I'm going to put two bits of signal together and see what people make of it.
"Confound it! Correlation is (usually) not causation! But why not?" by Gwern. He takes this mantra for granted and explores it.
He concludes that "causal networks' interconnections drive up possible correlations faster than causal connections."
Second: This little tidbit from some site somewhere.
The average human can store 5-9 objects in their working memory, pros with several years of training can work with around 13. At any given time, your ability to make connections between unconnected objects, say pieces of information on the price of oil, the price of wheat, and drought, you are limited to that number. These factors create interdependent relationships which do not add or subtract, but multiply in complexity. In other words, if your method of studying things involves just reading a lot and seeing what comes out, you aren't going to be able to make any serious connections. This means in any given situation you are managing hundreds if not thousands of potentials, whose data fits multiple mutually exclusive hypotheses. This means that if you have one of the best working memories in the world and you can hold 13 objects, you will only work out 1.5% or less of the total problem in your head. Your goal is to sift through them effectively and quickly. This is not humanly possible. Your problem needs to be solved anyway. To do this you must augment your working memory and awareness.
This is what makes Morphology and Analysis of Competing Hypothesis
approaches effective, it is a method for managing working memory as much
as anything else.
This is a fun thing to note. We might have a theoretical driver of why Working Memory, as measure in humans, is correlated with Fluid Intelligence. Furthermore, we possibly have *a unique, testable operational definition of intelligence*. Thirdly but not lastly, we would have given ourselves a whole new way of joining neuroscience to cognitive enhancement to analysis and problem solving in a mathematical manner - as we already do with OLAP cubes and other forms of dimension management.
In this way, we can draft external applications that can extend our problem solving ability in the same way that Google replaced our memories. We're getting new interfaces that can turn Roman Rooms from something inside your head, to something beaming down an Oculus Rift. (Starlight 3D in actual 3D! https://encrypted.google.com/search?q=starlight+analysis+3d&source=lnms&tbm=isch) Except right now we're dicking around with glorified checklists and killing fake people or something.
(In other news Gwern is using more colloquial language and exclamation points lately. Did he move to the Bay Area? Is that why he's so happy? IS THERE A CAUSE HERE OR IS IT JUST A CORRELATION?)
I'll take my usual position of hard skepticism of general purpose software or practice-based intelligence enhancement techniques besides the hard ones (solve lots of hard problems, get stuff done, take responsibility, don't go off the rails philosophically). The analogy to lifting suggests it ought to be possible, but until someone writes Starting Intelligence and can convince a skeptic, I'll defy any given theory.
My model of the lifting/intelligence analogy is this:
The ability to modulate resources spent on strength depending on external conditions is actually a highly nontrivial affair. That doesn't just happen by accident. The mamalian muscular system has a 500 Ma heritage of constant refinement with relatively fixed requirements. Thus you would expect crazy tech like environment-responsive muscles.
Our intelligence, despite being based on 500 Myo basic hardware, is largely the product of a 1 Ma or even 10 ka intelligence arms race in which all stops were pulled and all corners were cut in pursuit of more general/social intelligence. Thus we would would not necessarily expect anything like stress-response hypertrophy to have been kept around, even if it had existed. All applicable knobs are already maxed out.
Still, we know that plasticity and learning exists, so if you practice X, you get better at X. I hypothesize that this has an opportunity cost in that in comes at the expense of Y. Unlike strength, which comes only at the expense of food. That said, Y might be entropy much of the time, which is why it's good to do something hard and useful rather than nothing. There is also natural overlap of knowledge between fields, of course, but what I'm saying is that I don't believe in general hardware hypertrophy *in humans*.
So why are some people smarter or more capable than others? This seems a good place to look for ways to increase cognitive performance.
Mutational load, is as usual the relevent concept to look at. Within a race, genotypes are basically a pure ideal prototype plus a bunch of harmful crud mutations peculiar to specific families. People vary in how much mutational load they have. People descended from nobility have lower mutational load, and thus higher phenotypical performance. (I can explain if necessary). The rest of us have more. For example I'm quite smart, but I have rather savage ADHD and some kind of possibly related social retardation and whatever else I've inherited from my disproportionately crazy family. These are my biggest limitations, and otherwise the cognitive machinery works about as well as you could reasonably expect.
Also, mutational load self-correllates because of assortive mating, so someone with high intelligence likely has high working memory, even if those things were conceptually and mechanically distinct.
So on one hand, you could identify and target your worst cognitive defects, but on the other hand, your phenotype is already relatively fixed.
So yeah, there's your daily dose of cognitive enhancement pessimism. Do hard stuff, etc. Work around your flaws. Cultivate good habits. Seek good environments. Don't look for silver bullets.
(The anti-software argument will have to wait until someone says something that prompts it)
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Note that biomedical state is included in "phenotype", and that there's no way beyond nanosurgery or maybe really intense corrective training to correct a miswiring.
Drug-borne interventions to correct short-timescale chemical imbalance is totally plausible. Hence the effectiveness of things like ritalin. Note that these are neither general or complete. Can correct some of the worst abuses, can't correct all. Some are cast in from day 1, like damage to the genes controlling visual memory, for example.
At the point where we have a mechanistic theory of intelligence and intervention capability to the point where we can fix and upgrade live brains, we have other problems. That's not either now or soon, though.
Why is tdcs likely to work? What's the mechanism? Or is it purely empirical? Do we have any guesses? It seems to me a bruteforce intervention like that, unless guided by understanding, is very unlikely to improve the function of a complex and highly tuned machine like a brain. You can't do that to a modern internal combustion engine, for example, and it's substantially less complex.
Again, I'm somewhat open to possibility here, but skeptical until math coaches are teaching out of an intelligence enhancement textbook.
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