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Where are the people smarter than us hanging out?

In Paul Fussell’s book on class (I think), he says that people are really worried about differentiating themselves from the class immediately below them, but largely ignorant of the customs and sometimes even existence of the classes above them. When I found SSC, and then The Motte, and stuff like TLP, I was astonished to find a tier of the internet I had had no idea even existed. The quality of discourse here is . . . usually . . . of the kind that “high brow” (by internet standards) websites THINK they are having, but when you see the best stuff here you realize that those clowns are just flattering themselves. My question is, who is rightly saying the same thing about us? Of what intellectual internet class am I ignorant now? Or does onlineness impose some kind of ceiling on things, and the real galaxy brains are at the equivalent of Davos somewhere?

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Been lurking for many years and this was the first thread that compelled me to create an account. I work in academia and frankly i find the high regard for that place here pretty funny. A decade or so ago, before i started studying mathematics I was extremely nervous. I though I'd be the dumbest kid there because the regard of academia was so high. Turns out that I can now count on one hand the amount of people I've met there who I regard as smarter than guys from the group i regularly play video games with. And they were not the ones "known" for being intelligent.

What these people, in academia do have, however, is drive, much more than sense. People who do things for the sake of having done them, people who build things for the sake of having built them, people who write papers for the sake of having written them, people who chase status because that was what they were born to do. Well perhaps they are smart, I mean they do succeed in generating status for themselves, some even publish things worth reading if you don't zoom out far enough. I mean a new theorem is a new theorem right? (spawling, unending complexity be damned (when are we dealing with that?)) But I would not classify them as intelligent, nor would I classify the discourse there as intelligent. But publishing a new machine learning model that will do an untold amount of damage is nothing to sneeze at. I mean you're winning right?

I believe that in order to have good discourse one needs to remove (bad) status from the equation, because otherwise that optimization will drown out everything else. This is in large part what clusters of academia has been. Give a bunch of rich and smart people maximum status, so they may discuss ideas without the worst status games. Unfortunately it never lasts, since optimal status-seekers, those pesky ones, are always one step behind, copying what works as fast as they can because copying is cheap. Doing their absolute best at pretending to interact with the real world. So the novel, intelligent discussion will always be in the places where even the high-class people aren't even aware exists, constantly moving (are we rediscovering something that ends with -ion). Because if they were aware, they would have driven out all the bright kids. Or sometimes they are even hidden in plain sight explaining complicated things simply upon unaware audiences.

Case study: https://youtube.com/watch?v=PGv4ixLllWo

In my opinion, I think TM is pretty good but with a somewhat high variance between posters. Especially for it's size and the fact that it's public. And it's funny how some of you keep degrading it, but perhaps that's why it's still good (even if I think it dipped when leaving reddit). If we convinced ourselves that writing here gave us status, suddently the internal incentive for truth and understanding (that atleast some here possess) would be replaced with something external (i.e winning).

You never notice the good old days when you're living them do you.

There was a quote from Anna Karenina that appeared on /r/slatestarcodex awhile back that made me cry. Most replies to it missed at least what I initially felt reading it.

"Konstantin Levin regarded his brother as a man of great intelligence and education, noble in the highest sense of the word, and endowed with the ability to act for the common good. But, in the depths of his soul, the older he became and the more closely he got to know his brother, the more often it occurred to him that this ability to act for the common good, of which he felt himself completely deprived, was perhaps not a virtue but, on the contrary, a lack of something – not a lack of good, honest and noble desires and tastes, but a lack of life force, of what is known as heart, of that yearning which makes a man choose one out of all the countless paths in life presented to him and desire that one alone. The more he knew his brother, the more he noticed that Sergei Ivanovich and many other workers for the common good had not been brought to this love of the common good by the heart, but had reasoned in their minds that it was good to be concerned with it and were concerned with it only because of that. And Levin was confirmed in this surmise by observing that his brother took questions about the common good and the immortality of the soul no closer to heart than those about a game of chess or the clever construction of a new machine."

I'm not sure how to phrase my thoughts on it and upon closer inspection I'm not sure if it even matches the text accurately. But here goes two attempts:

  1. Falling for motivated reasoning is very easy, and pretty much impossible to do if oneself has a stake in the outcome. Therefore the highest quality (if one counts all the variables...) a human may produce will tend to cluster around people being obsessed, but largely uncaring of the meta around it. This maps pretty closely to the bus ticket theory linked below and is hardly a novel idea, but I think it bears repeating. But perhaps this is not even true, because optimizing, in many ways, is pretty simple. You grind the information down into larger and larger chunks, until you can move them around in your head with the same difficulty as walking. Then improvements will arrive automatically with a brain that's big enough and a lot of time. That guy with a mathematics phd, welp.

  2. In someways being good enough means you do not have to chase status, because you know, deep down, that if you tried, you'd win. Once you know that, challenging people without a handicap just feels cruel. Therefore you can spend your effort fixing real things instead, unburdened by the status anxiety of the other ones. Where can you find these people, you ask. Try looking at the way people talk. How many real words are they using? Are we sure the human species is not effectively bimodal at the age of 40?

I apologize for any incoherences, logical and sematic leaps, poor grammar, spelling, you name it (look I'm doing it!). I've never really written anything outside of science "TM" and this took an embarrassing amount of time to compose without becoming a complete schizopost (not a real word!).

But maybe I'm just reclassifying intelligence to define me. I've had a bad day/week/life (3!) and need to pat myself on the back.

Where can you find these people, you ask. Try looking at the way people talk. How many real words are they using? Are we sure the human species is not effectively bimodal at the age of 40?

Can you please clarify what you meant by this? What is a 'real word' in this line of thought?

Think this is it. Scott Sumner who at one point even had talk of become the fed chair once wrote in an article that the NYT was for the top 10% and the 1% he thought had to read blogs or slatestar codex. I believe he’s fairly high up public intellectual so if he points to TM etc as the top then I guess it’s the top.

I think any other group would have too few members to be capable of maintaining a community.

There are maybe communities like Palm Beach dinner parties that are slightly higher but I have friends who gone to them so I think I can scratch the top.

For those interested, the relevant blog post is probably this one.

maybe more like top 5%. Top 1% is like an IQ of 135+

I think 135 is about the average self reported iq on the SSC surveys

This is about as useful as the average reported penis size in terms of accuracy

On one hand, yes. On the other hand, it's also consistent with the self reported SATs and ACTs scores. There may be selection effects as not every reader takes the survey, and not every survey taker knows their IQ with enough certainty to answer the question.

It is anonymous, I'd actually expect the average anonymously reported penis size to not be that far off.

I think we have to draw a distinction between raw intelligence and application. Lots of people are really smart, but only apply their intelligence to one or two specific things. Think of a PhD particle physicist or something who understands super-complex topics and makes contributions to the field. I'd bet a lot of people in those types of positions never apply their intelligence outside their fields and their opinions on CW-adjacent topics are pretty much whatever the media they view tells them. Maybe they just never cared to, maybe they're shying away from anything that'll create conflict, who knows.

I don't think there's any real communities out there that are genuinely smarter than us and open for anyone to join and contribute. Maybe there's sort of a community in the sense of bloggers who read and respond to each other, but that doesn't form as tight-knit as a single forum or group on some app.

There may also be a thing where some of the really smart people have realized that you don't really move societal needles by writing effort-posts on nerdy subjects to people like us. It seems much more effective to use that intelligence to learn and practice the arts of persuasion and propaganda. How many people have chosen to do that instead and how smart are they really? We may never know.

Consider Robert Mercer, ex-CEO of Renaissance Technologies: if not genius level intelligence, certainly 1.5-2 sigma above average: PhD at UIUC, ACM Lifetime Achievement Award...

Mercer played a key role in the campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union by donating data analytics services to Nigel Farage.He has also been a major funder of organizations supporting right-wing political causes in the United States, such as Breitbart News, the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica, and Donald Trump's 2016 campaign for president. He is the principal benefactor of the Make America Number 1 super PAC.

Wikipedia

Some of his opinions:

Mercer has said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark federal statute arising from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, was a major mistake. In 2017, David Magerman, a former Renaissance employee, alleged in a lawsuit that Mercer had said that African Americans were economically better off before the civil rights movement, that white racists no longer existed in the United States, and that the only racists remaining were black racists. Wikipedia

Yes, there are a lot of people more intelligent than any of us out there. I find them whenever I do a deep research dive and end up on a forum for guys who build their own circuit boards or micro-turbine-integrated off-grid power generation.

Often suspect that we range from midwit politics-obsessives (hi, mein name ist bernd) to time-wasting borderline-geniuses who could easily be doing something more productive. And most of the highest level people who used to be part of the LW diaspora, like Gwern, have found their own niches in less generalist and more goal-oriented places.

They assume that being smart means being able to distinguish between what is BS or not. Not necessarily. For example, people in early 2020 with high IQs predicting lockdowns and quartines would contain covid, because the mathematical model was convincing.

They also assume being smart means wanting to distinguish BS. People form their visible opinions for lots of reasons other than "a singleminded dedication to discovering an accurate epistemology". In fact I would say that is hardly anyone's real goal. Smart people possibly even less so than average people, since they are smart enough to see the advantages of other strategies.

Re: all the "The Motte is not that smart" comments.

As an Australian, I semi-frequently see people say some variation of "Australia is a horribly racist country" in the MSM, social media, in person or elsewhere. While this is often just a leftwing shibboleth, it's said frequently enough even among moderate voices that it has become part of the cultural conciousness.

When I hear this, I often think to myself, "what the hell are you talking about? Australia is an incredibly unracist country by any comparison. It would be hard to find any country less racist than Australia - maybe a couple in Europe or something (although even that's changing very fast) or maybe New Zealand, but that's about it. China? Japan? Brazil? Saudi Arabia? Nigeria? Italy? All more horribly racist than Australia by any meaningful standard.

The real issue is that Australia is not horribly racist (by any relative standard) but that Australia, being a Western liberal democracy among other reasons, is hypersensitive to racism. Whenever any racist incident does occur (and they will always occur to some degree), it blasted accross the media as an example of how bad we all and how much we still have to improve, even if such incidents are relatively rare and unrepresentitive (I'm sure American and Canadian readers can relate). Ironically, it is precisely because Australia is so unracist that we percieve ourselves as racist.

I feel the same way about this bashful comments about the Motte being really not all that smart. Are you crazy? By any reasonable, necessarily relative standard, the Motte is full of very smart people writing interesting posts and comments on a wide range of topics from a very varied perspectives. This is matched by few other places on the internet. Even if people are wrong (and people are often wrong), they're still wrong in the right kind of way, the way that's illuminating like when you argue an absurd postition to its fullest extent just for the hell of it.

And yes, as per the original topic of this thread, the Motte could be more intelligent. Yes, there are hyper-geniuses doing their third PhD in astro-quantum-biomechanical-neuroscience engineering, or whatever else who are not on the Motte and probably don't use the internet all the much. But by any reasonable standard, the Motte is pretty smart. We just are hypersensitive to our own intellectual inferiority specifically because this is a community build around casual intellectualism and full of people smart enough to realise there are people smarter than them who are not the Motte.

I'd wager Australia as a whole is more racist (or at least less anti-racist) than... Portland, probably? Seattle? Failing that, Vermont? Uh, Martha’s Vineyard?

We aren't denying that this place runs circles around any regular forum; this is why we waste time here. It's expected that even higher-tier forums will be oddly specific, small-scale and hard to find or get into. What is interesting is exactly the link after which it'll be possible to say «...But that's about it» – and preferably that it be accessible to outsiders. I know a few, but they're of a type that I'm not at liberty to make publicly known.

Moreover I maintain that TheMotte isn't exceptional due to being very smart. IMO it's more that we frown down on intransigence, irrational refusal to respect valid counterarguments. Smartypants on Reddit or HN can be very smart, but they tend to be obstinate and irrational like a combative teenager; and many rationalists on ACX/LW are quokkas who have given up on generality to maintain civility.

They aren't impressed with us either.

Even if people are wrong (and people are often wrong), they're still wrong in the right kind of way, the way that's illuminating like when argue an absurd postition to its fullest extent just for the hell of it.

Yep. I find this weird double standard applied to TheMotte and other rationalist adjacent spaces when they go off on a particular chain of reasoning and reach a 'wrong' (or, at least, flawed) conclusion about some facet of the world that they're not an 'expert' in. Maybe there's an expert consensus that contradicts their conclusion or maybe the person in question didn't do quite enough research on the question and missed some obvious step.

And this gets jumped on by the critics as proof that the entire space is filled with deluded halfwits who have too high an opinion of their own intellect and should really just stay in their lane.

As always, i ask "compared to what?" Let's even leave aside the dregs of the internet where flame wars are all that exist, you can't find other places where someone would even follow a given chain of reasoning to a logical conclusion, explaining their steps in such a way that they're open to critique!

Making these sorts of mistakes is generally considered how one learns and improves their understanding of the world. If you are open to, and indeed, asking for critique and correction then you're already better off than 90% of the people contributing their opinions to the internet.

So critics who jump on errors in reasoning or faulty understanding of the world as displayed on TheMotte should really show me where I can go to find people reaching 100% factually correct and logical conclusions on their first try and with fully open descriptions of their reasoning process.

Before, I'd have believed "Academia" but, uh, the replication crisis and similar factors have shown that this doesn't really apply there, except in maybe the most rigorous fields and we have reason to be concerned about them too.

Absent that, I must conclude that being overly critical of these spaces whilst ignoring how high the standards are compared to the internet at large is just an attempt at social policing, and thus worth ignoring.

Before, I'd have believed "Academia" but, uh, the replication crisis and similar factors have shown that this doesn't really apply there, except in maybe the most rigorous fields and we have reason to be concerned about them too.

It really is a shame how far academia has fallen. Hopefully it hasn't always been this way. In my opinion one of the largest things that separates the rationalist sphere from everyday intellectuals is willingness to question academia and a rejection of Scientism.

Unfortunately most of the intelligenstia seems to have been captured by the idea that Science is the end all be all, and if something is in a scientific publication it is correct, full stop. Many people abuse this rhetorical tactic assuming nobody will read the sources, which in most spheres is largely true.

Our #1 competitive advantage in my mind is the ability to seriously question the academic class.

one of the largest things that separates the rationalist sphere from everyday intellectuals is willingness to question academia and a rejection of Scientism.

Bingo. For better or worse (probs worse) mainstream culture treats universities and academic researchers as brilliant, untouchable geniuses spitting out revolutionary research on a regular basis, such that one should just accept their vision without question.

Meanwhile some rat-adjacent groups are like "I dunno man, this low powered study with n=250 composed mostly of affluent college students might not be completely representative of the real world, and we've seen this idea implemented in practice and it doesn't seem to work very well.

And academia is so ossified it takes years for it to respond to critiques. Communities that have healthy norms for updating beliefs as new information come in are going to be ahead of the curve in general.

I think the bigger difference is willing to engage with what makes good or bad science. Scientism, as you call it, just get religious again "believe the Science" (with a capital 'S') but only if it's things I agree with and a study I support, not if it's, e.g. personality differences between men and women, or ... just about anything to do with Covid...

The quality of discourse here is . . . usually . . . of the kind that “high brow” (by internet standards) websites THINK they are having

No, it really, really isn't. The quality of the discourse here is incredibly shoddy. It is 95% as if Ibram Kendi were debating Ben Shapiro.

The quality of the discourse here is incredibly shoddy.

Okay, let's see some evidence?

It is 95% as if Ibram Kendi were debating Ben Shapiro.

You immediately provide direct, contrary evidence with this simile. 4D chess or...?

You immediately provide direct, contrary evidence

Well, you have a good sense of humor, I will give you that.

Please point to better discourse friend.

Where do you go on the internet for high-quality discourse?

I'm genuinely curious what standard you're comparing to.

People are not going to expend enormous intellectual energy on these debates, because it's not worth it.

Too bad he is still endorsing 'flatten the curve' in his banner . That didn't age so well. Shows how even geniuses can fall for wrong beliefs.

What's wrong with "flatten the curve"?

it did not work when the virus is too contagious and mutates too readily

Seemed plausible for the R values we were seeing back then though.

Could you elaborate on that ''flatten the curve'' thing? From what I see mainstream approach to COVID is frowned upon here(with I presume more loose approach favored).

"Flattening the curve" is so obvious mathematically that the only reason Tao might ever put that up is that he wants to signal his "right" opinions. I strongly doubt he has the faintest clue about anything related to Covid policy and the complex game of balancing costs and benefits whilst not trampling on people's "rights" it entails (one might say its an optimization problem). In a sane World a mind like Tao's would have had access to all the information through the most mainstream channels and would have probably contributed a better model than the ones we have. In our world, The MSM spent no little amount of energy hiding the fact that covid mitigation policies might have drawbacks at all to begin with!

The highest-IQ group chat that I'm in was formed years ago for a group project in one of the PhD-level math classes that I took back in grad school. Afterwards, we became friends, and the channel was repurposed for shitposting, and occasionally talking about research. Coincidentally, most of us ended up in the same city by one means or another, and the chat survives to this day.

Overall I think it's extremely hard to judge people, even in real life, until you've seen their work.

so like econjobrumors

  1. Read my profile quote. I've been around the block less than some, more than others, but I've talked to and argued with CEOs and PE mavens and congressmen and senators and ivy league professors and local feudal lords; there ain't nobody smart, I know, I checked. In all reality, I suspect that above a 130 or so iq measurement becomes less useful.

  2. the gatekeeping problem is pretty tough. Compare /r/fitness to /r/weightroom, one open and active and useless one gatekept and brilliant but often painfully boring. Motte achieves it by demanding length, our reflexive logorrhea acts as a gatekeeping mechanism. I don't know that there's another mechanism that isn't ideological hackable to screen people.

  3. all groups are mixed. I'm still allowed in here, for example. There are brilliant people on Twitter and Reddit and TikTok and telegram chats.

I've seen this from a Silicon Valley / tech startup founder perspective. People who found successful tech startups or controls billions of dollars in venture capital investment are often incredibly out of touch, and unable to argue any point without relying on basic emotional appeals and other shitty rhetorical tactics.

Unfortunately most of finance and tech has become dominated by sociopaths seeking to maximize short term monetary gains instead of the naive, wild-eyed, optimistic engineers who first founded the internet.

Unfortunately most of finance and tech has become dominated by sociopaths seeking to maximize short term monetary gains instead of the naive, wild-eyed, optimistic engineers who first founded the internet.

This sums up the VC cryptocurrency scene

"there ain't nobody smart, I know, I checked"

yep, this is true. powerful people do keep "smart" people as pets but their smart people aren't that.

when i was growing up i had this fantasy that i'd pass all the tests and be whisked away a la ender wiggins, but the reality is that a super high G person is just a freak, like a six fingered man. Doing important things in the real world has to be done in a way that manages risk and politics, it's a team sport and just needs people who are smart enough and have all the other right characteristics.

I'm now a typical corposcum executive and no one accuses me of being smart but they sometimes notice that i get a lot of lucky breaks.

You'd think after years of exposure to Ivy League professors and other professional intellectuals like Krugman occasionally or, depending on your viewpoint, frequently beclowning themselves online that everyone would've had an Emperor Has No Clothes moment (mine was discovering Peter Thiel rips off Salena Zito tidbits to come off as smart) but perhaps Gell-Mann is even stronger a phenomenon than we think.

More likely, the most intelligent hyper focus on being the most right about their niche area of expertise and that is where their intelligence should be judged. Generalists will always be wrong on something and the best of their lot will just be the least (or least impactfully) wrong. Perhaps the area that needs attention now is the connectors between those two.

People still listen to Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity. At least Krugman has a Nobel and mainstream respectability so it makes sense to assume he's smart if you aren't too familiar with him.

Imagine the stupidest ideas you could come up with, somebody will probably defend them. Isn't that what happened with Flat Earth? I don't think it's because people are stupid. But there's always that temptation to assume that you're smarter than everyone else because you can actually defend something no one else will. Imagine if you were among the only people who could see that the Emperor really does have clothes that look invisible to most people, after all.

Many reddit communities have been ruined by overaggressive moderating. The gatekeeping is real in that regard even if the people are cool and helpful. I think there is always some implicit rules or norms, like for finance subs, index funds are always good, etc.

I'd even go further, if someone hasn't yet had issues with censorship/moderation on reddit, it is an heuristic that this person is not very mentally active/a free thinker.

People who write a lot on the internet for strangers have way too much time on their hands. I used to write longer comments and even some that made it into the contributions thread but now I don't feel like I have to do that anymore.

People smarter than us hang out with their friends and might pop in once in a while to write a comment about a topic that personally interests them. Successful people should confide with those that they trust and those that are useful to them, not strangers who happen to be on the same intellectual level.

People who write a lot on the internet for strangers have way too much time on their hands.

It depends. Tyler Cowen has been blogging forever, and it seems to work for him. If you can turn it into a job, I don't see it as being a problem.

I don't feel like I have to do that anymore.

You have the whole thing backwards. I can't speak for all motte users, but I would wager, myself and most of them write effort posts because they want to, not because they have to.

See: Bus Ticket Theory of Genius. Tldr; People with weird obsessions obsess over weird things because they like doing that, for nothing else. That obsession is a necessary component to be truly great at anything (among many other components).

Not saying TM motte users are geniuses but they obsess weirdly over the CW because they like it.

People smarter than us hang out with their friends

This is a naive sentiment about "people smarter than us". You are probably packing in a whole load of things into the definition of smart other than its only true definition... high IQ. "Smart people" come in all shapes and flavors. Some hang out with friends, some are CEO's, some don't have any friends because they are CEOs or spend all their lives in the server room or the lab, some are military dictators, some are stay-at-home moms, etc.

Successful people should confide with those that they trust and those that are useful to them, not strangers who happen to be on the same intellectual level.

???

Who is exactly confiding in the motte? Some are but they are a minority.

I use the motte because there are certain things I want to talk about at a certain level that I can't do anywhere else, not because I am looking for a community of people to confide in or whatever. What is there to even confide about in the motte?

I would be surprised if most users are not here for the exact same reason as me.

yep. evidence from https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/31/the-parable-of-the-talents/

On the other hand, I know people who want to get good at writing, and make a mighty resolution to write two hundred words a day every day, and then after the first week they find it’s too annoying and give up. These people think I’m amazing, and why shouldn’t they? I’ve written a few hundred to a few thousand words pretty much every day for the past ten years.

But as I’ve said before, this has taken exactly zero willpower. It’s more that I can’t stop even if I want to. Part of that is probably that when I write, I feel really good about having expressed exactly what it was I meant to say. Lots of people read it, they comment, they praise me, I feel good, I’m encouraged to keep writing, and it’s exactly the same virtuous cycle as my brother got from his piano practice.

Tldr; People with weird obsessions obsess over weird things because they like doing that, for nothing else. That obsession is a necessary component to be truly great at anything (among many other components).

I would say that the amount of dopamin rush that a human receive while digging/hyperfocusing on an obsessive niche topic is the #1 most potent predictor of how "genius" that persons is.

This is a naive sentiment about "people smarter than us". You are probably packing in a whole load of things into the definition of smart other than its only true definition... high IQ. "Smart people" come in all shapes and flavors. Some hang out with friends, some are CEO's, some don't have any friends because they are CEOs or spend all their lives in the server room or the lab, some are military dictators, some are stay-at-home moms, etc.

I don't see how IQ tests can test your smartness when they are relatively easy to do well on, and even if you don't do well on them initially you can basically get a perfect score by reviewing the patterns/ concepts that people are unfamiliar with. It's unseemly when you try to condense the beauty and potential of the human spirit down to a test metric.

I use the motte because there are certain things I want to talk about at a certain level that I can't do anywhere else, not because I am looking for a community of people to confide in or whatever. What is there to even confide about in the motte?

I think that he meant that you were confiding in the people on this forum to test your ideas.

I don't see how IQ tests can test your smartness when they are relatively easy to do well on

If you can train a randomly selected 100IQ person to score 140+ on IQ tests, with even some consistent rate of success, a lot of people would be interested in that! You can't though, and many have tried and failed at that and similar.

and even if you don't do well on them initially you can basically get a perfect score by reviewing the patterns/ concepts that people are unfamiliar with.

You can't. At least not to a great extent. Hard IQ test questions stress your working memory. You need to process information to solve them; you could memorize exact same patterns, but make it slightly different and it won't help you.

Not sure if you know this but IQ and its validity has a very deep history as a widely held belief in this very forum we are on. Im not being sarcastic. In fact one can make an argument that the discussions of IQ and its intersections with HBD being a very contentious CW topic is what partially led to the creation of The Motte.

Anyways. IQ is ultimately a metric. But its the best metric of among all others as a proxy for g, the thing we are really trying to measure. Im not gonna reiterate the literature.

But, in a discussion about intelligence it would be rather obtuse to not mention the best proxy of it would it not? Its not a value judgement.

I had no idea. What does HBD mean though? Is this another kind of IQ test?

In my opinion I still don't think that an IQ test or any proxy of it would be a good idea. To me it seems like all an IQ test does is check if a student is thinking about things in a certain way - if they can quickly recognize patterns, and if they can really break apart a problem - in short, are they thinking in a particular way that would be useful to the needs of the institution? Are they thinking like an engineer or a mathematician? If a student does badly on an IQ test I don't think that it means they're stupid. Rather, I think that what this really means is a student has spent their time doing other things which don't necessitate the kind of thinking an IQ test checks for. They may consequently lack development in certain subsets of their minds relegated to do these very specific kinds of thinking, because our minds are constantly changing and adapting to the stressors we place on them like any other part of our bodies. This student may have spent their time cooking, painting landscapes, or just doing stupid kid things.

Of course, there's probably going to be outliers who are predisposed to this kind of thinking at an early age, maybe as a result of their upbringing, and/or the predisposition of their parents. But what if these outliers don't even want to pursue the avenues they'd do well in according to an IQ test? Wouldn't this test just give them and their parents a flawed conception of who they really are? On the other hand, wouldn't the effect be much worse on those students who do really badly on an IQ test? They'll go through their whole lives believing that they're stupid, and that there's something terribly insufficient in them which prevents them from doing what they want to do with their lives. I'd argue that we already instilled this sense of inferiority in kids with standardized tests. I've seen too many students who think that they're innately stupid or incompetent because they can't readily understand arithmetic, memorize historical trivia or whatever else the curriculum throws at them.

Somebody else will hopefully respond with a more detailed breakdown of the actual studies but IQ:

  1. Is very predictive of success in things people care about

  2. Cannot be trained

  3. Is a very well studied and consistent measure

  4. Varies a lot person to person and has at least a large genetic component

To the degree that some tests meant to measure IQ can be studied for is a flaw in those tests but the ones we have are pretty good at not being gamed.

HBD stands for "Human Bio Diversity" and is the recognition that populations of people vary genetically. Uncontroversially in situations like the Dutch being taller on average than the Spanish. Incredibly controversially in situations like American Jews having a higher IQ on average to American Natives. People here disagree wildly on whether it is true and what it would imply if it were. But we do allow its discussion which brings quite a bit of heat from the sort of people who find the idea dangerous. We originally started out as a weekly thread on slatestarcodex.com run by Scott who now blogs on astralcodexten.substack.com, but he was harassed by people who didn't like the discussion so he asked us to got to his subreddit, then our own subreddit and finally this shiny new offsite. Although it's not just HBD that got us targeted, it's the willingness to entertain dangerous ideas with HBD being the most usually cited example.

Incredibly annoying nitpick: IQ tests absolutely can be trained, and I'm confident if I or someone else smart took an IQ test now, and then took another after a dozen hours of practice, there'd be a measurable increase.

Of course this doesn't mean the measure doesn't work, there's a reason people here or ssc readers got 130+ despite being selected based on liking blogs, IQ 'working' as a measure is incredibly obvious and impossible to avoid.

And that was ofc the other guy's first response - pick the weakest link and use that to disbelieve the rest

Incredibly annoying nitpick: IQ tests absolutely can be trained, and I'm confident if I or someone else smart took an IQ test now, and then took another after a dozen hours of practice, there'd be a measurable increase.

I didn't factcheck this; I'll quote it in case someone could spot any issues [bolds mine]:

tl;dr: practice effect is a thing, yes, but people here wildly exaggerate it.

"I think some of it has to do with time limit. If there is a strict time limit, I suspect the effect will be larger than otherwise, for obvious reasons (tell me if they aren't obvious).

I do think there is some practice effect in most perceptual reasoning tests in any case as well.

Someone posted a large meta-study on practice effect not too long ago. I'll link it below. I just took a quick look at it.

There was a significant effect, in fact, the MEAN effect was 0,5SD or 7,5 IQ points. This was after 3 prior tests, and there was no significant practice effect after that. HOWEVER, 2/3 of the population was given THE SAME TEST those 3 tries, and only 1/3 was given alternate forms (though not significantly different).

When looking at retest for alternate forms, the effect was 0,15-0,2SD or ~3 IQ points. HOWEVER, the time interval between retests mattered. If a long time had passed, the effect was smaller (in fact, it was -0,0008SD per week, which seems extremely slow, and it indicates to me that the practice effect is mostly a) feeling comfortable/not-anxious with the test, and b) very general logics, i.e. "I have to look for something rotating" etc.).

What's interesting is that the studies that used alternate forms actually had shorter time intervals than those with identical forms. This means that the impact of alternating forms is even larger than the drop of 0,2-0,35SD relative to identical form retest effect, ceteris paribus.

It should be noted, however, that the retesting of different studies was made with very different amounts of time, as far as I could gather. Some within the same week, others after several years. That's honestly quite a big problem for the study...

It should also be noted that the mean time interval was around half a year. Whether a few studies had a disproportional influence I don't know (one had an interval of around 6 years for example). Our retesting is way more often.

Here's the study: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Retest-effects-in-cognitive-ability-tests%3A-A-Scharfen-Peters/048102820f00a77ec242e5459a7c25ce1bccfa62

A last point of notice is that practice effect and training was helping low-IQ people more than high-IQ people (another test linked by the same redditor also showed this. 10.1016/j.intell.2006.07.006).

Edit: thanks for the silver!"

Edit: the comment: https://old.reddit.com/r/cognitiveTesting/comments/r4qrdv/practice_effect/hmkd0f1/?context=3

I tend to think of IQ tests like BMI tests, at least for what I find them useful for. Not a perfect individual measure but averaged over populations is fine.

Could you cite the studies that corroborate the things you're saying about IQ tests and HBD? I'd have a difficult time believing that you can't do better on IQ tests just because the questions on them are neither infallible nor interesting enough to even come close to doing what they mean to do. I especially don't see how the ones we have right now are good at not being gamed when one glance at any IQ test reveals a bunch of problems that become trivial once you make someone understand a specific pattern or concept. After all they're only made by people, so wouldn't they be susceptible to the issues arising from their inherent biases and ways of thinking?

How could you say that certain races of people are dumber than other races of people when there are innumerable cultural, geographical and economic differences between each race which would complicate any relevant study?

Incredibly controversially in situations like American Jews having a higher IQ on average to American Natives.

Assuming that IQ does what this forum says it does for instance, at what period did you get these races of people to take their IQ tests? Were economic differences between Jews and Natives accounted for? Wouldn't it be irrational to compare the IQ of a Native raised in poverty on a reservation to an affluent Jew from the suburbs? And even if you did somehow account for this difference and only selected Jews and Natives from identical socioeconomic backgrounds how would you take into account their cultural differences? How the average Native is raised compared to the average Jew? What Natives eat throughout their childhood compared to whatever Jewish children eat? I'm sure that there's a lot more things that I haven't thought of that would make this entire thing far fetched.

Also, wouldn't saying this also present an evolutionary inconsistency? While I see how differences in geography and climate could select for traits like increased height or lighter pigmentation in certain races compared to others, what evolutionary advantage would present itself in the relative diminishing of cognition in a race? I'd assume that intelligence is some consistently increasing factor across the evolutionary context in every race driven by technological advancements, with few exceptions and outliers.

Lastly, don't you think that it's futile to discuss things like this to such an extent because you can't really do anything with what you learn? I hardly ever see interesting people think about things like whether or not their IQ exceeds 130 or how intelligent their race is. In my experience these people almost always focus only on doing whatever they like to do, and they wouldn't let something like a standardized test determine the probability of their success in a field they truly care about. If you would let a piece of paper tell you you're not good enough to become an engineer - would you ever have done anything interesting in the first place?

How could you say that certain races of people are dumber than other races of people when there are innumerable cultural, geographical and economic differences between each race which would complicate any relevant study?

It is somewhat difficult, yes! But humanity has climbed steeper cliffs than that. Dropping down to intuition why are there so many jewish Nobel Prize winners in math, physics? If it was really purely cultural, that means we're leaving hundreds of billions of dollars and staggering human achievement off the table by not spreading said culture. Which we are in plenty of other ways, we can't be perfect. but that seems too obvious and easy. (and there aren't that many jewish convert or adoptee winners). And - consider genetic drift, the founder effect, or the ubiquitous physical differences between population groups (no, they aren't fixed races) - skin color, hair, facial shape, height, eyes are obvious, but little things too - native americans have less facial hair, there's earwax, eyes, disease susceptibility, all sorts of subtle differences in body shape, different baseline blood levels, etc. Why wouldn't the pressures that produced those lead to intelligence differences too? Intelligence is so critical for human survival, it's depended on at all levels of human life, its effects on survival and reproduction are innumerable. What if - because it's selected so heavily, there isn't any room for "noise", and all human populations are so heavily pushed to be intelligent they stay at the same level, even while reproductively isolated? Well, do we see that in any other trait? In separate populations of wild species, one sees divergence and difference, even along axes with selection pressure in the same direction. This is the most stark among separate species, where pressures to be fast, get nutritious, not be eaten pushes them into entirely different niches - that isn't at all true of humans, but the same principle works.

Wouldn't it be irrational to compare the IQ of a Native raised in poverty on a reservation to an affluent Jew from the suburbs

But intelligence causes affluence too, richer people tend to have higher IQs than same-race middle class people, and you need intelligence to be a FAANG coder, and a bit less but still quite a bit to be a top lawyer or even actor. If that sounds too weasely the gap doesn't go away when we compare suburban african-americans or natives and suburban jews.

Lastly, don't you think that it's futile to discuss things like this to such an extent because you can't really do anything with what you learn?

... and why is that, exactly?

If you would let a piece of paper tell you you're not good enough to become an engineer - would you ever have done anything interesting in the first place?

I won't let that goddamn cancer diagnosis stop me from living my life. It's just a piece of paper!!!! You're right that IQ isn't an ultimate measure of intelligence, and it's much less interesting than "how intelligent and competent" someone is. But, as in the nobel example - or every single other area of human accomplishment - the same pattern persists. Why are there so many great jewish çomposers, conductors, musicians? Why are there so many of them in hollywood - even if they were evil subverters, that doesn't magically make them better at marketing or acting? Why are SA and Yud jewish?

what evolutionary advantage would present itself in the relative diminishing of cognition in a race? I'd assume that intelligence is some consistently increasing factor across the evolutionary context in every race driven by technological advancements, with few exceptions and outliers

Evolution doesn't merely proceed by advantages. It's not advantageous to have sickle-cell anemia, but it is to avoid malaria, so ... And it sure was advantageous to have light skin in europe, but tens of thousands of years passed between humans settling there and its development. And said development is contingent on random mutations, populations moving, and many other things - there's no reason lighter skin would develop at the same time or rate in separate populations. Same for intelligence!

Apologies for the delayed response, I'm not sure why but I'm not getting notifications on your posts, and I swear I've rechecked this thread since the post date on this so not sure what's going on there. Although having read your responses to others doesn't seem to bode well for a discussion.

Anyways I'm a glutton for pain so troll or not lets roll in the mud, I enjoy it.

Could you cite the studies that corroborate the things you're saying about IQ tests and HBD?

I'm not totally sure what you mean by this. IQ distribution gaps between the races are not scientifically controversial. Pretty much any study on it finds around one standard deviation between white and black American IQ. Here's one but feel free do a basic google search

I'd have a difficult time believing that you can't do better on IQ tests just because the questions on them are neither infallible nor interesting enough to even come close to doing what they mean to do.

I'm not really sure what interesting has to do with anything. Rulers are quite bland objects but are able to measure length very accurately. As for their accuracy I think the measure you're interested in is the test-retest reliability which checks how well a test resists things like training or other factors. IQ tests do quite well on this. Although this is not of the utmost importance when it comes to the HBD angle because much like BMI being a measure of population not really being meaningfully thrown off by bodybuilders to get a population obesity the vast majority of these cross race studies are not giving people multiple tests to study on and very few people are studying recreationally for IQ tests.

I especially don't see how the ones we have right now are good at not being gamed when one glance at any IQ test reveals a bunch of problems that become trivial once you make someone understand a specific pattern or concept.

I'm afraid I'll need you to be more specific. Shape rotation and the like is still cognitively taxing to people irrespective of any "trick", and even if it were a well designed tests either teaches the test taker the "trick" or is designed in such a way to avoid this kind of thing.

After all they're only made by people, so wouldn't they be susceptible to the issues arising from their inherent biases and ways of thinking?

It's a rigorously studied field that is very concerned with making sure their metrics align with outcome data. This is a very general type of criticism, I'd be happy to address something more specific but I'm just not really sure how recognizing patterns in repeating numbers is supposed to be influenced by biases.

How could you say that certain races of people are dumber

I very specifically did not say this. We are talking about population scale averages.

there are innumerable cultural, geographical and economic differences between each race which would complicate any relevant study?

The tests simply don't include culturally relevant data.

Assuming that IQ does what this forum says it does for instance, at what period did you get these races of people to take their IQ tests?

Continuously since the 50s iirc.

Were economic differences between Jews and Natives accounted for. Wouldn't it be irrational to compare the IQ of a Native raised in poverty on a reservation to an affluent Jew from the suburbs.

That's a bit of a strange question, part of how IQ test are anchored to the real world is giving them to similarly situated people and seeing how well it predicts things we care about like educational attainment. Thus the validity of the measure does do things like attempt to hold economic birth status constant, so comparing all the poor natives given the same test and seeing how the scores predict how they do versus eachother. The test is very predictive in this way with the higher scores being correlated with reduced all cause mortality, twitch reflexes, lifetime income, educational attainment, ect. So in the design of the tests these things are held constant. And the effects remain when these things are not held constant within group, a high IQ but poor native compensates for the advantage of a lower IQ but richer native. But as the tests are obviously correlated with economic differences it is kind of nonsensical to account for it when comparing groups, the raw number is what you actually want.

Also, wouldn't saying this also present an evolutionary inconsistency? While I see how differences in geography and climate could select for traits like increased height or lighter pigmentation in certain races compared to others, what evolutionary advantage would present itself in the relative diminishing of cognition in a race?

There is positive pressure for intelligence for sure and studies have shown IQ is rising generation by generation(referred to as the Flynn effect). Speculation into why this is happening is somewhat out of scope here but worth investigating in its own right. As for whether it's somehow inconsistent evolutionarily it isn't for the same reason we haven't also evolved giant muscles and other minor adaptions that seem useful, evolution just isn't that fast and intelligence trades off against things like calorie consumption and birth canal size so there is at least some theoretical downward pressure.

Lastly, don't you think that it's futile to discuss things like this to such an extent because you can't really do anything with what you learn?

I can only speak for myself although I think I'm not alone in being generally not that interested in HBD in itself so much as in how it can be used to answer certain questions that without HBD tend to flare out into the conspiracy realm. When asked why Jews are so overrepresented in highly competitive institutions of power instead of appealing to Jewish conspiracy I can note that a small advantage in the center of a normal distribution can yield disproportionately large amounts on the wings. Likewise I don't need to reach for systemic racism to explain why costly educational interventions meant to close the black-white educational attainment gap have failed with every attempt.

Shape rotation and the like is still cognitively taxing to people irrespective of any "trick"

I was convinced that I had aphantasia in the past, so I didn't even bother to try actually "shape rotating" on these sorts of tasks; I tried to somehow determine "logically" if shape could be rotated some way around.

Now I sorta can do it by visualizing*, but I'm not sure if performance is any better. Definitely cognitively taxing. I hate these tests.

* there's still no actual qualia, I think. But I could will myself to imagine e.g. "an apple", and then examine details. Ofc they're probably generated the moment I look for them, and certainly unstable. Also works for moving visuals - e.g. I could 'see' gameplay of a game I played for hundreds of hours (years ago).

On one LSD trip, I couldn't really think verbally at some point. Possibly that's when I learned this; I'm not sure through.

But I almost never think like this spontaneously. I wonder if it's useful and/or trainable.

again incredibly minor nitpick: IQ is rank-ordered to be normal, and e.g. if multiplicative instead of additive effects are important at the tails IQ might be fatter. So absent evidence that it's normal at the tails, assuming that subpopulations have normally distributed IQ isn't exactly justified. iirc a study measured it somehow and found it was fatter than normal but cant find it

I'm not totally sure what you mean by this. IQ distribution gaps between the races are not scientifically controversial. Pretty much any study on it finds around one standard deviation between white and black American IQ.

For introduction into HBDIQ science, this could be useful starter.

In the Know: Debunking 35 Myths About Human Intelligence.

Author's blog here

Book summarizing the scientific evidence, showing how ironclad it is and debunking the usual anti HBDIQ talking points.

Not who you are asking but I will provide a response to your last paragraph. And all your other concerns will probably be responded to by others anyways because the validity of IQ is an extremely popular opinion here on the Motte. Whilst blankslatism is extremely unpopular. I am surprised you posted here for so long without noticing as much.

Lastly, don't you think that it's futile to discuss things like this to such an extent because you can't really do anything with what you learn?

No. Because.

  1. If we want to make people smarter. We would need a working definition of smartness and a solid way to measure it to know if our interventions are working. This absolutely cannot be ignored. We would also need to know the mechanisms behind it let that be environmental, genetic or whatever to actually address the problem. In short, we can't just look away from it.

  2. You can do things with what you learn. If what you learn is true, then you have a better predictive model of the world than someone who thinks otherwise. The purpose of discussing things is not only to improve something but to understand it as well. You can't understand something and its nth-order effects by.. ignoring it. Just knowing that IQ is group stratified has made my personal model of the World orders of magnitude better are being able to predict things.

I hardly ever see interesting people think about things like whether or not their IQ exceeds 130 or how intelligent their race is.

So what? "Interesting people" is a very subjective term and it's best kept out of supposedly objective discussions.

and they wouldn't let something like a standardized test determine the probability of their success in a field they truly care about

That's literally what a probability is for. Some things are likely, some things are not.

If you are 5'7" tall. You might dream of playing in the NBA but it wouldn't be a lie to tell you that you are overwhelmingly not likely to achieve that dream and that your time and effort is better spent elsewhere.

Why shouldn't we apply the same level of sober pragmatism to matters of intellectual interest? It is exceedingly unlikely that someone with an 85 IQ can obtain a Ph.D. in Physics. If someone with 85 IQ tells me about his theoretical physics dreams, I would be feeding into his delusions if I told him anything other than it's unlikely.

Yes, it sucks for them. It sucks for everyone. But the truth sometimes sucks.

If you would let a piece of paper tell you you're not good enough to become an engineer - would you ever have done anything interesting in the first place?

Thousands of people do this every day. As they get rejected from their programs of choice or get an F grade in calculus. They get told they are not good enough and that's the end of it. 50% of engineering students drop out.


The truth is worth whatever it is worth regardless of how much it hurts to accept it. The fact that it is hard to accept it isn't a very good reason to not seek it out.

Not who you are asking but I will provide a response to your last paragraph. And all your other concerns will probably be responded to by others anyways because the validity of IQ is an extremely popular opinion here on the Motte.

Why not respond to the whole thing? Surely if you are adamant that what you say is true, shouldn't you be able to explain these things with your own independent thinking rather than through relying on the surrounding hive mind? And if it is a popular sentiment, shouldn't it be easy for you to articulate the validity of IQ or HBD such that anyone could understand it, given you've talked about these things enough times already?

No. Because.

When I asked you about the futility of discussing things like IQ I meant you and the forum specifically rather than society as a whole, since you seem to have put a lot of thought into something that seemingly has no direct effect on you. But I will still read what you wrote because I truly am interested in why you think IQ is so important.

If we want to make people smarter. We would need a working definition of smartness and a solid way to measure it to know if our interventions are working. This absolutely cannot be ignored. We would also need to know the mechanisms behind it let that be environmental, genetic or whatever to actually address the problem. In short, we can't just look away from it.

I think that while your heart is in the right place, you're effectively making up a problem that doesn't exist. We already have a working definition of smartness - if your work is great, everyone sooner or later will agree that you're smart. Nobody is frantically searching for a way to quantify smartness or even define it because it is and always has been self-evident. There's probably environmental factors that predispose people for even greater smartness but I doubt they would diverge much from the very same recommendations that have persisted since the very beginning of recorded history: ample exercise, excellent nutrition, peer bonding and carefully considered, intellectually stimulating leisure. Perhaps you can try desperately to have children with someone who has also demonstrated their abnormal intelligence, but I think that this would be a very silly and likely vain effort.

You can do things with what you learn. If what you learn is true, then you have a better predictive model of the world than someone who thinks otherwise. The purpose of discussing things is not only to improve something but to understand it as well. You can't understand something and its nth-order effects by.. ignoring it. Just knowing that IQ is group stratified has made my personal model of the World orders of magnitude better are being able to predict things.

Could you elaborate on this? And if you don't mind me asking, how has your personal model of the world been made better by your knowledge of IQ and specifically HBD?

So what? "Interesting people" is a very subjective term and it's best kept out of supposedly objective discussions.

I was being a little disingenuous here since I really meant to put successful people. I haven't met any successful people who think about IQ or are aware of something like HBD. While I'll concede that this was inappropriate, wouldn't you agree that subjectivity is important when discussing this? I think that you're missing the bigger picture when you refrain from discussing the sentimental aspects of this or how it effects people on an individual basis rather than through what you consider an objective perspective.

That's literally what a probability is for. Some things are likely, some things are not.

If you are 5'7" tall. You might dream of playing in the NBA but it wouldn't be a lie to tell you that you are overwhelmingly not likely to achieve that dream and that your time and effort is better spent elsewhere.

Why shouldn't we apply the same level of sober pragmatism to matters of intellectual interest? It is exceedingly unlikely that someone with an 85 IQ can obtain a Ph.D. in Physics. If someone with 85 IQ tells me about his theoretical physics dreams, I would be feeding into his delusions if I told him anything other than it's unlikely.

Yes, it sucks for them. It sucks for everyone. But the truth sometimes sucks.

Evidently some things are unlikely. What I meant to say is that if you're willing to let the initial unlikelihood of your success deter you from obtaining success, you are probably never going to do anything worthwhile anyways because you lack the courage to put in the work and take risks.

If Muggsy Bogues took what you're saying to heart he would've never joined the NBA to become a 5'3" champion because he would've considered his stature a disability. And if someone with an IQ of 85 told me about his theoretical physics dreams I would tell him he's a liar - if he really liked it that much then he would have a higher IQ, just because he would have spent his childhood doing complicated arithmetic to work towards his vision (early specialization) and his youthful mind would've risen to meet the occasion. But what good would it do either of us if I put him down without knowing his potential? If he really likes what he does more than everyone else, why shouldn't he succeed? Keeping this in mind, I'd instead wish him good luck on his endeavors and I'd pray for his imminent success.

Even if the odds of me succeeding were near impossible I would still do what I do and die trying. I can't possibly be bogged down by the esoteric, probabilistic nonsense that burdens people day in and day out - the only direction I can possibly go in is up. So I don't mean to be rude, but I think that what you call sober pragmatism is really just your attempt to rationalize your own feelings.

The truth is worth whatever it is worth regardless of how much it hurts to accept it. The fact that it is hard to accept it isn't a very good reason to not seek it out.

I very much want what you say about IQ and HBD to be true. I want to believe that I'm special because of a test, and I want to believe that I'm smarter than other people because of my race. These fantasies sound fun to entertain, but I'm not going to go believing something unless I'm shown proof.

More comments

You kind of give the impression that you're playing at ignorance, but to address the "but IQ test must be easily learnable", I'll point you towards various standardized tests (SATs, GREs, MCAT, LSAT). They are incredibly important for getting into various schools, and people fight very hard to get to those schools. While training courses exist, they generally don't do much, and if it were as easy as you seem to think, everyone would have 100% anyway.

Seriously, have you ever taken a standardized test? Did you ace it? If not, do you think it's only because you couldn't be bothered?

These are not IQ tests. Note that I said like standardized tests. Although irrelevant to the discussion, the tests you specifically mention are things you need to study for. The top performers on these tests are people from supportive family structures who apply themselves rigorously and consistently.

More comments

Even if IQ was trainable, that too would also be predictive of IQ. The result is harder IQ tests in which the ability to study just becomes another proxy for IQ

I'd argue it is trivial to implement a test significantly superior to the IQ tests.

E.g. Obviously test for the ability to detect cognitive biases and logical fallacies.

I don't mean to offend you but what characterizes the discourse of this forum as more sophisticated than whatever you would find on any other similar forum? It seems like the reoccurring topics here are usually politics, IQ and the internet. You can find people talking about these things in a lot of places, and I think the only difference is people will use more big words here than in any other place. And most of the people here are pretty similar to people you'd find in any other internet community - they're usually somewhat addicted to the internet and have careers as software engineers or some other computer adjacent thing. Nothing discussed here is neither really worthwhile or impactful (albeit entertaining), since you can't really move past shady thinking or come up with anything new when most of the people here kind of think and act similarly. But these are shortcomings of the prevalent medium of discussion. Any attempt to facilitate communication between people without face to face interactions will inevitably fall short, and any further moderation or regulation on top of this attempt will have an impact on discourse that may be considered marginally effective at best and detrimental at worst. Don't you think that your unawareness of this means that your perspective is too narrow for you to consider that the people you speak of don't care about anything that goes on in any internet people forum - much less a forum comprised of people who refer to themselves as high brow rationalists with a straight face?

TM - The Motte

You are probably not selecting the smartest people on generalist online forums. You are selecting people who have online discussions, to begin with, then you further stratify those people into more groups based on discussion quality, and so on. You are also somewhat biased towards the discourse norms that are the most pleasant to you. Not to mention community vision, TM wants to talk, Sneerclub wants to sneer, not the same objective.

Mottes Strengths
  • The Motte in my experience does seem to be the strongest generalist contender of all online forums I have come across. Not in terms of sheer intelligence; but discourse norms, clarity of thought/argument, good faith, generality, and breadth of topics.

  • Discourse norms. Deserves repetition.

Mottes Weaknesses
  • Depth is the most apparent weakness of TM, I do sometimes have my Gell Mann Amnesia broken when I read about something I know a fair bit about.

  • Another weakness of TM is that I think a lot of people here are your typical "nerds", some of the things you see being said are only things that someone who never stepped foot outside of a classroom or lives in an extremely affluent bubble would say. Intelligent people with a working-class or non-academic background are obviously underrepresented. This is a weakness because if you are going to discuss the CW, you will end up discussing the real world and most of the people in it, it would serve you well knowing how THEY think.

  • Strong American tunnel vision as well on part of some of the posters (a lot of things don't make sense if you are only aware of the American talking points; see Urban planning, political correctness/ wokeism, the political spectrum, and its dimensions).

  • It is kind of ironic that for a community of programmers, TM settled for a fork of rDrama. This might be a passion issue but raises some questions nonetheless. TM isn't hackernews but TM isn't /r/redscarepod either. This point is probably not worth thinking much about, I am sure the alternatives/tradeoffs were considered. Ultimately it's an optics thing.

  • Skews older. Culture is moving too fast to not have enough smart young people taking part in the CULTURE war discussions. I am surprised at the number of people who don't use social media in this blog or have no idea of the current memespace developments even though social media is the defining feature of our times culture. Yes, I am aware that the discourse norms are discriminating against them heavily.

Passion Issue

One of my smartest friends (restricting anecdotes to peers because I know of their habits, can't really tell you if my Math Professor uses Reddit) is doing a Ph.D. in CS at a top university in Canada and had 8 relatively well-cited publications by the time he was done with his master's. He does not discuss any abstract topics, let alone highly contentious CW ones at a high level, his opinions are normie opinions at best. Likewise for all the other "smart" people I know.

I am yet to meet anyone who holds opinions that are as well-defended and coherent as those you would find on the motte. So there is a strong confounder of "people who actually put in the effort to think and form opinions on a certain set of topics, and then write about them to strangers online!" that you need to be aware of when making that judgment. That tendency might correlate with intelligence, but I wouldn't posit that correlation is strong. Intelligence is more of a precondition than a corollary.

So be sure you know exactly WHAT you are looking for.

I am surprised at the number of people who don't use social media in this blog

Just as an anecdotal data point: the most social-media addicted people that I know are all older than forty (amongst them, a 76-year old lady hooked on Tik Tok), whereas I know quite a few people under 30 who have quit all social media.

I'm near-30 and I might be one of the most plugged-in to recent meme culture here.

A lot of people here (probably most) use social media, but only those who oppose it typically bring it up in discussion. But you see a lot of casual references to Twitter and Instagram.

It makes sense. For those who use it, it's just the statu quo, whereas those who don't are very aware that they are swimming upstream.

Twitter is hardly social media. Or more specifically rarely is anyone from GenZ following people they know on Twitter. Instagram > TikTok > Twitter, as far as how "social" the website is. TikTok is the big cultural force, and Instagram is the sociocultural force. Twitter is more media than social, It has sway in some circles (western urban millenials) but the veracity/volume doesn't compare relative to the other two.

By my count, if you're following people not topics, it's social media.

s. Not in terms of sheer intelligence; but discourse norms, clarity of thought/argument, good faith, generality, and breadth of topics.

Clarity? Not really. Huge walls of text that can be succinctly spelled out in a few sentences is not clarity. Smart, yeah. Motte posters are pretty smart.

Skews older. Culture is moving too fast to not have enough smart young people taking part in the CULTURE war discussions. I am surprised at the number of people who don't use social media in this blog or have no idea of the current memespace developments even though social media is the defining feature of our times culture. Yes, I am aware that the discourse norms are discriminating against them heavily.

Social media is too hard to get momentum, too much based on luck and connections, too much noise. Posting on The Motte means you have an audience right here. Twitter is known to censor for using certain words or tone, which isn't the case here.

Huge walls of text that can be succinctly spelled out in a few sentences is not clarity.

It reduces the chance of being misunderstood, lowers inferential distance to everyone. I'm not claiming it's universally good ofc.

Clarity? Not really. Huge walls of text that can be succinctly spelled out in a few sentences is not clarity.

Nobody's perfect at this, but I think we do pretty well for what we discuss.

Ph.D. in CS at a top university in Canada and had 8 relatively well-cited publications by the time he was done with his master's. He does not discuss any abstract topics, let alone highly contentious CW ones at a high level, his opinions are normie opinions at best. Likewise for all the other "smart" people I know.

This is spot on. All of my smartest friends go to their lab/startup-wework at 8am and come back home at 1am in the night. They barely have time wipe their own butts, let alone waste time on the internet. The most well rounded ones find time to work out, eat well & to pursue 1 hobby (or children) to the same unhealthy (but healthy?) levels as their careers. If I had to really stretch it, there are some who find time to socialize, party & maybe watch Joe Rogan / Huberman.

I am yet to meet anyone who holds opinions that are as well-defended and coherent as those you would find on the motte.

My observation is that thinking about the world & your own place in it throws people into deep crises of meaning. The top 0.01% of productive people simply do not have the time to throw themselves into such a crisis. So, they hold onto whatever ideas they inherit unquestioningly, and keep trudging along in the area of focus.


There are 2 exceptions to the rule.

Unmedicated ADHD types who can summon hyper-focus semi-reliably : Motte is the distraction they engage in, and somehow make up for it by hyper focusing into meeting impossible deadlines. I like to think I semi-fall into this category. This cycle is very prone to burn-out though. So, the entire group has periodic crash-and-burns every couple of years. (Yes, I am projecting)

The types who had an early-life crisis of meaning : This includes the Huberman types. How does a skater boy become a Stanford professor ? These people aren't necessarily as online. But, at some point they had a early-life crisis, and went through a lot of the same motte-esque emotions and meaning-finding exercises. The outcome was them finding something they could truly laser focus on, which them led to a meteoric rise into becoming part of the elite. I love this group of people. You can sometimes find them at a party suddenly zoning out with that thousand yard stare. Sometimes it is the hidden tattoos. But these people are a treasure trove of wisdom. Find a person like this to mentor you, man does it help you mature super fast.

Unmedicated ADHD types who can summon hyper-focus semi-reliably

Happy to see it mentioned.

Note however that i have unmedicated ADD and the few times I tried amphetamines it enhanced my hyperfocusing obsessive ability instead of decreasing it.

An effect that seems logical, since it give me more energy (which I chronically lack) and make thinking/reading even more pleasant.

Whenever I read stuff like this I wonder how someone can possibly know enough people to come up with such specific categories of people. If I know anyone who matches any of the types you've described, I don't know them well enough to know that they do. Are there just a lot of people who are social to a level that I have difficulty imagining?

social to a level that I have difficulty imagining?

Not exactly, but the style of being social is different. I make sure that the relationships I do form are intimate (even platonically) and not just surface level. I am the kind of person who catches up with a friend once in 6 months, but when we do, we talk for 2-3 hours. A lot comes out.

I have always lived with a lot of roommates, and seeing anyone day-in-and-day-out is a great way of getting to know them well enough. I have also been very open about my experiences in therapy, unconventional career change struggles & my past of being brutally bullied. So, people will often open up to me because they see me as having opened myself up to them. Lastly, I mentor a lot of younger early-in-career types. There are at least 6 people I am directly mentoring, and half-a-dozen who I will offer an ear to every once in a while. These kids will usually come to me with very specific problems & circumstances that they or their peers are facing. The whole thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because my immediate network naturally ends up including people who themselves have huge intimate networks. So, I end up 2 degrees of separation from a lot of specific stories & theories of people's lives.

I guess my history with bullying forces me to try and get a read on a person within my first few minutes of meeting them. I am not very successful, but there is a reflexive observation of a person that I need to do before engaging which might play a role in me bucketizing people. I am not social in the traditional sense at all. I didn't start drinking until I was 27, and even then only have a beer. I don't dance, I still can't pick up on cues as well and I rarely do truly reckless things.

wonder how someone can possibly know enough people to come up with such specific categories of people.

Hubris. At some point, I am projecting my own read on them from limited interactions with that person. I am also notorious for confidently stating models of the world that I come up on the fly. Ask me again tomorrow and I might give you a different answer.

It is kind of ironic that for a community of programmers, TM settled for a fork of rDrama. This might be a passion issue but raises some questions nonetheless. TM isn't hackernews but TM isn't /r/redscarepod either. This point is probably not worth thinking much about, I am sure the alternatives/tradeoffs were considered. Ultimately it's an optics thing.

I was around the development group more when the choice was made to settle on rDrama. There are indeed a lot of other forum systems out there, some of which are using more sophisticated technology. But if you really dig into them, virtually all of them are one-person projects that have never had any significant contributions from anyone other than the original creator, have never been proven on a high-traffic site, particularly with mega-threads like we do and probably at least a few active attackers, and have basically no thought put into proper moderator tools or anti-spam. At least a few of them are also actively hostile to anything non-woke - see the Lemmy slur filter scandal.

rDrama may not be the best designed system out there, but it's at least okay, is open-source in the form that actually serves production traffic, is reasonably well-supported, has some decent mod tools that were straightforward to expand, and has been cooperative with us.

my god the lemmy thing was pathetic. Hadn't seen it before.

"We have made our policy clear on this topic, and we are not going to change it. So there is no point arguing about it, fuck off nazibigot!"

"we have changed our policy on this topic, the slur filter is now entirely optional"

Yup. Even though they did eventually make it directly configurable by the forum admins after all, would you really want to be downstream of a team that says things like that? Who knows what they're gonna do next?

Two of the maintainers got Fidel Castro profile pictures.. on Github! You can't make this shit up.

Also, it's so frustrating reading all these texts about why a hardcoded filter doesn't make technical sense when all you really want to say is "motherfucker you don't decide what I can or can't say! technical considerations be damned". It's suffocating really.

I guess I’m just asking “what is the next tier of discourse above this one.”

The next tier doesn't exist in online forums although it can happen in some 1 to 1 private DMs.

The reason is simple, it's not even about the lack of geniuses.

It is that mental energy is an extremely scarce resource.

People are universally fucking lazy and have a budget of only a few minutes per comments.

On the rare instances where someone does lengthy researched comments, like I sometimes do, the person will systematically face disappointment as the probability that the community will engage with as much knowledge as passion and him are close to zero. Not even in the same order of magnitude.

Online communities are extremely poor, extremely scarce in energy.

I'm constantly seeing people stop at the same layer of the discourse, repeat the same shit they seem to systematically never learn from, until they die.

As usual, it is a tragedy to see what I see, and to this problem, there is almost no remedy.

hyper-focused subject-matter communities, usually by invite only or knowing certain people. Special Discord groups, etc.

The next tier of discourse is gated off, because it requires a very high level depth in a field to engage in that of discourse.

  • After-work research-lab dinners with a little bit of alcohol and out of earshot of your PI

  • long-form podcasts (think some of the stuff Razib/Huberman do...less so Rogan/Lex)

  • (pre-covid) certain meetups in areas of very-very high academic + economic activity (Basically Berkeley, Boston & Palo Alto)

  • (post-covid) very closed off private discord groups

If your question is, where do where the smart kids of smart millionaires hang out, then the unfortunate answer is in exclusive frats of ivy league universities. The quality of discourse is low, but damn does a shit ton of money flow through the naïve hands of these 20yr old brats.

After-work research-lab dinners with a little bit of alcohol and out of earshot of your PI

Nope. I attend a lot of them and none of them come close to a good discussion on TM.

There isn’t really a ‘next tier’ of discourse. There are people who know a lot more about specific topics, or who have better gossip, or are better connected (although not by much), but there aren’t secret super elite conversations that are way more advanced or complex than ones we have here out there. The median intelligence and level of education here is probably similar to that of the average American billionaire.

Specific topics will vary, but after dinner conversation with very smart elites isn’t “more advanced” than it is here, although of course in real life credentialism, arguments from authority and status games complicate discourse.

there aren’t secret super elite conversations that are way more advanced or complex than ones we have here out there

I beg to differ I think the motte can be disrupted, I intend to write a blog about it.

Where are they?

  1. Obscure internet forums / platforms are by definition obscure. To hear about them here, one needs to be lucky: (1) someone who knows about such a place comes here and (2) wants to share a link here. Rationalist sphere was quite special in their mission to evangelize rationalism and reach out on the internet; not every discussion group has such objective. (I'd imagine such groups should be careful where they recruit.)

  2. Agreed with this and this: the elites have offline and not-public platforms.

I have long been in a quest of finding the smartest people on earth.

I have come to the solid conclusion that such people do not in fact, exists.

Or if they do, they are not present on online forums and their only observable content on the internet would be via their academic papers.

But even so, academic papers are for the major part very rarely brilliant/maximally salient/exhaustive.

Scott Alexander, Yudkowsky and other "superstars" are extremely flawed human beings that have both a deficit of fluid intelligence and an extreme deficit of crystallized intelligence. If they appear sometimes markedly above the average "rationalist", it doesn't change the fact they are extremely deficient compared to what a Homo logicus can achieve.

I have many key data points that proves that the ideal human being has not manifested yet on this earth and most importantly no non-crazy human being has manifested on this earth.

As I am the human that has collected the most signals towards maximal saliency/bypassing natural crazyness, I believe to be the least intellectually dysfunctional human being of this timeline, a finding I should bring a demonstration for in a future blog.

I have come to the solid conclusion that such people do not in fact, exists.

So you have concluded that people can't be ordered by intelligence? Because if they can, surely there will be some that will be "the smartest", regardless if they conform to some preconceived notion of "being the smartest".

No, of course, I didn't litterally mean that there isn't a smartest human on earth (although here I specifically mean maximal debiasing, not about other heterogeneous cognitive abilities), there is one by design, however my point was that human being is sadly not significantly above the other ones in the top. In fact they're quite mediocre and most must reach a deceiving plateau.

Yes, I more or less agree with that. I also think that IQ is just part of the story. It's probably a fundamental ingredient, but it's far from being enough to define an intellectually extraordinary person.

I find IQ tests deeply inept there must be a lesser known better set of tests.

The simple fact among many that we don't even test for the detection of cognitive biases and logical fallacies in ourselves and in others is remarkably degenerate.

It's hard to know for sure, but any list of smartest people must include Field's Medalists. Certain math and physics doctorates, like pure math or theoretical physics, and also child prodigies. The amount of abstract 'stuff' that must be assimilate to understand those topics is significant.

Indeed that is a nice heuristic but I feel if this was true for past geniuses (e.g. Euler) however this should be less and less true.

Mathematics have reached a plateau and for all matters has been replaced via the curry Howard correspondence by computer science and software engineering and to some extent machine learning.

There are very few important open problems left and the ones that are left are either non-computable, non provable or false, or are long known, conjectured to be true but can't be proven for all cases because of contrived details.

And that is what mathematics are increasingly, an interest in deeply contrived things.

Many of those contrivations are contingencies, but there's also a lot that shouldn't even exist in the first place under a proper finitist framework.

Do you see genius in the last major proofs?

IIRC what has allowed the Poincaré conjecture millennium prize to be solved for all cases even the many contrived ones, has "simply" or at least essentially been a new way to bruteforce the problem, essentially via a specific software made for it.

Most of the genius we attribute to mathematics is a derivation of a few factors:

  • Obscurantism as a culture, especially elite notations for denoting trivial things. Notation which mostly have no IDE support btw.

  • as said lack of IDE tooling/culture

  • the desire of having fun/ideology such as rejecting finitism. See e.g rational trigonometry. There is a semi-similar parallel with the quantum physics culture.

  • many historical accidents which alter how we teach maths.

Learning data structures and algorithms in computer science should be enough for someone to demysticize mathematics.

Mathematics have changed the world for the better and many of its concepts are useful for a rationalist mind's, however I'm afraid the lack of non-contrived nor real-world impacting challenges combined with the semi-anti intellectual/contrived culture would limits/bottleneck someone intellectual development instead of strengthening it, as a life main occupation.

Of course this is only a generalization.

Note however that regardless of that, fields medals are like Nobel prizes, a weak signal since they do a very poor job at representing who drove the most progress in a question and only show, allegedly, the last person in the problem solving chain.

IIRC the Russian that solved the millennium problema didn't reject the monetary prize because he was hermit weirdo as depicted by some medias, but as a political act since he didn't deserved most of the recognition.

Note however that regardless of that, fields medals are like Nobel prizes, a weak signal since they do a very poor job at representing who drove the most progress in a question and only show, allegedly, the last person in the problem solving chain.

It's imperfect, sure, but a good starting point if one seeks to compile such a hierarchy. Better than the Nobel Prize, at least, except for maybe physics. The politization of the Nobel Prize has long tainted it.

The prior art in mathematics is enormous. To make progress you have to assimilate all this difficult information, which in and of itself, is indicative of having very high with IQ. Whether or not the results are useful is another matter. Major findings are now on the margins, which I think raises the IQ barriers to entry.

I would hope the smartest individual in this timeline wouldn't be wasting valuable time justifying their intelligence to lesser wits.

Solving actual problems seems a better use of their time.

Contrary to popular belief, time isn't a scarce resource, what is however very scarce, is the amount of time we maximally meaningfully allocate.

Being the least irrational mind on earth is mostly contingent/hortogonal to being a "functional" human being.

In fact maximizing someone's rationality necessarily ultimately leads to a strong dissonance between your thoughts and your actions.

Having a maximal impact on the world is not something I can easily achieve via the use of my physical body. It is much more efficient to design solutions in the realm of ideas than to implement them physically.

In fact to maximally alter the world, one must either communicate his ideas/world's actionable roadmap via the internet and/or accumulate power including via external recognition.

So in fact defending the case that I could informatively disrupt this world should be one of my top priorities and in an ideal world the rationalist/effective altruist diaspora would leverage it and share to me funding, visibility and other kinds of effectors to reality.

I think the very top of the food chain is just not online in the traditional sense. My father has a doctorate in history and is a pretty successfull lawyer with some measure of political influence, and he doesn't care about the public internet at all, unless he can get information from it for his cases. Some of his clients are very much the elite of the elite, and I don't think they ever used a forum in their lifes.

He is however in an email circle for certain historical topics where only recognised academics in a non-anonymous fashion share sources and new essays and such, I don't think the top brass of human intelligence cares for anonymity much, as due to Pareto distribution the higher you put the standards the smaller the circle of possible subjects becomes to the point where it becomes reasonable to just know everyone by name.

Great question and interesting observation by Fussell — I'll have to checkout that book.

About that observation: it reminds me of something Yud said back on LessWrong. I forget the quote and context completely, but the gist is that you can recognize intelligence below your own, but not above. This has disturbing implications if true, and I think it might be. Imagine snatching a random /r/politics user and plopping them down in our main thread. What do you think they would think of it? Would they be amazed at our level of detachment and erudition? Our attention to detail, willingness to take criticism, and ability to root out bad actors? Or would they be totally disinterested and even consider us the dumb ones? I think the latter is more likely.

So, given that there probably is a more intelligent forum out there, do you think we would even be able to appreciate it if we found it? It's interesting to ponder.

Another question: it what ways could this place be better?

As @Lykurg points out, Yud's assertion is that one cannot accurately rank people much smarter than oneself – not that they cannot be recognized to be smarter. I can only take Fermi's word that von Neumann was way smarter than himself whereas Fermi's top student was dumber, but in physics all of them would be able to pass any reasonable exam I could devise with perfect marks; and the same logic can apply to holistic subjective estimation that doesn't rely, again, on ranking metrics devised by the superior group.

As for forums, my impression is that TheMotte is near the top of open doors generalist pique waistcoat lounges and has a nice epistemic culture, but it's not supremely smart. Extropians were apparently a lot smarter. Lesswrong is still smarter (if misguided). CredibleDefense or WarCollege or something, last I checked, were smarter in high-tier threads (if less effortful), and their domain-specific discussions were not marked by rationalist first-principles overconfidence we still suffer from (although it's way better than generic internet honor culture of always-doubling-down). Same, but even more unfit for generalist discussions, in professional spaces or in competitive game communities; and there happen to be high-trust smoking rooms adjacent to those spaces, but you'll need a pass. Rdrama is too smart/too frenetic/not autistic enough for me so I can't say much, but I can tell they have Yud's ancient vampires.

I'd say even sneerclub is smarter than us – because it takes some brainpower to convince oneself of a contradictory world model when you already have a better one and can comprehend it. Twitter subnetworks can be frighteningly smart, even if prone to clowning.

The smartest people I knew only bother with online discussion once in a blue moon, in ever.

I suppose +5SD freaks who aren't content/able to fuck bitches and dominate their profession or rock international politics or something discover each other through Cicada 3301 tier mind-fuckery, steganography and darknet webrings.

This reminds me:

A group of French mathematicians, known by the pseudonym Nicolas Bourbaki, has invented a procedure of cocotization (the name apparently comes from an ancient custom of Polynesian tribes to test old men to see if they are still useful to the tribe: the old man has to get a coconut from the top of a coconut palm, which the whole tribe shakes while doing so...) for the purpose of getting rid of people suffering cognitive decline. A mathematician whose youth is in doubt is made to listen, in the presence of colleagues who are in on the joke, to a long definition of a new mathematical concept, drawn up in such a way that nothing but zero satisfies this definition. If he cries out: "But that's just zero! " he is saved; if not, he is cocotized.

A community without such rituals cannot be truly big-brained.

It’s a complex question because there are a lot of very high IQ individuals who hang out on train or weapon autist forums writing 25,000 word treatises on early 20th century Dutch locomotives or whatever. Where do the absolute highest IQ people on the internet hang out? Obviously theoretical math discussion groups full of people with PhDs in math from top universities. There is no better answer than this.

That obviously wasn’t what the OP was talking about, though. “Where do people smarter than us who enjoy discussing generalist topics, including politics and culture and who have other interests in psychology, economics, tech and so on, who are generally personable, with a high standard of discourse and large amounts of general knowledge, who write very well, are open to heterodox ideas and who are good conversationalists with interesting anecdotes and stories hang out?” was the actual question, and if anyone knows, I’m all ears.

“Yeah, there are, but they wouldn’t let YOU in, you loser/pleb/imbecile” isn’t a good answer.

Well, I suspect open doors generalist forums do end around this level; and that even we are viable only because we're obscure and pretty much nobody comes in.

I'm sorry, children, but everytime I read something like that from Yudkowsky - emoji reaction: 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

I shouldn't be giving opinions when I'm not familiar enough with the man or the milieu, but the bits I encounter do make me think he has a chip on his shoulder about his intellect (and apparently he did not go to college, or does not have a conventional degree, or something? so there is a grudge about needing credentials for a 'pass' in academic circles?). He also does not strike me as someone with much of a sense of humour.

E.g., someone once earnestly told me that I was really bright, and "ought to go to college".

Or perhaps, EY, that person was slyly and subtly yanking your chain. Especially if you carry on like a vain, insecure woman needing to ask the magic mirror if she is the prettiest in the land:

When Marcello Herreshoff had known me for long enough, I asked him if he knew of anyone who struck him as substantially more natively intelligent than myself.

Who does that? Who waits for the opportunity to ask random acquaintances "So, uh, hey. Exactly how big would you say my brain was?" and then gets disappointed when told "There's this guy who is really, really smart"? If you go around asking "Am I the prettiest in all the land?", you are setting yourself up for "Snow White is prettier".

And "Well, you strike me as smart alright, you ought to go to college, you know!" 😉 If you go fishing for compliments, you're liable to pull up a few old boots instead of the plump trout you were hoping for.