Saturday, October 3, 2020

Potential is Nothing Without Conception

I very vaguely remember trying to start a discussion with the very fine physics teacher at the little school for "gifted children" that I headed way back when. I was on a very local kick about the difference between potential and kinetic energy, trying to make the point that potential energy wasn't energy at all. I think he was annoyed by the line of questioning, and didn't feel the need to grant me too much cred. 

I wonder if I was really thinking about measures for intelligence. I'd like to think so. I was not very settled about what "gifted" could really mean, and was in fact concerned that the school wasn't doing kids any real favors. It struck me then, and strikes me  more strongly now, that measures for intelligence are really like measures for potential energy. Those "measures" describe a conceptual relation, and not some actual perceptual relation where energy measurements might be taken. 

Of course lots has to have happened before any testing can take place. I'm pretty certain that some version of linguistic/cultural intelligence can account for statistically significant differences among imputed groupings for type.

Scientific measures deal with perceptions only. Conceptions can't be measured and theories can only be tested by related measurements. This is all not to dispute that measures for energy potential might be just as accurate as measures of actual energy. There are plenty of proxies out there. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and without an accurate conceptual theory there could be no accuracy at all.

Any measure of potential energy is really a prediction about what would happen "if" certain restraints could be removed. And who really cares about the difference between weight and mass? Both are measurable.

A classic example is the potential energy "contained" by a ball suspended above the ground. Were the suspension to be cut, energy would be realized. Were there no gravity, some other form of motive power - energy - would need to be applied. 

So like everything else, energy is relative, in this case non-relativistically in the technical sense of relativity theory. The ball has no energy, but there is gravitational force acting on the ball, and so the ball's weight is a kind of potential.

Intelligence, it seems to me, has to relate to things actually accomplished, while the measure of intelligence - apart from actual deeds - finds only what might be accomplished. Absent real challenges to it, intelligence is nothing at all. This is nearly cliche in the case of smart nerds who can't accomplish anything practical. There are also plenty of cases of genius-level accomplishment which is no accompanied by genius-level metrics.

The one thing that I was certain of about "my" little school was that if there really were some measure for potential intelligence, that would be a good thing because it would cut through such constructs as race and gender, which have both been on my mind a lot lately. Probably on yours as well.

The trouble was with IQ testing. The trouble was with the Bell Curve. The trouble was to get beyond the actual restraints that darker skinned people have always been subject to. Measurable intelligence, as I have written about many times, is nothing but a statistical artifact constructed arbitrarily on the basis of suppositions that there is such a thing as "general intelligence." 

The whole concept was birthed in the time when eugenics was thought to be a good thing, and when Hitler ultimately rose to power on some sort of misplaced fear that we would reverse the evolution that granted humans supremacy on the planet. As if!

That's all not to mention gender. Anyhow Richard Dawkins has, for my purposes, adequately given the lie to any notion that we might be dumbing ourselves down by not culling the herd. Evolution implies way more surprise than that. I doubt that intelligence, as we mean the term, defines all that there is about why humans have - seemingly - prevailed on the planet.

I suppose that there must be some sort of linguistic challenge to be passed before judgements of potential intelligence can be granted. But language is mostly benign until you engage with someone else, which is hardly what intelligence tests attempt. Language in "contact" with someone to whom you are subject is nearly always fraught. 

So what happens when someone is deemed academically brilliant, but has never been subject to anyone or to anything? This is not an academic question for me. It's a very live one. I have encountered plenty of chauventists of one category or another, some of whom have never had an actual job, well apart from teaching. Such types have never been subject to a soul. They have never fixed a thing, and yet might still feel qualified to question, say, my thinking about how I will bring this house I'm working on back into the realm of livability. 

This is precisely what I wanted to avoid with my school. Those kids needed to move beyond the notion that they had been granted some sort of "gift" by the fates who run the cosmos, and moved into actual contact with hard problems which need resolution. I am proud now of the actual proof of the pudding which has shown up among the grown alumnae. 

By and large, we seem to have given these students some actual challenge, and we did it by levelling the divide, morally, between student and teacher. Both were subject to reality and not one to the other. Teachers had to expose their ignorance by participating in difficult discussions beyond the areas of their purported expertise. Students often prevailed, and teachers were often effectively educated. It was a blast!

I was subject to my father, as were my siblings, in a way that probably is quite passé. One fellow that I'm abusing didn't have a father. I am subject to things when I troubleshoot and fix them. I am amazed myself at how many different types of things I've had to fix in my life. Houses, computers and networks, boats, cars, motorcycles. It's something I like to do, though I have nothing even approaching specialized professional knowledge in any particular realm.

I guess there's something wrong with me. I'm evidently bright enough. I face a kind of nausea when I face a problem that exceeds my knowledge and experience. I can't say that I "enjoy" the process of troubleshooting. It certainly isn't entertainment. It tends more toward compulsion, but I do enjoy the feeling of 'problem-solved' whether in home repair or boat restoration, or certainly writing (I experience that far less often).

Why, just yesterday I was invited to go house viewing with my ex and her new husband. I wanted to check out some work in her current house that I did when my kids were infants. I have to do similar work now in my daughter and son-in-law's house, and I wanted to see how I resolved the work back in the day.

I was blown away by my own work. I'd matched the existing molding precisely, and measured exquisitely and painted beautifully. Plumbing, electric, insulation and the works. Of course I had to doubt my current capacities, not at all certain that I could replicate the quality of work I'd achieved during my relative youth. When I was proud and full of myself the way youngsters often are.

My ex and I were already on the ropes. My school had closed, and I had come off a godawful stint in a school where "dyslexic" students were very much subject to imperious and proud teachers. It was a year long drunk for me, during which I was called out angrily by one among many brilliant students. They were actually rising up against the system, and he had been elected student president. I was on their side. On his side, while the rest of the administration was discussing how to neuter him. The fellow called me out for my stinking breath the morning after.

I often get paid to do the kinds of repairs I now do for love alone, and frankly I hold my head up because I can do a better job overall than most specialists. I enjoy fixing complex computer issues that are part physical, part electrical, part network, and utterly opaque to a specialist. The same is true when I can do the carpentry which makes the paint job last, or that makes the plumbing or electrical work possible. 

Oddly, I'm "worth" far less than specialists, including academic specialists, where I dabble as well. I see no justice in this, but then I'm not so concerned with money as I am with doing a good job to make someone happy. There are many routes to money, just as there are to hell, all paved with good rationalizations.

I suppose that I am proud to be worth so little. Twisted, right? But there you go! I just happen to know that what's wrong with humans on the planet is the equation between self-worth and monetary worth. Nearly all of us have internalized something like a 'work-ethic' which is nothing other than the internalization of the order which now destroys the planet.

We really do seem to believe that we are liberating and demonstrating our 'intelligence' by all the whiz-bang that we impose on the planet. We are surely clever. But it strikes me that we move away from what 'human' might and should mean.

I don't want to bore you, but I've written about what's wrong with this picture for most of my life. And yet there are ways that I could open my house, have a salon, invite poor souls to share my space, build a new family of oldsters who couldn't offend each other by baseless challenges. Such stuff as dreams are made on. Too bad I can't afford a house. 

So as Joe Biden always says, 'here's the deal!' In my long career as a computer and mostly network generalist, I believe that I encountered precisely two issues that I could not resolve. It was hard to let those two go. Now with this house, I've had to let go of quite a few issues. It's hard for me.

Many of those have to do with wiring. The trouble is that I can't trust what was covered up when the house was semi-gutted and a new internal skin applied. It seems that there are more than a few hidden junction boxes. I've tried and mostly succeeded to rationalize the wiring, balance it out, confirm circuits definitively and cut off live wires which connect to nothing.

But the other day - I should have known better - just as my son-in-law was about to begin his Zoom lecture, I wanted to get the attic light to work so that I could work on the leaking furnace room and create some storage space. It was simple enough. There was a dead red wire from a three conductor cable of the sort often used for three-way switches. I swapped it over to the live black wire, putting things back where they were, except to include the pull-chain switched light socket.

The plugs on which the Zoom computer depended all went dead. What?!? This is a circuit which had powered all the basement lights, all of my son-in-law's office plugs, outside flood lights, all of the attic plugs and lights and really most of the house. It was hairy, and I've been trimming it every time I find a definitive circuit and a pathway to pull new wire.

I've had to let this one issue go. The only explanation which makes sense is that there was indeed once a three way switch so that this attic light, which was about where the stairway used to be, could be turned on and off from top or bottom. The white, which tested properly neutral, must have carried power when the three way switch was flicked from one position. The red must also have carried power to this socket.

The only explanation I can come up with is that there is a ghost in the house who flicks some hidden switch just at the very moment that I cut off the breaker and swap some wires. One of those old button switches, maybe.

I'm OK with that. I have to be. I'm not about to tear open this beautiful skin unless I absolutely have to. I've taken peeks when I've been able to. It's not pretty inside. No smells though, which is a good thing.

It's interesting that plugs with neutral and hot wires both energized behave exactly as dead plugs. No harm no foul, unless you happen to touch one and are connected to ground. The house was built in 1850 or so. The sewer line is large enough to support a boarding house or a bordello. Many people must have died here. I'll have to check with my friend who does the 'ghost walks' to see if he has any intel on the place.

Meanwhile, I'm moving on to problems I can solve.

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