I'm rereading McNamara's Folly after a few years

coming at it with a slightly more complicated perspective on IQ and cognitive capacity than I used to have

which has been influenced, in different ways, largely by convos with @meditationstuff and @eigenrobot
if you aren't familiar with the book or with Project 100,000, check out gwern's review here: goodreads.com/review/show/23…

and if you're stressed out by IQ talk, it may be good for you to go read SSC's Against Individual IQ Worries, instead of this thread:slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/27/aga…
basically, during the Vietnam War, recruits weren't volunteering in sufficient numbers

nor was the draft making up the difference in full

so they lowered the standards to include men who would have otherwise been disqualified including men with severe cognitive issues
"Category IV" men were those with IQs between 72 and 91. "Category V" men were those with IQs 71 and below. before Project 100,000, these scores would disqualify a man from service.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided to send such men to war.
I'm not going to go too much into the details of the implementation here; there are book reviews if you want to read them. or you can read the book itself; it's not too long and not too slow of a read. it *is* heartbreaking.
I'm thinking, instead, about my own experience with people in this range of cognitive aptitude.

if you've followed me for a while, you may know that I have about a decade of constant exposure (and some professional experience) working with developmentally delayed people.
mostly children, but I knew and still know several adults who would fall into that category
earlier today I was talking with some other people about cognitive ability and limitations

and my belief that, at the very least, there are *functional* limits to cognitive ability...
...and that we certainly lack the social, cultural, biological, and pedagogical technology to help people make large gains at scale

I am not particularly interested in using this thread to *argue* about the merits of IQ tests, or the meaning of "intelligence"
but as I read descriptions of how these men were recruited, pushed through basic training, and placed into combat roles, I can't help but draw parallels with my own experience teaching similarly disadvantaged children
I've talked a bit with some friends who believe that it's possible to unlock quite a bit of "blocked" cognitive capacity
and my own experiences with cognitive gains after getting out of terrible environments, dealing with anxiety, etc. have made me open to the idea that there is more malleability to these things than I thought
if you could take a man like those drafted via Project 100,000, and put him in the optimal environment for his psychology, his temperament, his abilities...somewhere you could take your time, adapt every lesson to his needs, help him be healthy and happy and safe...
...you would probably see *significant* gains in his cognitive abilities relative to his starting point

this plays out with foster kids, to an extent; it's common for kids to measure much higher on IQ tests once you remove them from constant abuse and start feeding them enough
I'm not sure how to bridge to my next set of thoughts

but reading through this book, and thinking about how, say, several of the kids I worked with were shoved through the school system, leaving w/diploma in hand, I keep coming up with the phrase "Goodharting them to death."
there is an anecdote early in the book about a recruit the author knew in basic training

the other men would play pranks on him

the one I'm thinking of, they would ask him if he preferred a nickel or a dime (worth more in the 60s)

he'd choose the nickel, because it was larger
one of the kids I worked extensively with is 21 years old

and will still fall for this

he, unlike the recruit in the above anecdote, can read

I and his other tutors probably spent dozens of hours over several years trying to teach him to distinguish coins from one another
he has a high school diploma
I know another young man

I didn't work with him personally

I was cornered by him at a christmas party when he kept trying to hold my hand

he was 18

barely verbal

was led around by para-educators in high school by the hand
never learned to read beyond recognition of the alphabet and his own name, as far as I know

he, too, has a diploma
the plan that sent men of similar capacity to Vietnam and often to their deaths was proposed as a "training" program

it was sold as a *benefit* to the disadvantaged

clean them up, teach them to read, teach them a trade.
that didn't happen very often.
childhood IQ is much less predictive of outcomes in adulthood than adulthood IQ measurements are.

I'm not necessarily saying that kids should be screened and excluded from the education system based on early test results
I *also* know a woman who was classified as "r*tarded" as a small child, and spent years in special education classes

she eventually tested out, successfully "mainstreamed," went to college, and is to my knowledge a nice lady w/normal intelligence and a decent job
so that happens sometimes

but not, in my experience, most of the time
again

in a perfect world where everyone gets *perfect* health and happiness and lots of time and *no* coercion or trauma and whatever pedagogical approach works best for their brains...we might see a different stratification, or maybe even less stratification
and probably significant gains in their abilities

we don't live in that world
there's a physical, likely hardwired component to IQ

there are probably components that are less hardwired that we simply don't have the tech to improve at scale

and I think that our inability to do so is a problem of deep civilizational inadequacy
...I'm really frustrated lol, I have a thread somewhere about the complicated incentives and requirements special education teachers are under in the classroom, and it reminds me a lot of the dilemmas described in this book, but I can't find the damn thread
another thought I'm not sure how to smoothly transition to: one thing that I'm looking forward to if Eigen and I remain in a position to homeschool, is the ability to accommodate our kids' educational needs at the individual level
a lot of this stuff wouldn't be so hard or so cruel on the cognitively disadvantaged if the people in charge of their care weren't being pressured to make them Pass Tests
whatever your thoughts on IQ, etc

there is a class of people

some of whom are "smart"

many of whom are not

who cannot be taught and trained to perform independently or well by a large institution that relies on test scores and data; certainly not at scale

yet? I hope so.
but sometimes I talk to people who want to pretend that this class doesn't exist

that we just need to keep Trying The Same Shit

more money, more time -- but eventually you run out of time, you can't keep people in school after they're 18
I don't know if it would be better for such people to simply permit the educational system to ignore them at an earlier age than they are permitted to ignore other children

it would have been better to ignore such men than send them to Vietnam
I don't have anything conclusive to say except that this is a hard problem and we really, actually, don't have the ability to fix it on a society-wide level via pedagogical means alone

I hope, again, that this is a case of "yet."
oh, here's that earlier thread I mentioned (thanks @PstafarianPrice ):

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More from @selentelechia

6 Sep
interesting when authors' lifelong fixations and neuroses and pain come through their writing

reading a book by Octavia Butler I hadn't read before

note: she was known to be a rather odd woman, never married, intensely isolated
...and a common theme in her books is coerced companionship, people thrown together such that they *must* stay with one another, deep biological imprinting to the point where people die without their bonded companion's presence

😥
she was also a tall, butch looking, black, probably queer woman...and born in 1947

another common theme is people acknowledging but functionally not worrying too much about all of these facts about her characters

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at 3am this morning I was already at ADHD Gridlock Level: If A Single Other Thing Doesn't Go Relatively According To Plan For The Next Few Hours I Will Be Incapable Of Functioning

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one reason I haven't been updating as much on meditation is that pregnancy has altered the phenomenological experience in ways that are tricky to talk about

and also pretty weird to talk about, so I feel rather...defensive? preemptively? about the whole thing
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introspective practices are n=1 by default and resist good experimental design :P
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Read 61 tweets
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I found SlateStarCodex in 2015. immediately afterwards, I got involved in some of the little splinter communities online, that had developed after LessWrong started to disperse.

I don't think it's exaggerating to say it saved my life
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7 May
coming up on the 15th anniversary of my biological father's death

May 23rd, 2005

he was in his early 30s (parents had me young)

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he was right
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