The state of today's culture...
and Improving Human Intelligence
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
When I first wrote books on this topic a third of a century ago, I never dreamed that most of our institutions and professionals would still be insistent, all the way into this millennium, that human intelligence is a fixed, frozen given, essentially unimprovable and that they would still be maintaining, despite so much overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that you are stuck with the (lack of) intelligence you were born with, and that it's impolite at best to inquire too much or too deeply into such matters.
I should have known. At the time I was starting to write in this field, in the early 1970s, it was already approaching a quarter century past the time when Alex Osborn, Sidney J. Parnes, George Prince and others had first demonstrated conclusively and powerfully how readily creativity could be learned or trained.
And yet the professionals of that time, and the same institutions, were just as insistent then that creativity was unimprovable, that you were stuck with the (lack of) creativity you were born with! And you know well, perhaps all too well, what a familiar part of the scene "creativity training," in many different forms, has since become. Some of the very same institutions which once loudly spat upon the very idea that people could become more creative now sport their own "Department of Creative Studies."
Why did it take so long on "creativity," and why is it taking so long on "intelligence"?
First, we have to understand the difference between conscious and unconscious motivation. In every aspect of life, most people are acting consciously from one set of motivations but unconsciously are acting from very different motivations.
For a century, behavioral science has been familiar with the phenomenon of people with poor self-image and self-expectations who, when faced with imminent "success" (however defined), drastically change what they were doing for all kinds of rationalized reasons to ward off that success and to self-sabotage themselves back to the familiar grounds of failure.
Likewise, some of those who appear to be the very highest-minded people are frequently observed to be involved with arguments which serve their own stakes and beliefs and interests, despite clear commitment in other topical areas to objectivity and even to intellectual rigor.
The people of whom one would expect the highest degree of objectivity and integrity, "above question," are often so far also above self-question as to be especially vulnerable to this effect. The more convinced, many times on many valid grounds, one is of one's own rectitude, the easier it is to not notice niggling contrary evidence or that one's own positions and actions are flowing from a different, less high-minded set of motives.
Behaviorally, it has become popular in recent decades to refer to everyone's having, beneath their human and cortical mind, a "reptilian" or "limbic" brain whose first concern is survival and whose next, second, concern is to keeping things much the way they already are. This "lower" brain pushes most of our buttons even when we think we are consciously making "high-minded" or objective, "rational" choices.
Those among our readers here who are into the self-help literature have seen a lot of such discussion, and there is a fair amount of truth to it. Behavioral science has known for more than a century that the brain circuitry for every conscious act and decision and even stimulus, however much it may involve the "highest" regions of our cortex, also passes through such "limbic" organs and structures as the amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus the parts of our brain most concerned with emotion and patterned-reflex responses.
For centuries, history has seen this in starkest form. Our highest-minded organizations and institutions, the very "worthiest" of causes, have proven the most susceptible. How many charities have suffered from or even succumbed to corruption in their leadership? How many human beings have been brutally butchered, maimed, tortured, even burned at the stake, on behalf of Christ or Mohammed or Krishna? Way too often, when we know we are right we fail to self-question, we are least susceptible to contrary evidence and most susceptible to being pushed around by our unreasoning emotional reflex minds.
I'm afraid that even where evidence, questioning, and rigorous intellectual inquiry are the strongest the sciences and the human-helping professions matters in this regard are little different. Historians of science note that paradigms (clusters of theory and observation upon which everyone is agreed and convinced of their validity) change in science, not during the time when their bases are actually overthrown and new models proven, but when the old scientists die who had been invested in those old paradigms. And these are among the people most committed to objective observation and intellectually rigorous reasoning and therefore most above question as to motives for their choices, actions, judgments and beliefs!
Second, understand that any change, even the most innocent change, in a
situation means a change in the power relationships within that situation. The
people who presently enjoy the most advantages in context of that situation
might not always and enthusiastically welcome that change. That change has at
least some likelihood to disenfranchise the people presently on top and to go to someone else. This phenomenon is so general, it's a given-by-definition.
Ask not for whom the reptilian brain toils. It toils for thee and me... and for our worthy but comfortable colleagues in the professions, schools, clinics, agencies, and organizational institutions all over our world, in the early 21st Century.
Mind you, not everyone who believed that you were stuck with the level of either creativity or intelligence (or the lack thereof) that you were born with had their reason and observational evidence overpowered by motives of institutional and intellectual convenience. Fifty, a hundred years ago, the preponderance of evidence seemed to favor the "nature" side of the Nature vs. Nurture controversy.
My own mentor, the late Dr. Virgil S. Ward, at the time one of the world's two or three leading experts on special education of the gifted, was four-square in the center of the "nature" camp (but had the intellectual integrity and rigor to support my questioning, and my beginnings of movement into very different directions!!!). But that was before
Not all the fault has been in our scientific researchers. Some may be found in their sources of funding and in their sources's sources of funding. To practice scientific research, to be a scientist in these heavily capitalized times, requires a lot of money and a pretty steady such flow of money. If the flow stops for whatever reason, you are no longer a scientist. So you cannot afford research outcomes which are too surprising or, in this instance too inconvenient to your funding sources or to their sources. After the flood of evidence in the past twenty years or so, the surprise may be wearing off by now, but the question of convenience may yet remain a little longer.
A Subliminal Message: ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I've a subliminal message for those of my professional colleagues who are still stuck on the "nature" side of the nature-vs.-nurture controversy. Don't read these next few lines, so that their message can go more directly to the parts of your brains that have been making your real choices..... (Just kidding. Or am I?)
When the preponderance of evidence is as overwhelming as it has become in this instance (and as it did in the creativity instance forty and fifty years ago), there may actually be more advantage to demonstrating that you are on top of things than there is to staying put. Several of the most tried-and-true ways to so upgrade your position:
~ ~ ~ ~ End of subliminal message.
One Further Matter
This is an issue become increasingly evident over the years. I am indebted to a good friend, Matthew Turco, for having first brought it into full focus for me.
Many of the recurrent activities and practices for improving the brain and/or for increasing intelligence including some of the techniques described in this site and in the Project Renaissance books and audio courses involve sustained work and effort and attention.
After the first flush of enthusiasm, for heightened senses and pellucid thinking and seeing and ingenious coups, has yielded to these being customary instead of novel, "What's going to get you out of bed in the mornings?" What is going to keep you at these practices long enough to make a truly substantial difference?
There is, with some techniques at least, hard work involved over a sustained period of time and attention. What will keep you going?
What is your purpose for improving your intelligence? What is your reason for doing so? What can you do or experience, when you are more intelligent, that you can't do or experience now? (Why can't you do or experience those things now already, really?)
I strongly suggest
I am somewhat less than enthusiastic about the fact that a half million or so fellow members of Mensa, the high-IQ Society, are sitting comfortably around in an organization which identifies itself, even prides itself, on accomplishing nothing, contributing nothing to civilization, serving no higher purpose than that of sitting around with each other self-consciously and self-congratulatingly identified as having an unusually high I.Q. "Chocolate orgies" at their gatherings are nice, but are these the best, most distinguishing use of their intelligence? Are these Mensa's highest social function?
There is certainly no requirement that any of our readers here, or our students and participants generally, as they improve their abilities, their performance levels at all sorts of activities, their quality of experience and enjoyment in all sorts of pursuits and in life itself, must find or serve any purpose above and/or beyond themselves. But I hope that some will, if only because in the long range and on the large scale it serves their own interests.
Postscript, July 6, 2006
Last Nail in the Coffin of the Nature vs. Nurture Controversy?
Type in the words, "Brain Plasticity," with or without the quote marks, into Google.
Transform the lives of millions? Just get 1 or 2 of the remaining professionals who still cling to the "Nature" position to repeat your experiment. Enough of that and we won't have to wait for the old generation to die off before people can be helped and our respective high potentials achieved. Thank you. ....Win
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