of the sort faced by Mr. Savage in Huxley's Brave New World? A natural man woefully equipped to survive in the unnatural world we've built around ourselves, but at the same time unable to return to living in a more natural state by virtue of what he'd become in trying to adapt?

Natural man facing unnatural problems he is powerless to solve due to his maladaptation to the world he has wrought, yet unable to escape or return to whence he came.

It's like some nightmarish Hotel California conundrum.


Here you go intellectuals - https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wittgenstein/#MeanUse

Intellectuals often have a "crisis of meaning" because they are dancing in that space of what things are and how they relate to each other. When you maintain a practice of doing that, you often can't help but apply that same process with yourself as the object. You can shred your identity quite quickly if you have some mental ability, and if you mess with your identity, you mess with what your life means ... i.e. how you wish to be used.


Obviously they are, just look at Philosophy. After Nietzsche and nihilism the whole Anglo world turned away from the continental school to the analytical school. Everything became mechanical. The whole meaning of life in essence became production and consumption... which is followed by an aura of doom and gloom. People stopped having children because they can't balance their needs of consumption with need of taking care of other people. They became isolated again for the same reasons.

I don't know if that's necessarily obvious. You say all that with a great deal of finality - a Marxist scholar would say that's due to the shift in means of production, and a postmodernist would say it's all become that way because of relativity.

For anyone looking into it, the book 'Bullshit Jobs' deals with some of the underlying issues in this article like meaning in life not being reflected for a full 8 hours of you day.

Whole Mensa concept is based on the abuse of a tool. IQ was deviced as a method to discern - excuse my language - idiots from normies, not to identify geniuses from a general population. I don't doubt those that pass Mensa gauntlet are not fast, but a high IQ is a very narrow and barren method define giftedness.

The fact that it has been used in that specific usage time and again does not really vindicate it in any way.

But ok, so the sampling is of Mensa members in general. That's fine, like the article states the targeted population is difficult to sample as it is.


The historical motivation for developing that tool has no bearing on its current capabilities and use, though, right?

I.Q. is a statistical tool. It has some correlations when applied to large populations ( i.e criminality correlates negatively with us I.Q. while longevity correlates positively).

The problem with this that its value in analyzing a single individual is not so obvious - on an individual level there is so much ‘noise’ that when assessing the capabilities of an individual an I.Q. test should be considered a small advisory component of a larger suite of research. The specific problem is that I.Q. is often used like a horoscope or hand reading to predict an individuals capability to perform in some arbitrary context. So where is it applicable, then? For example, if individual has problems at school and they score low on I.Q. they might be good candidates for some supportive measures. And if they score really high it can lead a psychologist to consider other remedies. This is proper use of the tool - it provides additional data points to a professional.

But you shouldn’t use I.Q. alone to filter people in the general context. I know some school systems at least used do this and it’s fucking retarded application of this measure. The fact that the people who thought it was a great idea to use I.Q. as a general filter probably scored high on the scale themselves should tell how much one should trust I.Q scores.

To misquote a certain judge - Genius is like hard porn. I don’t know how to define it precisely or mathematically but I know it when I see it.


But there is no reason to think that the IQ test has any capabilities of identifying "smarter" people, especially when talking about outliers (such as top 2% of some test)...

> "Having high levels of cognitive complexity doesn't assure that one will actually be motivated to utilize their cognitive ability. High achievement is more likely to be associated with high levels of motivation."

This pretty much sums up my life. Times where I have had motivation, I have succeeded greatly. Times where I have not, I stagnate and don't move forward.

Unfortunately, motivation is fleeting. It's as though my brain is hyper sensitive to novelty. If I can find something I find interesting, I am granted immense motivation and focus. But that quickly dwindles.


> "Unfortunately, motivation is fleeting. It's as though my brain is hyper sensitive to novelty"

Not to toot my own horn, but I struggled with this myself and ended up 'inventing' my own psuedo life-philosophy 'Experientialism'[1]. You might find this an interesting way of going about the problem.

[1] https://braunshedd.com/philosophy-and-metaphysics/what-is-ex...


Enjoyed that writeup. Definitely got me thinking about the general notion of a life philosophy, and the utility in adopting one. I am guilty of literally rolling some dice for major life decisions, since, most of life to me appears random anyway.

That said, Experientialism would have been great to adopt when I was 20. Maybe I would be filming a travel channel on YouTube or something. Nowadays, I need to adopt a life philosophy that helps me to regular, focussed, great work. Not sure yet what that is...


Interesting write-up. To me, the applied philosophy sounds similar to my experience with ADHD, seeking out novel experiences to maximize engagement.

There's an interesting relationship between will and intelligence. I've often seen people that aren't Geniuses, but their will motivates them in certain fruitful directions. Darwin is the prime example. I'm strongly convinced that there's an artistic side and mathematical side to all intellectual endeavors. The artistic side is the vision, which is formed by the unique will of the individual. The mathematical side is the capacity of exploring the space of that vision. The more of it you have, the more swiftly you can move through that space; however, if your vision puts you in the wrong space, intelligence alone is useless.

If I reflect upon the life outcomes of the truly gifted people I have kept up with, I can divide them into a few broad categories:

-A few went on to have stellar careers in academia, science, medicine, law, IT, engineering, or other fields.

-Some had more modest aims and settled for more ordinary work--big fish in small ponds.

-Some got stuck closer to the bottom of the socio-economic ladder--some are creative types and/or have a history of addiction and self-destructive habits.

I don't think there is any question that highly intelligent people learn new things quickly and grasp complex, nuanced, abstract concepts better and more readily than most other people, but the connection between intelligence and achievement, much less happiness and mental well being, is far from clear. An awful lot of very bright people simply fall through the cracks, and we will probably never know how many.

I would guess that most profoundly gifted people are pretty lonely. There just aren't enough of them around, and at times it must be like seeing colors nobody else can see.


> This finding highlights the critical difference between happiness and meaning in life. While happiness and life satisfaction has more to do with getting what you want and feeling good, meaning is more related to developing a personal identity, expressing the self, and consciously integrating one's past, present, and future experiences.

Even happiness and satisfaction isn't permanent. Their volatility and inconstancy are the perpetual attraction of "doing things". That's one reason that even some ultra-high-quality people feel boredom: if you don't have anything to do in the next day, you won't be proud of yourself. Be it simple goals ("I have everything, so I want a bigger yacht, buy exclusive clothes from that small door in that small street, have a dinner at the top of the Eiffel tower"), that money can buy, or something that your next-island-millionaire-neighbor has done and you haven't.


"Their most striking finding was substantially diminished levels of meaningfulness and subjective well-being among the giftedness as potential group compared to both the giftedness as achievement group and the control group. Also, in comparison to the giftedness as achievement group, the giftedness as potential group reported more demotivating experiences in school, and they perceived work as much less meaningful and joyful."

If you assume "achievement" is based on "giftedness" plus luck, this seems to imply that perceptions of meaningfulness and well being are based essentially on luck. I suspect that there is something wrong with our success-fascinated culture.

Or, possibly not. Promoting success by emphasizing it might be worth the cost to those who just didn't happen to succeed.


> Their giftedness as potential group consisted of 198 members of Mensa. Membership in Mensa is granted to individuals who score at the 98th percentile or higher on recognized standardized measures of intelligence.

I have always been curious why a group like Mensa International is relevant in today's society. Does an IQ test like the one Mensa requires has any relevance or correlation with performance in real life career or society?


> why a group like Mensa International is relevant in today's society. Does an IQ test like the one Mensa requires has any relevance or correlation with performance in real life career or society?

Those are two very distinct questions, though.

I'd say that

1. Mensa is not very relevant (except maybe as a self-help group and dating club, which is by no means a bad thing.)

2. "relevance or correlation with performance" - that's a highly contested question. My take is that IQ and Big 5 factor "conscientiousness" (which includes grit, capacity to delay gratification, etc.) are among the best predictors for performance in real life that we have, which is not to say that they're particularly good predictors. They can only explain a fairly small part of the variability in outcomes.


IQ is actually one of the most correlated things to future income prediction. I think only parent income predicts it better.

Not exactly.

"In his recent book Hive Mind economist Garett Jones argues that the direct effect of IQ on personal income is modest, and that most of the benefits of higher IQ flow from various spillover effects that make societies more productive, boosting everyone’s income. This, he says, explains the “IQ paradox” whereby IQ differences appear to explain a lot more of the economic differences between nations than within them." (...) “Fans of g would do well to look at the labor lit: 1 IQ point predicts just 0.5% to 1.2% higher wages.” He has also said that, in terms of standardized effect sizes, IQ accounts for only about 10% of variance in personal income (a correlation of ~0.32).

At some very crude levels (at the extremes) it fares better (e.g. someone below 90 would not do very well) but in general is nowhere near representative.

https://medium.com/incerto/iq-is-largely-a-pseudoscientific-...


I'm glad you actually cited something, because online discussions of IQ tend to be ridiculously fraught with baseless speculation and poorly substantiated opinions. Thanks for the link, will have to dig into it.

As a counterpoint, there are a few meta-surveys which suggest that individuals with higher IQs generally have better[1] long term outcomes. I emphasize individual here because your source appears to be analyzing it at the level of economic productivity and industrial output at the national level (but correct me if I'm wrong).

Here are a few sources I've read, which have been aggregated (with light commentary) by gwern:

1. https://www.gwern.net/Hunter

2. https://www.gwern.net/iq

3. https://www.gwern.net/Iodine

_________________

1. This is weaselly, but "better" is difficult to define in a message board comment.


>Does an IQ test like the one Mensa requires has any relevance or correlation with performance in real life career or society?

Well, someone put it this way: https://medium.com/incerto/iq-is-largely-a-pseudoscientific-...


The colorful graphs in Taleb's blog post here obscure the fact that his claims are completely unsubstantiated. He's also extremely condescending (bordering on dismissive) to a variety of disciplines.

There are cogent arguments that critique the use of IQ as an intelligence measure. This is not one of them.


>The colorful graphs in Taleb's blog post here obscure the fact that his claims are completely unsubstantiated.

More than this comment that doesn't offer any?

Taleb makes some quite specific arguments, and the graphs are quite illuminating as well.

Check the "IQ and wealth" graph for example -- it looks like a total scattershot outside of the bottom left corner that everyone could predict (intellectually challenged people -> low income). That alone would be enough to justify the entire post.

>He's also extremely condescending (bordering on dismissive) to a variety of disciplines.

That's good in my book. We need more colorful characters and less hive mind and institutionalism. Then again I prefer Feyerabend to Kuhn, and Tom Waits to Michael Bolton.


Yes. Stephen J Gould's "Mismeasure of Man" comes to mind. But then again, that's decades old.

My reading of Gould found that he is quite propagandistic with his claims, and that the ground that he covers would be more suitably done by a more careful analysis, which I believe to not exist currently.

I was very impressed by the book when I read it, but from what I gather now, I'd probably be much more skeptical on a second reading (also given his other controversial viewpoints, eg spandrels, non-overlapping magisteria).

I cannot see how spandrels would be particularly controversial, though you need to have the right perspective of such. I believe a spandrel in theory to be the potential minus the solution at hand; in certain problem spaces a spandrel may be present in the optimal solution. This is not to say a spandrel is useless, in that removing a spandrel with reference to some solution from the potential alters the problem space, thus in the probabilistic theory of evolution you would encounter a different spectrum of outcomes.

I would see non-overlapping magisteria to be more controversial, however.


Absolutely, if your career consists of taking IQ tests.

Isn't that the modern hiring system that everyone hates on? Do leetcode -> get prestigious job -> quit after 18 months -> do more leetcode -> make more money.

>Isn't that the modern hiring system that everyone hates on?

If you're working for someone else, yes. But those making the most money are not working for others.


If anyone is suffering from a lack of meaning I would recommend "War and Peace" by Tolstoy, specifically the plot around Pierre Bezuchov.

Working through it gave my life meaning for quite a while :)

"I gotta get this damn book done"?

The worst was keeping all the names straight.

- Leo Tolstoy

Intellectuals suffering from a crisis of meaning should ask themselves a sincere question: do I rely on relative intelligence as the core of my identity? When you frame the question that way, a number of obvious problems with that identity come to the surface:

- You will never be the smartest person in the room in every subject. There is simply too much to know, you'll never know it all, and others are better at learning different things.

- Being smart is no guarantee of success. To be successful, it's more important to learn how to interact, influence, delegate, etc.

- Any kind of identity based on comparison with other people is doomed. You will age, your ego will take a hit when someone else seems better, etc.

Everyone needs a stable identity. A more sure identity for intellectuals is to define yourself as someone who cares. As an intellectual, you probably enjoy solving problems and you are probably capable of great empathy. Build up those qualities in yourself without comparing yourself to others. That's a way to happiness.


You will never be the smartest person in the room in every subject.

If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. If you seek to always be the smartest person in the room, you have a personality problem which is holding you back.


> If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

Or you're simply alone. There may not be an "i" in "team", but there's two of them in "thinking".

> The salvation of the world depends only on the individual whose world it is. At least, every individual must act as if the whole future of the world, of humanity itself, depends on him. Anything less is a shirking of responsibility and is itself a dehumanizing force, for anything less encourages the individual to look upon himself as a mere actor in a drama written by anonymous agents, as less than a whole person, and that is the beginning of passivity and aimlessness.

-- Joseph Weizenbaum


I'm impressed that people with IQs of 150 are 4X more likely to suicide. That's sobering. I'd like to know how this has trended over the past century. And if it applies to other forms of talent than just IQ.

I also like the OP's division between giftedness as potential vs as achievement. I've know far more gifted folks who belonged to the first group more than the second. That dichotomy nicely captures the importance of drive to the full expression of any natural gift. Far fewer gifteds are comparably hard chargers, in my experience.

It's likely that before today's "age of quantitation", fewer gifteds were as aware of the gap between their talent and its lack of expression. Or maybe their attention was focused elsewhere -- on family, duty, or other life endeavors that were unaffected by the gift.


> Every powerful state relies on specialists whose task is to show that what the strong do is noble and just and, if the weak suffer, it is their fault. In the West, these specialists are called "intellectuals" and, with marginal exceptions, they fulfill their task with skill and self-righteousness, however outlandish the claims, in this practice that traces back to the origins of recorded history.

-- Noam Chomsky

> If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. [..] After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.

-- Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"

> Totalitarianism, however, does not so much promise an age of faith as an age of schizophrenia. A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud. Such a society, no matter how long it persists, can never afford to become either tolerant or intellectually stable. It can never permit either the truthful recording of facts or the emotional sincerity that literary creation demands. But to be corrupted by totalitarianism one does not have to live in a totalitarian country. The mere prevalence of certain ideas can spread a kind of poison that makes one subject after another impossible for literary purposes. Wherever there is an enforced orthodoxy - or even two orthodoxies, as often happens - good writing stops.

[..]

> No tirades against "individualism" and the "ivory tower", no pious platitudes to the effect that "true individuality is only attained through identification with the community", can get over the fact that a bought mind is a spoiled mind. Unless spontaneity enters at some point or another, literary creation is impossible, and language itself becomes something totally different from what it is now, we may learn to separate literary creation from intellectual honesty. At present we know only that the imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.

-- George Orwell, "The Prevention of Literature"


I wonder how those who have the ability and know-how to transition jobs and roles, who stay in their current situation that doesn't have an impact.

It is something that haunts my mind. How can you sit, working in a location that you know is not furthering anything, has no fruitful outcome, and is not going to change or push the needle in any way. The ship is sinking and you refuse to budge, but it's not your ship. You have no ties to this ship. The are others reaching out a hand saying, hey, look, our ship is actually stable; making change. Yet, the person still decides to stay aboard against all intellectual odds. Is it fear? Is it stubbornness or pride?

I'll never know.

Note: This only is about those who can change careers or jobs easily, in high-tech locations, where it occurs frequently. Against that, they stay, on a sinking ship. This post only refers to them, as I can easily understand others in a similar situation but with no way out or the ability to create a way out due to circumstance.


As a self-proclaimed "slight smarter than average" human being the biggest challenge I face on a day-to-day basis is a tendency to become jaded. I have no idea how to fix that but it makes daily life suffocating in many ways.

Do stuff you're proud of until you die. What's more to think about?

Do good until you die. Attaching pride to it is a mistake if it leads to arrogance.

Fine. "Do good things that you're proud of while maintaining your humility."

If you remove pride, you remove meaning, unfortunately. Virtue of the Mean, baby. Yin, Yang. Larry David, Lena Dunham.

There can be no light without the dark of the void.


What if you're antisocial and start to feel the echo chamber of only doing things you are proud of?

Seems reasonable to consider what makes you proud.

That we ever felt certain we knew what things meant was the problem that’s being cured.

I am optimistic that the subculture of memes attempting to produce inspirational and philosophical thought, although now perhaps mostly mired in cliche, is the grandest crowd-sourced thought experiment in history. It will evolve as the lowest common denominator is raised in complexity and I think will eventually surpass in intellectual insight all previous systems of thought by virtue alone of the number of people contributing and contemplating its output.


I recently started going to church again and I've been enjoying it. While I still have issues with it (as do many who go), I think mainstream culture has thrown out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to religion as it does provide a good framework for finding meaning in your life.

I don't think I'm alone either - Jordan Peterson's rise to popularity is testament to people craving the kind of moral wisdom that is contained in the bible. I've also come to like the idea of original sin; we all make mistakes and as long as you recognize them as mistakes, you can still be a good person by trying to do right.


Interesting point. I also think there is a sense of predestination that comes with a believe in God. This can have a reassuring effect when it comes to worrying about if you're on the right track in life (the track to "meaning"). I have read that some psychologists hypothesize this sense of predestination is what (in part) causes lower suicide rates among religious folks vs. non-religious folks.

Even though I'm aware of these positive effects, I still can't bring myself to believe in any God. I was raised atheist and I've always felt like a believe in the supernatural doesn't mix with an intellectual, scientific view on the world. This is of course completely due to my upbringing; there are plenty of great scientists who believe. I think this is an interesting inner conflict which I'm sure I share with many others.


There are plenty of religions that offer a more flexible interpretation of "God" that might better suit your world view. You may want to check out Quakerism, the Bahá'í Faith and Buddhism. These are just three that come to mind, but there are many more.

I would also add that predestination is a particularly Calvinist protestant belief. Many religions that rely on good works, such as Jesuit Catholicism and Quakerism can provide meaning and sense of purpose without the offensive belief that one has no self determination or choice about being a good person in life.


I think the argument for belief in God from a scientific standpoint is very possible. Science is done because we don't fully understand the world. Therefore, scientists must be humble, and open to the idea that current science paradigms are subject to change and have been constantly shifting throughout time (flat earth, tectonics). Science is all about hypothesizing, gathering data, extrapolating trends, then drawing conclusions.

I believe that the moral system, close community, and redemptive nature of Christianity preach a way of life that leads to happiness and is consistent with so many themes in philosophy, psychology (like you mentioned) and classical literature. Ultimately you choose whether or not you want to believe in God, but it was these emergent themes that turned me into a church goer.

To claim that there is no God is a very bold, untestable claim. I think it is made because of the dire implications of being wrong (hell). The way that I interpret heaven and hell is basically the end result of working towards the best or worst versions of yourself. If you agree that you are constantly met with decisions to make and typically know which choice will be better for you (eating a pizza versus working out) - then you know the basic jist of avoiding "sin". If you constantly give into your hedonistic side, doing what is easy or feels good in the moment, you'll end up with a hefty amount of self loathing. Christianity is all about saying its ok to want those things, but try to resist and it will make you feel better. Admit when you're acting in that "sinful" manner and try to to better next time.

my two cents

edit: dang.. see axlprose for references - he did gud lol


> I was raised atheist and I've always felt like a believe in the supernatural doesn't mix with an intellectual, scientific view on the world. This is of course completely due to my upbringing; there are plenty of great scientists who believe. I think this is an interesting inner conflict which I'm sure I share with many others.

Yep, this was pretty much me up until a year ago when I started actually studying theology and the philosophy around it more rigorously. What I realized was that this notion of science being in opposition to religion I had, was effectively at least as much of a faith based position promoted to me by modern society, as theism was to religious people. Because when taking a hard honest look at myself, I saw that I had never actually bothered to really study any religious literature to justify coming to such a bold conclusion, in large part because I had prematurely dismissed such an endeavor as being an uninteresting waste of time. But in reality, I should've known my position was questionable ages ago from my long time fascination with the history of science and mathematics. I had conveniently rationalized or outright ignored the fact that the giants upon whose shoulders modern science rests, have all been rather disproportionately theists, because "things are different now"/"we've progressed beyond that". Yet the more I thought about those excuses, the more I realized they were completely unjustified hand waving, because I couldn't find any compelling arguments for why that should be the case, nor why such smart people of the past couldn't have come up with the relatively straightforward arguments for atheism the likes of Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al. came up with (as I had read most of the "4 horsemen of atheism" books already). None of the best arguments for atheism actually hinged on time or technological/scientific progress, so why did many smart people like Leibniz, Newton, and Darwin not only fail to discover such simple lines of thought, but instead often times went in the exact opposite direction and made arguments for theism? Note that I'm not making an argument appealing to past greats being theists, but rather describing my own thought process that led me to question "wtf is going on here?". John Lennox has a lot of interesting books and talks relevant to this particular line of inquiry[0].

But anyways, long story short(er), the watershed moment didn't actually come for me until I stumbled upon a small pastor's YouTube channel [1], and gradually started working my way through several books, including:

- Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl

- Miracles - C. S. Lewis

- The Abolition of Man - C. S. Lewis [2]

- Heretics - G. K. Chesterton

- Orthodoxy - G. K. Chesterton

- Nihilism - Seraphim Rose

- The Experience of God - David Bentley Hart

- The Critique of Pure Reason - Immanuel Kant

I'm still technically somewhat agnostic and unaffiliated with any particular religious denomination, but I couldn't reasonably go back to my previous atheism after that rabbit hole. I think it's ultimately this illusury distinction between "the natural" vs "the supernatural" that our materialist society has, which makes it so easy to fall into atheism/nihilism. It lulls us into a false sense of confidence about what we "know" as being "natural", as if it were a well-defined "solved problem", all while the purpose of science itself explicitly acknowledges it's not. What makes the illusive grand unifying theory of physics less "supernatural" than a deity, the hard problem of consciousness[3], or the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics[4], for example? The mere assumption that it's more within reach of our understanding? Seems a bit unsatisfying for a premise to form such a large dichotomy around. In that sense, you could argue theism is partially an analogy of Gödel's incompleteness theorems[5] applied to world views. We might be able to kinda/sorta work around such limitations, but it seems silly to just completely ignore they exist, much less turn around and use them as some form of justification against theism a'la "god-of-the-gaps" argument[6].

[0] for example: https://youtu.be/v0AKUTHcI04

[1] https://www.youtube.com/user/paulvanderklay

[2] here's a good series distilling it, since the book itself is a bit dense: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlZfP0L6b41iCKzdQt-Gk...

[3] http://scholarpedia.org/article/Hard_problem_of_consciousnes...

[4] https://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.htm...

[5] Gödel of course, was also a theist himself, and thought a lot about the implications of his discoveries. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/goedel-incompleteness/

[6] here's a good rebuttal to such arguments which may resonate with HN people: https://youtu.be/CltwD0Ek9Kk


I've concluded that the question we are trying to answer is "What's the meaning of life?", but there is no reason for us to assume that that question is the ultimate question. Most probably, there are more important questions we are not yet aware of, and one can find meaning in the search of such questions.

I definitely identify as an intellectual. I spend a lot of time reading books, especially the classics and older philosophy texts, and I definitely identify with this article and the general premise.

For me personally, the hard thing is reading the thoughts of Plato, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, etc. and then trying to understand how we had such amazing thinkers 2000 years ago and that we don't seem to have moved any further at all in the year 2018. Yes, of course science and technology have progressed, but our human behaviors have not improved. In fact, we seem to have regressed and now have Donald Trump as President and Theresa May in the UK, trying to pull the country out of Europe due to rampant xenophobia.

Anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-vaxx, climate change denial, rampant capitalism at the expense of our souls. It seems like the default goal of the Westerner is to get rich enough so that they can narcotize themselves against all the pain and fear of the future which is underlying our society.

Southern California, where I live, is a place where your instagram "image" seems more important than whether you're actually a good person. People spend more of their time glued to their screens scrolling on Insta or Facebook seeing other people's portrayed lives and obsessing over their likes and follows. Working long days so you can afford the next step up on the car ladder or housing ladder, so you can get some temporary satisfaction before that fades and you start the ladder again.

I think if Socrates or Plato or Aristotle were to time travel to this future, Socrates would be sharing his hemlock with them before they committed group suicide.


>For me personally, the hard thing is reading the thoughts of Plato, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, etc. and then trying to understand how we had such amazing thinkers 2000 years ago and that we don't seem to have moved any further at all in the year 2018.

Seems like pretty good evidence that people are deeply flawed, sinful creatures.


People are blank slates forged by the society around them.

Nobody is inherently evil, not even a socio or psychopath. People are made evil, ignorant, anti-intellectual in the ways they come to interpret and interact with the world.

Its more evidence that the collective societies we have built aren't anything worth revering yet, at least not the ones "on top" of global culture today.


Socrates and Plato were outliers among Greek society and spent a lot of time criticizing it. It wouldn't be surprising to them that most people suck.

Try Heidegger's Being and Time. It's a super tough read (I read portions of it for a class) but it's motivated by the same frustrations you mention.

Carl Sagan, MLK, Einstein and others all talked about how our technological progress has outpaced our moral/human progress.

There are plenty of more recent examples of such brilliant minds but you'll be hard pressed to find them if you're attention is fixated on shallow toxic dinsinformation platforms like cable news (CNN, Fox) and social media (FB, Twitter) which promote hatred and division over love and community


It’s not isolated to Westerners, we simply started a little earlier so are further along.

Intelligence can stop you from believing in something obviously false, education in science can cure some of the naive and false methodology and epistemology of common sense, but neither can be a substitute for philosophy.

All they need is a small dosage of existentialism. Life is indeed meaningless by itself, we are born to reproduce, meaning is what you choose to attach to it.

In the common parlance, it is often said that power corrupts, but this generally applies to people who are personally unstable and spiritually undisciplined, and so once they escape the corset of social obligation, they act out their suppressed inner fantasies with deranged results. The flip side of power is that it teaches a form of compassion, a "tough love," that comes from the necessity of motivating people, because motivating people is both a matter of strict external force and gentler internal reward. If you're going to lead people into battle or business or a volunteer effort, you need to show them that their task is just and there is no other way, but also make them feel a sense of empowerment and world-remaking importance in their job, so that they see it as not only necessary but beneficient to society and self.

People are raw material. They come to you a mixed bag: they have strengths, and weaknesses, and fears as well as ambitions. Most of them do not know how to channel their ambitions, so if not given reason to think otherwise, will become egocentric and either seize power, or disclaim it entirely and retreat into personal worlds of amusements and fetishes. On the other hand, if their ambitions are given a clear path and a reason to exist, they can exponentially increase their productivity and acumen simply by the fact of being inspired toward their task. Among other things, this explains how throughout history small groups of men and women have changed the world radically, and how sometimes a smaller army or business can crucify its competitors: its people are more focused and believe in their task more than the opposition.

Although amplified by the modern world, throughout history most people have spent their day to day existence in a state of slight depression. The simplest reason for this is that very few of us get to live a life where we are a constant focus of attention, and so we labor mostly unknown except to a few close friends and our families, whose praise means a lot to us, yet, we would prefer to be more widely influential. Further, because life is a long and winding road in which it is necessary to make errors in order to learn the foundations of successes, all of us will have some failings and embarassments lurking in the past. We prefer not to mention them in public, but whenever we consider our next move, doubt arises in the form of these past memories, much like beating a dog with a stick when it soils the carpet will convince it in the future to remember pain and associate it with that act. Our own histories literally condition us to depression.

What amplifies this depression in the modern time is the sheer size of our society, and its general course downward, which even the dumbest among us seem to have noticed. We notice such things on a subliminal level more than an articulated one, since to understand the situation in structure and words requires knowing more of it than most lives will see let alone analyze. Since our society is huge, and seems so far beyond our control or even understanding that it is inexorably going to do what it does, most are slightly depressed by their lack of influence on changing a worsening situation. Among the intelligent, it is recognized that masses of morons will undo whatever they achieve, or worse, turn it into a dumbed-down version of itself, missing meaning but preserving appearance. This keeps even the best among us depressed.

The catalyst of change for this situation can be a seemingly miniscule change in belief. People now believe they cannot change themselves or the world, and that things will continue as they have been; if given the knowledge that not only are things invisibly changing, but that the future favors this change, and that they can be the implements of such alteration, people will become inspired and find belief in the future. The same energy that fuels their depression can propel their hard work and brilliant invention in remaking the world. Another way to view this is that depression is the result of one's energy having no outlet, thus it works against the individual by creating internal chaos. Give people an outlet that they believe will have positive results, and they will move the world. It is for this reason that stubborn assholes such as this writer believe that as has happened in the past, a small group of determined people will change our world yet again. People of the world, your time is coming.

And time is on our side. Every day we grow stronger and more disciplined, the errors of society bear it and its lackeys further into oblivion, crushing them under the weight of a design which is doomed by its own contradictions to failure. Each day that we do not give in and do not parrot their rhetoric, ours is seen more clearly by others, and more respected. And with each passing day, more of the failures of our current civilization come to light, and more people look for alternate answers, perhaps not to act on directly but to support covertly or simply as vessels for their hope of a better future. When people become inspired, they gain a nearly godlike status in their ability to think clearly, act decisively, and make each choice correctly the first time. In this state, the errors and stumbling confusion that hampers us in daily life is minimized, and replaced with a state of pure function that comes of a lack of spiritual doubt about one's course. People of earth, your fortunes are changing.

If you've got a modicum of intelligence, you are probably depressed, and you were probably born depressed: society is against you, as it wants to dumb down every aspect of its function to the point where you will be a misfit and your best efforts will not be appreciated even when successful. You are surrounded by idiots, and thanks to democracy and consumerism and popularity, they do have greater power than you - for now. You have no faith in the rotted process of our society, or its calcified judgment, or even life itself, perhaps, for it has delivered you to this state. Yet this is changing, and the same force of life - call it nature, God, or chance; your pick - has brought this cycle toward the beginnings of a close. You must have faith in the process of living and the change it can bring, because at that point, you can see yourself as an agent of this change. As a wise man once said, "I don't know if what I'm doing will make things better, but I feel better working toward something in which I believe." That outlook requires leaving behind the comfort of feeling you cannot change anything, so contenting yourself with distractions like television, drugs, novelty music and social pressures.

We live in a world of a lack of absolutes. We cannot "prove" what we're doing is right any more than those who oppose us can, but we can make a firm stand with statements of personal experience and wisdom such as "I prefer" and "I believe."


they have been, since ancient Greece..

It's just us millennials who lack meaning. The whole intellectual thing is just arrogance.

Nope. Their problem is narcissism. The system told them they were gifted, and they grew up to find out the world isn't a blowjob parade. How anyone handles that defines their character.



Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: