Fortean Curiosity: Liberalism & Intelligence

I was hanging out with a friend and chatting about important issues of life… such as the existence of Men In Black and the nature of Fortean realities. Ya know, important issues.

My friend mentioned an author he had come across who described his own supposed experiences with Men In Black. He portrayed them as being not all that troublesome. He apparently thought one’s relationship with them could be managed. Just tell them to quit causing trouble and they’d settle down or something like that.

As I recall, this wasn’t how John Keel portrayed the Men In Black. Keel didn’t necessarily see them as dangerous or at least not intentionally dangerous, but they could really mess with one’s head and turn one’s world upside down. However, maybe they can be ‘managed’ in the sense that the less you pay attention to them the less they tend to pay to you.

That is the theory, anyway… not that I have any personal experience of the Men In Black. But in other ways, I’ve had my share of weird experiences in my life. I don’t speculate about it much beyond accepting that the world is a very strange place. If you’re lucky or unlucky (depending on your perspective), the strangeness might peek out at you at some point in your own life. When such happens, it does make one question one’s assumptions about reality.

My friend was explaining that reading about such things just makes him feel disoriented and it seems he didn’t see this as a good thing. I understood where he was coming from. I responded by explaining my own view. As I see it, the universe is vast. Most of the universe is alien to and indifferent to us humans. We are a minor species on a tiny planet in one insignificant corner of the universe. Even on the planet earth, we humans aren’t as important as we like to pretend. For the most part, the vast world beyond human society serves no purpose for human society. There might be little if anything to gain from interacting with Men In Black or exploring Fortean realities. No matter how hard you try, you probably never will understand any of it. Besides, most people don’t seem to care about the world beyond their private little world of family, friends and co-workers… nor are there many good arguments for why they necessarily should care.

On the other hand, if you’re a curious person, it’s hard to ignore curious things. And if the Men In Black come knocking at your door, they apparently can be very hard to ignore. Sure, all things Fortean may not serve any human purpose. But then again, one could argue that nothing in life serves any ultimate purpose besides the purpose we give it. I guess it comes down to each person having to figure out their own purpose, their own priorities and motivations. If your purpose is to be a rational scientist or a good Christian, then maybe you should just ignore all the weird stuff if possible. Just carry on as if everything were normal. But for some of us, we just aren’t good at ignoring the inconvenient and uncomfortable details of existence.

I’m such a person. I agree that it all can be disorienting. But so what? Life is disorienting. We all go along confused in our own heads. Some of us admit to this confusion and others spend their whole lives denying it. At some point in my life, I learned to embrace the confusion. I don’t know that it does me any good, but it’s gotten me this far. As Popeye famously said, “I yam what I yam.”

Those thoughts are interesting enough, but another issue was motivating my putting this all down in words. Just yesterday, I wrote about IQ and about how people are different, specifically in their learning styles. One thing I brought up is the research showing a correlation between liberalism and high IQ. Also, there has been research showing a correlation between liberalism and openness to experience. I was thinking about the relationship of intelligence and openness, and how both would relate to the paranormal.

I’ve written about this a bit in the past. Research confirms the distinction between religiosity and spirituality. People who have spiritual experiences are less likely to go to church, especially after having had their experience(s). That is massively intriguing in its implications, but it does make sense when you think about it. It easier to conform to beliefs of things you’ve never personally experienced. However, once you’ve had experiences, your experiences might not conform to the beliefs which would force you to make a choice between experience and belief.

Liberalism correlates to thin boundary types, a psychological category similar to openness. A thin boundary type experiences less distinction between things: waking and dreaming, reality and imagination (or imaginal), self and other, etc. This relates to openness to experience in that the thin boundary type feels less repulsion and fear toward that which exists outside of their normal sense of self and of their normal sense of reality. This obviously connects with intelligence in terms of curiosity. Intelligent people tend to be people who like learning new things: testing the known and exploring the unknown, questioning beliefs and pushing the boundaries of knowledge. As such, a thin boundaried liberal is more likely to be curious about the paranormal and more willing to entertain possibilities that don’t seem commonsense or don’t seem to have any practical application.

The conservative asks, “Why?” And the liberal asks, “Why not?”

The liberal may be intelligent as measured on IQ tests, but that doesn’t mean they are smart in the everyday sense. Being open to experience doesn’t always lead to ‘smart’ results. For example, intelligent people drink more and do more drugs. As Satoshi Kanazawa concludes in the second link:

“People – scientists and civilians alike – often associate intelligence with positive life outcomes.  The fact that more intelligent individuals are more likely to consume alcohol, tobacco, and psychoactive drugs tampers this universally positive view of intelligence and intelligent individuals.  Intelligent people don’t always do the right thing, only the evolutionarily novel thing.”

Liberals are more likely to engage in behaviors that are evolutionarily novel. Such novel thinking correlates to IQ. The conservative impulse is to stick closely to what has proven to work in the past. Sometimes that leads to the best results in the present and sometimes not. We have, through technology, created a society that is constantly changing and doing so at an ever faster rate. This gives the liberal mindset an edge in the modern world. Even so, human nature remains fundamentally the same and hence the conservative impulse remains valid probably more often than not.

Satoshi Kanazawa further fleshes out his out his hypothesis:

“…common sense is eminently evolutionarily familiar.  Our ancestors could not have survived a single day in their hostile environment full of predators and enemies if they did not possess functional common sense.  That’s why it has become integral part of evolved human nature in the form of evolved psychological mechanisms in the social and interpersonal domains.  Because common sense is evolutionarily familiar and thus natural, the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent people may be less likely to resort to it.  They may be more likely to resort to evolutionarily novel, non-common sensical, stupid ideas to solve problems in the evolutionarily familiar domains.

“This, incidentally, is the reason I never use words like “smart” and “clever” as synonyms for “intelligent.”  Similarly, I never use words like “dumb” and “stupid” as synonyms for “unintelligent.”  “Intelligent” has a specific scientific meaning – possessing higher levels of general intelligence – whereas “smart” and “stupid” have more to do with common sense than intelligence.  From my perspective, more intelligent people like liberals are more likely to be “stupid” (lacking common sense), whereas less intelligent people like conservatives are more likely to be “smart.””

Whether or not liberal intelligence is healthy or beneficial, it does allow for discovering the new and so increases the probability of improvement (even as it threatens the stability of the traditional social order). Liberals, for whatever reason, have less respect for the argument that something is best simply because it worked at some point in the past. To the liberal, things can always be improved. Plus, it’s just fun and exciting, inspiring even, to adventure forth. Every advancement of civilization can be credited to this liberal impulse.

Why did Galileo feel such a need to scientifically challenge the religious views of his day? Why did the many explorers in the past get in ships to go to places that no one knew existed? Why do we send men to the moon? Why does anyone do anything new and different? What is the point? Does there have to be a point?

The liberal may not be able to explain why any given thing is worthy, but it is worthy to the liberal because it satisfies their liberal impulse. This liberal impulse, afterall, is a human impulse. It’s part of what makes us humans. It’s the reason we didn’t remain naked primates wandering the plains of Africa. Even conservatives have this liberal impulse, although to a much lesser degree of course.

Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that this liberal impulse can get us into trouble. Civilization itself is a evolutionarily novel behavior relative to most of human evolution. Civilization is definitely nice in many ways, but it has also led to massive problems for the species such as destruction of the environment we require for our survival. Likewise, the liberal impulse can lead people to be so open to the new that the liberally-inclined person may meet dangers they can’t overcome or escape from. Sometimes you can explore the Fortean and come back with tales of adventure and at other times you go insane or worse.

From the conservative position of practical commonsense, it might be ‘stupid’ to explore the Fortean and it might be unhealthy to explore such bizarre things. But if humans were able and willing to thwart the liberal impulse, I wouldn’t now be here writing about such things. In a purely conservative world, there would be no civilization or culture. Instead, we would be ‘traditional’ primates doing what all other primates do.

My friend was wondering if there was any good reason to explore areas he finds disorienting. No, there is no good reason in terms of rationality. A person seeks out the disorienting because, if they are liberally-inclined, that is what they feel compelled to do. In fact, it’s what all humans feel compelled to do, just some people feel this compulsion to a lesser degree.

7 thoughts on “Fortean Curiosity: Liberalism & Intelligence

  1. I think the similes say it all: “as clever as a fox”, “wise as an owl”. There’s nothing like ‘intelligent’ there. But, wisdom is related, in the common psychology, to age so I guess, it could correlate to ‘common sense’. But, I’m sure ‘common sense’ will have different meanings in different places.
    1. The Native Americans love ‘common sense’ and place great premium on developing it but within their ‘common sense’ construct, there is the prodigious value of the novel, the weird and what the weird reveals.
    2. The Orientals have a similar value of ‘common sense’ but also love revolutionary ideas and things. Take a look at their tech and their arts, the evidence is clear. Even, a company like Nintendo is enough to tell you something.

    With these two cultures, it isn’t like the revolutionary man is a counter-cultural figure, not at all. Let me make a distinction now. There are two types of counter-cultural figures:
    1. The one who simply produces against the current culture. He is not hated by the society but is actually encouraged by it.
    2. The one who is simply detested by the culture for being ‘against’.
    Both are counter-cultural figures but they have different relationships with their respective societies; one is urged to, the other might be murdered if he persists.
    The Native Americans and the Orientals belong to the first.

    Clever people usually do dangerous things, just like the fox, without reservation, as you say. Unlike the ‘wise’, who know where to go and where not to, the clever just keep going, pushing boundaries of wisdom. The Clever are usually adventurous. I guess however that ‘intelligent’ involves both mental attributes.

    I like how this turned out, linking it to other cultures and introducing the two types of counter-cultural figure. This is really fulfilling

    • “But, wisdom is related, in the common psychology, to age so I guess, it could correlate to ‘common sense’. But, I’m sure ‘common sense’ will have different meanings in different places.”

      I’d say that commonsense means something different in terms of Kanazawa’s theory. Commonsense is evolutionarily familiar behaviors which means conclusions, solutions and responses that just make intuitive sense to most people, i.e., instincts. It wouldn’t be age-related since we’re born with it. Commonsense doesn’t require prior experience of the individual because it’s based on the collective experience of species evolution.

      However, there is another definition of commonsense which would include the individual experience. Evolution does, after all, include and does manifest as individual experience. Our instincts arise and become more clear as we experience more of the world which, of course, coincides with growing older. The kitten, for example, has the instinct of hunting. But the hunting instinct only becomes a practical ability when the kitten matures into a full grown cat. Until then, it’s just a potential.

      “Clever people usually do dangerous things, just like the fox, without reservation, as you say. Unlike the ‘wise’, who know where to go and where not to, the clever just keep going, pushing boundaries of wisdom. The Clever are usually adventurous. I guess however that ‘intelligent’ involves both mental attributes.”

      I’m not sure that clever people usually do dangerous things. It’s just that evolutionarily unfamiliar behaviors can be more risky for evolutionarily familiar situations. Risk can mean danger and it can mean benefit. It’s risky because it’s less certain, less proven according to the probability of survival based on those who passed on their genetics and those who didn’t.

      However, the modern context of society isn’t an evolutionarily familiar situation in many ways. This means that the evolutionarily familiar behavior might not be any less dangerous.

      Wisdom isn’t the opposite of clever. Rather, commonsense is the opposite of clever. Wisdom more has to do with that element of aging. We become wise through experience which would include the experience of the results of clever behaviors and the experience of the results of commonsense behaviors. A wise person learns to understand the context of behaviors. So, a wise person would use evolutionarily familiar behaviors for evolutionarily familiar situations and would use evolutionarily unfamiliar behaviors for evolutionarily unfamiliar situations.

      Intelligence is still related to clever in this sense. Intelligence is just an aptitude, a raw ability which says nothing about if or how that potential is used. It’s like someone having the aptitude for athleticism. An athletically-inclined person isn’t necessarily good at sports since sports requires much practice and a helpful coach. An overweight couch potato could have natural ability for athletics. Also, an athletically inclined person isn’t necessarily more likely to survive. The fastest running person can’t outrun a bear.

      When intelligence is measured, the ability being measured usually is just the ability to think logically, systematically and abstractly. An intelligent person can become wise, but not necessarily. Likewise, a wise person may be intelligent, but not necessarily. Intelligence and wisdom are separate abilities which isn’t to say they are mutually exclusive. However, we are all familiar of examples of people who had one but not the other. Einstein was a genius in terms of intelligence, but he had trouble dealing with everyday activities and I’ve heard an anecdote about during one social situation his having forgotten his own name.

      The problem in discussing these terms is that they aren’t precise technical terms in everyday speech. Still, words like ‘intelligence’ do have precise technical meanings in the context of specific scientific measures. But even within science there is much disagreement about what intelligence is.

  2. A Good Day to you!

    Intelligence and The Paranormal. Well, the first thing that one might venture is that many paranormal apologists/parapsychologists seek rhetorical support in quantum physics: which is similarly confusing and bewildering – only that quantum physics is demonstrable and accepted as real.
    Lewis Wolpert wrote a book all about ‘The Unnatural Nature of Science’ arguing that science itself is often counterintuitive or nonsensical, but science is ‘how the world really is’.
    So, confusing and bewildering doesn’t automatically equal ‘unreal’.

    The problem the paranormal has, is that it resists reliable replicability AND a good theoretical framework. If it had one or the other, then it would be ‘natural’ or ‘accepted’. It’s the fact that it struggles to produce either that limits its acceptance by the mainstream.

    Which leaves the paranormal to the folklorists, sociologists and psychologists.

    And investigators. I’m always interested in how people cope with their anomalous experience – and in my role as an investigator for the Scottish SPR, it’s my job (voluntary!) to counsel people and help people to adjust to their experience.

    I was always struck by something Jung said about UFO’s – that people don’t see them because they’re spiritual or mystic people, but because they *need to be* spiritual or mystic people. … Whether you agree or not, it’s often the case that people who experience ‘weird stuff’ become changed because of it – and maybe that’s the point?

    Maybe the paranormal is a necessary widening of perception, a kind of (sometimes painful) prizing off the lids of our brains to let some fresh air in…

    … There could be more to be said about the paranormal and intelligence – especially ‘counter-intelligence’, but I’m trying to cut down on my blog entry/comment size!

    Cheers,
    Innes

    • “Lewis Wolpert wrote a book all about ‘The Unnatural Nature of Science’ arguing that science itself is often counterintuitive or nonsensical, but science is ‘how the world really is’.
      “So, confusing and bewildering doesn’t automatically equal ‘unreal’.”

      That seems similar to Kanazawa’s distinction between intelligence and commonsense. Science can and does have practical applications such as in technology, but scientific theory doesn’t need to prove itself by the standards of commonsense.

      “The problem the paranormal has, is that it resists reliable replicability AND a good theoretical framework. If it had one or the other, then it would be ‘natural’ or ‘accepted’. It’s the fact that it struggles to produce either that limits its acceptance by the mainstream.
      “Which leaves the paranormal to the folklorists, sociologists and psychologists.”

      Being open to experience includes being open to experiences not yet explained. The social sciences often take up where the physical sciences fail to advance. When explanations can’t be found in the ‘objective’ world, explanations must be sought in more ‘subjective’ realms (collective and individual).

      “I was always struck by something Jung said about UFO’s – that people don’t see them because they’re spiritual or mystic people, but because they *need to be* spiritual or mystic people. … Whether you agree or not, it’s often the case that people who experience ‘weird stuff’ become changed because of it – and maybe that’s the point?
      “Maybe the paranormal is a necessary widening of perception, a kind of (sometimes painful) prizing off the lids of our brains to let some fresh air in…”

      Maybe… or maybe not. I can see it either way. I was the other possibility. Maybe the paranormal doesn’t serve any (human) purpose. And maybe the people who experience the paranormal are simply that way for no particular reason (besides that being how they were born or how their mind works). Sometimes the best explanations we come up with are just fumblings in the dark.

  3. Yup. Can’t argue with that.
    And years of studying the paranormal can often end up as a dissatisfying ‘fumble in the dark’, rather than any EUREKA Home Base moment of ‘Woo! Hoo! It all makes sense now!’

    My own experience of the paranormal, both as experiencer and researcher, is that most – if not all – paranormal experience is the same as any other experience; it’s up to the individual and how they respond to an experience, that gives the experience any value, meaning or transformative power (be it positive or negative).

    As to your line: “Being open to experience includes being open to experiences not yet explained”; that means that there are a lot of sceptics/skeptics out there not open to experience!

    • The essential quality of the paranormal/imaginal is that it is neither subjective or objective or else that it is both… or maybe that it’s just something entirely other beyond normal human categories.

      I’m not sure it’s up to the individual and how they respond. It’s more that we can’t help but respond from who we are, from where we are at, and from what we know. We can’t separate what we are responding to from our response itself, can’t separate the subjective from the objective, can’t separate the internal from the external, can’t separate the self from the other.

      This is the realm of the Trickster where things meet and merge, transform and slip. The Trickster represents what can’t be controlled by either will or word. The Trickster tricks by undermining the known and familiar, by betraying commonsense and the expected. With the Trickster, our very sense of self is challenged and we find attempting to control or direct our response is severely limited and defective.

      A lot of sceptics/skeptics not open to experience?

      No doubt that is the case. Motivation is important. A skeptic motivated by an ideology and a dogmatic mindset is different than a skeptic motivated by curiosity and questioning.

      Many materialists are skeptical about anything that can’t be scientifically measured. Many Christians are skeptical about evolution. Many conservatives are skeptical about global warming. Many paranoid conspiracy theorists are skeptical about official stories about 9/11.

      Skepticism can simply mean doubt and doubt can simply mean a closing down of experience, a denial of certain possibilities, a refusal to follow the evidence, an unwillingness to shift perspective.

      Also, openness is relative as are all psychological traits. No person is absolutely open or equally open about all things. Hartmann speaks about people having different boundaries of differing thickness/thinness. Still, no matter how thin, everyone has boundaries.

      Reality can’t exist without boundaries. Reality is what exists within boundaries, i.e., within the boundaries of how we define reality. And the Trickster is the god of boundaries. Even thick boundaried people have to deal with the Trickster, whether consciously or unconsciously.

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