Friday, August 30, 2013

How Big A Problem?

A problem-solving seminar I attended years ago had an interesting technique for thinking creatively:  imagine that the problem is much worse and consider what you would do, then imagine it as much less dire and project solutions.  For example, if you are $8K in debt, imagine if it were $80K – what would you do?  Now imagine the debt at $800 – what’s your approach?  Your answers will illuminate what you should do about your real problem. If your house floods every ten years, what if it were every year?  What if it were every 100 years?

If the variance were smaller I don’t think the IQ controversies would be as great.  As I have said many times, IQ is not that good an individual predictor of success. Work ethic, ability to get along, connections, physical attractiveness and charm, conscientiousness, perseverance, attitude, and even luck might serve you better.  But it does tell you something about populations, similar to what shows about basketball ability: the taller guys will trend better, but there will be plenty of exceptions. The black guys will trend better, but there will be exceptions (Hey, I have Bill Walton circa 1977* at center for my Alien Game. Not in my top ten for career, though.)

Most members of the general public don’t know what a bell curve and a standard deviation are. The energy comes from those who do know what’s up affecting the others. They see a population that is 0.6SD lower, another 1SD lower, and one 0.3SD higher than the overall average and know it’s large – so large that the implications for egalitarian America are unacceptable and a variety of escape routes are attempted.

Yet if the differences were only one-third as great, so that Ashkenazi Jews averaged 105, Northeast Asians 102, Caucasians 100, Hispanics and Native Americans 97, and African Americans 95, I think everyone would sort of quietly acknowledge it (it is about what popular impression seems to be, after all) and resolve to say little more about it. Affirmative action, if we still went that route, would not produce glaring inequities, just mild annoying ones. It would be a largely ignorable problem. Not entirely.  

If the variance were 3 times as great I cannot even imagine what society would be like. There are science-fiction/dystopian speculations beginning with HG Wells that play at this, but even those fall short. Even 2x is not really imaginable.

*Hmm.  Let me reconsider that. Olajuwon 1994 might be better.


james said...

Brave New World never showed us the Epsilons. I suppose the story would have dragged too much if it had.

Texan99 said...

Fiction never does, does it?

Texan99 said...

PS, what an interesting approach to problem-solving. I guess it requires us to focus on the scale of the problem in relation to the scale of its proposed solution.