Timothy J. Xeriland, Ph.D. Candidate

Ask Tim

On Genius

picassocat asked you this question on 10/18/2002:
Is genius innate or is it a product of one's education, life experience, environment or something else perhaps?

xeriland gave this response on 10/22/2002:
A genius is someone who can see or draw connections between things that others cannot.  I.Q. tests attempt to verify how readily someone can see these connections or patterns. This ability that we call genius does have a genetic component, however, we can cultivate this ability through practice and education. Ultimately there is a point of diminishing returns, meaning with each advance we make in our intellect the longer and harder we would have to work to get the next one; also these improvements would get progressively smaller.  This means it would be virtually impossible for a person of average intelligence to become a genius simply by studying hard (although he or she can certainly improve their ability to see patterns and thus increase their IQ score).

Genius has nothing to do with accomplishments as one of the other "experts" on the site claimed. There are many geniuses out there that accomplish little or nothing; nevertheless
they have an amazing ability to see patterns much easier than the average person.

picassocat rated this answer:
Hi Tim,
You gave an excellent answer thank you. Do you think IQ tests are a valid factor in determining intelligence? Someone might have excellent verbal skills, but their mathematical aptitude isn't so good. You make a valid point about being able to see patterns.

xeriland gave this follow-up answer on 10/23/2002:
Do I think IQ tests are a valid factor in determining intelligence? It depends on how someone wants to define intelligence. IQ tests were developed specifically to help predict how a student would perform in school. These tests were used to help administrators place students in the appropriate classes. On a whole, IQ tests were and are very successful in making predictions of success in school. Of course, most IQ tests fail to measure motivation, which is a crucial factor in performance. Do IQ tests measure “true intelligence”? They may not, but they probably make valid estimations, and we are better off having these tests than not having them. I thought I would add that the further a person is from the mean, in regard to IQ, the less valid their score will become. In other words, IQ tests work best for average people.

IQ tests also seem to be broken up into math and verbal questions so that, at least tacitly, these tests seem to be saying that there are two different types of intelligence. Many people believe that true intelligence is tested via math. These people wonder about the value of verbal items as a measure of intelligence, since trying such items seems to involve little or no intellectual effort. However, from a purely statistical standpoint, many studies repeatedly showed that verbal intelligence, including the sheer size of one's vocabulary, has one of the highest correlations of any type of test item with overall intelligence as measured by tests containing a wide variety of test items. See for example the book Intelligence in the United States, published around 1958, for ample documentation. On the purely intuitive level, one might say that learning a language, including vocabulary, is for the child like decoding hieroglyphics. The brighter child will master this decoding process far more readily than the average child. Later, of course, one can artificially boost the size of their vocabulary. Cleverly designed tests of verbal intelligence can get around this problem by relying on somewhat atypical verbal items that one would be unlikely to pick up through a "vocabulary improvement" course, but that a gifted child would be likely to have picked up if he has been reasonably inquisitive -- and isn't inquisitiveness an important part of intelligence? Finally, to use a computer analogy, a powerful computer without adequate software (analogous to verbal intelligence in humans) would be relatively unproductive no matter how powerful the hardware.

picassocat asked this follow-up question on 10/24/2002:
I've enjoyed reading your comments - very interesting.
I think asking questions is integral to learning, as is motivation. Time and time again we see exceptionally bright students in school that lack motivation, because the work is not challenging for them among other things. Can one have a large vocabulary and have poor spatial or mathematical ability and still be considered a "genius"? Having said that, I do think one's ability to make connections is the common thread that underlies intelligence or indeed genius.


On Artificial Intelligence

a99005884 asked this question on 7/21/2001:
Will artificial intelligence take over the human mind?

xeriland gave this response on 7/23/2001:
This has been debated for the last 50 years, but all evidence points to the answer, "no, artificial intelligence will not replace the human mind." Artificial intelligence (AI) is only good at highly specific tasks (things that can be narrowed down to a few hundred rules).  Most tasks that humans do, and are good at, require millions (if even a number can be put on it) of rules.
Chess and calculus only require a small set of strict rules to be remembered to do them well (probably people find these tasks hard because you have to remember the rules exactly). This is why artificial intelligence does well with chess and calculus. Language requires many, many rules and most are not strict rules. Humans have a natural ability for language while AI is horrible at language. Consider this simple story:

Jill and Jane are going to Jack's party.
"What did you get Jack?" asked Jane.
"I got him a kite," replied Jill.
"Oh, you can't give him a kite
he already has one and he'll make you
take it back," said Jane.

Even a young child would be able to tell you that they are talking about a birthday party, yet nowhere in the story does it mention a birthday party. We would have to build in many rules to get AI to recognize that there are certain conditions that are represented by birthday parties. Then, consider the idea that Jack already has a kite so you'll have to take it back. If we include this rule, it would read, "If you have something already, you don't want another just like it." Of course, this is not a strict rule: it doesn't apply to dollars and it probably doesn't apply to cookies. See the problem?


On Chaos Theory

nicuramar@..., a user from math.com, asked this question on 3/22/2002:
What is the Chaos Theory? I would like to do something interesting in my Math class for a project that we have to do and the Chaos Theory sounded kind of cool, could you please tell me what the Chaos Theory is? Thanks!~~~~~~~~~~~~~

xeriland gave this response on 3/23/2002:
You're right. Chaos theory is fun, but it is not very easy to understand so it might be a difficult topic for a project. If you want to make a go of it, here is a general description of chaos theory:

1) Sensitivity to Initial Conditions: This is commonly called the Butterfly effect. It simply means that in most systems the slightest change in that system will produce unexpected results. For example, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan it might produce a thunderstorm in New York. Hence, the name “Butterfly effect.” This is also the reason you will never see much beyond a five-day weather forecast.

2) Self-Organization: In-between complete chaos and order, something surprising has been found to happen. Things have been found to organize spontaneously. An example of this would be a tornado. Here, air molecules organize themselves into a coherent pattern that you can see and that can tear a house down. Life is believed to have arisen from this self-organization principle. Most systems cannot ride the wake between order and chaos very long, but organisms have genes that supply the information on how to stay in that elusive realm.

3) Fractals: There are many Web sites where you can view what fractals look like. Fractals are simply functions where the answer to the first iteration of the function is placed back into the function for the second iteration. Fractals have an amazing quality called self-similarity. If you were to look very closely at the edge of a circle you would not find that it is actually made up of little circles and in turn those circles are made up of little circles, but in the geometry of fractals you do find this. Fractals seem to exist all over nature and fractal patterns have been found in everything from brain waves to cardiac rhythms.

If any of this seems interesting, I would recommend the book Chaos by James Gleick. It is a very good primer and it reads like a novel.

nicuramar@..., a user from math.com, asked this question on 3/25/2002:
Thanks a lot Xeriland, you were a big help. My math teacher tried explaining it to me and I got so confused because he was using terms that I had no idea of what they meant, but you said it in a way I could understand. Thanks a lot! :)

xeriland gave this response on 4/2/2002:
Glad I could help.

On Nature and Nuture

Anonymous asked this question on 5/29/2002:
nature v nurture

xeriland gave this response on 5/30/2002:
This is an interesting question because dogma continually sways back and forth on this issue. In centuries past, many thought that nature shaped a person and little thought went into how to properly rear children.  In the early 20th century Freud began to propose theories that parents were instrumental in their children’s development.  The argument for nurture culminated with behaviorism, which claimed everything about a person could be derived from their environment. Recently, studies have been done with identical twins that have been reared apart.  The findings show that these identical twins have a surprising amount of similarities even when their environments are very different. So the pendulum is now swinging the other way.

Although, nowadays almost everyone understands that both nature and nurture have an impact on our development. Today the bigger question is how much or what percent each role plays in our lives. Sometimes I think it would be beneficial if nurture were dominate then we would have more control to shape our own destinies, but other times I think it would be advantageous if nature were more powerful in order to buffer us from the tragedies of life.


On the Law of Parsimony

Anonymous asked this question on 4/11/2002:
This is going to sound a bit bizarre. but most likely you venture outside the normal thoughts processes of conventional "accepted" media and opinions.




i have 3 roommates. they go away together about 3 times a year (related). when they do, things seem to get a bit strange about the townhouse. i am seeing things out of the corner of my eyes, but when i look straight, nothing.

also i should mention that when no one else is around to remind me to sleep, i usually do not do it well, pretty motivated.

now i realize that sleep "deprivation" can cause the eye to play tricks and heaviness of the eyes can alter light perception, but i do not have heavy eyes. additionally this is not the only place it has happened to me. it also happened in a house a used to live in. plus there are the "cold areas/times".

i am a very scientifically minded person, not necessarily conventional science, but i think everything can break down to some common thread, not necessarily known to mainstream media, but i believe it can be.

ANY thoughts: skeptical, or insightful would be welcome.

xeriland gave this response on 4/12/2002:
Being rather creative I could pose all kinds of wild scenarios as to why this is happening.  However, if you are scientifically minded, as you mentioned, then you should follow the law of parsimony. This law states that simple explanations of phenomena are preferred to complex explanations. Before going down the road of extraordinary claims, have you considered more prosaic causes to these phenomena?

Incidentally, nothing you said seemed very strange. Many people have the experience of seeing things out of the corners of their eyes, but not when they look directly at it. This is because you have a strong concentration of rods in the peripheral of your eye. This is also the reason why you can see an object better at night if you look with the corner of your eye as opposed to looking directly at it or why a florescent light can be seen flickering only when you are not looking at it directly.

Write back if you have more strange experiences.