Monday, August 19, 2013

De Camp writes about intelligence among races

As stated in my previous blog post, I have been reading "Ancient Ruins and Archeology" by L. Sprague de Camp, published in 1963. Much of the information is outdated, although the many observations about the way science and archeology and speculation are handled, as well as the comments on human nature at large, and admirable. The prose is coherant and readable. The descriptions evokative. The insights into archeology of the time period (the 60s) is very much worth reading. And history is a discipline that doesn't change too much. It does, and should, but his writings are undoubtably relevant to today.

I want to share a few passages with you. I hope using his quotations is in good form.

In his chapter on the ruins of Zimbabwe and the many ideas around its builders, he says:

All prejudices aside, what do we know about the intelligence of the different races of man? Not much. That is why peopole get so heated about the subject; the less they know, the more pugnacious they are.

Intelligence is a vague term meaning mental power, just as "strength" means physical power. We can often say that one man is more intelligent than another, just as we can often say that one man is stronger than another. But it is hard to measure these qualities exactly. You cannot measure a man's over-all "strength" on any one standard scale. You can measure his seperate physical powers, such as his ability to run, jump, or lift weights. A man who is good at one of these may be poor at another. So "strength" is not one ability but many, which can be combined in any of an infinite number of ways.
The same with intelligence. One man may be a precise accountant, another a shrewd lawyer, and a third a creative artist. But there is no way to compare John's success as a chess player with William's success as a politician to tell which is the more intelligent.

Intelligence tests measure single mental powers, such as the ability to handle words and numbers and to solve simple puzzles. Such tests are useful when given to people of the same cultural group. But these tests do not work with people of strikingly different backgrounds. We cannot expect a tribesman, however gifted, who has never seen a pencil or paper to score well on a written test. On the other hand, a child from a hunting tribe can beat civilized children all hollow in a test that calls for knowledge of animal footprints.

Language, work habits, aims in life, manners, diet, tradition, and experience all affect the way one thinks. And, when we try to test people of different races, we cannot eliminate all these factors. No test has been found that ignores the effects of environment and measures only a man's inherent mental qualities.

Some people, wishing to prove the Caucasiod race superior to the Negroid, point out the backwardness of African Negroes before the coming of the whites. As we have seen, this cultural backwardness can be explained on grounds other than intelligence. The Sahara Desert isolated the small, thinly spread Negroid population from the currents of Old World culture, just as the oceans isolated the Pacific Islanders. Having no contact with European ideas and techniques during the many centuries when European civilization was arising, the Africans could not be expected to develope in a European manner.

Some people, on the other hand, assert that all races are exactly equal in intelligence. Although this idea is canonical Marxist dogma and a handy political slogan, it has no scientific basis either.
Few have ever argued that Negroids are inherently more intelligent than Caucasoids. But this concept is just as reasonable as the other two. In fact, one can make a good a priori argument why this might be so: All species are subject to the force of heredity called degenerative mutation pressure. Hence every species tends to deteriorate -- that is, to lose organs and abilities. In a wild state, however, selection naturally eliminates these defectives as they appear.

In civilization, however, people with defects, provided the flaws are not too severe, can live and breed along with the rest. Therefore, civilized races tend to degenerate. Thus the peoples who have been civilized the longest, such as the Near Easterners, the Chinese, and the Europeans, have probably degenerated the most; while those who live the most primitive lives, like Pygmies and Papuans, may prove the soundest of mind and body.

This, too, is mere speculation. If anybody ever devises a test that measures inherent mental powers regardless of culture and environment, it might well uncover mental differences among the races. It is anybody's guess as to which race would score best on which test. Perhaps different races would excel in different mental abilities. From such inconclusive evidence as does exist, our own guess, for whatever it may be worth, is that, while racial differences in intelligence may indeed exist, differences among individuals within any one race are much greater than average differences among races. And, given the right circumstances, men of any living race could have built Zimbabwe.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

what have you read by L. Sprague de Camp?

Funny name, amazing results. He's a writer of fiction (often sci-fi or historical) and non-fiction (usually of the scientific bent, sometimes on the romantic side of science matters).

I have been reading a non-fiction book by him recently on archeological puzzles. I've heard his name for a long time in sci-fi lit circles, but only knew of him particularly as the author of Dragon of the Ishtar Gate, a story somewhat along the lines of Conan the Barbarian, but of a historical not fantasy aspect.

I have been suprised at the sobriety of his "mysteries" books. Most similar non-fiction has a reputation for repeating ill-founded stories of the paranormal. More often than not, de Camp is debunking popular misconceptions and improbable legends.

I started with a collection of short stories about dragons. True to form, his story's dragon was more like a land-crocodile of a fictional mideval land. A cockadrill, as I recall.

I heard he had written a book or two on the Atlantis theme, 'Lost Continents' I beleive but I wasn't interested enough to look it up. That might have been a mistake in light of my improving opinion of him as an author who steers away from needless sensationalism.

They I got a book from the library titled 'Lands Beyond' (published 1952) merely because I admire his co-author, Willy Ley. Although it's only a surmise, Ley didn't seem to have written much of the book, and rightly so de Camp is given the main author credit.

'Lands Beyond' was suprisingly scholarly, and debunked a few of the mainstays of mystery-archeology, such as the origin of knowledge of Mu. Much of the book was a discussion of 'Odessey' and the 'Voyages of Sindbad' and what they tell us of the culture they came from. It also has a well-written chapter of the follies of the search for El Dorado in the South American jungles.

The book I am in currently is titled 'Ancient Ruins and Archeology' (published 1964). I had not heard of the ruins of Ma'rib, nor of Nan Matol. I had never heard Angkor Wat properly described. His description of the ruins of Zimbabwe were also a highlight. The photographs reproduced in this book (some his own, others not) make the book extra interesting. I did not know Zimbabwe had conical towers such as related.

His sober commentary on intelligence among the races, and of the politically-correct coatng of history, and the silliess of so many pseudo-scientists/occultists was a joy to hear.

One of my few critisicms of the books, besides their outdated information (through no fault of their own), is that they take a few certain legendary matters for granted that deserve a mention (at least) of skepticism. Especially the Africa-rounding voyage of Egyptian Pharoah Niku II. Also, they tend to assume an inter-connectedness of contemporary thinkers in history that just isn't realistic at all. The authors both assume that such-and-such writer writes this fact, and so such-and-such later writer built off that information. That's too convenient a idea for the workings of real life.

have you read any movie novelizations? on ST: 8

Usually, I avoid any novelizations I come across, although I may need to revise the particular prejudice.

Recently, I have re-discovered the audio book version of the novelization of the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, written by J.M. Dillard. I would be interested to know the author's contact with the actual script, which it follows quite closely in most respects.

I have been suprised. Although it cannot compete with the movie in visual effects and explosions, I think it's actually better, in my own opinion, than the movie.

It explains things better. Mostly, I think this is matter of the book having fewer content constraints, especially as concerns "running time." I think the script for Insurrection was chopped up at the expernse of backstory and plot due to time constraints. On another level, the medium of film is not conducive to the inner workings of characters' minds. To see thought-processes, motivations, and unedited reactions is priceless to the storyteller.

This makes me think I might should look up the novelizations of ofter unprepossessing movies, Star Trek and otherwise.

There are a few ways that the book is much weaker than the movie experience of Insurrection. The villian played by J. J. Abrams, and the scenes where Picard and Date sing to HMS Pintafore. Neither of these can be replaced anoything other than the movie, and represent other memorable aspects of the movie experience that are generally known the strengths of a movie over a novel.

One huge weakness of the movie is the motivation and inner turmoil of Admiral Dougharty was never seen in the film, and barely even hinted at. Hinted at even so, but not to the extent of the novel, with his revulsion over the assignment and unedited (negative) appraisel of the Son'a.

The novelization also got inside the head of characters of both new races, the Ba'ku abd Son'a. Seeing affairs from their point of view was invaluable is clearly understanding the races. They also hinted at the Ba'ku "Time of Troubles" civil war that lead to the Son'a exile, also at the advanced medical decay of the Son'a (and especially their green fungal skin condition, which was seen onscreen but never explained.)

The film skipped over many parts of the Son'a race introduction. Especially the description from the start of Son'a culture as being one of theives, interested in "Wine, women, and song" a people who value fashion and luxury and even consider "abject hedonism to be a virtue." Later on, we get the idea, but only after we've been trying to figure these guys out for an hour.

One thing that really stood out to me as perhaps changed for the movie was the statements that the Son'a had such a fear of death that is manifested as a paranoia of personal injury taken to the extreme. I imagine to movie goers it would be translated as cowardice, when in fact it is much more complicated. This seems to have been dropped from the actual film, with the villian bodily attacking people at times. I can se elements of that theme still present: the use of drones rather than personnel, and the villian hesitating to fire his weapon in case it set off a explosion. Still, as an original viewer, that motivation was entirely unseen ad even unsuspected.

I just want to say: it is very un-Star-Trek-like for the Enterprise crew to abandon R'uafo to the explosion of his monstrosity. They also seemed very unconcerned for the welfare of the other Son'a they stunned or otherwise encouteded.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness movie review

Actually, if I was blogging chronologically, I really ought to blog my review of Pacific Rim or Monster University first, but I wanted to get this one out-of-the-way ASAP so I can watch and/or read other reviews with my own unadulterated thoughts put down already. Once seen, such things cannot be unseen. That's your deep thought for moment. I really can't wait to see what Mr. Plinkett says about Star Trek 2. His movie reviews are outstanding, although I do not know if Plinkett is one man, many, a fictional person, a pseudonym(s), or what.


I enjoyed all three movies, although my order of the three I mention would be: Pacific Rim, Monster University, Star Trek

I haven't been to many movies this year, or any year lately. All by itself, the fact I made the effort to see it in the theater was a compliment. I did not go to see the previous Star Trek, and it took me awhile (and a change in my thinking) to finally watch it.

The newest Star Trek movies basically got the Lost in Space movie treatment. Or Starsky and Hutch. Or the Beverly Hillbillies. They are not sequels to the original, or even remakes strictly speaking, but nostolgia-driven pop-culture-appealing gimmick-prone inspired-by entertainment-experiences.

To say that a movie with Kirk-Spock-McCoy and phasers and Klingons is good ol' Star Trek again is like saying my original Nintendo Star Trek 30th Anniversary game was right on par with the series in entertainment-genetics. Hey, the game was fun, with Harry Mudd, Saurian brandy, and Romulan birds-of-prey shooting at you (or threatening to). True to the classic series, I even learned to take along a few redshirts whenever bad guys were around.


I enjoyed the movie, but on terms of a fun sci-fi movie. It certainly was not bad. And I have seen some bad sci-fi movies, recently and in the past, so I am grateful for that.

So, in no partcular order, my gripes.
Khan crying, Spock crying, Kirk crying
Khan's defeat was not because of his 20th Century 2-Dimensional thinking, but rather a rather silly mistake (owing to a underestimation of Spock).
Khan was not Indian (tan-skinned), but this is understandable in light of tan-skinned terrorists in movies being a delicate proposition
Scotty not being replaced with an experienced Starfleet engineer (while docked at Earth for goodness sake! This was the most stupid part of the whole movie, except maybe the crying)

My compliments:
Carol Marcus showing up for perhaps more than one movie.
The idea that Khan and Carol Marcus are in this universe suggest boundless gimmick possibilities (wouldn't it be fun if Dax, Harry Mudd, and Gary Seven show up?).
The cameo of Leonard Nimoy's Spock
The unexpectedness of the Kirk-radiation plot twist
The reappearance of the peerless Captain Pike

I expect I will think of more, but let me get this posted.