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Archive for November, 2010

A while ago, I joined the School of Phenomenal Memory, “pmemory” to do their memory techniques course, and the founder (known as Ruslan or Ines) started promoting something called “Magic Pill Now”.

It has been incredibly hard to get hold of any information as to how this Magic Pill is supposed to work.

http://www.magicpillnow.com/

Note how the video testimonials all give “before and after” commentary, but the actual process or procedure that occurs in between has in every case been edited out. On that basis, it is impossible for a third party to observe what exactly is being done and make an educated judgement as to what is occurring.

My Google search revealed the following:

http://magicpillnow.com/forum/index.php?/topic/99-too-weird/

In this forum thread, other members of the public have stated that they cannot find the sort of objective data as to what the Magic Pill procedure is. The guru gives a brush-off response. Then further down, members comment that people who have actually done Magic Pill do not stick around to talk about or promote it.

I recall from the pmemory forum members being told that if they signed up for Magic Pill, they were not to spill the beans online as to what it was all about.

http://www.pmemory.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=5692&hl=magic+pill

As you can see, I took up this point and queried it.

One person who had done Magic Pill wrote this blog entry:

http://magicpilleffect.blogspot.com/2010/09/another-update.html#comments

As you can see, again, a vague testimony and no detail. “MagicPill is just what it is and you wont understand unless you do it. Its not about me its about you, everyone will experience it differently.” I guess you could say that about anything from meditation to psychotherapy, but at least with the latter, you can find abundant information from the various schools of thought explaining what they do and how.

The link that one of his commenters has posted is the closest I have found so far online to someone ready to spill the beans about what Magic Pill really is and does. They have even posted a link to a free online copy of the book the technique is ostensibly based on: http://guessasaek.blogspot.com/2010/10/magicpillnow-revealed.html

It is suspicious how Ines blocked him from the forum for attempting to post information about where the technique came from, and how Ines requires payment upfront before he will reveal anything about Magic Pill.

Even some of the least high-profile organizations whose techniques I have investigated into publish plenty of free content online explaining what it is that they do. Even many organizations that have acquired a reputation for being a “cult” publish books explaining what they do.

More later.

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When I made enquiries of the Alphalearning Institute, I was kindly sent various information about what the Institute does. Attached to the email was a pdf document called “I.Q. Explanation” and one page was entitled “What do the numbers mean?”

The scale went along the lines of:

200 – Goethe
175 – Above here are the top 20 IQs of all time
150 – Genius – top universities send a plane for you
125 – Top universities with “C” average / Lower universities with “B” average
100 –  High school graduate with “C” average

I had to laugh at the line that read: “150 – top universities send a plane for you”.

The following is a factual account of what happened at one North London establishment that allegedly prided itself on selecting students from “non-traditional” backgrounds.

I was looking for a business management course at the time, and was making general enquiries to see what was available in the area. I saw that the University of North London was running an open evening, and I decided to pop along for a chat.

The middle-aged, female admissions tutor I saw seemed terribly interested in my school record and apparently didn’t wish to talk about my more recent accomplishments at all.

She had no interest in the fact that I had been selected as a candidate by a mainstream political party and run my own election campaign, which included going head-to-head in debate with candidates from the other parties and fielding questions from the floor in public meetings, as well as canvassing in the street. Parties, as far as I am aware, do not select candidate in whom they have little confidence to hold their own in such situations. This, in the opinion of the tutor, did not prove any ability to retain facts or construct arguments.

She had no interest in the fact that, having been made redundant at the age of 19, I did what any good member of the Thatcher generation would have done and started my own business, and made it work despite the economic climate of the time. This, in her opinion, did not demonstrate persistence, “horse sense”, or the ability to make sense of the legal and financial understandings necessary to running a business – surely what the content of the course was supposed to be all about?

She was not interested in the fact that I had been selected to be sent on an elite training program in the United States by a previous employer purely on the basis of my study record and test scores in that organization (I made clear I had achieve maximum points), nor in the fact that the purpose of the program was to train me up to run the organization’s own courses at its London branch. The fact that I had actually been running professional-level STUDY SKILLS courses apparently counted for nothing, and I could not possibly have the study skills necessary to do a business BA.

Whatever examples I gave, she simply came back with the same answer: “It’s not the same thing.”

Apart from dissecting school grades that had been gained nearly two decades beforehand, and under very different circumstances, she seemed extremely interested in my choice of pleasure reading. I was heavily on a Trekkie kick at the time, and I didn’t feel like sharing the fact that I was heavily into the DS9 relaunch novels, so I mentioned that I had read some travel books about Norway.

On hearing this, she picked out of the air some bizarre, almost non-sequitur question along the lines of: “What is the level of economic development of Norway?” I wasn’t about to get drawn into a discussion on a subject I knew little about, and tried to explain that the books were travel guides that I had read in preparation for a trip.

The conversation rapidly went south, and the tutor became very rude. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, she talked over me, and I tore up the form I had been asked to complete, and left.

Needless to say, I wrote a scathing letter of complaint to the vice chancellor, who replied with the usual platitudes, saying that the person I had seen was a very experienced tutor. I wrote back and said I too am a very experienced tutor, and that based on what I had seen and heard, I would not be spending my money at his establishment even if he personally reviewed my case and offered me a place.

I subsequently found out that that particular university had the worst drop-out rate in the entire country. I must conclude that they were offering places to people who were not going to make it, but who apparently had all the right credentials on paper.

Anyway, the upshot was that I did do a business management course elsewhere, which only shows that once the opportunity is there, I’m perfectly capable of making it through.

Does the Institute’s claim hold water regarding persons with a 150+ IQ having a plane sent for them by top universities? I’ll believe that when Oxford and Cambridge start fighting each other to offer me a place.

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Someone dear to me has a tendency to intuit a future that is far from rosy, and last night’s news broadcast about the Stuxnet worm being capable of disabling power stations, water plants and industrial units had his prediction circuits doing overtime.

While shortages of essential supplies, lack of electricity and civil unrest all pose a very real physical danger, especially to a female white-collar worker whose health is not 100%, I have realised that the thing that would upset me far more than any deprivation or risk to life or limb is the fact that, in the event of a large-scale catastrophe where modern life as we know it was wiped out, it would put paid to any hopes of ever accomplishing the things I had planned to achieve this lifetime.

Take music, for example. One thing that I would like to do in the not too distant future is record the material I have written. Modern recording equipment and software gives me the opportunity to create an entire album in my bedroom. Should I wish to promote the final result, I can simply sell them over the Internet.

Remove the Internet, and I’m knocked back to the technological situation of my teenage years, where I had lots of songs and creative ideas, but had no help in contacting the right people in order to sell them. The Internet removes the record company and the distribution chain and allows a musician like me to take my product directly to the consumer. Remove electricity too, and I’m reduced to recording using an acoustic instrument to play into a battery-operated tape recorder – until the batteries run out. At the moment, my creations exist as sheet music and scrawled notes in a folder. After a catastrophe, they would most probably stay that way, and the world might never find them.

And then of course there’s the question of my research. When money permits performing my own experiments, the pieces of equipment likely to be involved all use electricity to function. And of course, without the Internet again, I would be extremely limited in making the results of my work known. Professors with PhD’s have other means of disseminating their work. I as a self-educated person again have to find a way to bypass the middle men and take the fruits of my labours directly to the public.

Through the Internet, I have met people and joined societies that I would never otherwise have even known existed. I find a lot of information, publications, gadgets and products via Google that I do not believe I would otherwise have stumbled across in a lifetime.

Some say that if Armageddon were to strike and we had to run to the hills, everyone would be too busy getting on with the business of immediate survival to worry about educational, vocational or creative opportunities. I beg to differ. Some of us have a sort of inverted hierarchy of needs – without the opportunity for self-growth and self-actualization, there isn’t any point in bodily survival.

I for one would not just start happily digging dirt to grow vegetables, like the closing scenes in Threads. A more likely outcome is that I would be too physically weak from my health issues to spend a day performing manual labour, and even if given tasks I could physically undertake, I cannot imagine embracing them with good grace. I would pine away for the life that had been snatched like a wild bird dying because it had been caged.

If global catastrophe strikes, I might not be able to do anything to stop it, but don’t expect me to be any part of it. If I can’t do my creative work, or my research, or get my products out there, and find 101 ways to develop and improve as a person, there just isn’t any point.

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It may come as some surprise that I have serious reservations about the various tests out there intended to measure the “IQ” of those people who fall outside the normal parameters of standardized, professional testing. You would be forgiven for assuming that I would relish the chance to show just how much beyond the boundaries of regular testing I actually fall, right?

Wrong.

There are a number of problems, I feel, and the possibility that some people will find ways to cheat on an unsupervised power test is the least of them.

For a start, there is the question of sample size. A professional test will typically be beta-tested on hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers across a broad spectrum of ability. This process is used by the test developer to eliminate bad items, clarify items that are ambiguous, and iron out any other possible flaws. No publisher wants to release a test that unfairly penalizes, nor unfairly rewards, testees for spurious reasons, and that is why tests are “normed” to ensure that they are statistically reliable.

Since the entire science of statistics is a numbers game, and random factors tend to be averaged out when the sample size is sufficiently large, it stands to reason that when there only exists a very limited number of specimens of a certain type, any random factors among their number are going to cause disproportionate skewing of the figures.

A person with an IQ of 175 represents a rarity of about one person in a million. That means that there will only be approximately 6,500-7,000 such individuals on Planet Earth. It is probable that the majority of that number live in poverty in the Third World, never received any formal education, don’t speak any language in which the test is available, or just simply have no interest in taking tests of this type. It follows, then, that the number of individuals on which a test for that range can be normed may be insufficient to meet the usual criteria.

The second problem I have has to do with what goes into the tests themselves. Usually, when we seek to measure something, we have a rough idea what it is that we are seeking to measure. I would expect, therefore, that items on tests are chosen with the purpose in mind of testing a specific aspect of a person’s cognitive potential – vocabulary, pattern recognition, numerical aptitude, or whatever.

After seeing some of the high-range tests I have seen online, I wonder whether the author had any idea what he was trying to test. Was there actually a purpose behind the questions, if not a theory of IQ, at least a working set of opinions? Because it appears to me that many such tests include items just because the author found them attractive or because he thought that they would be “hard” to solve, not because they actually measure that aspect of cognitive functioning with any reliability. I seriously question the tests’ construct validity.

That leads us onto my third objection, which has to do with the fact that many high-range tests, in order to make the questions “hard”, resort to requiring specialist academic knowledge, throwing in arcane bits of vocabulary, or expecting a knowledge of higher mathematics that, while no doubt  justifying this by allowing the use of dictionaries, references and calculators, and an unlimited amount of time to complete the questions, still leaves the person who starts out with no familiarity with those subject areas at a disadvantage.

For an example of what I mean, consider the following.  Imagine a problem that asks you to calculate the amount of heat loss from a building. You are given information to do with areas and dimensions, the amount of heat given out over a given time by the type of heating system in the building, and information regarding how much heat is lost via different types of building materials. It is probable that laypeople of a certain level of ability, sitting for an unlimited amount of time with a calculator, would be able to come up with a plausible answer. Now imagine an experienced surveyor is presented with the same problem. He would probably be able to come up with an accurate solution in minutes, given that this is the type of thing he has to do frequently in his job, and he would have the exact set of algorithms at his fingertips. Furthermore, he would be able to take into account factors that he would understand from the test question that might never occur to the layperson, for reasons of familiarity with the subject area. What has not been taken into account here is CONTEXT. If I have to teach myself some abstruse topic in geometry to be able to tackle a high-range test question, what might I miss, just because I am missing the context and familiarity that an expert lecturer in mathematics may have? This is not “IQ”, but the ability to research bits of arcane and arbitrary data for the purpose of answering a single, random question. As it happens, I’m pretty good at hunting down such trivia and working with it, but that’s not the point.

Finally, one would expect that any scale of measurement is measuring the same thing from top to bottom. A thermometer doesn’t hit one hundred degrees and then increasingly start measuring something else. It measures temperature all the way up and down its range. Arthur Jensen argues that beyond a certain level, tests cease to measure “pure” IQ and increasingly measure specialised abilities.

One possible workaround would be to take the same type of questions and tasks as are included in tests like the Wechsler or Stanf0rd-Binet, and extend the scale on each subtest by including longer memory sequences, harder vocabulary words, more complex matrix items etc. Even though this would remove the tendency to attempt to increase the difficulty of the test by including items requiring specific academic knowledge, there is still the problem of adequate sample size for norming, as mentioned earlier.

If it is not possible to measure IQ with any certainty beyond a certain level (most professional tests seem to top out at about IQ 160), then I guess I’m happy to just leave it at that. There are so few people at or above that range, what useful purpose does discriminating further serve?

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