Monday, 26 November 2012

The pyramid of technology, and of intellectual functions

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[Following on from http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-over-promoted-society.html ]

There seems to be a pyramid of technology which corresponds to a pyramid of intellectual functions in large complex modern societies.

The peak of the pyramid is the high level of general intelligence (g) needed to make qualitative improvements in social functioning: breakthroughs.

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This is the pyramid:

Breakthrough (qualitative)
Improvement (incremental)
Replacement
Repair
Maintenance
Operation
(Sub-functional)

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What I am talking-about are those key factors which could be termed 'technology' in the broadest sense:

these would include forms of social organization (government, religion), food production - including agriculture, warfare and defence, and so on.

Whatever are the key functions upon which society depends.

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The pyramid is most obvious for those complex technologies which led to the emergence of modern societies (the technologies of the linked agricultural and industrial revolutions) and upon which modern societies depend.

Modernity arose due to frequent breakthroughs and improvements - these breakthroughs in 'technology' enabling production to outgrow population growth for many generations.

But underneath it all was the breakthroughs.

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So the breakthrough is the invention of something qualitatively new - some piece of machinery, some concept, a form of organization... This (as a rule) requires genius - a combination of very high intelligence and creativity.

This breakthrough is then incrementally improved - this does not require such high intelligence, nor does it require creativity - but can be done by 'trial and error'.

Sooner or later the entity (the piece of technology, the social institution) will wear-out, get broken or dissipate entropically, and need to be replaced - this may require workshops, factories, systems of apprenticeship, colleges - these need to be generated and made to work.

And, as it is being used or operating, from time to time the entity needs to be repaired. This is easier than replacing it, and the repair process may be broken down into specific checks and tasks.

But simply operating the entity, working the technology or working-in an institution, requires less capability than repair.

Nonetheless, there are people who cannot operate; they lack the requisite ability - they are sub-functional with respect to that specific 'technology' (although they may be functional for other technologies).

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So, if we think of a gun; there was the breakthrough of the concept of a gun, what it could do and how; there was the incremental (trial and error) improvement of this basic breakthrough until there were functional guns - and the continued incremental improvement (and specialization) of these guns.

Then there is the matter of manufacturing and replacing guns; then below that there is the function of maintaining a gun (regular cleaning, oiling etc).

Then below that there is the function of shooting guns (so the hit the target, and so they do not kill the operator).

Below that again are sub-functional people - e.g. who cannot shoot the guns accurately, or who shoot them on impulse or for a joke; and these people are a liability because they may shoot themselves of the people on their side. Indeed, they are 'more trouble than they are worth' because they require such a high degree of supervision in order to prevent them inflicting damage.

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If we think of an abstract field like science; there are the creative geniuses who make breakthroughs in theories or discoveries; and there are the non-creative intelligent people who may incrementally improve and refine these breakthroughs.

Then below that are the structures of education and apprenticeship which create the environment within which this can occur, and from which the higher level people may be generated - for example the people who work in (properly functioning) colleges and research institutions.

Below that are the people who use the products of science to make and do things (applied scientists, engineers, doctors, technologists);

and below that are the people who use what these makers and doers generate (e.g. skilled craftsmen);

and below that are the users;

and below them are people who cannot use science safely or appropriately - and must have it done for them, or not at all (e.g. children, and other people who lack the intellectual requisites).

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This pyramid is also a hierarchy of general intelligence (g).

Intelligence is not the only important factor (personality - for instance - is very important) but intelligence is a vital and constraining factor in the above hierarchy.

If the required level of intelligence for the required function is not met - then the function will not be done.


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So if we cannot repair and replace a piece of technology or a social institution (like medicine, or engineering); then when it breaks (due to wear and tear, or sabotage) it cannot be mended or re-made, and is lost.  

And as a society's average intelligence declines, as has happened in Western Europe, then it has a major impact on the above pyramid.

What happens initially is the over-promoted society; where the lack of intelligence means that people end-up at a level one (or two) categories too high for their cognitive abilities.

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Those whose job is to make breakthroughs can now only make incremental improvements - they cannot do their core job. Therefore breakthroughs dry-up - and the whole basis of modern societies is lost.

But because breakthroughs are needed there there is a pretence of breakthroughs - and ideas that are just random variations and inversions and recombinations of what already exists (mere novelties)  are spun as breakthroughs.

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Those whose role is to make incremental improvements are unable to function above the level of replacements and repair of already existing entities - so established things don't improve gradually as they used to.

They change but don't improve - therefore they get worse.

Perhaps this contributes to the fact that so many able people have given-up on trying to improve functionality, and lapsed into fashionability and careerism.

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Those who are supposed to repair and maintain stuff cannot really understand how it works - so repair becomes reduced to maintenance, and the following of predecided procedures.

And the fact that so many people are over-promoted (for lack of anyone better) can lead to a deficiency of mere operatives - who may be inadequate either intellectually, or in terms of personality.

These are, in fact, sub-functional individuals who are being used for lack of anyone else.

And still there is a large and expanding 'underclass' of those unable or unwilling to perform any of the functions required by modern society.

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All this is due to complexity.

If the technology is less complex, if the institutions are less complex, then people can perform at their proper level.

Except for breakthroughs which are necessary to modernity, but now very rare or absent - as those of the highest level of intelligence have all but disappeared.

So, what will happen is that things will get less complex - technology, society will simplify - because things cannot be sustained at the current level of complexity.

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