Sunday, March 29, 2009

IQ’s Icky Thump

Much like infertility rates and the proliferation of electronic social utilities, IQ seems to be rising every day: 3 points per decade. This only points out that the space of an administered IQ test is just as much a text as any other bound artifact. (For random fun, take the IQ test here for prospective NFL draft picks.) James Flynn, a New Zealand scientist, has painstakingly written up the way IQ tests are yet another brute meme unknowingly snarled in a web of cultural matrices. Or, as he puts it: “If the everyday world is your cognitive home, it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete referents.” Yup, I loves me a good concrete referent. Often’s the time, I wished I had one close at hand to while the night hours away.

Malcom Gladwell cites the following as an example of just how fusty old Western cartesianists blunder on in search of the data most pleasing to their ears:

“The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories. It can be argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental improvement—that is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance, technologically and scientifically, if they started to see the world that way.”

It strikes me how much a poem is an experiment in taxonomy. The way a poem eats an object, subsuming it into a lyric (or pickling it in irony) seems quite similar to the pairings of the Kpelle. What is wisteria for? Miscarriages. Dusk is for alcohol, and ammonia for fever dreams. The nouns that you bring together in a poem reveal your sense of “rightness,” and how psychic necessity solves the world in a synaptic flash.

No comments: