The Journal of the Noetic Society
Number 61
May 1991


Rick Rosner

In the late 70's, Christopher Reeve did a public service announcement urging people to become volunteers.  There was a life-size poster of Reeve at the 3.2 beer bar where I often went trying to lose my virginity, so I took him seriously.
The Carmel House was a home for about six dozen high functioning retarded people in my home town.  I volunteered to take some of the residents roller skating every Sunday.  We had a pretty good time.  Keith, a little guy with Down's Syndrome, supposedly had an IQ of 25, the lowest in my cohort.  David, a deaf and dumb skater, had an IQ of 110, I was told.  I don't know sign, so he'd write stuff out.  Once, he pointed at my shiny disco jacket and wrote "METALLIC."
My flat feet make skating somewhat painful, which focused my concentration.  I'd skate fast and think about physics.  Or I'd go play pinball.  I'd help some of the Carmel people with their skates or boost them back up if they wiped out.
One resident knew a lot about the van we used, so one night I let him drive a few blocks.  It had a stick shift, but he did pretty well.  
After about a year and a half, the people in charge of the volunteer program booted me out because I was often 15 or 20 minutes late, which agitated the skaters.  The residents were more competent than I at living up to our arrangement.  In terms of living up to the demands of each of our lives, the residents were more competent in general (though I saw them at their best).  If a gap of 100 IQ points or more made a difference, it was in their favor.

It'd be nice if we had more members--Noesis might contain more and different stuff, for instance.  Our standard source for recruits is Ron Hoeflin's tests, which are great at measuring perseverance and ingenuity, but which require a time commitment larger than many clever people are willing to invest.  Ron's very hardest problems are the ones which require the largest time investment, so that even an abridged version of his tests could take a long time.  Some of the number series problems, however, involve flashes of insight rather than the laborious construction of solutions and don't necessarily take a long time.
Perhaps an abridged version of the Mega could contain the hardest "short-time" problems, as well as what I call "ballparked" versions of the most time-consuming problems.  The hardest problem on the mega seems to be the three interpenetrating cubes.  Presenting it as a multiple choice problem would wreck and squander it.  I suggest it be presented accompanied by two numbers which would serve as a mean and a standard deviation.  To receive credit for the problem, a test-taker would submit something like a z-score, indicating where he or she thinks the solution lies in relation to the given mean.
If the three cubes problem was accompanied by a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 8, an answer of +1 would indicate that the test-taker thinks that the exact solution is between 100 and 108.  An answer of -10 indicates a solution between 20 and 28.
Say a tough problem is "How many chucks could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood, and an urn contains eight tan and two gray woodchucks?".  The exact answer is 17,292 and takes an average of 60 hours to solve.  What if the problem is ballparked by presenting it with a mean of 8,000 and a deviation of 1,200?  The correct z-score is +8.  It still takes an understanding of the problem to get a ballpark solution, it gives away very little about the exact solution, and it might be a way to find clever but impatient members. (Additional points could be awarded for finding the exact solution.)

Having taken some cheap shots at Cattell in the previous issue, I suppose I should present my sloppily-reasoned perspective on evolution, so y'all can take shots at it.  Here goes:
Darwin assigned emotions to animals, but later interpreters of survival of the fittest present animals as automated competitors in a vast video game, mindless masters of might makes right.  The biggest, bloodiest claws are raised in brainless, behaviorist victory.
I think evolution hinges on the survival of the unfittest--that some lousy organisms are compelled to blaze new  evolutionary trails.
Well-adapted animals don't have to be very smart--everything is laid out in their genes, they just have to be their unthinking selves.  It's only when something goes wrong, with an organism's body or in a changing environment, that animals must rouse themselves to some slightly higher level of awareness and attempt to deal with the problem.
Brains are inherently conservative--it takes energy to know things, and it's wasteful to know things unnecessarily.  It's safer to know a few things with high certainty than lots of things with low certainty.  Brains are structured to make information compact--to store as little information as possible to maximize the reliability of the information, except when compaction itself costs too much.  Brains are structured to:
1.  Minimize uncertainty
2a. Systematize information in order to--
b. Minimize the amount of stored information
3.  Approach novelty only with reluctance A happy brain is not taxed with too much information.  It doesn't want to think any more than it has to.  Thought involves error and risk.
Which means that species find rules of behavior that work and stick to them.  Healthy, well-adjusted organisms don't want to think. Thought involves risk.  Over time, successful rules of behavior become increasingly hard-wired.
Which brings us to the ill-adapted organism.  This animal has physical flaws or is living in a changing environment.  This animal is forced to think (as well as it can).  Appropriate stress forces thought to become more fluid, forces the brain to risk novel thought, to try to construct novel associations.  It's time to think or die (probably think _and_ die).  The ultimately stressed organism sees its life pass before its eyes as its brain attempts a desperate complete melt down.  Thought is for desperate situations--everything else should be on autopilot.
Long-term stress habituates the unlucky organism to thought. What a pain that it must think all the time to survive.  If it does survive, it develops new behaviors.  Perhaps it communicates those behaviors and other species members adapt them.  If the behaviors persist over generations, they become hard-wired.  Hard-wired behaviors determine new fitness criteria.  
Thought is often the punctuation in punctuated equilibrium. Stress forces organisms to think, thought induces behavioral change which contributes to physical re-adaptation, after which species can go back to being stupid for another .3 zillion years.
Obviously species with little or no brains can't think very well, and a planet full of such has less co-evolution and a slower overall rate of evolution.
Thought itself becomes a selection criteria.  Some emerging species incorporate increasingly-flexible thought patterns into everyday behavior.  Bigger brains help minimize the potential for error in such behavior.
Some species become more flexible at thinking than their environment merits.  They add artificial complication to their cultures.  After all, with thought as a selection criteria, and with most species members adequately able to address natural components of their environment, artificial challenges must be constructed.
Species at home in their surroundings don't need to think much, but they must retain the capacity to address change, should it occur.  You're gonna get populations of dumb, well-adjusted animals, with a few ill-adjusted, anomalous thinkers.  The majority must tolerate but contain the anomalous members.  Thinking members have the potential to disrupt the culture and must be distracted if not ostracized.  (What would happen to realtors and stockbrokers if physicists decided that the important thing isn't to discover the structure of the universe but to make hellacious amounts of money?)
Where to look for evidence of thought as a catalyst in punctuated evolution?  Well, appropriately-stressed animals should show more flexibility in thinking than their unstressed counterparts. Such flexibility should tend to transcend the nature of the stress--different experiences should lead to similar increases in ingenuity.  Stressed animals should show different ways of approaching all sorts of problems than unstressed animals.  Stressed animals made fat and happy might return to unthinking behavior.  Unstressed animals, once stressed, should fall into thoughtful behavior.
I guess what I'm looking for is an evolutionary theory that isn't just a teeming battleground with vast numbers of nearly-identical species members in mindless conflict with their environment.  I want  narrative evolution--evolution with heroes and a story line.  I want a theory in which one single, geeky organism can use its tiny but awakened nervous system to change the course of its species and of  history. 
Much of this ill-founded theorization is based on my own self-observation under pressure.  I find my own thinking to be more flexible under stress--I'm able to find associations between things that I usually don't think of together.  The type of stress doesn't seem to matter that much; it can be physical, emotional, situational. I definitely feel that I'm smarter for having done lots of dumb stuff that put me under unnecessary stress (though not overt physical danger--as a spaz, I can't trust my coordination to get me out of trouble).

Dear Rick,
Thanks for Noesis #60.  I'll send my phrenological measurement (23" circumference) to Ron.  If he gets significant correlations, I'll eat my hat.
As for manual dexterity, I type about 100 w.p.m.. play guitar, operate ATM's about 2 - 5 times faster than average, etc., but some of these are due to training.  I guess I'm ambidextrous.  I operate calculators & ATM's with left, turn pages with left, check dipstick with left, but write with right and turn screwdrivers with the right and throw with right.  Ahem, I'll stop there!
What electronic mail system do you use?  The headers indicate it could be a Unix system at Peregrine, Inc.?
I guess the Post Office isn't too picky--recent Noesis mailings have been about 1.5 oz.
Kjeld Hvatum
P.S.  Just got a free Random House College Dictionary from their Managing Editor for corrections I've sent them.
P.P.S.  Perhaps you should list the membership in Noesis.


Editor's comments:  Dean Inada, Chris Cole and I are tied into a computer system called GNU.  I don't know what that means or how to specify how to get in touch with us.  But I'll have Chris or Dean give you the specs.  I'll include a membership roster in the next issue.  Let me know if you don't want you address listed.  While we're talking about membership--do any readers have suggestions for increasing membership?
More on dexterity--I'm good at slow, precise tasks such as drawing and manipulation of objects in the millimeter range.  I'm average at skills such as typing, and my learning curve might be flatter than average at such tasks.  Any dexterity I do have I  attribute not to my peripheral nervous system but to a better than  average understanding of spatial relationships.
My reflexes have been slow, probably because I am absent-minded, but with practice, I've made them better than average for some tasks.  (I'm pretty good at catching falling objects, though I used to be terrible.  Again, this is due to practice picking up broken glass off of bar floors and having a good mental picture of the dynamics of falling objects.)  I'm better than average at getting through crowds (again, from working in bars).
My natural level of gracefulness is indicated by these teachers' comments which were included in my permanent scholastic record: Grade 1 Ricky does very well scholastically, but he needs to develop better social habits.  He also needs to develop big muscle coordination. Grade 2 Very poor muscular control--self conscious--social problems--wants to be one of the group--needs help in joining groups Worries--Dr. is helping Ricky with his "worry problems" [This is 1968, the end of the golden age of shrinks.] Grade 3 Ricky's social contacts blossomed this year.  Very intelligent child but needed to have friends.  Seeing a psychiatrist has definitely helped Ricky.  He has been a lovely student and reads a good deal [thus wrecking my eyes].  Would rather do this than play outside. Grade 4 Ricky does not work up to his ability.  [This was the year Rob Bekuhrs found a coverless, torn-up copy of The Pearl--Victorian pornography, not Steinbeck--on our teacher's desk.  Evidently, Miss Garrett had found it on the playground and dropped it on her desk without realizing what it was.  We swiped it and passed it around and from it learned everything any six-year-old knows nowadays.  The boys in the class walked around with tented pants.  The girls asked to see our penises.  I, of course, was the only one who showed them.  This was also the year the boys in the class spent waiting for the mini-skirted Miss Garrett to bend over.  When she finally did, late in the year, we were shocked and disappointed to find that she wore a large pantry girdle.]  He can be very distracting to others.  Very creative. Tends not to mind at times.  Mother very interested.  Grade 5 Excellent mind--can figure out ANYTHING!  Writing is atrocious.  Great sense of humor.  Not too coordinated (to put it mildly) but even goes out and plays softball now!  Beware--must be challenged, bores easily!
Being a spaz caused me much distress, and I've wasted my life overcompensating.  The school system and I were co-conspirators in making me care less about learning and more about being popular.  I've developed a slightly schizoid dual personality--the smart guy and his evil twin.  The smart guy wants to stay at home and read and think and isn't good at everyday tasks.  His evil twin takes great joy in tormenting the smart guy--distracting him with trivia, making him say and do trashy things.  The evil twin is _too_ good at everyday tasks. I'm like a Harlequin Romance rolled into one person--the rugged take-charge manly man who forcefully seduces the quaking ethereal heroine.


In the last issue, Chris Cole presented three Harry Anderson magic tricks & asked readers to attempt to figure them out.  Here're my solutions:
Today's newspaper headline in the locked, proctored box--The skeleton key contains the rolled-up headline.  It's injected into the box as the box is unlocked.
The linked class rings--Since Harry approaches the ring donors one at a time, two dummy rings can be linked to each donated ring in turn.  Each donor sees his ring linked to two other similar rings, but did the three donors get together afterward to compare?
Harry telepathically finds a phone number at random from the white pages--I know this one 'cause it happened to me at The Magic Castle.  Harry switched his set of numbers with the numbers written down by audience members.  At The Magic Castle, a magician had three audience members write down five-digit numbers in a small spiral notebook.  Another audience member (I volunteered) added up the three numbers.  The magician had the sum written down all the time, except my sum didn't agree with his sum.  The magician looked at my set of numbers and said that I'd mistaken a seven for a one, thus the discrepancy.  My wife had been one of the three people to write down a five-digit number.  After we left, I asked her what number she'd written, and it wasn't any of the ones I'd seen.  The magician had flipped a page in the spiral notebook, substituting his numbers for the numbers supplied by the audience.


No new puzzles this time, but last time I offered ten bucks to anyone who could come up with the next term in this sequence: 3, 7, 19, 29, 71, 103, 103, 191, 233, 317, 577, . . . No one attempted it.  Each number in the sequence is the largest member of a set of primes.  Each member of a set is the smallest prime larger than a given prime that has a particular remainder when divided by the given prime.  The set is complete when all remainders are represented.  This isn't very clear.  Here are some sample sets: for 2--{3} for 3--{5, 7} for 5--{7, 11, 13, 19} for 7--{11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29}
The next term in the sequence is . . . I dunno.  I've lost my notes.  Have to logout and go searching.
O.K.  Found it.  The term after 577 is 439, which is the largest member of the remainder set for 37-- {41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107,  109, 113, 131, 137, 139, 149, 151, 167, 173, 179, 193, 197, 199, 229,  233, 239, 277, 317, 383, 439}
What possible use is this?  Suppose you were lost on the number line, which is marked only P for prime or C for composite.  You can move only to the right--to increasing numbers.  How far do you have to go to find out where you are?  Until you cover a set of primes whose spacing tells you the identity of the first prime you encountered.  Here's your number line: P P C P C P C C C P C P C C C P C P C C C P C . . .
The sequence P P tells you that you started at 2.  P C P C P indicates you started at 3.  Obviously, P P and P C P C P show up nowhere else on the number line.


I got a subscription offer from the Skeptical Inquirer, published by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.  Its aim seems to be to debunk psychic garbage. Maybe some of you would be interested.  (Maybe some of you already subscribe.  Is it worth it?)  It's $14.95 a year or $27.50 for two years.  It's a quarterly.  The number is 1-800-634-1610 outside New York, 716-834-3222 in New York.

by Rick Rosner
People who make their livings using quantum mechanics have had two objections to outsiders who attempt to mess around in the quantum realm.  They object to metaphors and analogies being used to help visualize quantum phenomena.  Feynman issued especially strong cautions against trying to construct mental pictures of quantum events.
Some physicists also object to quantum analogies being extended to the macroscopic world.  They say that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle can't be applied to love or politics.  
But people continue to make sloppy quantum analogies.  I do regularly, especially in traffic or in crowds.  I see people as wave functions, expanding to fill all space, until an event collapses them back to a point.
I'm not talking about the population expanding indefinitely. I'm referring to individual, oblivious persons.  Someone who isn't paying much attention to his or her surroundings takes up a huge amount of space.  Drivers without a vector maintained by constant attention are all over the place, and in California, where driving is like breathing, nobody pays attention.  It's only in tight driving situations with many near encounters that drivers' wave functions are constrained.
Women's Studies professors will tell you that men take up more space than women.  It's not that they have more volume, it's that they unconsciously take custody of more space by sprawling with limbs akimbo, by swaggering.
In New York City, everyone must spend time as a pedestrian, but many New Yorkers aren't good at it.  They fail to define themselves a vector and bobble all over the sidewalk.  They clump at busy corners and at subway entrances.  People, like arterial plaque, will accumulate at places with the highest traffic, with the highest Bernoulli velocity.  Only a near collision will make a daydreaming pedestrian streamline himself, and then only for a short time.  
It's basically a failure of imagination that causes people to have undefined positions and velocities.  People tend not to maintain a constant mental picture of themselves in their surroundings.  After all, they're there, why should they?  Only when someone sees themselves as on an urgent mission do clear vectors snap into place--that is, as long as they imagine themselves as in a movie, maintaining a constant image of their position in space. Unfortunately, the people who see themselves as stars in their own movies are usually high school guys in Trans Ams, who use their clear vectors to slice through traffic and piss everybody off.
New Yorkers must climb lots of stairs.  Usually, they fail to imagine people going the opposite direction and thus expand to fill the entire stairwell.  Until they nearly bump into somebody.  then they define themselves for a few seconds, sometimes resentfully.  It's work to maintain an image of yourself in space.
New Yorkers are good about elevators.  When attempting to enter an elevator, they tend to imagine passengers exiting.  New Yorkers usually stand aside before entering in expectation of people getting off.  People in L.A., who don't have to use elevators as much, don't stand aside before entering and are surprised at near collisions with exiting passengers.