A Defense of the Biological Basis for Intelligence

biology genetics neuroscience intelligence IQ

Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, is supposed to be a measure of a person’s ability to reason, see patterns, and make predictions. Yet IQ is quite controversial – a controversy ranging anywhere from IQ tests being inaccurate or biased and all the way to IQ tests (and anything concerning IQ) being immoral. Yet, even if there is no test that can accurately and reliably gauge an individual’s intelligence in some quantitative way, most people are aware of some ineffable sense in which some individuals are just smarter than the average individual (and vice versa with some people just being less smart in some ways than other people).

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New U.S. Constitution? A Proposal

I am born and raised in the United States, and so this post is going to take a U.S.-centric view, but the same ideas could be applied in other countries as well, especially if those countries are facing similar issues. The issues I speak of are the growing sense of political divisions and loss of trust in the government, leading to a loss of trust in the very ideas of democracy, liberalism, enlightenment values, free market economics, and civil liberties. Popular responses to this discontent takes one of two forms: the position that we need to overhaul the entire system (e.g., with a revolution), or the position that we ought to double down on what we are already doing. In this post, I would like to propose perhaps a sort of middle ground.

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Section 230: Should We Get Rid of it?

Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, known as the Communications Decency Act, contains the famous Section 230(c)(1), which consists of the 26 words that created the internet:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

You can see the full text of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 here (Section 230(c)(1) is on page 101). Why this is in the news lately is that a case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) may be deciding whether Section 230(c)(1) ought to be upheld or disposed (namely, in the cases Gonzalez v. Google, LLC and Taamneh v. Twitter, Inc.).

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Quantum Computers, Shor’s Algorithm, and Post-Quantum Cryptography

Want to know how quantum computers really work? And why they can crack our best encryption systems? And how we might combat this? In this post, which is from a paper I wrote for a cybersecurity class where I went a bit above and beyond the assignment, I will go over these things. This post is long, but if you are interested in this, you might find it rewarding.

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Is Value Neutrality Possible?

Objectivity, also known as value neutrality or impartiality, is one of the highest ideals of science. The principle behind it is that science studies mind-independent reality, i.e., that which continues to exist even if no consciousness is there to perceive or think about it. This mind-independent reality is devoid of all values – there is no such thing as “good and bad” or “useful” or “beautiful” when it comes to, say, galaxy formation or evolution by natural selection. A major criticism of science levied by critical theory is that value neutrality is impossible, even if we are to take the assumption that mind-independent reality exists and that mind-independent reality is value neutral. As such, instead of blinding ourselves to the values and biases that are inextricable from science, we ought to import the “correct” values into science (e.g., feminist science).

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Transhumanism and Ideology

The nineteenth century is famous for a lot of things – the Napoleonic Wars, the 1848 revolutions in Europe, the Atlantic slave trade (it’s continuance and then its termination), the American Civil War, the industrial revolution, colonialism, and much else. But many of these things could probably be put broadly under one title: the rise of ideologies. Socialism/communism, liberalism, capitalism, republicanism, and nationalism are among the most well-known of such ideologies. The seeds sown in the nineteenth century resulted in the poisoned fruit of the twentieth century: the rise of Fascism/Nazism and Communism, the two World Wars, and the Cold War. Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man attempted to declare that liberal politics and capitalist economics had triumphed over all other ideologies; the book is both lauded and derided by people on all sides of the political spectrum. But we have merely come up with new ideologies – or, at least, mutated and adapted old ideologies to fit our times.

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Unsolvable Problems: Hyperobjects and Cognitive Closure

Kardashev scale

Possibly the guiding principle of modernity is that any problem can be solved if people just put their minds to it. Science and liberalism have been astonishing successes in raising the standard of living, in an objective sense, for more people than at any other time in history. People like Steven Pinker love to wax optimistic about how Enlightenment values and scientific progress have made the world an objectively better place to live than ever before, with the implication that things will only get better. But is this really true?

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Is Human Nature Immutable?

Human nature, as I define it, is the set of cognitive and behavioral patterns that are innate in human beings, regardless of culture and specific upbringing. These are patterns passed down to us by evolution. With humans, though, we seem to be unique in our ability for metacognition – thinking about our thinking and our behaviors. Does that give us the ability to change our innate human nature?

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Journal Club: Chen et al, 2018: Neural Ordinary Differential Equations

In the 2018 NeurIPS conference, 4,845 papers were submitted. The paper I’m reviewing here by Chen et al, 2018, titled Neural Ordinary Differential Equations, won best paper award. The paper discusses using continuous Ordinary Differential Equations (ODE) for Neural Networks (NN) as opposed to the sorts of discrete layers used in the standard Recurrent Neural Networks (RNN).

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