Monday 22 September 2014

Don’t sweat the big stuff


In the last few days I have been a little quieter than usual. Naturally, the Scottish referendum took up some of my time, an important matter which should attract the attention of the chattering and commenting classes. Meditating on such high matters took up my time, even though I wrote nothing about it. I also spent a little time commenting on a string of beheadings in the Middle East, which led to a radio interview which posed the predictable question “Why do they do it?” and my predictable answer “To terrify their opponents”. On Sunday I was further distracted by the notion, promulgated by The Sunday Times that the Cheltenham codebreakers are recruiting dyslexics (and dyspraxics, and the differently neurally abled) to give their own, very special perspective on what the enemy is doing, which could not be afforded by those able to read and write. Here is a little detail on this great matter:

A 35-year-old IT specialist by the name of Matt is the chairman of the dyslexic and dyspraxic support community at the listening post. He told the Sunday Times: “What people don’t realise is that people with neuro diversity usually have a ‘spiky-skills’ profile, which means that certain skill areas will be below par and others may be well above.

“My reading might be slower than some individuals and maybe my spelling is appalling, and my handwriting definitely is… but, if you look at the positive side, my 3D special-perception awareness and creativity is in the 1 per cent of my peer group.” 

Read more:

Baldly, the article claimed that Alan Turing was dyslexic. I think this is very silly. Can anyone direct me to the evidence? I have read what his Sherborne teacher said about him (“one of the two brightest boys I have ever taught”) and read some of his papers, in awe, and I see no such deficiency. By dyslexia I mean a specific reading backwardness once one has allowed for intelligence (so, in Turing’s case even a slight reading deficiency would potentially count as a disorder). 

However, none of these matters of great import (or great distraction) have been taking up my time. Instead I have been dealing with a very local matter, in which I am one of the representatives of the locals against a wave of property-developing deep basement diggers, who are making lives a misery in central London. This is a very parochial matter. In one way or another it has taken up bits of my time for four years, and now that the planning inspection is underway, I have spent four days, of eight hours each, listening to the local Council’s timid plan for restricting such major works (one storey basements allowed, multiple storey basements prohibited) being torn apart by the (paid) advocates of the basement constructors. Very local, very technical and of interest to intelligence researchers only because the actual battle is being fought on narrow points of planning law, while the protestors are naturally wanting to complain on broad grounds of principle and human emotion. It involves having to explain to my bruised confederates that the Council has gone as far as it dares (central government is in favour of all forms of house building, whatever the impact) and that we have to rally round the lesser evil to get a modicum of relief. (A mild consolation is that the other side are said to have spent £500,000 in order to try to get their way).

As you know, I often look for real life correlates of intelligence. I had always assumed that anyone of any intelligence would turn to Great Matters. For example, changing the (unwritten) British Constitution after the Scottish referendum is a very taxing and great matter. It requires brains as well as considerable historical knowledge. Sorting out the Middle East: who to bomb/kill/arm/pay ransom to, is another intellectual challenge. Explaining to the general public that if dyslexia is given an all-inclusive, low re-definition then it ceases to have nosological significance is another worthy great intellectual task (I might try that one later).  So, why spend any time on something small?

Local matters seem a distraction at such troubled times. Horrible as it may be to watch your walls crack because there is a bulldozer next door digging a basement, there is no intent to kill the neighbours, just to ignore them.

However, it may be intelligent to balance “global importance” against “probability of success”. The small stuff is worth sweating because you might be successful in achieving your aims. Put it at 1 in 150, but it is tangible nonetheless. 150 is said to be the fundamental modal size of human settlements and networks (more and it is hard to recognise everyone, and remember exactly how they have treated you), so that gives a rule of thumb. However, given that at most 4% of the populace are politically active in the most generous sense of that term, even in a small village you are probably having to convince only about 5 people, in order to swing that local group.

On larger matters, even with small populations the size of Scotland, 5 million is a big number to influence, and even the 200,000 activists a challenging number to convince. Sweating the big stuff may be a waste of effort. You will get excited, no doubt, and have a sense of importance, but a very low probability of impact. Somehow, the supposedly great matters assume a moral high ground: they pretend to rise above mere personal concerns. A beheading in a distant land must be of more consequence than a car crash in your own suburban street which has the same effect on a grieving family. Keeping up with the international news is seen as a duty, the local news an indulgent distraction.

Indeed, this may lead to a rule of thumb: activism about all social matters should be conditioned by a probability calculus, a cost benefit analysis of the issue itself, divided by probability of success.

Try sweating the small stuff.


  1. Hal Finney put it this way:

    "Many people spend time worrying about "the big issues" like war and peace, political and social policy. While these discussions may be entertaining and interesting, the reason for engaging in them cannot be what it superficially seems. We don’t need to figure out what the best policies are on these various issues, because we have essentially no influence on them.

    Rather, these discussions, arguments and debates must be about something else. It must be the social interaction itself which drives our interest in the big issues. It gives us a chance to show off, to test and demonstrate our mental skills. It lets us display our commitment to the common values of our social group. It gives us an excuse to denigrate those who disagree and so boost our own self-esteem."

    1. And here's Robin Hanson:

      "It seems to me that in our world most track the news to talk intelligently with others who track the news. By coordinating to talk on the same recent news topics, we can better evaluate how well connected and intelligent are those around us. If we tracked very different topics, it would be much harder to evaluate each other. If our conversation topics were common but old, it would be harder to distinguish individually thoughtful analysis from memorized viewpoints, and harder to see how well-connected folks are to fresh info sources."

  2. maybe 4th gen. guerilla tactics for one side of that cost/benefit line and conventional tactics for the other?

  3. "A beheading in a distant land must be of more consequence than a car crash in your own suburban street which has the same effect on a grieving family. Keeping up with the international news is seen as a duty, the local news an indulgent distraction."

    Good point. I don't follow my local news. But then again, I live in Maine. The worst thing that happens here is the occasional alcohol-related car accident.

  4. Jesus, lol. I read it??

    "He's sooo smart, how he can have learning 'disability' ??"

    Hohoho, he was gay, he was sick, he was pathogenic. Unbelievable a psychiatric here was corageous to write the my first sentence-example???? Really? Do you really think as that???
    I'm try understand why the relevance to condensate two very different subjets and create a atmosphere of irrelevance to neurodiversity advocacy subject.
    Hoohoo of cours darling!!

    These problems about neurodiversity and laboral adaptation is not a about you. But its ignorance and despise about neurodiversity cognitive potentialities is horrendous.
    If Turing was dyslexic or not, it's not relevant. Well, he was gay and all outliers, psychological, behavioral, cognitive or neurological there in the same universal human pool gene, the minority of mutants ( more mutants).

    But, again, again, really, really sad hear from their words that despise neurodiversity.
    I could continue writing about many ways you show your ignorance about many subjects but i'm not.

    Only a last words, it's "hbd community" is a conservative community. Hbd Chick can write what she want, is a truly fact. It's not science, is politics.
    Soon i'm stop continue follow dumb people here. My destiny will work alone, whithout super egos in your confortable life.

    Well, there a positive side about it. At least, you guys will go not more need try understand my neanderenglish.
    And for me, i will can interest those really matter.


  5. I would be very interested in reading your further thoughts on dyslexia.