Brain Wave

I usually plan out my reading schedule way in advance. For instance I have C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves on the non-fiction plate at the moment followed by Frank Steed’s Theology and Sanity. In the fiction front I have Jack Vance’s Demon Prince series (5 books) followed by the first volume of R.A. Lafferty’s short work that is due out next month, followed by John C. Wright’s The Judge of Ages.

If you wonder, and you may, why someone who wishes to write (and tries when he can) science fiction would waste his time with theology and not physics or at least the other sciences, I have an answer. I think there are more answers to be found in theology, for the purposes of writing science fiction, than there are in the sciences. I do not count psychology nor philosophy in that account.

I don’t disregard science, nor think it bereft of answers. But for my purposes, I find more gold in theology than in science. I have two things to support this (and note – this is subjective). Most of my favorite science fiction authors have little or no background in science. Not as professions. There are a few exceptions. Second, as long as the technological or astronomical idea doesn’t disrupt my suspension of disbelief of itself, I am easy to please and I won’t dig too hard.

If you want to use an FTL drive in your book, I say go for it. I don’t care. But you better have something to say or a good story to tell. I am none too concerned about the technical details.

I am a space opera guy through and through.

But back to my original point which I haven’t even alluded to yet. After Wright’s book I am free and clear and so I am going to tackle Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave. I’ll simply paste the synopsis from Amazon below.

What if we were all designed to be smarter than we actually are? That is the premise of master science fiction novelist Poul Anderson’s 1954 debut work, Brain Wave. Unbeknown to its inhabitants, the solar system has for millions of years been caught in a force field that has had the effect of supressing intelligence. When in the course of normal galactic movement the solar system breaks free of the force field that has held it in its sway for so long, gone are the inhibiting effects and a remarkable change begins to sweep across the earth.

In fact, the entire world is turned upside-down and Anderson’s novel is devoted to detailing the sometimes surprising, sometimes chilling aftereffects of this watershed event. In one of the novel’s opening scenes, Archie Brock, a mentally disabled man, finds himself suddenly awash in new kinds of thought as he ponders the night sky. In another scene, a young boy on a summer break works out the basic fundamental foundations of calculus before breakfast. Human life is dramatically transformed, as people with IQs of 400 find themselves living within social structures and institutions designed for people of considerably lower intelligence. There are others who refuse to accept what has happened and instead band together in a rebellion against the new order.

I find this premise very intriguing and am eager to find out how he treated it because I think I may want to do something with the idea. Obviously not rewrite the story, but to offer my own hypothesis depending on what his is.

Is it plausible that all our institutions, our mores, the structures that make up our world are the result of a lack of intelligence? That if we were substantially more intelligent that we would require different social structures and institutions? I highly doubt this.

I don’t think greater intelligence saves a man from stupidity. I am a pretty intelligent guy, imho, and it has never saved me from stupidity. I have never witnessed an instance of an above average intelligence escaping stupidity entirely. I have witnessed totally unintelligent people not able to escape stupidity, but I have also seen it of geniuses.

I certainly don’t believe higher intelligence correlates to a higher or stronger moral character. I think only supreme egoists enchanted by the stroke of their own flattery, and inflated sense of superior intelligence, believe that one. One could indeed argue a higher intelligence puts one at greater risk of immorality than otherwise. The susceptibility to outsmarting one’s own mind, of talking one’s way around reality is greater. Their capacity for manipulation is magnified.

Note the dolt can only attempt the smallest of manipulations.

The danger is there. Man would remain man. A man of an IQ over 200 is as susceptible to the failing of man as one with an IQ of 100.

And not only is there no correlation between intelligence and morality, so there is no correlation between intelligence and sanity. In fact, although I have never researched it, I would tend to suspect there is a correlation between intelligence and some forms of insanity such as schizophrenia.


And what to say of the demands of the ego and intelligence?

In Anderson’s Brain Wave, I would assume that just as our lower state results in a continuum of intelligence, so in the higher state there would likewise be a continuum. So even with people walking around with IQs of 400 would still have to resist the urge to measure themselves against the drooling dolts of a mere 300 IQ and thus elevate themselves to the status of Gods in their own eyes.

This should be in the book because the force field affected everyone’s intelligence, the variable being the innate wiring in the brain and early childhood stimulus. Unless of course it turns out the the force field itself was affecting some people stronger than others and freed from this oppressive force altogether all brains achieved a near similar state of “perfection”.

And just to be sure I don’t offend. I am not saying that higher intelligence leads to egotism, nor immorality, nor insanity (except for my hunch on schizophrenia). What I am claiming is this. Higher intelligence would not change anything about man, nor, therefore, his institutions or social structures.

Man must eat, so he must produce and trade. He is capable of harming his fellow man, so he needs the institutions of law and government. A doubling of our intelligence thresholds would not change these facts.

But could it change the nature and even scope of the evils?

Could it change the nature and the scope of the good?


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