The Technium

The Thinkism Fallacy

Thinkism is the fallacy that problems can be solved by greater intelligence alone. Thinkism is a fallacy that is often promoted by smart guys who like to think. In their own heads, they think their own success is due to their intelligence, and that therefore more intelligence brings greater success in all things. But in reality IQ is overrated especially as a means to solve problems. This view ignores the many other factors that solve problems. Such as data, experience, and creativity.

For instance let’s take curing cancer or prolonging longevity. These two are problems that thinking along cannot solve. No amount of contemplation, creative brainstorming, or IQ will discover how the cell ages, or how telomeres fall off. In addition to thinking we need experiential data and experience to solve them.  We need experiments. No intelligence, no matter how super duper, can figure out how human body works simply by reading all the known scientific literature in the world and then contemplating it. No super AI can simply think about all the current and past nuclear fission experiments and then come up with working nuclear fusion in a day. Many other things besides smartness is needed.

Between not knowing how things work and actually knowing how they work, stands tons of experiments in the real world which yields tons and tons of data that will be required to form the correct working hypothesis. Thinking about the potential data will not yield the correct data. Thinking is only part of science; maybe even a small part. We don’t have enough proper data to come close to solving the death problem. And in the case of living organisms, most of these experiments take calendar time because biological organisms are involved. They take years, or months, or at least days, to get results. It takes time besides IQ.

IQ is overrated in science. The most innovative theories and experiments are not necessarily coming from the smartest people. Often the most imaginative succeed when the smartest don’t. Sometime those that are most persistent win; they keep doing the experiment until it works. On the other hand we all know really smart people who do dumb things. Intelligence is needed but is not sufficient.

Artificial intelligence is on its way to become a commodity. You’ll be able to buy as much IQ as you want, or can afford. We’ll soon apply large doses of intelligence to all kinds of tasks. The temptation will be to believe that greater intelligence will solve all our future problems. (This is one of the incorrect expectations of the Singularity.) But no matter how much intelligence you have, this thinkism alone won’t solve problems by itself. Intelligence has to be combined with imagination, perseverance, intuition, and large quantities of data, experience, and context to really be useful. It’s these other qualities that our humanness can supply.


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