Signaling Genius

December 5, 2007

I wanted to write a post about how to form a community of geniuses, but it immediately occurred to me that the fundamental problem is how to find genuine geniuses (say that 5 times fast), and let them know that you too are genuine. That is a question of signaling, so I’ll talk about that instead.

We are wired through evolution to signal many things, especially availability to mate. We have ways of signaling group membership, but they are insufficient to signal genius because they are all superficial. For example, I can easily integrate with a clique of teenagers by being a teenager, dressing exactly like they do, and holding similar opinions about superficial topics. I could signal my availability to mate by playing with my hair and showing a potential mate my wrists. That’s easy.

Not so easy: how do I walk into a room and spot a genius? The short answer is that I can’t. The first issue is that there are no reliable, outward signs that a person is intelligent. There are signals that I can rely on to give me a statistic-level knowledge of a person — their mannerisms, their mode of dress, their vocabulary, and others. This level of knowledge is an acceptable heuristic for day-to-day interactions, but it can do nothing for uncovering an individual’s true nature. This works for mates (in an evolutionary sense) but not for geniuses because potential mates make up a significant proportion of the population and tend to behave similarly, whereas geniuses are rare and tend not to have common characteristics that reliably map only to genius (eccentric people might just be insane).

To complicate matters, there is motivation for other people to lie about their group membership. People “front” all the time for various reasons. Some people want to be a member of the “genius group” because they like the internal narrative it allows, and they want the social benefits (hah) of being considered wildly intelligent.

I would be lying if I said that I don’t catch myself “acting the part,” even under this veil of anonymity. “Why,” I ask myself, “would I still try to ‘sound smart’ if I cannot possibly derive any benefit from doing so?” I think it’s because I’m trying to signal — I’m putting a sign out front that says “Geniuses Enter Here.” And of course, just as I am skeptical of other people’s genius, those who visit here must be skeptical of mine, so I’m trying to prove my genius preemptively. Of course this isn’t very effective.

The way I personally try to signal genius, and decode incoming signals of genius is through conversation. I try to stay away from fluffing the actual words I use, and being susceptible to the fluff of other people. I am not always successful at either, but it’s something I strive for.

Even if I could strip down communication to the bare essentials in order to really evaluate the merit of a pure idea, when would the bulb flash on? What can be said that guarantees that the speaker is a genius? What attitudes can be held that do the same? Is conversation really a reliable signal of genius, or is it merely a method of finding people who agree with you that you can assume are geniuses thanks to confirmation bias?

33 Responses to “Signaling Genius”

  1. Matthew Says:

    As far as I know Yudkowsky and I both have a 140 point IQ yet he is clearly superior to me intellectually. It’s like the mean difference between the ‘normal’ college graduate who studies nursing or gets a bachelors of arts in psychology versus a theoretical physicist. I do laugh that you will beat him at AGI. Mainly so you will hurry up. A lot of extremely intelligent people believe things that are incredibly stupid. Newton, among other genuises, fall into this category. Perhaps you share the same characteristics and so are incapable of inventing genuine AGI this century.

  2. snowclone Says:

    Gee, OK, you have all these problems. If you’re really so smart, who do you expect to solve them for you? Stop complaining and do something. And if your response is “oh but you can’t escape the system, I have to get through undergrad and then get a job and then work my way up, but I can definitely change things by doing the same things a billion other people do” then you’re not as smart as you claim. Actually, I can already tell that you’re not as smart as you claim because you think you’re going to start “the singularity” and your idea of a goal is “beating Yudkowsky.”

    • James Says:

      Thank you for your comment but if you lived in a poisonous cloud wouldn’t it be much harder to think normally about how to escape that poisonous cloud?

      Think about it before saying anything.

  3. LG Says:

    My greatest inciting force of motivation is the thought that I can’t do something. It’s happened a few times in my life that I’ve been told by some authority in a field that I was not very good in it, nor would I ever be. Each time that’s happened I’ve pushed the envelope and become quite good. As I get older, I can conjure that voice at will internally. Still, when I see a budding talent in an area that needs a push, I’ll say to that talent: “You aren’t good. There is much better work being done, keep up.”

    In Eli’s case, I wouldn’t presume to tell him what he needs to improve, but I think I see where his line of writing is going, and that line needs an order of magnitude built on top of it, in a manner of speaking. I don’t pretend to know what that next leap will look like, but I think Eli knows it’s there too. If he didn’t realize something was missing, I think he’d be driving forward into actual production — instead he’s organizing thoughts in a logical pattern that he hopes to build on later.

    It is my hope that the threat of being overtaken by an upstart will allow Eli to plumb the depths of creative intelligence to come up with the answer before I ever follow through on my suggestion.

    Before you ask me what made me think my comment would have any impact on Eli at all, I’ll say that that’s between Eli and himself.

    So, what are your thoughts on signaling genius?

    • James Says:

      I prefer not to share my thoughts but I’ll give you an advice. Know yourself first.

      It’s a hint btw.

  4. Matthew Says:

    Yes, I agree about your yudkowsky musings, sort of.

    Since genius is relative to one’s peer group, it’s best signalled by being a maverick. Genius only matters to the ignorant so your signals are heard by deaf ears. Except of course the general public, which probably would laud Behe as a genius whose time has not yet come.

    • James Says:

      Interesting though not entirely true. The fact that you refer to genius being a concept made up by society is nice but the rest is lacking.

      So yes in this blog each and every person sees the other as “normal” or their equal since their levels are close to each other.

      Having more understanding than the average man won’t amount to much in front of those that see you like you see society.

  5. emma Says:

    on signaling genius.

    well obviously there is not much to tell about a person if you only look at him or her.

    perhaps if the person was an aestethic genious or not, judging by the way they dressed. there are people born with the ability to acknowledge “significant form” clive bell wrote about it i think. but you could only tell if the person had that or didn’t have that if you yourself where born with it. if one follows the guidelines by gardner about the 8 intelligences or however many there are, then that welldressed person would be considered at least intelligent, within the particular category where say picasso is member.

    other ways on spotting a genious?

    well you would have to conversate with people now wouldn’t you?

    i would say that you kinda need to be genius yourself to recognize one if he or she was in your face. and you would have to have sufficent knowledge of the field where this supposed genius was active.

    first let get one thing straight, i know that the person behind this blog know this. there is not one intelligence only. there are several. so if a person scores good in an IQ-test, who are very conventional and only measures certain parts of the mind, this does not automatically mean that the person is a genius at everything, it doesn’t even mean that they are wise.

    so you talk to the person, hopefully you have insights into the same areas. and if you listen to the person and follow there chain of logic then you can see where the “quantumleaps” in thought have occured. but you yourself would have to be intelligent enough to recognize the.

    so just because a person is a total looser in your area doesn’t mean he or she still couldn’t be a fucking genius. and who is to say whose area of grandness is worth more?

    but in general people who are intelligent seem to come to the same conclusions about life and so on. i believe that is because just as there is a solid logic in maths, there is also solid logical conclusions you can draw about life. “if you hit your head it will hurt” is a very basic one. and it is applicable to most people.

    (but, mind you, only most, some people may have no feeling left because of an accident, or they may have trained there minds to experience no pain, like fakirs. but for most it will hurt.)

    and there are much much more advanced conclusions you can draw about life, existence and all the beautiful aspects of it (beautiful aspects = everything). if you are intelligent enough (or rather, wise enough) and if you make yourself avaliable for learning.

    well the logic is there for anyone who is interested in it (of unravelling truths) and who is not letting their emotions cloud their mind. if you yourself are capable of that, then you will recognize when others also have been.

    my native language is not english, so no need to point out the flaws in my post, please =)

  6. mike Says:

    I think trying to “act the part” is the wrong thing to do.

    We do it because we recognize that we are smart and so we try to fit all of the smart stereotypes. Like we might try to be rocket scientists or particle physicists. Or we might try to use big words and and read lots of technical books.

    I find that doing the opposite is how we exercise our intelligence, try to act dumb and the intelligence will just naturally come.

    As for finding other geniuses that is easy. You can always spot it in their eyes. The dumb people always have a clueless look in their eyes.

  7. mike Says:

    I also noticed that ugly people are always dumber than better looking people. And, that dumb people are attracted to dumb(ugly) people.

    Angelina Jolie – ugly dumb bitch

    The average person goes apeshit for her.

    Emo girl I know – smart and really hot

    I go apeshit for her.

    I also noticed that normal people like big asses and tits which is a common trait in black and mexican people who as a race are a lot dumber than the white race who has smaller assess and tits.

    Regular sized tits and ass is what i find most attractive.

    By the way i am not a racist. I believe each person is an individual and that there are millions of black people that are smarter than white trash. I hate all dumb people equally whites and blacks.

    However I realize that it’s a FACT that the white race as a whole is highly superior to all races. Heres proof:

    Again AS A WHOLE. We are individuals and me or you or any black person do not represent our entire race. I only mention race to back up my claims scientifically.

    What do you expect when monkeys evolved into black people and black people evolved into white people. In fact my great great great X999,999 grandfather was a black person. So we are distant family.

    If you can keep up with what I just said without screaming something like “your ignorant” I grant you genius status from me. I doubt it though. Prove me wrong.

  8. mike Says:

    I’d like to make a point about grammar because it pisses me off how everyone thinks they are smart if they try to make their speech and writing all perfect like it came out of Websters dictionary.

    I’ve written a huge amount about this on other websites but peoples responses are usually something like “just quit talking do you know how dumb you sound”. Which to me equals a huge win because i won so bad that they literally just plain have no idea how to piece my words together and make sense of it because it’s THAT advanced. It’s like I leapfrogged over all the bullshit and am speaking in macro language.

    Anyways I’ll try again.

    I use slang not because i don’t know how to speak proper english, but because i have a high level of understanding of it.

    Proper english is so that people who dont know how to speak it can understand each other and using slang indicates a mastery of the language. For example if I learn chinese as a second language and I have a conversation with chinese people I will not know what their slang means.

    So if I want to use the word for a womens breast am i going to say “i want to place my hands on your mammary glands and apply pressure from my fingers to them”. Hell no. If you were just learning english i might have to, to get you to understand it. But if you were smart all i would have to say is i want to grab your tits.

    Proper english has it’s place. If you write a book or even a article that many people will read you want it to be easy to read so all people can understand it and can read it fast. But if your just speaking with other people or writing a text message you DONT have to get out your fucking thesaurus.


  9. Ken Says:

    Mike, I approved your above comments because I value discourse, but I have to let you down with regard to your challenge: you are, in fact, profoundly ignorant.

    I may be persuaded that you aren’t stupid, but you are clearly very young and obviously uneducated. I don’t mean that in the sense of credentials. I mean that you do not have an accurate perspective on how science works.

    There are vast quantities of data, compellingly presented, that make the case for the superiority of white people. That data has proven faulty.

    1) There is no statistically significant evidence of meaningful intelligence variation among races because there is no meaningful way to measure intelligence.

    2) We cannot take standardized IQ tests to measure “intelligence,” for a variety of reasons. However, even if we grant that hypothetical, the data we have demonstrates that Asians, not Whites, are the most intelligent race.

    Our anthropological evidence indicates that Asians, as a race, have existed since humans began migrating. That alone disproves your assertion that “black people evolved from monkeys, and white people evolved from black people.” Additionally, basic understanding of the principles of evolution would immediately clarify just how mistaken you are.

    Just to give you a taste: you seem to have a notion that more intelligent means more evolved. In fact, evolution is not a goal-base intelligence, optimizing for any particular trait that human beings might find desirable. Continued evolution does not guaranty increasing intelligence. In fact, the data suggests now that less intelligent people in the developed world are more likely to have children, meaning that evolution favors the slower.

    I think you’ll find that by reading more, your position on this matter isn’t as intelligent or well thought out as you believe it to be. I suggest you start with this book:

    Good luck.

    • James Says:

      Hmm more intelligent is just a small difference in DNA. The small difference is indeed an EVOLUTIONARY STEP but it’s so small it shouldn’t be considered as anything else but a tiny difference in humanity’s history.

      To talk about evolution you’ll have to wait much much longer than just some 100 thousand years. Except of course if you meddle with the natural course of things so to say.


  10. mike Says:

    That’s exactly the response i was expecting.

    But there is scientific evidence showing that black people are less intelligent than white people or Asians as a race.


    countries with an average iq less than 80:

    Congo, Jamaica, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, etc. All of which are 98% or more black

    ethiopia is literally a nation of retards

    countries with an average iq higher than 100:

    Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom. All of which have a 50% or more population of whites and asians.

    Don’t take my word for, just read the worlds most used Encyclopedia.

    I’m not racist, but I just can’t ignore facts or pretend they don’t exist.

    Your right about evolution favoring less intelligent people. I’ve seen the movie idiocracy and it’s so true.

    I have not studied the details of evolution but I know enough to know that black people came first. In Africa. So then where did the white people come from? Black people migrated north and over millions of years their skin color adapted to the colder climate. Along with this came changes to facial structure, brain function, etc. It’s kind of like the difference between 2 species of dog.

    I understand that it’s politically incorrect to say that because it will never be acceptable to openly agree that white people are more evolved no matter how true it is.

    • James Says:

      Ok then look at it this way… Black people adapted to their environment as did the white people and every other human on earth. The human might be or might not be an animal. Let’s say he’s part of nature or the ecosystem/concept of nature. Then naturally he adapts yes? Like type’s of frogs snakes ect.

      Simple and clear, black people adapted no need to fret on the small details since each adaptation of the human race have their advantages and disadvantages.

      You guys take too long pondering about nothing… not to be rude and I’m 17 years old btw if age matters to you people… For me it doesn’t neither does it for people who understand more… because the mental level is mostly what is looked upon at this level.

      Maybe you guys are just extremely smart and not geniuses.
      Maybe im wrong maybe maybe and maybe.

      Think about it but not too much.


  11. mike Says:

    I agree with you that there is no meaningful way of measuring intelligence.I believe our brains are highly complex and wired in different ways. One person may be a genius at math but suck at music. Or another person may be a genius in music but suck at math.

    I missed the part about asians having existed before humans began migrating. I’ve never heard that before. The most popular evolution theory is the “Recent Out-of-Africa model”.

    here is a picture showing the migration from africa:

    It is an accepted theory but people just don’t use the words “blacks evolved into whites”.

    I actually don’t care much about race and i have black friends sorry i brought it up.

    • James Says:

      There is a way to measure the concept of intelligence but I won’t explain. Just a hint if you give accurate numbers since you want to “measure” intelligence or the concept known as intelligence. So you have to give accurate numbers based on a number of factors, then encopass that all together if you can and your on your way to get it.

      Just a guideline though don’t count on what I say too much..

  12. Ken Says:

    1) You continue to cite the one source you have at wikipedia, but that source has been lambasted thoroughly by researchers in the same area. Science is a conversation between experts, and that one “disucssion point” (book) has been examined and rejected.

    2) All the countries you mentioned do indeed have the lowest IQs. So if we grant the hypothetical that IQ represents intelligence, then we find that the POOREST countries have the lowest IQs. They are black, but the characteristic that is reliably correlated with IQ is, in fact, wealth, not race.

    • James Says:

      So the point here … is let’s see converse in a way to know what’s right or wrong or who’s right and who’s wrong or to broaden each and every person’s view of life/intellect.

      Catch me back on this comment.

  13. sylvester Says:

    this is directed to mike

    reading your comments u have posted to the many topics present in this blog , i have formed the opnion that u are a poser , and feel a great need to have some sort of distinct supremecy. however this posting is for those indivuals who seak out comfort in finding other who are similar to themselves , and thus helping them handle being a “lonely genius”.

    i think i may speak only for myself for certain but your particular topics of choice i find highly unwelcome here. perhaps you should go find a posting about blacks being the lowest socio-economic clas and its associated traits and take up your supremist cause with them.

    • James Says:

      Hmm the fact is I find Mike quite the test for you guys… As it only shows your limitations not trying to be rude…

      If you are smart enough or understand enough you should reflect yet again reflect on what I said.

  14. Simon Says:

    I once ran an experiment where for two days I just sat and watched people (university campus) to see how much I could tell about their personality, attitudes, intelligence, etc, just from their mannerisms, facial expressions, the way their eyes moved, etc. I also made a point of introducing myself to anyone who struck me as someone I’d like. The first thing I noticed was quite a lot seemed to be plainly evident if one just looks. The second thing was that most of what seemed evident turned out to be accurate on the occasion I talked to them further. The third was that ever after those two days, I see people differently, for better or for worse. It used to be I would walk into a room and see a bunch of people I did not understand. Now I walk into a room and people’s souls are written on them as plainly as the color of their clothes. Mostly it is depressing, but it has the advantage that I can spot geniuses from across the room, and I’ve made a lot of friends that way. 🙂 Try it. Just beware you cannot go back.

    • Allie Says:

      Before anyone tries to spot a “genius” we first need to agree on the definition of what it means to be one. I’m not even sure if I’m a genius. When I did the research, the traits I have that correlate to intellectual giftedness is extreme compassion, the need to know everything, having obsessions, getting extreme about things, wide range of interests, sensitive (physically and emotionally,) extreme curiousity, and being comfortable in my own skin (aka weird.)

      What does everyone else think about what it means to be a so called genius?

  15. Anonymous Says:

    To be a genius means to be like the person that you know best: “Yourself”. Because you never had any other choice…

  16. Anonymous Says:

    To be a Genius means to find yourself repeatedly in this situation: To leave people so surprised, there’s only one word they can use to explain your beautiful simplicity. Some will want to know where you learned your “tricks”, but a few cannot be fooled: they look back at you with a soft smile for they understand you are real and beautiful. They will not say it in so many words, but there’s no need. Soon enough, you will come to understand it all on your own, as you always did. To spot a Genius you must be able to see yourself in them, that is, if you are one also. If not, then pay attention to the eccentric loners, they are usually shy, but warm and friendly when approached with genuine respect and kindness. And sometimes they are exceptionally good looking also. If they amaze or amuse you with their ingenuity, then pay even closer attention. You may be pleasantly surprised. There’s a little Genius in all of us. But for the vast majority, it is buried under a lot of bullshit. Super sized Bullshit. One size fits all bullshit.
    Equality is the flavor of the day.

    • James Says:

      Hmm no there’s not a genius in everyone… but normal people might be buried in more bullshit than smarter people or geniuses yes. Your impatience is… Figure out the rest my friend. As for what you say you are indeed of a genius level but… you focus a lot on the emotional level which I find admirable since most people who think at your level have a hard time figurating out the complexity of such a simplified concept such a “emotions” or “mind” or any other word of the sort.

      Keep going your much more interesting than the major part.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    I found this text on the web. You may relate to some aspects of your own personality. To others it describes them almost to a T. Anyway, I gotta go take my meds now, good luck!

    The life of the artist has had an interest for the public far above that aroused by other creative workers. In large measure this public prominence of the artist is due to dilettantes and amateurs who compensate for lack of genuine creative powers by a display of eccentricity in the name of artistic temperament. There is, however, a closer relationship between the general public and the artist than either the scientist or philosopher. The artist is largely dependent upon public favor and approval for his living, while his works play a not unimportant rôle in the life of the masses. The scientist and philosopher touch us but indirectly, while the artist is an integral part of our habitual existence. He is an intimate member of our family. He visits us in our home and exerts an influence upon us in his books, paintings, music, while we visit him in his domicile in the art gallery, theater, and concert hall, and we encounter him regularly in our industrial and religious activities. Since he is so much part and parcel of our individual and social life we have a personal interest in him. But he is so different from the rest of us in his interests and activities as to appear freakish and abnormal. Our ways do not seem to be his ways, and he bothers and disturbs us. He is one of us, yet remains a stranger among us, attracting undue attention. So we try to explain him by making of him either a divinity or a monster. In days gone by he was an outcast from decent society, today he is being turned into a super-man. He has been variously called a god and madman, above all human standards and beneath everything that is humanly decent, a spoiled child to be tolerated with a mixture of pity and scorn, and an irresponsible adult to be dealt with severely in his transgressions. What is lacking both on the part of his adorers and censors is an understanding of his real nature as a human being, of which his peculiar behavior is the outer expression. The peculiarities that have been attributed to him and which need examination are: that he is deficient in intelligence, in reasoning, but unduly emotional or temperamental; that he is weak in character in that he falls a ready victim to drink, drugs, and disease; That he is more mad than sane; that he is more of a child or woman than a man.
    Let us inquire into each of these alleged traits of artistic genius in turn.

  18. Amonymous Says:

    How to sift a potential genius:
    We live on a rock that’s floating in space. People have no idea how they got here or where they go when they die, yet they live as if all this is totally normal. If this does not disturb you even just a little, or at least trigger a healthy dose of curiosity, then you are not a genius. Period. GTFO! On the other hand if you are disturbed, you could just be mentally ill. Or you could be a mentally ill genius that likes to listen to Disturbed (the band). Personally, I can relate to the latter. Geniuses are all mental anyway, 99% and 1% perspiration. Sometimes less…

    • James Says:

      Limited… but indeed you are smarter than some people on this blog but I do not agree with some of the things you posted recently… either your another anonymous not Claude or… you went astray in your thoughts..?

      Anyhow who am I to talk as I am just another person yes?

      If you see it that way then you shouldn’t be considered smart from my point of view… question everything even the most arrogant or bizarre thoughts ….

      No need to say it I bet you already question everything

      Except maybe your recent thoughts because they are partly true… I said partly true because there’s a tendency to lack of factors.

      Hope it helps .

  19. James Says:

    Then here’s the answer to this blog’s question….

    A genius can indeed be found just by looking.

    If he is smarter than you then forget it lol.

    If not you understand what I’m saying.

    It’s the same concept as figuring normal people’s minds but is taken to an extreme in the eyes of normal people. Yes you need to be smarter than the average genius to figure out his mind and know indeed if he is a genius or not…

    Except if he decides for or reason or another to give away his identity lol… most of the time they do that out of pure selfishness and intentions behind everything that began to happen and that will happen the moment he aboarded you.

    Hope it clarifies many things and if you get my post then lucky you if not then be happy with what you’ve got.

  20. - Says:

    I believe it will be read in their eyes. If they hold captivated long enough and both release knowingly, then you have both been found.
    I have yet to find another or be found.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: