# A Mathematical Model for Human Intelligence

People have been trying to figure out what intelligence is, and how it differs from person to person, for centuries. Much has been written on the subject, and some of this work has helped people. Unfortunately, much harm has been done as well. Consider, for example, the harm that has been done by those who have had such work tainted by racism, sexism, or some other form of “us and them” thinking. This model is an attempt to eliminate such extraneous factors, and focus on the essence of intelligence. It is necessary to start, therefore, with a clean slate (to the extent possible), and then try to figure out how intelligence works, which must begin with an analysis of what it is.

If two people have the same age — five years old, say — and a battery of tests have been thrown at them to see how much they know (the amount of knowledge at that age), on a wide variety of subjects, person A (represented by the blue curve) may be found to know more, at that age, than person B (represented by the red curve). At that age, one could argue that person A is smarter than person B. Young ages are found on the left side of the graph above, and the two people get older, over their lifespans, as the curves move toward the right side of the graph.

What causes person A to know more than person B, at that age? There can be numerous factors in play, but few will be determined by any conscious choices these two people made over their first five years of life. Person B, for example, might have been affected by toxic substances in utero, while person A had no such disadvantage. On the other hand, person A might simply have been encouraged by his or her parents to learn things, while person B suffered from parental neglect. At age five, schools are not yet likely to have had as much of an impact as other factors.

An important part of this model is the recognition that people change over time. Our circumstances change. Illnesses may come and go. Families move. Wars happen. Suppose that, during the next year, person B is lucky enough to get to enroll in a high-quality school, some distance from the area where these two people live. Person B, simply because he or she is human, does possess curiosity, and curiosity is the key to this model. Despite person B‘s slow start with learning, being in an environment where learning is encouraged works. This person begins to acquire knowledge at a faster rate. On the graph, this is represented by the red curve’s slope increasing. This person is now gaining knowledge at a much faster rate than before.

In the meantime, what is happening with person A? There could be many reasons why the slope of the blue curve decreases, and this decrease simply indicates that knowledge, for this person, is now being gained at a slower rate than before. It is tempting to leap to the assumption that person A is now going to a “bad” school, with teachers who, at best, encourage rote memorization, rather than actual understanding of anything. Could this explain the change in slope? Yes, it could, but so could many other factors. It is undeniable that teachers have an influence on learning, but teacher quality (however it is determined, which is no easy task) is only one factor among many. Encouraging the “blame the teacher” game is not the goal of this model; there are already plenty of others doing that.

Perhaps person A became ill, suffered a high fever, and sustained brain damage as a result. Perhaps he or she is suddenly orphaned, therefore losing a previous, positive influence. There are many other possible factors which could explain this child’s sudden decrease of slope of the blue “learning curve” shown above; our species has shown a talent for inventing horrible things to do to, well, our species. Among the worst of the nightmare scenarios is that, while person B is learning things, at a distant school, the area where person A still lives is plunged into civil war, and/or a genocide-attempt is launched against the ethnic group which person A belongs to, as the result of nothing more than an accident of birth, and the bigotry of others. Later in life, on the graph above, the two curves intersect; beyond that point, person B knows more than person A, despite person B‘s slow start.  To give credit, or blame, to either of these people for this reversal would clearly be, at best, a severely incomplete approach.

At some point, of course, some people take the initiative to begin learning things on their own, becoming autodidacts, with high-slope learning curves. In other words, some people assume personal responsibility for their own learning. Most people do not. Few would be willing to pass such judgment on a child who is five or six years old, but what about a college student? What about a high school senior? What about children who have just turned thirteen years old? For that matter, what about someone my age, which is, as of this writing, 48? It seems that, the older a person is, the more likely we are to apply this “personal responsibility for learning” idea. Especially with adults, the human tendency to apply this idea to individuals may have beneficial results. That does not, however, guarantee that this idea is actually correct.

At no point in my life have I managed to learn how to create my own luck, although I have certainly tried, so I have now reached the point where I must admit that, in this respect, Sam Harris is correct. For example, I am in college, again, working on a second master’s degree, but this would not be the case without many key factors simply falling into place. I didn’t create the Internet, and my coursework is being done on-line. I did not choose to be born in a nation with federal student loan programs, and such student loans are paying my tuition. I did not create the university I am attending, nor did I place professors there whose knowledge exceeds my own, regarding many things, thus creating a situation where I can learn from them. I did not choose to have Asperger’s Syndrome, especially not in a form which has given me many advantages, given that my “special interests” lie in mathematics and the mathematical sciences, which are the primary subjects I have taught, throughout my career as a high school teacher. The fact that I wish to be honest compels me to admit that I cannot take credit for any of this — not even the fact that I wish to be honest. I simply observed that lies create bad situations, especially when they are discovered, and so I began to try to avoid the negative consequences of lying, by breaking myself of that unhelpful habit.

The best we can do, in my opinion, is try to figure out what is really going on in various situations, and discern which factors help people learn at a faster rate, then try to increase the number of people influenced by these helpful factors, rather than harmful ones. To return to the graph above, we will improve the quality of life, for everyone, if we can figure out ways to increase the slope of people’s learning-curves. That slope could be called the learning coefficient, and it is simply the degree to which a person’s knowledge is changing over time, at any given point along that person’s learning-curve. This learning coefficient can change for anyone, at any age, for numerous reasons, a few of which were already described above. Learning coefficients therefore vary from person to person, and also within each person, at different times in an individual’s lifetime. This frequently-heard term “lifelong learning” translates, on such graphs, to keeping learning coefficients high throughout our lives. The blue and red curves on the graph above change slope only early in life, but such changes can, of course, occur at other ages, as well.

It is helpful to understand what factors can affect learning coefficients. Such factors include people’s families, health, schools and teachers, curiosity, opportunities (or lack thereof), wealth and income, government laws and policies, war and/or peace, and, of course, luck, often in the form of accidents of birth. Genetic factors, also, will be placed on this list by many people. I am not comfortable with such DNA-based arguments, and am not including them on this list, for that reason, but I am also willing to admit that this may be an error on my part. This is, of course, a partial list; anyone reading this is welcome to suggest other possible factors, as comments on this post.

# On “Thinking Outside the Box” (Thanks, Mom)

The secret to “thinking outside the box” is to never have your thinking put in a box in the first place. Thanks, Mom. This would not have happened to me without you making it happen, and I only just now figured this out.

# The Human Reaction, When Mathematics No Longer Seems to Make Sense: What Is This Sorcery?

Unless you understand all of mathematics — and absolutely no one does — there is a point, for each of us, where mathematics no longer makes sense, at least at that moment. Subjectively, this can make the mathematics beyond this point, which always awaits exploration, appear to be some form of sorcery.

Mathematics isn’t supernatural, of course, but this is a reaction humans often have to that which they do not understand. Human reactions do not require logical purpose, and they don’t always make sense — but there is always a reason for them, even if that reason is sometimes simply that one is utterly bewildered.

In my case, this is the history of my own reactions, as I remember them, to various mathematical concepts. The order used is as close as I can remember to the sequence in which I encountered each idea. The list is, of necessity, incomplete.

• Counting numbers: no problem, but what do I call the next one after [last one I knew at that time]? And the next one? And the next? Next? Next? [Repeat, until everyone within earshot flees.]
• Zero exists: well, duh. That’s how much of whatever I’m snacking on is left, after I’ve eaten it all.
• Arithmetic: oh, I’m glad to have words for this stuff I’ve been doing, but couldn’t talk about before.
• Negative numbers: um, of course those must exist. No, I don’t want to hear them explained; I’ve got this already. What, you want me to demonstrate that I understand it? Ok, can I borrow a dollar? Oh, sure, I’ll return it at some point, but not until after I’ve spent it.
• Multiple digits, the decimal point, decimal places, place value: got it; let’s move on, please. (I’ve never been patient with efforts to get me to review things, once I understand them, on the grounds that review, under such conditions, is a useless activity.)
• Pi: love at first sight.
• Fractions: that bar means you divide, so it all follows from that. Got it. Say, with these wonderful things, why, exactly, do we need decimals, again? Oh, yeah, pi — ok, we keep using decimals in order to help us better-understand the number pi. That makes sense.
• “Improper” fractions: these are cool! I need never use “mixed numbers” again (or so I thought). Also, “improper” sounds much more fun than its logical opposite, and I never liked the term “mixed numbers,” nor the way those ugly things look.
• Algebra: ok, you turned that little box we used before into an “x” — got it. Why didn’t we just use an “x” to begin with? Oh, and you can do the same stuff to both sides of equations, and that’s our primary tool to solve these cool puzzles. Ok. Got it.
• Algebra I class: why am I here when I already know all this stuff?
• Inequality symbols: I’m glad they made the little end point at the smaller number, and the larger side face the larger number, since that will be pretty much impossible to forget.
• Scientific notation: well, I’m glad I get to skip writing all those zeroes now. If only I knew about this before learning number-names, up to, and beyond, a centillion. Oh well, knowing those names won’t hurt me.
• Exponents: um, I did this already, with scientific notation. Do not torture me with review of stuff I already know!
• Don’t divide by zero: why not? [Tries, with a calculator]: say, is this thing broken? [Tries dividing by smaller and smaller decimals, only slightly larger than zero]: ok, the value of the fraction “blows up” as the denominator approaches zero, so it can’t actually get all the way there. Got it.
• Nonzero numbers raised to the power of zero equal one: say what? [Sits, bewildered, until thinking of it in terms of writing the number one, using scientific notation: 1 x 10º.] Ok, got it now, but that was weird, not instantly understanding it.
• Sine and cosine functions: got it, and I’m glad to know what those buttons on the calculator do, now, but how does the calculator know the answers? It can’t possibly have answers memorized for every millionth of a degree.
• Tangent: what is this madness that happens at ninety degrees? Oh, right, triangles can’t have two right angles. Function “blows up.” Got it.
• Infinity: this is obviously linked to what happens when dividing by ever-smaller numbers, and taking the tangent of angles approaching a right angle. I don’t have to call it “blowing up” any more. Ok, cool.
• Factoring polynomials: I have no patience for this activity, and you can’t stop me from simply throwing the quadratic formula at every second-order equation I see.
• Geometry (of the type studied in high school): speed this up, and stop stating the obvious all the time!
• Radicals: oh, I was wondering what an anti-exponent would look like.
• Imaginary numbers: well, it’s only fair that the negative numbers should also get square roots. Got it. However, Ms. _____________, I’d like to know what the square root of i is, and I’d like to know this as quickly as possible. (It took this teacher and myself two or three days to find the answer to this question, but find it we did, in the days before calculators would help with problems like this.)
• The phrase “mental math” . . . um, isn’t all math mental? Even if I’m using a calculator, my mind is telling my fingers which buttons to press on that gadget, so that’s still a mental activity. (I have not yielded from this position, and therefore do not use the now-despised “mental math” phrase, and, each time I have heard it, to date, my irritation with the term has increased.)
• 0.99999… (if repeated forever) is exactly equal to one: I finally understood this, but it took attacks from several different directions to get there, with headaches resulting. The key to my eventual understanding it was to use fractions: ninths, specifically.
• The number e, raised to the power of i‏π, equals -1: this is sorcery, as far as I can see. [Listens to, and attempts to read, explanations of this identity.] This still seems like sorcery!
• What it means to take the derivative of an expression: am I just supposed to memorize this procedure? Is no one going to explain to me why this works?
• Taking the derivative of a polynomial: ok, I can do this, but I don’t have the foggiest idea why I’m doing it, nor why these particular manipulations of one function give you a new function which is, at all points along the x-axis, the slope of the previous function. Memorizing a definition does not create comprehension.
• Integral calculus: this gives me headaches.
• Being handed a sheet of integration formulas, and told to memorize them: hey, this isn’t even slightly fun anymore. =(
• Studying polyhedra: I finally found the “sweet spot” where I can handle some, but not all, of the puzzles, and I even get to try to find solutions in ways different from those used by others, without being chastised. Yay! Math is fun again! =)
• Realizing, while starting to write this blog-post, that you can take the volume of a sphere, in terms of the radius, (4/3)πr³, take its derivative, and you get the surface area of the same sphere, 4πr²: what is this sorcery known as calculus, and how does it work, so it can stop looking like sorcery to me?

Until and unless I experience the demystification of calculus, this blog will continue to be utterly useless as a resource in that subfield of mathematics. (You’ve been warned.) The primary reason this is so unlikely is that I haven’t finished studying (read: playing with) polyhedra yet, using non-calculus tools I already have at my disposal. If I knew I would live to be 200 years old, or older, I’d make learning calculus right now a priority, for I’m sure my current tools’ usefulness will become inadequate in a century or so, and learning calculus now, at age 47, would likely be easier than learning it later. As things are, though, it’s on the other side of the wall between that which I understand, and that which I do not: the stuff that, at least for now, looks like magic — to me.

Please don’t misunderstand, though: I don’t “believe in” magic, but use it simply as a label of convenience. It’s a name for the “box ,” in my mind, where ideas are stored, but only if I don’t understand those ideas on first exposure. They remain there until I understand them, whether by figuring the ideas out myself, or hearing them explained, and successfully understanding the explanation, at which point the ideas are no longer thought of, on any level, as “magic.”

To empty this box, the first thing I would need would be an infinite amount of time. Once I accepted the inevitability of the heat death of the universe, I was then able to accept the fact that my “box of magic” would never be completely emptied, for I will not get an infinite amount of time.

[Image credit: I made a rainbow-colored version of the compound of five cubes for the “magic box” picture at the top of this post, using Stella 4d, a program you may try here.]

# Information, and Misinformation, About Ebola

Much is now being written about ebola, for obvious reasons. I previously addressed the subject, on this blog, before the news became flooded with ebola-stories (my post was made in late July), and I did so mathematically (because that’s the way I am), right here: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/a-graph-of-infections-and-deaths-during-the-first-four-months-of-the-2014-ebola-outbreak/.

While I am pleased that ebola is now getting more attention in the media, I am not at all pleased about the continuing spread of this epidemic — and am also utterly horrified by the misinformation being disseminated, by many writers, on the subject. Some of what is now being written makes sense, but much of it does not. Here are four examples of logical, and well-written, information on this timely subject:

By contrast, the three articles which follow are, well, not helpful at all. They either are hysterical nonsense, or are helping spread hysterical nonsense. Neither of these things benefit anyone.

B. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/993247-ebola-zombies-article-says-3rd-person-rose-from-the-dead-still-false/ (only “likely false,” according to the opening sentence)

I enjoy zombie movies as much as anyone, but let’s be clear on this:  people who have died from ebola do not rise from the dead! Also, no, the ebola viruses were not created deliberately for genocidal purposes, or any other purpose. Conspiracy theories, on any subject, are all false, for one simple reason: large-scale conspiracies require many human beings to keep real information (as opposed to misinformation) secret, for long periods of time, and that simply doesn’t happen. As an old saying puts it, “three men can keep a secret — if two of them are dead.”

There is an out-of-control ebola epidemic raging in several African nations, and a real risk exists of widespread outbreaks forming on other continents, since cases already exist in both North America and Europe. However, there is also a second problem:  we are already in the middle of a worldwide ebola panic. This second problem will not help with the first problem — at all. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

What will help? Rational, clear thinking — as well as deliberate, well-considered, intelligent, rapid, and well-funded action. The unfortunate truth is that no such action happened much earlier, but that error cannot be unmade, for time travel into the past is physically impossible. What is possible is for intelligent action to be taken now.

What will not help? Hysteria, panic, superstition, ignorance, greed, the “blame game,” and, especially, old-fashioned human stupidity.

How does one separate the “wheat from the chaff” — or, in this case, the real information from the misinformation? I know of only a few ways to do this: think about what you read, and think, then rethink, about what you write (and then post on the Internet) — and, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, well . . . just shut up. Please.

# A Quote from Voltaire, on Absurdities and Atrocities

Examples abound. Here are two:

Absurdity #1:  Pure human races exist.

A resulting atrocity:  the Holocaust (~20 million people, including ~6 million Jews, killed by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s).

Absurdity #2:  Acts which are both suicidal and homicidal can be wonderful things, and can earn a person an eternal reward in paradise after death.

A resulting atrocity:  the destruction of the World Trade Center, and attacks on other targets, on September 11, 2001, which killed over three thousand people, including the hijackers themselves.

Please note that this list is far from complete. A complete list would fill several very large books. Beware of absurdities in your thinking, for they can actually be fatal.