NOISE AND INTELLIGENCE
Intelligence is a concept with many definitions and fashions. There is continuing research about what makes it possible for us to think, and how it could be improved.
But where is the research on unmonitored mass experiments on involuntary subjects, that might be for the mind what thalidomide and asbestos have been for bodies?
It may be socially unwise to inflict on a whole population, indeed, the whole global culture, willy-nilly, some sorts of noise, defined as interference, not just as decibels, that are increasing in all broadcast media.
This concern arises from personal experience. BBC and ABC government broadcasters and documentaries, not just the commercial radio and TV, operators, increasingly obscure speech by overlaying it with musical backgrounds.
This is hard on the elderly and those with hearing impairments, which are probably around 15% of the audience; however, complaints are rejected on the grounds that it gives pleasure to others. It is especially bad when the noise is metronome-type drumming and percussion
But other media interferences, visual, auditory, and other ways of disorienting content, also prevent connected thought and access to ideas.
A useful definition of intelligence is the ability
This includes the abilities that standard intelligence tests try to measure - practical and verbal reasoning, comprehension and judgement of situations, speed of mental operations, memory, vocabulary and range of concepts, ability to learn (which includes curiosity), awareness and attention to detail, attention span and persistence, abstraction, analysis and synthesis, sequencing and range of concepts.
IQ scores are reported to be rising the world over in areas of pattern manipulation, but not in other forms of reasoning, understanding and connecting ideas
Clues to intelligence in operation might be in the dramatic changes over the past forty years in public behavior and interests. These include the content of the mass-market women's magazines narrowing to soft and even hard porn and celeb gossip; loud music that prevents conversation in restaurants and at parties; the success of advertising that openly targets emotions not reason, and derogatory attitudes to knowledge and book literacy even in classrooms and among teacher educators.
The 'Nature or Nurture?' question about intelligence is usually answered by 'Both'. Eugenics, as the name implies was originally mainly concerned with 'Nature' and whether in the past 'natural selection' had weeded out the less intelligent, and whether now humanely-impelled social welfare might imbalance society by fostering the greater fecundity of the congenitally less intelligent. As often happens, as for example with euthanasia, the inhumane and extreme applications of this concern, particularly by Nazism, have rendered even thinking about eugenics in reproduction to be immoral. The emphasis has turned to the environmental factors - health, education, early childhood - that could help or hinder everyone from fully developing whatever their potential intelligence might be. Those who would improve intelligence usually focus on schools or pre-school, and forget continuing environments.
But 'Intelligence' is now a loaded word. It is given implications of favoring elitism, and valuing dangerous cold reason over warm emotions; 'emotional intelligence' is now a field to include in aims of school curricula.
At a time when individuals are more than ever concerned about improving their physical health there is surprisingly little concern about conserving their precious brains, their most valuable resource.
Decisions are made about taking drugs or taking risks in driving, or about alcoholic bingeing, without any pause about possible long-term impairment of thinking.
I have been looking without success for research on whether there are any long-term effects on intelligence of features of modern entertainment that increasingly emphasise temporary stunning of thinking and distortion of consciousness.
There are studies of short-term effects of music, but I cannot find research on the long-term cognitive effects of repeated exposure to high decibels, heavy-beat repetition in drumming, and in background noise to speech. So-called savages in jungles, and religious groups have used rhythmic drumming with discretion, for arousing mass emotions and group behavior or blocking out the world; speculation cannot be checked out as to whether this contributed to lack of inventiveness and social progress.
However, the drumbeats of today's culture can be more like repetitive factory-hammers, electronically enhanced, and hard to avoid, especially by youth - what are the effects of so much exposure for so many? Nor can I find studies of the long-term effects of habituation to visual distortions, fast collages and epileptogenic flashing of light and fire, as well as non-consequential brief sequencing which are increasingly common features of mass entertainment, including television, films, and rave parties.
It is still not certain whether there may be permanent sub-clinical effects on connected thinking from the direct input of heavy electronic noise into the ears through Sony Walkmans and the like. Some people claim it helps them to think; others reckon that they use the music to avoid thinking.
These are all mass experiments, subject to no monitoring as for Food and Drugs. Few young people are spared. It can be considered good and cool (or hot) to be mind-numbed or mind-blown. There are reasons for desiring these bemused states, rather than be aware of current affairs that we can do nothing about. However, does the brain really bounce back unimpaired after repeated assaults?
I can find websites about the purported positive intellectual effects of listening to Mozart, but the only references I have found to effects of rock or heavy metal music are apparently unanswered appeals from students who have to write essays about them, and report that they find conflicting evidence.
"Effects of Rock... please help us . . . I've only got a month to finish this. ."
" I have a research about effects of modern rock music, i observed that rock can bring accuracy in a person and activeness."
"yeah neways i think there is know right or wrong music i personally listen to clical when i do my homework and i find it helps and when i feel down i listen to rock if we didn't have this media on rap and like rnb then maybe people's perception would change i . . but yeah i agree that clical gots to be the top with no side effects at all."
"Hi, I'm matt and i'm 13. I did a project with mice last year on 'Metal' and 'Rap' music and found that it decreases the speed o the mouse learning to go through a maze"
"MUSIC ROCKS my socks off!"
The teachers who set these essays are clearly concerned - but what is the evidence? It is possible that excess of noise (in both its senses) may have long-term as well as short-term effects in reducing the capacity to think clearly, to link ideas, and to think of more than one idea at a time - indeed, mental stamina itself.
There is considerable public and professional concern about treating hyperkinetic children with 'Attention-Deficit-disorders'. They have always been with us, as 'hyperactive', 'minimal-multiple-handicap' and other labels. Once they were simply 'high-spirited' - but perhaps the more driven sort of behaviour like a bee in a bottle is something recent. However the ADHD labelling is like an epidemic, and it is 'ambulance work' rather than prevention that holds the stage.
A contributory factor could be children's experiences since infancy set to watch television which for them can only be meaningless and intense bursts of experiences. Now the manner in which many adults watch the ever shortening sequences in advertiser-sponsored entertainment could suggest that they too are experiencing sensations rather than meaning, in a similar way.
Popular music in both entertainment and religion is a marked example of de-meaning, with repetitive two-line lyrics smothered by repetitive percussion and electronics - contrasting with even 19th century popular music-hall, where songs and tunes appealed to mind as well as senses.
In every modern period there seemed a dramatic contrast between the heights of its intellectual geniuses and the continuing 'crimes and follies of mankind'.
Today despite universal education and the Internet there is a dangerous gap between those who love knowledge and thinking and those who avoid both.
Previously the former could flee to the government broadcasters for nourishment for the mind, for these had a mandate to raise public tastes and broaden interests. However, when ratings become more important than raising public intelligence, they too regress towards a lowest democratic denominator. Constant thought interruption is assumed necessary to maintain interest.
'Average intelligence' as now practised may be insufficient for democracies to cope with the problems of our time. It seems so in public responses to major social issues, and might even be measured by the trivia-priorities in ratings given on media web-sites as to which news items or which ideas arouse most public interest, 1 or behaviour with plastic bags.
It is serious that there is no reliable experimental control to the mass experiments on the mind in the commercial media that produce docile consumers short on self-mastery, rather than raising everyone to fulfil their full potential.
This is a serious matter for social biology to investigate.
Humans survive through adaptability, but adaptation to noxious stimuli usually comes at a cost.