25 March 2010

Reflections on maths and autism

Copy of a letter to an academic

One of the last times I saw you I remember saying that ____ who got a First in maths was very unaware of her social surroundings, calling herself asocial, and that I supposed this was necessary to get a First in maths. You seemed to be indicating agreement with this idea, so I wondered if I had supported an implication which I did not intend. Actually I meant that people needed very specific psychological insulation to do abstract intellectual activities, particularly maths, successfully in the social environment of the modern ‘educational’ system, because that system is so inimical to high IQ. I think, in general, that doing anything in that context of social hostility is by no means the same thing as doing it in other contexts.

I know there is a wish to associate ‘abstract’ intellectual activities requiring a high IQ, such as maths and theoretical physics, with autism and introversion. I have seen this explained as due to a habituated concentration of emotional energy towards abstractions, at the (supposedly unnatural and unhealthy) expense of extraverted social interactions.

It is not that individuals with an exceptional aptitude for high-IQ activities are any more incapable of dealing with other people than anyone else, but that it is difficult (if not impossible) to be sufficiently focused on such activities to be able to do them well, while simultaneously having to maintain awareness of the complex conventions and other intricacies of ‘successful’ social interaction. This, I suspect, is realised by those hostile to high IQ and exploited, both to make life difficult for individuals with a strong drive to do intellectual things, and to belittle them as ‘socially inadequate’ or (in more recent lingo) ‘autistic’.

I saw at the Woodford County High School that the psychological hostility of the teachers and headmistress was directed at all and sundry. Not only at me but at anyone who wished to work harder in order to improve their performance in some area.

Everyone was to be made to feel inadequate, out of control, and at the mercy of the judgements of their ability, which were hinted at critically by the teachers. Apart, that is, from one girl with a moderately high but unthreatening IQ (130-140) who constantly demonstrated her total devotion to doing the right thing on social terms.

There are many similar examples of ideology on which critical analyses could be being published by Oxford Forum if it were provided with adequate funding to do so. Meanwhile, ideas such as the supposed link between high IQ and autism are likely to receive further reinforcement from pseudo-research published by the universities.

17 March 2010

A token of good faith

Someone who had contacted us to say they were coming to one of our Tuesday afternoon coffee meetings* emailed us the day before the meeting to ask if she could bring "my friend [X]", without giving any information about X. As X happens to be the name of a well-known American academic blogger, we replied as follows.

Dear __
Yes, please bring the taxi receipt and we will reimburse you.
Yes, it is fine to bring your friend. However, I should mention that where salaried academics are concerned, we are only willing to meet them if they first make a donation of £1,000 (or more). The coffee meetings are intended primarily for people of student age. While we are happy in principle to meet other academics, you will understand that it is potentially invidious and galling for us to meet those who have managed to survive the negative aspects of contemporary academia, whether through luck or through lowering their standards, and who are not giving us any support either by donations or by coming to work here in vacations.
We are in the position of intellectuals unjustly exiled from academia and having to support themselves by their own efforts. It seems reasonable to us to expect fellow intellectuals inside the system who are financially comfortable to make a token contribution to our efforts, if they want to interact with us.

The person in question responded by saying she refused to come without her friend, and so would not come at all.

The policy described is one we have applied for many years, and which we shall continue to apply until such time as we are in a comparable position to salaried academics, of being paid for being intellectually productive rather than having to spend almost all our time maintaining ourselves, and our embryonic organisation, at a minimum subsistence level.

* These are currently being held weekly on Tuesdays at 4.30 pm. For more details, email cgoxfordforum@yahoo.co.uk

11 March 2010

Copy of a letter to recent lottery winners

Dear Justine Laycock and Nigel Page,

I read in a recent Daily Mail that you have won £56 million on the lottery.

You may be considering various charities and other causes to donate some of your winnings to. I would like to suggest that you consider us.

You have possibly heard about the ‘Climategate’ scandal, in which it was revealed that the investigation of climate change by British universities is not being carried out with the high standards of objectivity and impartial devotion to truth that one might have hoped for.

Unfortunately, this decline in standards has become a feature of academia in general. Because of government pressure, and an ideology which regards getting the ‘morally correct’ result as more important than whether it is true, much of what the universities produce is now worse than useless. In some fields, such as philosophy or economics, their net contribution is clearly negative.

Modern culture is increasingly being distorted by the large role played by the state. It needs to regain the participation of private patronage, as used to happen in the past.

Oxford Forum is a research organization which was set up to oppose increasing ideological bias in mainstream academia. Its aim is to expand into an independent college cum university which would generate and publish research in several areas including philosophy, the psychology and physiology of perception, and theoretical physics. We are actively seeking potential patrons to provide funding for its activities.

One way in which someone could help our efforts in a way that would also benefit themselves is to purchase properties in the area where we are based, and allow us to use them while they were not actually living in them. The area near us is regarded as a good area for investing in property.

I hope you may consider my suggestions.

02 March 2010

Linking precocity to criminality

Hatred of exceptional ability is fundamental to the modern ideology. I just saw a television drama (an Inspector Lynley story, ‘A Traitor to Memory’) which seemed to express this in inverted form.

Any drive to use exceptional ability, or to protect it in another person, is associated with criminal attitudes towards others and willingness to do them the greatest possible harm.

In this episode, a murder happens to someone vaguely associated with a successful violin player. He himself, his parents and his personal assistant are all clearly unsympathetic characters. His personal assistant, formerly a violin player himself, gave up on his own career to become first teacher and then personal assistant to his ‘beloved prodigy’ – as the politically correct working class female detective expresses it sneeringly.

‘I was a good musician but Gideon is a great one’, says the contemptible and criminal PA. ‘A talent such as that occurs once in a century.’

It transpires that the violinist killed his disabled little sister (who had Down’s syndrome) because the strain of supporting both a highly talented offspring and a dysfunctional one was too much for his parents, who had told him they could not afford to pay for him to go to the prestigious school of music.

‘But I had to go there,’ he says. ‘I was born to be a musician.’

Everyone around Gideon then went on treating him (inappropriately, you are evidently supposed to think) like an exception who must be shielded from his own actions. They wished to protect the prodigy, by taking the blame for the murder of his sister themselves, or by bribing an innocent person to do so. Gideon must be protected from knowing about anything that might be painful to him, so one person after another gets killed to prevent them from saying the wrong thing to him.

All this is most implausible, but it does illustrate the fundamental hatred of exceptional ability and of the drive to get into a position to use it to the full, a drive which I had and still have.

Propaganda such is this is evidently very effective at determining people’s attitudes. It is not necessary to say explicitly, ‘People with exceptional ability should be prevented from using it to get into the sort of career to which they are suited and which they need to have.’

If anyone precocious or successful in any way at an early age is always presented as depraved and criminal, as well as anyone who seems to wish to support them in their ambitions, putting across the idea that criminality is associated with any precocious person as well as with anyone who shows sympathy with any precocious person, everyone gets the point and the association of ideas is firmly fixed in their mind. It does not seem to require any particular level of IQ to be influenced by the association of ideas that is intended, although being analytical and critical about it seems to require not only a high IQ but unusual independence of mind.

This association of criminality with precocity and with the support of precocity was apparently well in place at the onset of the Welfare State in 1945, and it makes it easier to understand why I was treated as a criminal, and why my father was as well when he tried to gain acceptance for my proposals for the taking of exams. It would have been a much better strategy for him to leave me alone as quietly as possible to get on with whatever I wanted to do, if he had been cynical enough to adopt it, although no doubt it could not have gone on for long without arousing violent antagonism.

01 March 2010

More about home education

Home tuition loophole. Khyra’s mother and stepfather used home education as a cover for her horrific abuse. If parents wish to remove a child from state school to teach them at home, they simply have to notify the head teacher. By law, they must provide a ‘suitable’ education according to the ‘age, aptitude and ability’ of the child. But there is no requirement to follow the national curriculum or to provide a set number of hours of education. Local authorities can make informal inquiries to establish if parents are offering a suitable education. But the law allows parents to refuse to let officials see the education that is taking place. They simply have to show examples of the child’s work – with no need for the youngster to be present. *

The above extract is evidently implying that the degree to which individual liberty survives in the ‘educational’ system is regrettable.When I got the top scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, it was almost entirely on the strength of work which I had done under my own auspices and which the local education authority had not known about. I translated all four languages on the optional translation paper, having become proficient in reading languages by reading them. I had deliberately prepared myself for the General Essay papers by informing myself of the views of major philosophers of the past, and a Somerville don later said to me that my essay papers were the most remarkable she had ever seen. Even the maths, on which my marks would not on their own have got me the top scholarship, owed nothing to tuition from anybody or to the supervised courses which I had been forced to undergo, and which had not even been intended as ‘preparation’ for the specific purpose of taking university entrance exams.

It is a complete fallacy to suppose that ‘teaching’ necessarily has much relevance to outcome, or that conformity to the ‘national curriculum’ or ‘set hours’ of supervised ‘work’ would be a good thing in any individual case.

The contribution of the ‘education authority’ to my education was consistently negative, as it, or individual members of it, discouraged my father (a headmaster) from allowing me to take the School Certificate exams (normally taken at 16) when I was 13, then from supporting me in going to a post-graduate summer school at a French university when I was 15, and finally from supporting me in starting to take external degrees from London University when I was 16. On the other hand, they encouraged him to get me into supervised school and university courses against my will. I did not think they were relevant to my purposes and being forced to attend them was anything but beneficial.

Incidentally, the comments in the Daily Mail refer to the current law ‘allowing’ local authorities to make ‘informal’ enquiries in cases of home education, as though this were somehow less intrusive than ‘formal’ enquiries. I am not quite sure where a line could be drawn between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ enquiries in any case. ‘Informal’ ones can have sufficiently damaging effects on the life of the victim being ‘enquired’ about, as I know to my cost.

* Daily Mail, 26 February 2010.