Is Stupidity Expanding? Some Hypotheses.

post by David_Gross · 2020-10-15T03:28:07.170Z · score: 66 (41 votes) · LW · GW · 20 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  A: I Am Misperceiving an Expanding Stupidity And Here’s Why
  B: Expanding Stupidity Is Real and This Explains It
None
  Answers
    27 moridinamael
    9 FactorialCode
    7 Jake Heiser
    6 Akuukis
    4 rockthecasbah
    2 luzius.meisser@gmail.com
    2 George
    2 Postkey
    2 John of the 3rd Marble
    2 AnthonyC
    2 hyperborealis
    2 Kenny
    1 pbduring
    1 FCCC
    1 Akuukis
None
20 comments

To be explained: It feels to me that in recent years, people have gotten stupider, or that stupid has gotten bigger, or that the parts of people that were always stupid have gotten louder, or something like that.

I’ve come up with a suite of hypotheses to explain this (with a little help from my friends). I thought I’d throw them out here to see which ones the wise crowd here think are most likely. Bonus points if you come up with some new ones. Gold stars if you can rule some out based on existing data or can propose tests by which they might be rendered more or less plausible.

The hypotheses come in two broad families: 1) my feeling that stupid is expanding is an illusion or misperception, and 2) stupid is expanding and here is why:

A: I Am Misperceiving an Expanding Stupidity And Here’s Why

  1. I have become more attuned to stupidity for [reasons], so even though there is no more of it than usual, it stands out more to me. (Baader-Meinhof phenomenon)
  2. What used to look like non-stupidity was actually widespread conformity to a common menu of foolishnesses. Today the cultural beacons of respectable idiocy have been overthrown and there is increasing diversity in foolishness. Divergent fools seem more foolish to each other when in fact we’re all just as stupid as we’ve always been.
  3. I’m running in stupider circles than I used to for some reason, while in general things haven’t changed much.
  4. I am the one getting stupider, or was stupid all along, and so I don’t have the cognitive strength to accurately judge the stupidity level around me, and just happen to be thinking it is getting worse because I don’t know any better. (Dunning-Kruger effect)
  5. People aren’t getting any stupider, it’s just that the artificial intelligence of the bots I’m mistaking for people on-line isn’t all that good yet.
  6. They’re not getting stupider; I’m just getting more conceited.
  7. People ordinarily use different modes of thinking in different communications contexts. In some, finding the truth is important and so they use rational intelligence. In others, decorative display, ritual, asserting dominance or submission, displaying tribal allegiances, etc. are more important and so they use modes more appropriate to those things. It’s not that people are getting stupider, but that these non-intelligent forms of communication (a) are more amplified than they used to be, (b) more commonly practiced than they used to be, or (c) are more prominent where I happen to be training my attention.
  8. I am acquiring greater wisdom with age as I ought, but the average age of the typical person I encounter stays the same so they cannot keep up. I’m noticing the contrast increasing but misattributing it. (David Wooderson effect)
  9. People use intelligence for different things in different eras. Just as language, music, art changes over time, so does thinking. I’m just not keeping up, and assuming because kids these days can’t dance the mental Charleston that they can’t dance at all.
  10. We were just as stupid back in the day, and I just don’t remember it that way. (Rosy retrospection)
  11. There is no truth, only power. What I’ve been interpreting as truth and rationality has been my own attempt to align my thinking with the political clique that was in power when I was being educated. What I’m interpreting as rising stupidity has been the collapse in power and status of that clique and the political obsolescence of the variety of “truth” and “rationality” I internalized as a child. Those pomo philosophers were right all along.
  12. Stupidity doesn’t have staying power, relative to non-stupidity: there’s a sort of survival of the fittest in which vast amounts of expressions are being produced all the time, most of which are stupid and fall away, but the ones that aren’t stupid are more likely to survive in memory and to be maintained in the historical record. This biases things to make it appear that the proportion of non-stupid expressions was lower in the past than it really was.
  13. Politics and consumer capitalism are motivated to identify and target stupid people so as to take advantage of them, so they have created systems that encourage stupid people to self-identify and make themselves prominent so that they can be picked off; that I’m noticing this is just a side effect.

B: Expanding Stupidity Is Real and This Explains It

  1. People have given up trying to understand things in this messed-up timeline and are just rolling with it; it’s a sort of intellectual learned helplessness that appears as expanding stupidity.
  2. Stupidity has its fashions, and the latest fashions are more in-your-face than they used to be.
  3. Pharmaceuticals that have become popular in recent decades have cognitive side effects that are difficult to measure in the individual but cause noticeable effects in the aggregate.
  4. It’s real, and it’s probably something in our diet, for example…
  5. It’s real, and it’s probably all that extra CO2 in the atmosphere.
  6. It’s real, and it’s probably toxoplasmosis meow.
  7. It’s real, and it’s probably some other sort of change in our material environment (excluding cultural changes).
  8. Back in the day, when a person had a stupid idea, they would be reluctant to put it forward as their own. Rather, they would wait to see if someone else would voice the idea so they could just agree with it. This used to be relatively rare, but now you just have to google “[my stupid idea]” to find that someone or other has said it first, and then you’re off to the races.
  9. If you have a smart idea, you may also be smart enough to realize that it’s not useful right now / has already been better said / is inappropriate in context. If you have a dumb idea, such thoughts may be less likely to occur to you due to the aura of dumbth that surrounds the dumb idea and repels sensible considerations. Back when expressions of stupidity were mostly ephemeral, this didn’t matter much, but now that they acquire instant permanence and global reach, they appear to swamp everything else.
  10. Stupid choices used to reliably have undesirable results; now there is more of a disconnect where people are shielded from the results of their stupid choices, or even rewarded for them (man lights himself on fire in an easily-forseeable misadventure, becomes YouTube legend). So people may be appearing stupid not as a result of being stupid but as the result of a perverse cost-benefit analysis. People are no dumber than they used to be, but for [reasons] it has become advantageous to display stupidity and so smart people sometimes mimic idiocy so as to reap such advantages. The smarter they are, the quicker they caught on to this and the better mimics they are, so this makes it look as though the smart people are being replaced by morons, when really it’s more a matter of camouflage.
  11. The way we educate children went seriously sideways a while back, and so, yeah, stupid happened.
  12. Newly-popular media and/or its content is somehow directly damaging to mental faculties.
  13. Changes in media/communications technology allow stupid people to be much more prominent than they used to be and/or comparatively muffle smarter people.
  14. Social media dynamics erode reasoning and truth-seeking while rewarding cognitive biases.
  15. The news media were doing a better job than we realized in filtering out crap and contextualizing new information intelligently for us, and as the internet destroyed the business model behind intelligent reporting, we failed to come up with a substitute in time to prevent idiocy from filling the void and it’s too big a job for individuals to do without institutional assistance.

Answers

answer by moridinamael · 2020-10-15T21:26:58.620Z · score: 27 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We've built a bunch of tools for instant mind-to-mind communication, with built in features that amplify communiques that are short, simple and emotional. Over the last ten years an increasingly large fraction of all interpersonal communication has passed through these "dumbpass filter" communication systems. This process has systematically favored memes that are stupid. When everyone around you appears to be stupid, it makes you stupid. Even if you aren't on these communication platforms, your friends are, and their brains are being filled up with finely-honed, evolutionarily optimized stupidity. 

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2020-10-18T21:51:25.513Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My own habit is to ignore memes - I see them as low information mind candy. But your answer prompted me to discuss this with my son (16) who is consuming a lot of memes. I asked him what useful memes he knows and the ensuing discussion led to the following insights:

  • Memes are user-generated headlines. They give a succinct catchy summary of facts or circumstances - just without being accompanied by the actual thing they describe.
  • They have a very wide range of topics. And while they are often humorous, they can and do present useful and even scientific facts. Over time he has shown me quite a few of these. There were some about Elon Musk, relativistic speeds, psychological insights. I guess you can come up with nerd jokes that actually require quite a bit of background knowledge - and can prompt looking into it (see nerd sniping).   
  • Memes can - at least in the case of my son - lead to a follow-up if they seem valuable. He gave the example of Trump and Covid-19 where he just googled the keywords and learned what the meme was about.

This will not lead me to consume more memes but I could imagine that they become part of the education or news-feed of the next generation. And not necessarily in the worst of ways.

comment by moridinamael · 2020-10-19T03:37:17.838Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By “meme” I mean Dawkins’ original definition. A meme is just any idea to which Darwinian selection forces apply. For example, a good idea will be gradually stripped of nuance and accuracy as it passes through the communication network, and eventually becomes dumb.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2020-10-20T17:51:44.322Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The evolution of memes only predicts successful memes to multiply, not that they become dumb. Actually, it implies many niches (in the communication network structure) where memes of certain types and specialization survive. Smarter people presumably prefer smarter memes. 

comment by rockthecasbah · 2020-10-16T19:06:28.700Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for increasing my resolve to ban certain websites.

answer by FactorialCode · 2020-10-17T18:37:34.731Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd put my money on lowered barriers to entry on the internet and eternal September effects as the primary driver of this. In my experience the people I interact with IRL haven't really gotten any stupider. People can still code or solve business problems just as well as they used to. The massive spike in stupidity seems to have occurred mostly on the internet.

I think this is because of 2 effects that reinforce each other in a vicious cycle.

  1. Barriers to entry on the internet have been reduced. A long time ago you needed technical know how to even operate a computer, then thing got easier but you still needed a PC, and spending any amount of time on the internet was still the domain of nerds. Now anyone with a mobile phone can jump on twitter and participate.

  2. Social media platforms are evolving to promote ever dumber means of communication. If they don't they're out competed by the ones that do. For example, compare a screenshot of the reddit UI back when it started vs now. As another example, the forums of old made it fairly easy to write essays going back and forth arguing with people. Then you'd have things like facebook where you can still have a discussion, but it's more difficult. Now you have TikTok and Instagram, where the highest form of discourse comes down to a tie between a girl dancing with small text popups and an unusually verbose sign meme. You can forget about rational discussion entirely.

So I hypothesize that you end up with this death spiral, where technology lowers barriers to entry, causing people who would otherwise have been to dumb effectively to participate, causing social media companies to further modify their platforms to appeal to the lowest common denominator, causing more idiots to join... and so on and so forth. To top it off, I've found myself and other people I would call "smart" disconnecting from the larger public internet. So you end up with evaporative cooling [LW · GW] on top of all the other aforementioned effects.

The end result is what you see today, I'm sure the process is continuing, but I've long ago checked out of the greater public internet and started hanging out in the cozyweb or outside.

answer by Jake Heiser · 2020-10-15T06:21:41.570Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any ideas on quantifying previous levels of ignorance? Test scores don't seem even remotely close to necessarily correlative. Rationality tests and the like would be opt-in, and highly selective of sample. This looks like a fun opportunity for exorbitantly creative experimental design.

Possible A addendum: There is also more information than ever to be cognizant of, so modern basic literacy from primary schooling is increasingly concept-dense, which makes falling behind a larger drop than before. My mother is a 2nd grade teacher, and I would definitely ask her how the frequency of inconsolable kids has shifted, but at that age each student's largest barrier is typically uncomfortable home situations.

answer by Akuukis · 2020-10-16T09:39:44.272Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I Am Misperceiving an Expanding Stupidity And Here’s Why

"The Social Dilemma" documentary argues that various disinformation, polarization, and alike campaigns are potent weapons against countries (especially democracies), as well they have become dirt cheap with rise of social media. It further points out that there are traces of those already being employed in various countries in last years.

HYPOTHESIS: stupid content (or amplification of it) is mis-attributed to general stupidity that's propaganda instead. Sadly it's contagious and can lead to real stupidity, which at worst will trigger a death-spiral.

answer by rockthecasbah · 2020-10-16T19:03:40.632Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you gained status or security lately? I have a pattern where I think people are smarter when I am unemployed/low status/professionally insecure. Then when I gain security I think "why would I ask that person; I could have solved it better myself".

I think it's a status regulatino mechanism.

answer by luzius.meisser@gmail.com · 2020-10-17T12:58:14.507Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Demographics: intelligence declines significantly with age (that's why the first question in every IQ test is your age, so they can age-adjust it to make you feel less stupid) and the population is getting older.
answer by George · 2020-10-17T11:19:05.006Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess it depends on what you classify as stupidity, I'd wager the reason is a mix of:

People use intelligence for different things in different eras. Just as language, music, art changes over time, so does thinking. I’m just not keeping up, and assuming because kids these days can’t dance the mental Charleston that they can’t dance at all.

and

What I’m interpreting as rising stupidity has been the collapse in power and status of that clique and the political obsolescence of the variety of “truth” and “rationality” I internalized as a child. Those pomo philosophers were right all along.

The arguments here are many and long, so let me point of a few:

  1. "Intelligence", as was viewed "back in the day", is associated with a corrupt meritocratic ssystem and thus people don't want to signal it. See "The Tyranny of Merit", I believe it explains this point much better, or for a quicker listen the PEL disucssion with the author.
  2. You are not looking for intelligence, you are looking for "signals" of intelligence that have changed. You'r definition of an "intelligent" person probably requires,  at minimum, the ability to do reasonably complex mental calculations, the ability to write in gramatically correct <their native language>, the ability to write (using a pen), and a college degree (or at leas the ability to sit still and learn in a college style education). But all those 4 skills are made redundant and thus potentially harmful for those who still hang on to them instead of, .e.g: Using a computer which include a spellchecker, using a programing language for complex computational problems, learning in short and efficient bursts from varried sources depending on your immediate interests.  An 18th century puritan would think you are somehwat dumb for not knowing a bit of Greek or Latin and having not read at least one version of the bible in both those language.

As well as:

People ordinarily use different modes of thinking in different communications contexts. In some, finding the truth is important and so they use rational intelligence. In others, decorative display, ritual, asserting dominance or submission, displaying tribal allegiances, etc. are more important and so they use modes more appropriate to those things. It’s not that people are getting stupider, but that these non-intelligent forms of communication (a) are more amplified than they used to be, (b) more commonly practiced than they used to be, or (c) are more prominent where I happen to be training my attention.

E.g. you and I might think a famous yogi guru is stupid, but the yogi guru is healthy, well loved, makes loads of money, seems genuinely happy, works relatively little and enjoys his work. So is the yogi guru stupid or not understanding modern science ? No, he's just manifesting his intelligence towards another fascet of the world that requires a different metaphysical grounding and different epistemology to understand.

It is possible that a set of social incentives that promoted "kosher 20th century western intelligence" as a core value made the market for "kosher 20th-century20th century western intelligence" oversaturated, so what you are observing now is just people branching towards other areas of using their intellect.

answer by Postkey · 2020-10-17T10:01:50.544Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is this stupidity re the 'Economic-Elite'? “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page Each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics—which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic-Elite Domination, and two types of interest-group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism—offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented. A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. We report on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues. Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism. “ https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

answer by John of the 3rd Marble · 2020-10-17T07:22:26.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Market forces have steered new technologies to manifest themselves in harmful ways.

With respect to food, there's an old saying "you are what you eat." In recent decades, what we've been eating is less and less healthy, as marketers, food scientists, agri-businesses, restaurants, etc have led to us to consume low-quality food that has high-profit for companies.

With respect to media, we are consuming more low-quality info. We used to have to seek out info, which we would have to pay for and which used to be better curated. But now we are constantly deluged by free info that is crafted to make us fearful and angry, which are emotional states that make it difficult to be rational.

As technology advances, there needs to be concomitant advances in statesmanship of leaders and education of the people. But corporate profitability is in the driver's seat, which is diminishing statesmanship and education.

answer by AnthonyC · 2020-10-16T18:46:52.205Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect all or almost all of these play a role, but I'd also add that the world asks us to make a lot more choices now than in the past, period. We have more options in every area of our lives, our choices are less socially constrained than they used to be, and we have vastly more access to information sources for making choices, but the amount of brainpower and willpower we have access to in order to process that info and divide up among all the choices hasn't changed.

answer by hyperborealis · 2020-10-16T16:10:17.772Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

With the advance of science we now have many more intelligent specialists who have decomposed the world into contending and non-coherent fields and subfields. Since the problems we face inevitably overlap field boundaries, our best attempts to deal with the problems crash against this incoherence, and appear stupid. Our less-than-best attempts miss the incoherence by muddling fields together, and will appear to be stupider. Our worst attempts happen when specialists proclaim their local expertise as a general solution to our problems, and are stupidest of all.

We are stupider now due to the particular way we are smart.

answer by Kenny · 2020-10-16T00:59:29.505Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think nearly all of the 'effects' you listed exist and many are significant.

Another effect might be an inflated threshold for 'smarter-than-stupid'. I imagine this might be due to 'myopic cost accounting', i.e. a set of purchases or expenditures might all, individually, be sensible and justified, in aggregate they exceed the relevant budget. There are more and more things we're 'expected' to know, and remember in appropriate contexts. Individually, each of those expectations seems sensible, but in aggregate it's impossible to know and remember all of them. And then, via all of the biased 'selection' mechanisms at our disposal, almost everyone is judged poorly against an unfair standard.

[Is there an existing term or phrase for what I named 'myopic cost accounting'?]

comment by Raven · 2020-10-17T21:00:07.832Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. I vaguely recall reading about it somewhere, in the context of probabilities adding up to way past 100%. For example, if there's an election and there's four candidates then if you ask someone to estimate the chances of each then the sum will be much more than 100%.

Unfortunately I don't remember what it's called.

answer by pbduring · 2020-10-19T05:46:19.260Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi David,

I believe stupidity is not expanding, instead we are expanding.

Stupidity is probably a (universal) constant, but, we feel otherwise because the number of humans is increasing planetary-wise, and because of the ease and accessibility of global traveling, we are surrounded by a higher density of humans.

As a thought experiment, imagine you could time travel and randomly sample for stupidity in a circle of 100 meters around yourself: you will certainly find more humans now (and therefore, more stupids) than 40 years ago, and consequently you may think there is more stupidity, in reality its just a consequence of the 45% population increase and massive traveling increase in this timespan.

One way to double-check this is asking ourself, now that there is a pandemic and less people are around, do we still feel that stupidity is expanding? 

I could be wrong of course (and/or coming stupid).

P


PS -- Sadly we haven't invented time travel yet, because either we are too stupid or maybe because stupidity has a built-in self preservation safety measure that prevents us to do so (as we would certainly accelerate our extinction -- of both stupids and non-stupids --  if we actually could time travel). 

answer by FCCC · 2020-10-17T02:06:52.276Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bad neural nets worked okay under the training set. With a distributional shift, you could see the weaknesses of their models.

I think most beliefs are the mode of what a person hears. You ask me whether someone is for or against abortion, I'll ask you what their parents and friends believe, then I'll bet on the most common belief within that group. So when "the Earth is flat" enters the conversation, and people's reason for believing the Earth isn't flat is basically "It's the only statement I've heard on the topic", they might not have a robust way to determine what is true. Most people can't state necessary conditions for evolution in an arbitrary system. I'd wager most people who believe in evolution can't explain why monkeys still exist.

So when the rug of apparent consensus is pulled out from under the feet of everyone, quite a few will fall over.

answer by Akuukis · 2020-10-16T09:02:07.023Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I Am Misperceiving an Expanding Stupidity And Here’s Why

I'm assuming that stupid people are louder and more expressive than rational people. Because the less you know, the more certain you are of being correct, they tend to be very passionate about their own views. On the other hand, the more you know, the more you know that there is more to know, so you are less certain of being correct and less passionate about your views.

Combine this with "exponential megaphones" (e.g. internet in general, especially social media) and you have a death spiral of stupid, angry people filling the majority of online social spaces.

answer by rhodie · 2020-10-16T01:28:00.595Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your time on this post! I'd like to point out from the two categories of theories:

  1. my feeling that stupid is expanding is an illusion or misperception,
  2. stupid is expanding and here is why

I actually see a third theory here that resonates a lot with the first, but maybe slightly different in the sense that it doesn't assume existence. I'd propose that the concept of stupidity may be just an illusion in and of itself, or at the very least something you cannot comprehend and measure without fallacy. As such you have no basis to even attempt to measure it in the first place.

Consider with me for a second, I'd ask here, what even is stupidity? Is it the lack of knowledge? The lack of awareness? misguidance? doing something of harm to one's self? having specific values or beliefs? I think to ask any other questions about stupidity (such as whether it has increased or not) without defining it is to put the cart before the horse.

Unfortunately this seems to be something philosophers have been mulling over for quite some time, and looks to depend on your metaphysical world-view. While I think this alone may count as evidence towards our lack of comprehension around it, we'll act as if you had figured it out. Somehow you have all these folk beat; and you said "bah! i clearly know what stupidity is!"

I'd ask your opinion on this toy situation then:

Let's say a type 3-esq civilization spanning multiple galaxies comes and invades earth. They are for all purposes, a higher being that we struggle to comprehend. Do humans become more or less intelligent because of the introduction of something else that had different knowledge, behaviors, morals, and values? In other words, are we now "stupid" (that is, we've somehow gained stupidity) because of the introduction of the type-3 civilization that for all purposes, sees us as we might see ants?

If your answer is yes, we are stupid, (or in some form less intelligent, cognitively able, however you define that) is that not a problem? because it means that whatever model we use internally to gauge stupidity was obviously not an objective belief based from rational. We know this for a fact because the people we thought to be smart, no longer are. We're forced to accept that we simply have little idea of what stupidity is

If the answer is no, we are not in some form more stupid, I'd ask what then, would it take to become stupid? can we not apply this same train of thoughts to all other "lower beings" here on earth (say pick a bug), and if so doesn't that mean objectively; there is no concept of stupid, only what you believe to be?

You could maybe go as far to say; the only one who is stupid is the one who claims to know what it objectively means to know.

20 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by romeostevensit · 2020-10-16T03:23:13.356Z · score: 20 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Serious kudos for engaging at length with a topic it's all too easy to throw up your hands in hopelessness at. rather than analyze.

comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2020-10-15T06:15:11.688Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a problem of distinguishing between stupid people and stupid actions. I think that on average, there are few brightly stupid people so when we eventually run into even one it makes a lasting impression.

I got to run into two at once, and then they both were fired together; this might have helped me to treat it as a fluke. Counterintuitively, if it were only one I'd have more doubts)

comment by Kenny · 2020-10-16T00:43:35.501Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a problem of distinguishing between stupid people and stupid actions.

That'd be (akin to) fundamental attribution bias. I think this is a very plausible effect, e.g. via examples of 'stupidity' being more salient and available than all the other times someone acted reasonable or intelligently.

I think that on average, there are few brightly stupid people so when we eventually run into even one it makes a lasting impression.

Is "brightly stupid people" something like obviously and generally stupid people?

Stupidity (and intelligence) are or can be incredibly diverse. I can think of 'stupid' people that nevertheless also displayed relatively sophisticated 'cunning'. And even 'not-stupid' people will sometimes invent elaborate and convoluted workarounds to avoid a simpler and cheaper solution.

There's a problem distinguishing stupidity and ignorance too.

Maybe I've become boringly charitable towards too many people, but I don't think 'people are stupid' is particularly accurate in general. I don't think 'people are ignorant' is either.

comment by Viliam · 2020-10-16T19:47:50.618Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another hypothesis:

Stupidity is weaponized by state actors; some countries try to damage their competitors by throwing fuel on already existing stupidity of the competitor's citizens. And they are recently getting better at it.

The idea is that you wait for e.g. a conspiracy theory to appear naturally (such theories are better selected for the environment), but then you provide it all kinds of support. For example, you could provide a web server, install and maintain a publishing software, and donate enough money for a few conspiracy theorist so they can quit their jobs and focus full-time on spreading the message... thus for the small cost of maybe $10k a month you can disrupt entire country. And you can run hundred such operations in parallel for a budget that is still negligible for a state actor; the costs increase less than linearly.

comment by Kenny · 2020-10-16T00:45:12.502Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like this question a lot. You cast a wide net in listing possibilities and many of the items are pretty funny by themselves.

comment by CareerDoctor · 2020-10-16T17:17:34.407Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

SAT Comprehensive scores peaked and have never recovered since 1972. And yet grades have gone up!!

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1J-4GijoL7DrZ8yg0AtkVNlXl89aktchP?usp=sharing

This data causes cognitive dissonance. Pick one. I pick that generally those entering in college college are not as smart as the cohorts in the 70's

comment by Kenny · 2020-10-16T18:25:48.566Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The SAT does change, so comparisons across decades isn't obviously accurate, but a bigger difficulty is probably that many more people take the SAT than previously.

comment by CareerDoctor · 2020-10-16T20:41:37.716Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree.  Some of this is about the number of people taking it.  But the average grade rising is supposedly a sign of increasing results.  One more point.  My friend at UCLA who studies IQ has said that normal is always a median of 100.  However the curve is moving left meaning the average is going down.

comment by Alex K. Chen (alex-k-chen) · 2020-10-18T17:52:44.531Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you looked into the reverse flynn effect? eg see https://www.sciencealert.com/iq-scores-falling-in-worrying-reversal-20th-century-intelligence-boom-flynn-effect-intelligence 

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/06/reversal-flynn-effect-environmental.html

https://www.pnas.org/content/115/26/6674 (shows reverse flynn effect for norwegian cohorts)

Some speculate it happens b/c more educated/smarter people have fewer children. But this may not apply when you control for sibling effects.

Blood lead levels (https://www.motherjones.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/blog_lead_crime_mainchart.gif) peaked for both boomers and GenX, but drastically decreased for the GenX/Millennial transition, but the above study shows cohorts born from 1961 to 1990, and shows that the millenials (presumably with the lowest lead levels!) also have the lowest raw IQ. [the study above is for Norway - I don't know how much lead was present in Norwegians mid-century, but it appears that Norway had a lead problem just as the rest of the states had.

In the new study, the researchers observed IQ drops occurring within actual families, between brothers and sons – meaning the effect likely isn't due to shifting demographic factors as some have suggested, such as the dysgenic accumulation of disadvantageous genes across areas of society.

Instead, it suggests changes in lifestyle could be what's behind these lower IQs, perhaps due to the way children are educated, the way they're brought up, and the things they spend time doing more and less (the types of play they engage in, whether they read books, and so on).

Another possibility is that IQ tests haven't adapted to accurately quantify an estimate of modern people's intelligence – favouring forms of formally taught reasoning that may be less emphasised in contemporary education and young people's lifestyles.

It is worth noting that air and water pollution levels are significantly lower now than several decades ago, and organochlorine pesticides have been phased out (in favor of organophosphate pesticides - organochlorines seem to cause greater hits to IQ and epigenetic age), so environmental pollution probably isn't as important here as other factors. (at the same time, it's possible that people have been exposed to increased levels of possibly-IQ-decreasing pollutants such as microplastics or flame retardants)

Perception of reduced intelligence/creativity could also simply be caused by longer life courses (the social capital gerontological glut - https://palladiummag.com/2020/10/10/the-social-capital-stall-behind-americas-gerontocracy/ - which causes many young people to define their life paths around this glut and careful about what they say for fear of alienating this glut) causing people to take longer to grow up before they can get in positions where they can produce widely-read important work (which is related but not identical to aging of the population). People are often not at their most organic selves when trying to "reach a social bar" where the average age of the people who make it (eg R01 investigators, university faculty positions, leadership/management positions) only continue to increase. I'm not sure if this applies to much of the valid intelligence-showing work that is produced online and then doesn't get deleted, but it certainly seems like people have a tendency to fail to archive everything they've produced online during their years of peak intelligence.

Overall, we know that real intelligence, g, is slowly declining in Western nations and China (possibly in other locations as well). For a good, easily understandable, explanation of the FE and the decline in g, read At Our Wits’ End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent and What It Means for the Future, by E. A. Dutton & M. A. Woodley of Menie. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic. If you want a reasonably long list of papers that have addressed the decline in intelligence, ask and I will post a list.

comment by Taran · 2020-10-16T17:51:30.214Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Drive wouldn't let me access your data, but that makes sense; a much larger share of the population is going to college now than in the 70s.

comment by Mauro Panigada (mauro-panigada) · 2020-10-16T11:53:33.936Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not exactly sure about stupidity-traits which can make people actually stupider, but I was thinking the other day about this: our modern civilization, or whatever it should be called, asks the average individuals less than it asked in the past (both mentally and physically). It seems like everything needs to be "easy for everyone", to be simplified because maybe people can't understand this or that, can't do this or that: everything must be leveled down to the lowest common denominator. Treat people like stupid ones, and they will become stupid --- maybe just because they won't find in reality any stimulus to push the use of their brain; or, in general, to challenge themselves. Thanks to our modern times, almost everyone can live or just survive with his/her "mediocrity", and the System (let me leave this to readers' fantasy) itself doesn't require more than this; exceptions aren't so common once their number is compared to the multitude living on  this planet.

comment by cousin_it · 2020-10-16T12:10:27.656Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

our modern civilization, or whatever it should be called, asks the average individuals less than it asked in the past (both mentally and physically)

You're probably right about the physical part, but I don't see how the mental part can be true. A few centuries ago most people didn't even read or write, let alone learn algebra in school.

comment by Dustin · 2020-10-16T16:21:17.693Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's plausible that many or most people today barely skate by on literacy and algebra when they're in school and it all almost immediately fades away to the bare minimum they require to survive once they're out of school.  Note that Mauro was talking about what civilization required out of people, not what they were capable of doing.

I also think it's plausible that while you didn't need to read, write, and algebraize at some point in the past, you regularly needed other mental skills like...how to track animals or when to plant corn or whatever the heck you need to survive when there isn't our modern civilization supporting you (obviously I'm suckling on the teat of modern civilization because I don't know wtf).

Note that I'm not actually claiming that either of these are true, only that I can see "how the mental part can be true".

comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) · 2020-10-16T07:24:15.082Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like you should have said "irrational" instead of "stupid." It would sound less funny, but it would be more accurate.

comment by swarriner · 2020-10-16T14:27:04.515Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not necessarily. If I am an academic whose research is undermined by bias, I may be irrational but not stupid, and if I am in a social environment where certain signals of stupid beliefs are advantageous, I may be stupid but not irrational. It seems to be the latter is more what the author is getting at.

comment by Confusion · 2020-10-24T17:55:44.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect B8 is the major factor. Before social media, if you had a bad idea and two of your five close friends told you they didn’t think it was a good idea, you’d drop it. Now five random ‘friends’ will tell you how insightful you are and how blind everyone else is. You’ve publicly stated your belief in the idea and got social proof. That makes it that much harder to drop.

People individually don’t have more bad ideas than before, but there is much more selection pressure in favor of them.

comment by Freedom Gas · 2020-10-17T14:29:10.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Obvious and quite weak joke: This is an interesting topic but for some reason I didn't understand the original post.)

Slightly less obvious and more serious point, related to George's point 1.: Stupid Proud. As in, "I know I just said something stupid, but I despise all the experts trying to order me around, and so I persist in my stupidity, just to push back against them." This is akin to Trump lawn signs saying "Drive the Liberals Crazy Again in 2020!" -- the point is not to advance a policy or put forward a fact, but the taunt. (PLEASE, commentariat, do not leap on me for mentioning T.... : I would have used a Biden example if I had seen a sign saying "Rile the Rednecks in 2020!")

I remember hearing on an AM talk radio show, years ago, an argument between caller and host, which the caller was losing. With his back to the wall, the caller shouted his last line of defense against the host's argument: "Well, that is just what SMART PEOPLE THINK!" and hung up.

comment by luzius.meisser@gmail.com · 2020-10-17T12:58:53.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Demographics: intelligence declines significantly with age (that's why the first question in every IQ test is your age, so they can age-adjust it to make you feel less stupid) and the population is getting older.
comment by betulaster (raman-malykhin) · 2020-10-16T00:34:07.653Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I may attempt a more comprehensive analysis to suggest some tests later (although I'm not sure that would be very successful  - my rationality skills feel like they are nascent at best), but from a superficial read, it seems to me that points A13 and B10 are essentially the same - both deal with stupidity becoming more widespread as a matter of consumerist/capitalist politics/market foces. That could be opposed by noticing that B10 deals with actually smart individuals who pretend to be stupid to reap the benefits, and A13 deals with actually stupid individuals, which in turn is opposable by the classic Ben Kenobi argument. But at the very least, if A13 deals with actions of level-0 actors, B13 would then be the level-1 response to that.

comment by Esox Lucius · 2020-10-20T02:11:57.607Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

New guy here.

Problem #1: You have no structure to understand what is, and what is not, stupid. Without some pre-agreed idea of what stupid is, you're arguing about feelings. It's like you and I arguing if the color is maroon or burgundy. Pointless and ungrounded.

Problem #2: Related to #1. What is intelligence? Are you intelligent if you can do calculus in your head but can't figure out how to change a spark plug? A light bulb? How about if you're Steven Hawking smart but have never kissed a girl? Or a boy, I don't judge. Intelligence is just another way of saying someone is narrow and excusing some other deficiency. My brother is a talented musician but don't ask him to balance your checkbook. Is he smart or dumb?

Let me help out here. This conversation has the tone of freshman high school lunch at the mean girls table.

The best framework for what is objectively stupid is in four quadrants; (Down) behavior which is harmful to society AND to the individual. (Up) Behavior which is beneficial to society and the individual (Left) Behavior which is harmful to society and beneficial to the individual 'think theft' (right) Behavior which is beneficial to society and harmful to the individual 'extreme altruism'.

Down in this example is the only vector of legit stupidity. All others are rational choices. The fact that you don't like the choices, or appreciate the logic has no bearing on the wisdom or folly. A bank robber who is harmful to society and beneficial to himself is not stupid even if he gets caught. He had his reasons, he took his risks, they didn't play out.