Arnold Kling  

A Proposal for Masonomics Fieldwork

Political Dispositions... Pessimistic Bias: Crime Editio...

A comment on my last post on political dispositions:

The real reason people with high IQs lack common sense is neurological. You can't be cerebral without sacrificing cunning. It takes real live brain matter to support each. Unless you've got a second brain hidden somewhere, you can't get around this tradeoff. The extreme form of this can be seen in the autistic brain. While autism is just a behavioral profile at present, the brains of high-functioning autistic people have been studied enough to reveal a pattern of early abnormal overgrowth in areas implicated in the things autistic people do well: art, music, mathematics, etc. The price they pay is a corresponding undergrowth of the white matter linking the neocortex to the rest of the brain. (There are other abnormalities as well.) The neocortex is responsible for executive function, working memory, and generalization, among other things. Generalization is how we acquire biases. Autistic people are bad at this. That means they lack prejudice, which is what we call the biases we don't like. The ones we like, we call common sense. If you want to get some idea of what the world would look like if we overcame bias, go to a group home for autistic adults.

Emphasis added. The last sentence sounds like a proposal for Robin Hanson to do fieldwork. Up until that point, it was sounding like Tyler Cowen, but Tyler does not leave anonymous comments here. By the way, I cannot vouch for the commenter's knowledge of neuroscience. Given that both neuroscience and autism are both controversial fields, my guess is that there people who would dispute the commenter's generalizations.

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
fundamentalist writes:

" they lack prejudice, which is what we call the biases we don't like. The ones we like, we call common sense."

Actually, common sense comes from biases that have worked well for centuries, to paraphrase Hayek. There is more to knowledge than simply likes and dislikes; there is the evidence of history.

cassander writes:

As I often say, Autistics are the sensible ones, it's the rest of us that are screwed up.

Lindsey writes:

Whether we are autistic or not, everyone should treat others with respect. As a college sophomore, I have experienced much diversity since leaving home. I came from a very small town where everyone knew everyone else and their business; and being different was not really accepted. Neither of my parents grew up in the town, so they had different views that others. Naturally I had different views too. So I guess coming to college wasn’t as much as a culture shock as it is for others. But I still had to learn how to communicate and respect others who are different than me. Now I am in a sorority. And as a member of the Greek community, I know all about generalizations and stereotyping.
It really disappoints me that we have to look at people who are autistic see clear and unbiased perspectives of people. In my economics class last week, we talked about those who were “privileged”; and how, for the most part, we saw the “privileged” as having cheated their way to the top. But after talking about it, most of the “privileged” earned their money the right way. In this day in age, it is so easy to point fingers at others and say nasty things about them. It makes us feel good about ourselves and even gives us some sense of power. But what are we really doing when we have biases towards a certain group?


Bill Drissel writes:

The characteristics of a good idea and a good bargain are so different that it's a rare person who can appreciate both.

Bill Drissel

Answers the question, "If you so smart, how come you ain't rich?"

Steve writes:


If you can link me or direct me to Hayek discussing the point that you mentioned that would be great...


Nathan writes:

I'm skeptical of the idea that there must be a perfect (or even approximate) trade-off in the brain between intelligence and common sense. Lots of people have plenty of both.

Oscar Wilde may have said that there are some ideas so preposterous that only an intellectual can believe them, but as Bryan Caplan said in a recent podcast, if you think that someone with a doctorate in sociology has some ridiculous ideas about politics and economics, try talking to someone who dropped out of eighth grade.

woupiestek writes:

The balans of capabilities of the brain is a fallacy of justice: people like to believe the world is just, and therefore like to believe that being cerebral must make you less cunning. Although there might be something to the neurological argument, in reality there is no justice. Some people have all the luck, and some have none.

Drogomir Smolken writes:

I can believe that there is a tradeoff to some degree. A lot of smart people would be better off and make those around them better off if they spent less time reading about philosophy and quantum physics and more time talking to people about sports and sex. The latter is not a waste of time but a way of developing the sort of skills that the original commenter files under cunning and common sense. A lot of very intelligent people have a difficult time seeing it that way, though.

Carter Van Carter of Across Difficult Country must love this post... he calls libertarianism "applied autism".

P writes:

Since my comment got so much attention, let me make an addition.

The tradeoff probably isn't just between the two traits I named. But I'd bet my life that no great mathematician ever had the "situational awareness" to be an NFL quarterback or ace fighter pilot.

I know intelligent people who have "plenty" of common sense (however much that actually is). I'm talking about the extremes here.

woupiestek, I don't think there's any justice in biology either, but, if you're right, then the brain is the only system in the known universe not subject to tradeoffs. No engineer has ever created a system free of tradeoffs. No scientist has ever observed a natural one. This principle is about as well established as the laws of physics.

dilys writes:

Drogomir Smolken, I find your comment consoling. After [a good many] decades and several advanced degrees, I have concluded I am less interested in endlessly circling the Big Ideas than in food! fashion! flowers! and fun! It's working out very well, but I've been nervous about saying so.

I'll refer the snobs to you.

noahpoah writes:

The brain is certainly, as P says, subject to trade-offs, but it doesn't follow from this general fact that the brain is subject to trade-offs between any particular pair of cognitive traits, e.g., IQ and 'common sense'.

As for generalization begetting bias, this seems exactly backward to me. How does one generalize without already having a criterion (i.e., a bias) on which to base the generalization?

Joey Donuts writes:

Buckaroo Bonzai proves the point.

Troy Camplin writes:

Indeed, one does not necessarily need more brain matter -- one can have more complex connections, including more branchiness in neurons. Also, since our brains are now known to continue growing neurons, we know the brain can in fact gain more neurons. One's common sense differs based on the complexity of the society one lives in. Common sense for a social conservative Christian won't get him by among egalitarian thinkers, whose society is quite different from his. COmmon sense in a society of egalitarian thinkers is not common sense among social conservative Christians.

Bob Calder writes:

It's like goddamn South Park.

"Knowledge of Neuroscience"? You have GOT to be kidding me. Haven't you heard the news? Ignorance isn't a point of view.

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