May 20, 2012

Essay on the academic mind

The following is copied from David Quinn's website, as his essay is accurate and down-to-earth, and well worth saving.  Incidentally, there are other quality writings by others from the same site. David strikes me as having been able to put down deep roots into enlightenment, and to keep striving courageously onwards through the tremendous, sometimes tortuous, difficulties of the spiritual path.  With wisdom, it is all or nothing.  And the all means no less than absolute sacrifice, and a willingness to endure and suffer all.  It is no surprise, perhaps, that the following essay should reveal how utterly unequal an academic is for the task of philosophy.

Kelly Jones

The Limitations
Academic Intelligence
Reflections upon my lynching at Ne Ultra Plus and an analysis of the psychology of academic intellectuals.
By David Quinn
I could see from the beginning, even before I began posting, that it was not a suitable forum for spiritual and philosophical discussion. Although Ne Plus Ultra promotes itself as an exclusive, invitation-only forum for highly intelligent, creative people, the intelligence and creativity on display was of a very narrow kind. The discussion threads were dominated by MENSA-type personalities who like to write in convoluted, hyper-complex sentences about issues that generally have little connection with reality. They were extremely academic in their mode of thought, as well as ultra-scientific in that peculiarly shallow American way. They displayed little or no capacity for deeper modes of thought and, as far as I could see, no interest in wisdom . The signs didn’t look good.
No doubt this explains why my colleague, Dan Rowden, only contributed a couple of token posts during the entire affair, even though he too received an exclusive invitation from Tommy Smith, the forum owner. He took one look at the forum, concluded it was an insane asylum and felt no inclination to write. I didn’t really blame him, because that was my initial reaction as well.
There is something very Pythonesque about academics with high IQs. It is the way they need to inject spectacular, over-the-top mental pyrotechnics into everything they do, regardless of whether or not it is warranted, combined with an inability to discriminate between what is important and fundamental to an issue and what is not. Thus, we have the image of a pompous know-all who, even while continuing to pour forth tortuous lines of hyper-complex reasoning, doesn't know how to resolve even the simplest of problems, and ends up losing himself further and further into the labyrinths of academic madness.
As if to illustrate this point, there was an amusing incident during the discussions at Ne Plus Ultra in which I translated, just for fun, a needlessly complex paragraph by Sergei (Plato) into a short sentence of four words:
Plato: Obviously we must use observations or the objects in perceived reality as a stepping stone because we cannot "sense" Reality with our minds. But it is fallacious to think cognition can only make (logical) inferences from those observations. If the only statements that could be made based on perceived reality were of logical (inductive/deductive) nature, then the noetic reality would fundamentally be constrained to operate within the bounds of perceived reality and your point that there is no difference between the two would be quite valid. However, that is clearly not so because cognition allows generation of propositions which are illogical. These hypotheses, therefore, can introduce thought-objects into noetic reality that lie outside of perceived reality.
David Quinn: Translation: We can imagine things.
This is by no means an isolated example. Most arguments put forward by academics, especially within the philosophic tradition, are needlessly expressed in hyper-complex language. In some of the more technical areas of academia, such as those found in physics and mathematics, you do need a specialized language, but for general philosophical purposes you don't. Simple sentence structures and jargon-free language are perfectly adequate for the task. Not only do they not interfere with our ability to solve philosophic problems, but they actually make it a good deal easier. But the academic intellectual of high IQ wouldn't be able to cope with this at all. He instinctively equates intelligence with complexity of thought and expression, and imagines genius to be the ability to master ultra-complexity. To reduce everything down to the simplicities of everyday language would be, for him, to reduce the very importance and intellectual loftiness of his life as a thinker. It would literally rob him of his identity. Since he does not have the capacity to engage in simple reasonings and discern truth, he would reveal himself to be just another incompetent philosophic thinker, no different from anyone else in the community.
Because of this, the academic intellectual of high IQ has no trouble convincing himself that any attempt to solve issues and uncover fundamental truths is a complete waste of time. What he wants, always, is ever more complexity. More puzzles, more questions, more intricacies, more opportunities to throw himself into the labyrinth of academia. In this way, every neuron in his brain can be filled up with mountains of useless facts and complicated reasonings, and he can avoid having to face reality.
I have long held the view that the main purpose of academia is to act as a refuge for highly-intellectual people to prevent them from going mad. If it wasn't for the endless array of trivial puzzles that constitutes academia, the brain of the intellectual would automatically begin to wander down the pathways towards a deeper comprehension of Reality and thus towards a great deal of personal suffering and danger. Indeed, the individual in question wouldn't be able to stop himself. His high IQ brain has far too much energy and drive. It is always seeking puzzles to solve, regardless of how trivial or serious their nature. His only course of action, then, is to constantly distract his brain with countless meaningless crossword puzzles. Such is the life of an academic.
One of the interesting things that the Ne Plus Ultra incident revealed is that although a person with a high IQ might be very intelligent when it comes to academic issues, his intelligence very quickly deserts him whenever real-world issues are touched upon, or issues that affect him personally and emotionally. The participants on the Ne Plus Ultra forum repeatedly demonstrated they were unable to grasp even the simplest logical points put to them during my various discourses – even though they were points that a ten-year-old child could easily understand. There were two classic examples of this during the NPU fracas, which I will now analyze:
The first concerned my comments that science possesses limitations and cannot yield absolute truth. Although I made it very clear that I thought science had its place in society, that it was an excellent method for gaining empirical knowledge, the NPU forum members consistently interpreted my approach as a blanket attack upon the whole of science. Indeed, they concluded that I was advocating a complete rejection of science altogether.
Why such a moronic response, you might ask? I think it is mainly due to their unquestioning belief that science is wholly beyond criticism, especially as far as the acquisition of knowledge is concerned. To them, any kind of attack on science, no matter how insignificant or minor, is unthinkable. Society has inculcated them with the belief that science is the be-all and end-all of knowledge and the highest of all things, and they literally cannot comprehend how any intelligent being could question it. It is like questioning the existence of gravity, or that the earth is round. Only a complete madman or a religious kook could possibly do it. And so it has become natural for them to instantly dismiss all challengers in this mindless manner, regardless of the quality of the challenge.
A large part of the problem stems from the fact that people with high IQs tend to be very enclosed and insular. They usually prefer to work and socialize with their own kind only, and thus they rarely have to confront any serious challenges to their core beliefs. In many ways, they are no different to the person who is born and baptized a Christian, raised by a Christian family, works within a Christian culture, and never once thinks to question this state of affairs. They are fundamentalists, not of Christianity, but of the religion of scientific materialism, which has as its core tenet the belief that the scientific method is the only valid method of acquiring knowledge. This brand of fundamentalism has become a very serious problem in the world today as far as wisdom is concerned, as serious and problematical as Christianity was in the Middle Ages.
The second example concerns the infamous “women and dogs” remark that I made during the second half of the discussion. It was this remark which triggered the avalanche of animosity towards me and eventually led to the hysterical demands to have me removed from the forum. That these people completely misinterpreted the comment goes without saying. Note the context in which it was made:
Andrew Beckwith: Why does your genius site reek of such hate for women ? It's palatable.
David Quinn: There is no hatred for women on the Genius site, at least not from me. Where is your evidence or reasoning for this? I do think that women are significantly inferior to men when it comes to the higher activities of life, such as spirituality and philosophy, and even art and science. But in saying this, I am simply expressing the truth. There's no hatred involved.
Kitten: Did you really say that? I'm not dreaming said that you have respect for women, and no hate of them...then said that?
David Quinn: I also think dogs are inferior to men when it comes to higher activities, but it doesn't mean I hate them.
Kitten: You compared women to dogs?
David Quinn: No, I compared my dispassionate attitude towards dogs with my dispassionate attitude towards women.
[Cue hysteria]
Again, the point I was making was abundantly clear. My judgment that women are seriously disadvantaged when it comes to philosophy, wisdom and science is no more an expression of hatred towards women than is my judgment that dogs are incapable of wisdom an expression of hatred towards dogs. It is a very easy point to grasp. Who could possibly misunderstand it? No one above the age of ten, you would think. And yet somehow, a group of academic intellectuals with stupendously high IQs weren't able to fathom it at all.
Admittedly, my choice of the word “dogs” didn't help matters. If I had compared my indifferent attitude towards women with, say, my indifferent attitude towards tree or cats, the members of Ne Plus Ultra may not made such a big fuss. Even though my point would be unchanged, it is likely they wouldn't have been so offended. In hindsight, I should have known that linking women to dogs, no matter how tenuously, automatically invites trouble. It is a sexually-loaded term and expresses a far worse crime than merely thinking women are incapable of wisdom. It suggests - horror upon horror - that women are sexually repulsive. If I had made reference to cats (which are graceful and cute), instead of dogs (which are hairy and smelly), the lynch mob may not have been formed at all.
No matter! The fact still remains that the forum members' strong attachments and emotions seriously undermined their ability to reason coherently. This raises an interesting issue, one that has many ramifications. Imagine if IQ tests were composed, not of trivial academic puzzles, but of real-life puzzles such as the two examples I gave above. It is not difficult to see that people's scores would be very different. The test might look like this, of example:
Q23: When a philosopher affirms the usefulness of science in the empirical realm, and yet articulates its limitations when it comes to ultimate knowledge, is he:
(a) rejecting science altogether as a tool of knowledge?
(b) describing the relative worth of science as he sees it?
Q57: When a philosopher compares his dispassionate attitude towards women with his dispassionate attitude towards dogs, is he:
(a) comparing women to dogs?
(b) comparing his own emotional attitude towards women and dogs?
Given that the academic intellectuals at Ne Plus Ultra totally flunked out with these two questions, we can only infer that they would do very poorly in an entire test of this kind. Their IQ scores would thus drop dramatically. They would be considered among the least intelligent in the community.
This suggests that IQ tests, as they are currently structured, are unreliable and wholly inadequate to measure intelligence. At best, they merely measure the raw intellect of a person, and perhaps his level of education, and not much more. They do not address his character, or his level of detachment, or his ability to apply his intellect in intelligent ways under emotional stress. Thus, we often find that those who are judged to have high IQs by the current methods of measurement have a very narrow form of intelligence, one that is strictly confined to being able to solve academic puzzles and the like. These kinds of people often give the appearance of being autistic to a degree, akin to the idiot savant who can do astonishingly complex arithmetic in his head and yet is barely able to deal with reality on any other level. IQ testing has, in many ways, become a measurement of “freakhood”, rather than of intelligence. As a society, we need to rethink our premises with regards to IQ testing and devise more appropriate forms of measurement.
Related to this issue is the devastating effect that emotions and attachments have upon one's ability to reason. I made mention of the fact during the discussion at Ne Plus Ultra that fundamentalism renders all of its adherents equally stupid, regardless of how high their IQs are. Not only is this very true, but it is also inescapable. A strong attachment to a blind belief automatically puts one in the position of having to defend the indefensible, which is a form of madness. It doesn't matter how great your intellect is, you will never be able to rationally support an irrational belief. Not even a genius can do it. So if a fundamentalist wants to maintain his attachment to his blind beliefs, he has no choice but to erect large mental blocks, hone his skills in evasiveness and generally put a halt to any rational thought-process that even looks like heading in the direction of his beliefs. That is to say, he has to become mentally stupid. There were many examples of this process on the Ne Plus Ultra forum, wherein its members allowed their strong attachment to science, academic knowledge and women to undermine their intellectual ability to reason.
Another interesting characteristic of the academic intellectual is his habit of confining his reasoning skills to academic matters only, leaving the rest of his life almost untouched by logical thought. A kind of split-personality emerges, where, on the one hand, the academic is sober, clear-sighted, and highly logical when it comes to his academic work, but as soon as he leaves his office or turns his attention to non-academic issues, his reasoning skills abruptly go out the window and he suddenly transforms into an emotional, flaky, loopy kind of person who gullibly believes all sorts of irrational nonsense and can barely string two coherent sentences together.
One observes this stark duality in academics the world over, and it is no different with the inhabitants on the Ne Plus Ultra forum. Andrew Beckwith, for example, exhibits this trait markedly. A theoretical physicist by trade, he is a person who appears very knowledgeable, authoritative and clear-sighted whenever he operates in the mode of an academic. Although we are currently not able to witness him in this mode (since they have closed the forum to outsiders), I can assure the reader that he really does come across as a sophisticated, cultured, well-read man of science who commands respect from other academics. But as soon as you take him out of this mode, such as what happened during our little stoush on the forum, he becomes a completely different person. Phroosh! Gone is the ability to reason in a coherent manner; gone are the listening skills which are so vital in his work as a scientist; gone are the sobriety and civility of his demeanour. Instead, a whiny, immature, even paranoid form of behaviour takes over. It is a transformation which is utterly amazing to behold. One cannot believe, when witnessing him in this mode, that he is indeed a practicing scientist.
The split-personality of academics is largely generated by the belief that logic is strictly an academic tool only, and has no other application. That this belief is nonsensical is of little consequence to the academic, as it coincides nicely with this deeply-held desire to avoid thinking about reality at all costs. This relates to a point I made earlier, which is that academics consistently turn to the labyrinthine world of academia as a refuge from serious thought. By submitting to the belief that logic has no other application beyond that of solving academic or scientific puzzles, the academic is constantly able to nip his reasoning processes in the bud before they can begin to probe real-life issues of a philosophical nature. It is a process so habitual that he no longer has any consciousness of doing it. He thus renders himself completely safe from the possibility of entering the philosophical path.
This also goes some way to explaining why the posts of Andrew Beckwith were tinged with hysteria from the outset, and also why some of the other forum members were becoming increasingly hysterical as time went on. I was introducing reality into a domain that was specifically designed to keep reality out. The thoughts I was expressing were simple, direct, unarguable, and brimming with philosophic wisdom – the sort of thing that is far too powerful and heady for most academic intellectuals to deal with. Faced with this onslaught, the academic often begins to panic and attempts to throw anything he can at the perpetrator, no matter how unrelated it might be to the conversation at hand, all in the desperate hope that the perpetrator will go away and take reality with him.
We can see, then, that forums such as Ne Plus Ultra are not just places to exchange information between intellectual people, but they serve a religious purpose as well. Just as Christians form churches so that they can bond together and block out everything in reality they don't like, academic intellectuals also feel a strong emotional need to close themselves off from the outside world altogether. This partly explains why they love talking to each other in hyper-complex sentences littered with obscure jargon, even in the many instances where simple sentences and straightforward language would perfectly suffice. It is as though they are deliberately talking to one another in code. It is similar to the way the Catholic Church used to conduct Mass, and even theological discussions, in Latin. There is great pleasure and comfort in thinking that one is part of an exclusive, inner circle, complete with its own private language; it makes one feel very special and constitutes an exquisite form of revenge against the wider world, which most people of high IQ feel persecuted by. Because of these strong psychological realities, it is very difficult to persuade academics to conduct their discussions in simple jargon-free language, understandable by everyone. Any inclination to make their knowledge more accessible is completely swamped by their desire to remain ensconced within a lofty, inner circle.
There were moments during my time at Ne Plus Ultra in which members deliberately flaunted their love of hyper-complex language, as though they felt a need to openly demonstrate their allegiance to a club which I did not belong. A particular example of this was when I posted in those Humphrey Appleby quotes which mocked their convoluted mode of speech. The immediate response from one or two of the forum members was to send their convoluted speech into overdrive and make it even more hyper-complex, as if to say, “You may mock us, but there is nothing you can do to make us change our ways. Our allegiance lies elsewhere.” It was at this point, when they were all beginning to close ranks, that I knew that my involvement on the forum was quickly coming to en end.
So was my time at Ne Plus Ultra worth it? My initial reason for going there was the hope that there might be one or two members who were human and open to non-academic forms of intellectualizing – and perhaps even open to wisdom. That it turned out there was no one of that calibre (as far as I know) was certainly disappointing. But I did learn a little bit more about the psychology of academic intellectuals, so that at least was something. I gained a deeper insight into the fears which drive a person of high IQ into the extremes of hyper-complex academia and political correctness, and discerned more clearly just how much of a barrier to wisdom a high IQ can be.
David Quinn
Jan 21, 2004

May 17, 2012

On Akira Kurosawa, or "No man can hide his lack of relationship to truth"

The film "Rashomon" is a great example of the astonishing velocity by which humans distance themselves from consciousness of truth.  Human falsity is demonstrated by the film's content, the director's own character (for it is he who chose to represent human falsity in a false way), and, how the film is commonly and ongoingly received.  This latter is confirmed by the cinematography device called the 'Rashomon effect', but any number of film reviews or film buffs' opinions will redemonstrate what I mean. For instance,

"In a Grove" is an early modernist short story, as well as a blending of the modernist search for identity with themes from historic Japanese literature, and as such is perhaps the iconic work of Akutagawa's career. It presents seven varying accounts of the murder of a samurai, Kanazawa no Takehiro, whose corpse has been found in a bamboo forest near Kyoto. Each section simultaneously clarifies and obfuscates what the reader knows about the murder, eventually creating a complex and contradictory vision of events that brings into question humanity's ability or willingness to perceive and transmit objective truth.
- Wikipedia snippet about "In a Grove", the storyline on which Rashomon is based.

No, no.  The film is only superficially about contradictory perspectives offered by eye-witnesses in a murder trial, but this is partly the fault of the director, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa has focussed on the confusion of two idiotic narrators, whose sorrow and confoundment about the event create a sense of mystery.  Like a child with innocent-face, trying to hide its crime, saying, "How did the chocolate get into my mouth!?  It's a mystery!",  this film 'Rashomon' is cringingly trying to hide how humans bury their consciences by saying "It's a mystery!"  and this is the real 'Rashomon effect'.

A demonic temptation took hold of me.  Oh, the breeze blew, or I wouldn't have killed him.  Evil is not a human tendency, but a disembodied force, and we are all hapless victims of circumstance.  Oh, the world is a confusing place.  We're not responsible!  Oh, we're truly not responsible!  None of us know the truth, what is really happening.  We are just dupes, victims of a greater force out there; we are mere empty-headed idiots caught up in the mystery --- we are mere morons.

Well, I can agree with the latter.

Kurosawa's choice to use the two moronic narrators - rather, the storyline is by RyĆ«nosuke Akutagawa, but Kurosawa was a dupe for swallowing his tale 'In a Grove', hook, line, bait, and gob-choking sinker - not only falsifies the real story ("How did the chocolate get into my mouth?!  It's a mystery to me!"), but shows his own character.  Their confusion and bewonderment emphasises the notion that truthfulness is impossible, because each person's perspective of events differ.  It's the post-modernist gaffe, everyone has their own truth, or its corollary, there  is no truth.

And thus, following Kurosawa's "authority on truthfulness", the scene is now set for all his viewers for many years to come.  How innocently they rapidly distance themselves from truthfulness, taking his cowardly example. And now the film buffs talk of his skillful cinematographic devices, the notion that truth cannot be grasped by any mind ......  Ah, it's sickening.

The two moronic narrators are a wood-cutter, chosen for being a simple honest John, a family man, just like you and me, and therefore a reliable man; and a youngish Zen priest, chosen for being a contemplative and personally virtuous authority on morality.   The self-deceit in chosing these two is laughable. It shows that Kurosawa believes the ordinary human being - himself, namely, or, at a pinch, his viewers - is not evil, but are reliable presenters of the human relationship to truth; moreover,  it shows his gullibility, by choosing as an authority of virtue an imposter Zen priest: a sleepy, incorrigible fool, like the dopey monks Hakuin Ekaku likened to useless sacks of rice decked out in black robes, with no insight on Zen whatsoever.  So this is his second gaffe, ordinary, simple-minded, gullible people are truthful and innocent.

Kurosawa's weakness of character and lack of insight into the nature of evil (humans' willingness to deceive themselves about their lack of truthfulness) is evident in the shallowness of his characters.  He has no human beings, but only shallow, one-sided cartoon people.  They are puppets, victims of circumstance, empty-headed and moral mediums who soullessly receive their decisions from agents outside their skulls.  That the key players in the murder drama are all depicted variously as variously helllish also showns Kurosawa believes evil is reserved only for the worst personalities, rather than something he himself, and all human beings, are prone to. His bandit is a stereotype barbarian, one of those idiotic, hefty, big-muscled, greatly agitated and loud-mouthed fghting demons, has a maniac barking laughter used to punctuate things he is afraid about but seeks to dominate by his barking, and evidently chosen to show that evil is reserved for only professional killers with base, coarse, hellish personalities.  Similarly, he paints the virtuous goddess-like beauty as having fits of amoral hysteria, with the same desperate barking laugh, when she tries to taunt two male rivals to kill each other, and refuses to consider suicide, (for the sole reason that she doesn't want it to be widely known that she has had sex with more than one male).  Lastly, the same demonic hatred and hellishness is given to the samurai husband, as depicted by the imaginative medium called in to represent the dead man's soul at the murder trial.  Basically, Kurosawa's characters are used to make the cowardly argument that the average human being is a decent, honest, truthful, and good person.  In consequence, he demonstrates that he doesn't know what evil is, and doesn't want to know.

With the scene set for a grand goose chase, the murder trial is recounted by these two narrators, mostly by the awed and demoralised wood-cutter, with intermittent, shallow psychological commentary by the worried and paranoid priest.

No, no, no.  Rashomon is not about the impossibility of anyone's knowing the truth.  This is more of the old commonplace self-deception.  If it were about that, about the post-modernist trope that no one knows the truth, and that everyone perceives differently, then the tale would not centred on --- blatantly --- murderers and lying!

Rather, it is about the propensity of human beings to lie, covering up their ugliness and their cowardice, and pretend all the while it is not happening.  It is so obvious.

And the commonplace old self-deception continues with how the film is received.  Oh, it is about how everyone sees events differently, and how no one can know what really happens.  The Rashomon effect --- the main legacy of the film in the cinematographic world --- is multiple narrators offering conflicting accounts.  More lies.

In fact, if film reviews focus on aesthetics and artistic or cunning cinematographic devices, you can be sure it's the same old propensity to race for your life --- as far away from truth-consciousness as possible.

Truth is not such a mystical, otherworldly, impossible thing.  It is just the courage to face up to who and what you are.  Not details, like an autist trying to describe absolutely all the things consciousness flings at him.  Reality.  The fundamentals: the nature of all things.  The truth about how things really exist.


Kelly Jones