Normal People are Geniuses?

Speculation time again.

When I came across this post at gnxp, it immediately struck me that, for all of the social competence that normal people supposedly have, they seem about as good at relating to Asperger’s people as ASers are at relating to normals.

(I’ve never been diagnosed with AS, but if I were a child now I probably would be. Verbal IQ can only mask so much.)

Normal people are clearly very competent at relating with each other, and I think this is at least partially because their hardware is specialized to cope with certain kinds of problems, most especially social forms of the Recursion Paradox. (If he knows that I know that he knows that I know…)

But present them with people who aren’t normal, whose thinking is genuinely different from what they’re used to, and normal people don’t actually do very well.

I suspect that normal brains take advantage of a simplifying heuristic, to reduce the load of trying to model the minds of others. Clearly we’re capable of making such models to keep track of what others know and what their perspectives are, but they have to be very basic and crude, especially if we expect to have such models of many people. So when dealing with issues whose sophistication renders those models unsuitable, I suspect that we use ourselves as stand-ins.

We take the data, ask ourselves what we’d do if we were in that position, and guess that’s how others will react.

When dealing with lots of people whose minds are very similar to yours, this is a very effective strategy. It won’t work well with people who think differently, not because of their beliefs, but because the underlying process is different, but if you rarely encounter such people it’s a highly efficient shortcut.

Perhaps the hypothetical great increase in human social skills had less to do with developing powerful new modules, and more to do with the creation of a monoculture. Homo sapiens has surprisingly little genetic diversity compared to most other mammals. Maybe humans find it so easy to cooperate because most of them are very similar.

Average humans thus wouldn’t be social geniuses so much as they’re self-compatible with their own model. Surrounded by themselves, they would effectively be geniuses, without having to allot precious resources towards the expensive task of making a universal social module.

How well do normal people understand the autistic?

I suspect that we will never encounter ‘intelligent’ alien life because our criteria for ‘intelligence’ have more to do with familiarity and self-recognition than any real attribute.


3 Responses to “Normal People are Geniuses?”

  1. michael vassar Says:

    Wow! This is a really significant insight!
    I wonder if it might relate to Africa’s lack of progress as well. Too much genetic diversity.
    OTOH, how to test it. We need to specify how low diversity is distinct from inbreeding characterized by many fixed deleterious alleles.

  2. I don’t think the low-level of diversity being talked about here is of sufficiently low level to result in a significant evolutionary effect from fixed deleterious alleles. That usually results from an artificially restricted genetic pool rather than a general population with overall low diversity.

  3. “We need to specify how low diversity is distinct from inbreeding characterized by many fixed deleterious alleles.”

    No, we don’t. That has nothing to do with this issue.

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