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.