Increasing IQs but bewildered in a complex world

Jim Flynn

Despite our increasing IQ, the bombardment of conflicting information combined with a paucity of training in critical thought renders us bewildered cynics, unable to manage our increasing complex world

Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago James (Jim) Flynn researches intelligence and is well known for his discovery of the Flynn effect, the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores.  His research interests include humane ideals and ideological debate, classics of political philosophy, and race, class and IQ.   His books combine political and moral philosophy with psychology to examine problems such as justifying humane ideals and whether it makes sense to rank races and classes by merit.  Flynn campaigns passionately for left-wing causes, and became an initiating member of both the NewLabour Party and of the Alliance.   He is currently working on a book on climate change.

Our fundamental question to Prof Flynn is if people are getting smarter, how come we’re making such a mess?

Talking points:

We are seeing a gain in ability to solve cognitively challenging problems in an increasingly complex world around them.

Universities are failing to train critical thought.

I intended studying maths, but I realised it was too much like chess – an interesting diversion.  To engage in real problems that mattered, the hard ethical problems I moved to political philosophy.

Young people are being bombarded with information, without the tools to manage this they are turning off, becoming cynics – less politically active, less informed.

Young people today are no more liberated than a medieval serf.  A medieval serf didn’t have the equipment to think beyond what society told him, these young people may be cynics, but they don’t have the conceptual skills and the information and the historical depth to their thinking to really counter the modern world.

It’s a very bewildering world if you cant find any guideposts to find your way through it.

Universities aren’t giving a critical toolset – you know a lot about spanish literature, or geography or torts, but then you are let loose on the world without a trained mind to analyse it.

One of the chief confusions among students is they are being given conflicting information on climate change – perhaps the greatest issue of our time.

Today with globalisation, climate change we have infinitely more complex issues in the past…today we are menaced by problems that we weren’t in the past

Many things disillusion you when you study climate change,  I have always preached against materialism – that is defining yourself by your possessions, and I continue to do so, because every one of them that doesn’t want a 10,000 sq foot house and a new car every year and wants to serve people, be humane, every one votes with their feet, the more of those people there are, the better of we’ll be. On the other hand, climate change may well derail the world in terms of industrial productivity.

If only I could turn everyone into a humanist…

If you reconcile yourself to the fact that the first world is not going to share with the third world, and the only way that people are going to come out of poverty is that industrialisation keeps marching on and some of it manages to filter its way into the third world, you’re in the ludicrous position of saying that I want the world’s gross national production to continue to increase over the rest of this century. It’s not my ideal but its the only way I can see…we need to get nations in Africa/SE Asia to adopt middle class aspirations…or else we’re going to breed ourselves out of space.  So despite my anti-materialism, I want the industrial machine of the world not to fall apart.  I would prefer that there is industrial progress, that filters into Africa,and gives them the aspirations that means we won’t have this terrible population explosion.

Everyone wants a growth economy, no one wants to see their standard of living diminish.  The only way you can have a growth economy is to freeze temperature at its present level through climate engineering, to stop emissions increasing over the next 50 years, and then at about the 50 year point(because we won’t be able to hold it forever), and make sure that by then we have moved to a more…cleaner and more equitable society.

You can’t exploit the earth forever.

Am I optimistic? No.  I feel there’s a chance.  I’m presenting a third way that means you could at least write scenario that would get us out of this mess.  Clean energy by 2050, do away with carb0n based fuels by 2100,  hold the temperature down in the meantime with climate engineering, thanks to industrial progress in the meantime that has set Africa on the way to middle class aspirations to peak our population.  There are a lot of ifs in there aren’t there!  But at least it’s coherent and better than what we’re doing.  What we are doing is just crazy – there’s no chance at all of this working.

You can’t work for an ideal until you know what is possible.

 

 

 

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Author: Samuel Mann

An Associate Professor with a background in both IT and land management, Sam has developed applied IT for regional government, crown research institutes and large organisations. He has taught computing since 1994, at Otago Polytechnic Information Technology since 1997, including five years as Head of Department. Sam has published over 150 conference and journal papers in the fields of augmented experiences; sustainability; and computer education. Sam is responsible for the development of Education for Sustainability at Otago Polytechnic where we are committed to every graduate thinking and acting as a sustainable practitioner

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