Re: Genius -- the evidence

Eliezer Yudkowsky (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 18:48:05 -0600

[Lyle Burkhead:]
> I think they were assuming that you had some experience of life, and
> some knowledge of the history of science, in which case their point
> would indeed be obvious. Experience will only come with time,
> but I have given you the basic facts about who the geniuses are in
> one field, mathematics. The facts about other fields are similar. I am
> bothering to argue, and I would be interested to see your response.

My response is, as always, "Insufficient Data". I acknowledge that
there are major, evolved, emotional differences between the sexes,
although not necessarily ones that could not be overcome by upbringing.
In fact, I seem to recall running through several case histories of
feminized boys and androgenized women, some of which were (as far as
known) upbringing-induced and not a testosterone imbanance. Certainly,
just as an example, the standard for women, regardless of culture, is to
choose mates carefully... though there are veterans of the Sexual
Revolution who may choose otherwise. And the standard for men is to
sleep with anything that moves... though many die virgins of their own
free will.

My objection to this whole discussion is that, scientific as it may
sound, factual as our intentions may be, ultimately you're going to be
put in the position of saying to some woman: "You can never be a
mathematical genius 'cause it ain't in your genes." Or of saying to
some man: "You'll never be a great housekeeper because it ain't in
*your* genes." Of saying to some teenager: "You don't have the
experience in life to argue whether woman can be mathematicians."

That's no better than the psychiatrist who proffers an elaborate
emotional explanation for the actions of a rational person and then uses
his "medical" authority to override that person's will on the basis of
his explanation. It doesn't matter if the person is well-intentioned
and honestly believes he's as much a doctor as a surgeon.
Well-intentioned people do horrible things all the time.

Psychiatry is a direct attack on who a person is, so that my instinctive
retaliation is not to punch the other in the nose or even to kill him
but to erase him from the stream of Time, so that he never existed and
never hurt me. It's not just overriding the will of another with your
own. It's erasing the will of the other person from reality by offering
an alternate explanation, so that what everyone else believes is that
your will was really this-and-that. Psychiatry erases a person from

And, generalizations based on class or gender or race or even age are
just as bad. Some of them may even be facts, but they have to
overridable facts. If I say "I'm not a teenager" or a prospective
mathematician says "I'm not a woman" or an agnostic says "I'm not
Catholic", to continue in the generalization based on what *you* think
is worse than evil. To override the existence of another in that way
corrupts the soul, to introduce an entropian phrase. Perhaps you would
be more comfortable with "destroys the mind, reduces your respect for
the individual, and changes you definitely for the worse". It's an
entropian act, an Evil one, and in the end it *doesn't* *matter* how
much scientific backing you had for your generalization. *People* take
precedence over *generalizations*! A living, breathing, sentient mind
has the right to be judged on its own merits, and not casually *erased*
based on what other people did!

I believe that the truth takes precedence. But I don't believe that
this applies to conversation or any interactions with others, only to
self-honesty. I perceive no ethical problem in freely concealing the
existence of weapons or ideas. (Note: Conceal ideas *you* have, not
suppress the ideas of others. Drexler, for instance, wisely and
ethically kept his mouth shut about nanotechnology until he decided nano
*would* arrive and the only question would be how much forethought had
been done about gray goo.) To quote my own humble opinion, one should
never publish a statistic about how many rapes are required to produce a
single living baby. It's a valid statistic on which valid plans for
social action might be based, but it's still a dangerous statistic that
should never be published.

It goes to the core of a human's existence that whatever statements can
be made about you are only probabilities, and that by choosing to do
something different, you can break the probabilities. It is, if I may
wander very briefly into cognitive science, inherent in our concept of
causality that there is a default situation which you alter by doing A
and then B happens; this is what we mean by A causes B. An unbreakable
default with respect to a person removes that person's feeling of free
will; it smashes any self-concept based on free-will; it destroys your
awareness of the effect of your actions; it turns your mind into an
epiphenomenal gremlin; it erases you from the Universe.

No. I refuse. I refuse to discuss stereotypes and I refuse to take
actions based on stereotypes. If I was researching this problem on my
own with an eye to doing something about it, I would freely think
internally about statistics and causes and fixes. But the moment
anybody stood up and said: "This doesn't apply to me", that would be
*all*, that would be *done*, and it wouldn't matter if I thought my
ideas were the equivalent of the laws of *physics*. I may ask for an
explanation of why X doesn't apply to you, and if an explanation is not
forecoming, I may invent a *private* explanation of why X really does
apply to you. But I shall never pronounce it aloud. If this means that
I lose a few arguments; if this means that a few schizophrenics receive
the death penalty instead of appropriate medication; if a refusal to
acknowledge a problem results in the destruction of human civilization;
so be it. Some things take precedence.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.