17 January 2009

Cleverness and success

It is starting to be admitted that a high proportion of the cleverest do not make it, in the sense of becoming members of the immensely expanded ‘university’ population. We suppose that ‘cleverest’ has at least some correlation with ‘having the highest IQs in the old-fashioned sense’. IQ was defined originally as a predictor of academic success in the system that prevailed at the time.

It is not difficult (one might say, it has not been difficult) to devise an ‘educational’ system which favours certain personality types rather than others, and favours specific levels of IQ, which may be far below the highest occurring. But then, of course, the personality types which are discriminated against are to be described as defective in some way; it cannot be that the system has treated them with particular hostility. Bruce Charlton* refers to ‘awkward, abrasive and wildly creative’ individuals, as well as to ‘clever crazies’ and ‘idiot savants’.

I might infer from my own experience that when an obvious anomaly occurs, in that someone with obviously exceptional ability is being cast out, as I was, it is regarded as a justification for slandering them with psychological interpretations of any kind, which do not have to bear any relation to factual reality, except perhaps as an inversion of it.

Nor is it necessary for the various slanders to be consistent with one another. When I was at school I was supposed to be both a reluctant mediocrity driven by an ambitious father, as well as (in other contexts) greedy, selfish and ambitious in wishing to acquire qualifications as fast as possible and much younger than other people, so as to sneer at and score off those who were not able to do so.

On being thrown out of college, I am pretty sure (from what came back to me) that I was widely credited with being both reclusive and wildly creative. Both being reasons for assuming that I did not want to return to an academic career, and that my attempts to do so should be opposed.

In a recent blog piece, Fabian Tassano comments on the possibility that his ideas may have had some influence on what is expressed by some journalists, but always without any acknowledgement which might draw attention to his existence or make his books slightly more saleable.

A journalist may wish to adorn his work with references to Harvard economists or Booker-winning novelists, but what incentive does he have to cite someone with no significant social status? Only a moral one. In other words, none.

Actually I would put the case more strongly. In the case of a statusless person who has been unfairly deprived of their rightful position in society, all and sundry behave as if they had a moral obligation to keep him down and out.

* 'Why are scientists so dull?', Oxford Magazine, Issue 281.

10 January 2009


Another book (Outliers – The story of success by Malcolm Gladwell) has been published on how there is no such thing as genius or ‘a born scientist’, supposedly proved by the fact that the Beatles put in a lot of time performing and star hockey players practise a lot. This book is receiving a lot of critical attention, far more so than any of our books ever do. Our books are always as far as possible suppressed and ignored.

On a very unpleasant TV police drama series about a serial killer, of which I watched only a few fragments as it was so unpleasant, I saw a father being interviewed about his daughter who had been murdered. The father was saying that his daughter had been ‘very focussed’ on her studies and believed in working hard so as to have no difficulties in later life. This was evidently regarded as indicative of wicked attitudes on the part of the father, and putting him in line to be suspected of murdering her.

I am afraid that when I was at school and until his health broke down, my father played into the hands of my enemies in the local educational community in this sort of way. I was always very angry at him discussing me with people behind my back if I knew about it. I thought that both my father and any educational expert should seek my permission before saying anything that was supposed to be representing my interests, and ascertain that I accepted their views as doing so. In fact I did not trust my father nor anyone he might talk to about me to represent my interests at all. I think my father was wrong to be drawn into discussing me behind my back, or even in my presence, but I blame the wicked agents of the collective far more than I blame him for allowing them to influence him against me.

At a recent seminar I said to a fairly young ‘psychologist’ that there used to be this theory about ambition and a desire to get on in young people being the result of ‘pushy’ parents, and he said this idea was still held and it was certainly true, according to his own observations, of every young person he had ever known.

I do not know of any case in which I would be so confident as that of being able to identify the causes of someone’s attitudes.

In the same police drama, discussing a girl who had been murdered who was said to have taken a cheap method of transport, the investigator asked, ‘Why did she do that?’
‘So as to save money’,
‘Why would she want to save money? She did not have a family.’

When I went to the Society for Psychical Research after being thrown out (thrown out of academia and hence, in fact, out of organised society) I saw that saving money was the only thing I could do to help myself, and I worked on it every day. Could I add a few extra shillings to my capital at the end of the day? From then until now, increasing my capital, however slightly, by saving out of negligible income has remained the centre of my life. Saving money is not acceptable, as I discovered, and no one was prepared to make concessions for the fact that, needing the best sort of university career as badly as I did, and deprived of all normal means of progressing towards a tolerable life, I had to start building up capital towards the cost of setting up an independent university for myself, with at least one residential college with dining facilities, at least one research department, and a university press for publishing books.

Within four years of leaving college I had saved £2,000; I could not conceal this from W.H. Salter and Sir George Joy when they were ostensibly supporting me in making plans for setting up my first mini research department cum residential college in the Coombe-Tennant house. It aroused shock and disapproval, even in Salter, who had lived off a private income all his life, and from then on everyone united in attempts to squeeze me to death and force me to sell the small house in Kingston Road, Oxford, which was the first house I bought.

So when I announced to Sir George that I had bought the freehold of a larger house in Banbury Road, that was the end of decades of building up capital by saving, against opposition which took the form of trying to squeeze me to death.

It was, and still is, very like a siege. No supplies or relief of any kind are allowed to reach the beleaguered garrison.

04 January 2009

Academic training

To revert to the question of why everyone has always opposed me. Well, unfortunately, as it seems, I represent a number of things that the modern ideology wants to obliterate.

Socialism (or reversion to tribalism) is aimed at the elimination of individual freedom (= money = territory of decision). Hence, in academic contexts, it leads to a great increase in ‘supervised’ intellectual activity, and allowing/forcing people to do things ‘under supervision’.

In my teens I visited Cambridge with my parents; I remember feeling very miserable at the time. Perhaps this was the visit on which I struggled to obtain physics entrance papers in Heffers when my father had finishing buying maths ones for me.

However that may be, we met a young man out walking a dog and my parents chatted to him after getting directions from him. He was a research student, I was told, living in lodgings in a nearby house. He had taken his degree and that was what he was doing now. I became even more depressed. I had not taken a single degree yet and I was being forced to attend a school against my will.

Actually doing research, or living in any way I could get anything out of, was even further off in a gloomy future.

I think that the concept of a research student became much more dominant in post-war academia; as an undergraduate I was told that a D.Phil had not formerly been regarded as a necessary first stage in an academic career; in many subjects people who got Firsts could proceed straight away to appointments. To have a D.Phil had been an indication that you had probably got a Second, and needed to strengthen your claim by a further qualification.

Professor Richard Oldfield, at that time Professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford, had allegedly taken a degree in French and then gone along to the Department of Experimental Psychology, said he would like to do research in psychology, and started to do so. However, as with some other people who had been permitted academic status on what would nowadays be regarded as inadequate grounds, it may be observed that his outlook was thoroughly compatible with the modern ideology and in no way out of place in the modern world.

Wittgenstein provides another, even more eminent, example of a person who was allowed to proceed to academic status and distinction without prior ‘training’, as the following extract illustrates. It is highly unlikely that he would nowadays be allowed to do so.

Wittgenstein’s published output was tiny. In his lifetime, he published just one book, one article and one book review ... [The book review] was published in 1913 in a Cambridge undergraduate magazine called the Cambridge Review, and was his very first publication. Wittgenstein was then a student of philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge, halfway through his second year of study. In many ways, though, it would be misleading to picture him at this time as an undergraduate student, or, in any case, it would be misleading to think of him as, in any sense, an ‘ordinary’ undergraduate student. For one thing, at twenty-four, he was a few years older than the usual second-year undergraduate, having spent three years before he went to Cambridge as an engineering student in Manchester. For another thing, he was already regarded by two of the most influential philosophers of the day, G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, as a significant philosopher in his own right ...

... Wittgenstein was not following a conventional undergraduate course in philosophy ... there is nothing to indicate that he ever seriously considered sitting any examinations. His formal status was that of an undergraduate, but he regarded himself, and, more remarkably, was regarded by others, not as a student of philosophy, but as an original philosopher, attempting to find solutions to problems that were at the very cutting edge of the discipline.

It is possible, I think, that Cambridge is the only university in the world that would have accepted Wittgenstein on these terms. Had he broken off his engineering studies in order to study philosophy at ... any other leading university of the time, he would have fallen at the first hurdle, most likely rejected because of his almost complete ignorance of the works of any philosophers other than Frege and Russell. And, even if he had overcome this hurdle, he would have been obliged to do what, in fact, he never did throughout his entire life, namely study the works of the great philosophers of the past. Only after he had shown some understanding of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, etc. would he have been allowed, as a graduate student, to devote himself to his own research.

At Cambridge, to its great credit, all that was required of Wittgenstein in order to reach this last stage – the stage at which he spent his time trying to solve philosophical problems rather than learning how previous philosophers had tried to solve them – was that he arouse the interest and admiration of Bertrand Russell. (Ray Monk, How to Read Wittgenstein, Granta Books 2005, pp5-6.)