El Coyote Gordo (supergee) wrote,
El Coyote Gordo

Of two minds

We have two images for smartness. To derogate the intellectual content of an activity, we say that it's not rocket science or it's not brain surgery.

It strikes me that the two activities are in a sense opposites. Rocket science is rich in verbal and mathematical symbols, and it can work at a distance--at interplanetary distances, in fact. Brain surgery is nonsymbolic and done by direct contact. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article about brain surgery, pointing out that surgeons have great intelligence in their hands; they are able to cut out all the bad parts and save all the good parts, no matter how closely they are entangled. Gladwell added that this intelligence may not be joined to verbal and symbolic skills.

I greatly prefer the intelligence of rocket science. I think we became really human when we figured out verbal and mathematical systems and structures to deal at a safe distance with a material existence that I find simultaneously too boring and too exciting,

Robert Anton Wilson didn't agree. In fact, in one of his books (Natural Law, or Never Put a Rubber on Your Willy) he used me as a horrible example of the sort of person who doesn't love the material world enough. He later recommended Leonard Shlain's book, The Alphabet vs. the Goddess, for its view of the approaches.

I could not make it through the book. It featured a form of gender essentialism so extreme that it probably would have offended Robert Heinlein. Men are verbal and violent (which always go together); women are neither, and that's it.

And yet I feel I could have profited from the book if someone had cut out the malignant and necrotic bits. I love the Alphabet(s: letters and numbers) and am tempted to diagnose those who love the Goddess with Stockholm Syndrome. But a theory that doesn't recognize the intelligence in brain surgery is obviously inadequate, so I need an approach that values both kinds. Too bad that Shlain didn't have the verbal skills to think his theory through better and explain it clearly. He was a brain surgeon.
Tags: intelligence
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