21 October 2011

Geniuses should be reclusive

‘And there are other things. I couldn’t go to discos to meet girls because my ears are very sensitive to noise and they hurt.’ (Low tolerance of noise, along with several other of Simon’s idiosyncrasies, are symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome – a mild form of autism – but he has never been diagnosed.) [Daily Mail]

There is a wish to believe – and hence, in effect, a belief – that a high IQ, and the sort of interest in reality that may go with it, are pathological and arise from some sort of personality disorder.

Simon Norton admitted to various characteristics regarded as symptomatic of this. Perhaps that is why journalists are willing to interview him and are not willing to interview me; I would not fit so well the preferred image of the genius with serious deficits in non-intellectual areas.

Perhaps the characteristics regarded as symptomatic of Asperger’s syndrome might result from the demoralising effects of a modern education on a person with a high IQ (and hence precocious).

The attempt to get by in life without thinking about basic practical essentials (rather than trying to become rich enough to have a housekeeper and other ancillary staff) is encouraged by Oxford University and, presumably, other universities as well. Academic rejects are not encouraged to attempt to remedy their position in any way, but to ‘follow their interests’ while living in a cheap bedsit.

Perhaps the inattention to hygiene etc. has something to do with the lack of a suitable identity as a socially accepted intellectual.

It has often been assumed that I must be, for example, reclusive. When I was living without an income any side effects of that were interpreted as indicating my identification with the dropout position.

Lady Hardy, wife of Professor Hardy, met two associates of mine in Oxford when all my plans to obtain finance for my independent research institute had been defeated. ‘I saw that Celia the other day,’ said Lady Hardy, with distaste, ‘she was looking very scruffy.’

Did she expect me to buy a new raincoat at the expense of such savings as I could make? In fact my raincoat then was of very good quality, a Burberry, and although showing the effects of age, perfectly functional for its intended purposes.

20 October 2011

New definitions for ‘saving’ and ‘planning’

As I have previously said on this blog, the state now appears to feel free to change legislation in ways that are effectively retrospective, in that they make a mockery of past efforts by forethoughtful taxpayers – such as myself and my colleagues – to plan for their life after normal retirement age.

Commentators whom one might expect to be critical of such retrospectiveness seem to share the basic philosophy that it is not too unacceptable, sounding mildly disapproving at best but in many cases simply taking it as read that, say, the presence of a budget deficit justifies breaking what was once thought of as a relatively sacrosanct principle.

Ruth Sunderland, for example, refers to the complaint made by many women that the rapid shifting of the age at which they will start to receive their state pensions ‘simply does not leave them enough time to plan’. But she does not appear to complain of the sudden introduction of means-testing. Those who had been paying into the state pension scheme could not have planned for that change because it was retrospective, and they had no warning it was going to happen.

Having undermined savings efforts by breaking a principle in one area, the government evidently feels justified in breaking principles in complementary areas; for example, using the idea that it is legitimate to be forced to save.

In an alarming speech, Martin Weale [a leading expert at the Bank of England] urged Britons to wake up to the fact that their level of saving is too low and that they are spending too much. ... The top economist said people were deluding themselves about the type of retirement they could expect, unless they were happy to work ‘much later’. ...

Starting next year, new rules will force all bosses to pay into a pension for their workers for the first time, unless the worker decides to opt out. ... Pensions minister Steve Webb said ... ‘Our workplace pension reform is vital. From 2012, automatic enrolment will mean millions of people saving into a pension for the first time, with a contribution from their employer.’ (Daily Mail, 26 August)

Having one’s money confiscated is not the same as saving, even if money is also confiscated from your employer at the same time, thus surreptitiously reducing the resources which he has available to pay you directly.

If this money were not confiscated, those who wished to save in the normal sense of the word, i.e. build up their own capital, might use it to do so. Hence this legislation is reducing the possibility of savings being made.

Theoretically the money will be preserved from the irresponsible activities of those who might wish to use it for something else before reaching what the government of their day decrees to be ‘retirement age’. Possibly those who might choose to act in this way do so knowing that their family history indicates the likelihood of their dying before receiving anything in the way of retirement pay; or having decided, consciously or unconsciously, to get lost on a mountainside somewhere and die of exposure before they suffer from the drawbacks of ageing.

At a time when the national finances are under severe strain, later retirement ages for both sexes are unavoidable. ... Pension planning is a long-term undertaking that ideally should be carried out over an entire working lifetime. (Ruth Sunderland, Daily Mail, 14 October)

Later retirement ages are only ‘unavoidable’ if you rule out such possibilities as abolishing state education, child benefit at all levels of income, the NHS, etc.

And you can only plan with money that is in your own hands.

In my twenties, being deprived of the possibility of earning a living as an academic, unable to envisage earning a living in any other way, and also deprived of the possibility of income support when receiving no income from any employment, I made great efforts to ensure that I would pay the voluntary contributions into the state pension scheme. In deciding to do this, rather than to keep an equivalent amount in my own hands and invest it as best I could over the years, I was considerably influenced by the fact that the state pension was paid ‘as of right’ as a result of contributions made, and was not a ‘benefit’ supposedly related to your ‘needs’ as assessed by agents of the collective.

I paid in contributions every year over a period of about forty years, and had started to receive a disappointingly withered pension, when it was announced that state pensions would now be means-tested. Some years later it was announced that the age at which people would receive them was not what they had previously expected, but was liable to shift forward at the whim of the government.

So my attempts to ‘plan’ for my income after the age of 60 had been misguided, as I had not taken into account the possibility of retrospective legislation.

19 October 2011

Oxford Professorship in Psychology: not even shortlisted

In response to my application for the Oxford Professorship in Psychology I received a brief rejection letter from the University's Personnel Officer. Herewith the text of my response.

As it said in my letter, I hereby appeal to any senior academic to come to visit me at my impoverished independent university, to discuss ways of supporting me, so that I do not go on being prevented from contributing to the intellectual life of my time.

I continue to apply for professorships and other posts. I still need to start on my forty-year academic career with full salary and status at professorial level.

Dear ...

Thank you for your letter of 6 May. It appears I was not even shortlisted for the Professorship of Psychology being offered by the Department of Experimental Psychology in association with Magdalen, for which I made an application in March.

It is an indication of the oppressiveness of modern society that nobody considers it their business to enquire into the predicament of the victims of social outrage and support them in recovering from it.

And yet, not long ago, a teenager with an IQ said to be 130, currently in prison, was awarded damages against an education authority which had failed to provide him with enough intellectual stimulation. This was regarded as having led to his turning to crime instead of to gainful employment. I realise this provides no grounds for my entertaining any hope that I could sue for loss of my earnings from an academic career as well as my father’s loss of salary as a headmaster when he was forced to retire early on a breakdown allowance.

Normally in this situation I would ask you if you would let me come to see you to explain my position, to make it more likely that you will remember me if a suitable appointment arises. However, I realise that it would be unlikely to do me any good if you did grant me an interview with you. Nevertheless, I think that you should wish to come to see me to find out what help you could give me in returning to a normal position in society.

One form of help which you could certainly give me, even without coming to see me, would be money. Without a salary, and having to provide myself with an institutional environment as best I can, it is almost impossible for me to write books expressing my views, to publish those which have already been written and stockpiled awaiting editing, or to carry out any of the research which I have now been prevented from doing for several decades, and which I need to do to enhance my claim on restoration to the sort of career which I should have been having all along.

In your position, I would probably be happy to contribute half of my salary on a regular basis if I heard of someone in so grievously anomalous a situation as mine is.

This is a standing invitation to you or any other senior academic, to come to visit me at my impoverished independent university, to discuss ways of supporting me, morally or financially, so that I do not continue to be prevented from contributing to the intellectual life of my time, as a headmistress (who perhaps lost her job for the crime of allowing me to be too happy at her school) once said that I was certain to do.

However, I am not inviting you or anyone else to come without warning, and an appointment would have to be made well in advance, and accompanied by a donation of at least £5,000 towards the support of my institution, or to me personally. In fact, it would be better if made to me personally, as our affairs are too constricted and under-staffed to accept any additional burden in the way of processing and accounting for donations.

I do not expect you to come, although I think you should, but a donation of that size would at least prevent a visit, if it were to happen, from being an entirely fruitless drain on our time and energy.

Yours sincerely,


14 October 2011

The real reasons for a ‘failure to fulfil’

copy of a letter

I was talking with Fabian, and asked him why he thought it was that there was such a resistance to the idea of reparation being made to a person who had been placed in an unsuitable and unacceptable position as a result of their ruined ‘education’.

Fabian told me about somebody who wrote rudely in response to his blog that ‘society does not owe anyone an academic career’.

I said, ‘But I think it does, if it has taken over the running of someone’s education, so that they have no control over it, and thus end up deprived of the sort of career they need to have, which they could easily have got for themselves if left alone to get on with it.’

Fabian seemed to agree but said, ‘I suppose there is an idea that it is somehow morally wrong to sue public institutions for reparation, although perfectly acceptable to sue private ones.’

As I have said before, I am sure that suing would be a waste of time and energy because judges would be on the side of the ideology of the public institutions.

But individuals might (and should) realise that victims of the system who are regarded as beyond the pale for reparation by the collective, could and should be recognised as needing help from individuals to get back into a social and financial position approximating to that in which they should have been if not subjected to social interference.

An article in the Daily Mail (10 September 2011) about Simon Norton, the subject of the previous post, refers to a study of gifted children by researchers at Middlesex University.

Simon is, of course, far from the only brilliant child who has failed to live up to the enormous expectations placed upon him.

A study published last year found that out of 210 gifted children whose progress was followed into later life, only 3 per cent went on to fulfil their early potential.

Researchers from Middlesex University found that many failed to excel because of the way they were treated — often put under too much pressure and separated from their peer group so they found it difficult to make friends.

Researchers at Middlesex University are, of course, not academic exiles, and the interpretations they give of what went wrong with the lives of gifted children are the accepted and mostly fictitious ones.

Among the people with high IQs I know or have met who live in exile from society, I cannot think of any who would have ascribed their problems to ‘pressure’ or ‘high expectations’, even if none of them would have been so unequivocal as I would myself in ascribing the problems to the hostility of modern society towards exceptional ability.

If adequately funded, as it should be, the appropriate department of my suppressed and unrecognised independent university could publish, not only criticisms of such research as that done in Middlesex University, but also make studies of its own, taking other, more realistic, factors into account.

13 October 2011

An uncomplaining, unfrustrated genius

Simon Norton is a former child prodigy, whose story superficially resembles mine. A book about him, The Genius in the Basement by Alexander Masters, was recently publicised in the Daily Mail.

Very precocious, very high IQ, but now exiled from academia and living as a recluse. What went wrong? He is quoted as saying vaguely that perhaps he did not apply himself enough. No suggestion that it was hostility that threw him out, or that he is suffering agonies of frustration now.

But then in some respects his story is very different from mine.

His family were wealthy, with a long-standing business. He went to Eton and became a lecturer at Cambridge.

He was, apparently, only interested in maths, and that probably makes him a sort of person by whom people feel less threatened than they do by me.

Even now that he has been thrown out, he does not complain of suffering. He is supported by an income from his family and by rents from tenants in a house which he owns. He makes no attempt to provide himself with a hotel environment but tries to avoid the problems of material living by subsisting below the respectable level, rather than by working up to an above-average lifestyle. Allegedly, his clothes are dirty and his diet restricted. He hates shopping and does it in a perfunctory rush. He does not try to employ a housekeeper to do it for him.

Perhaps this is supposed to demonstrate that the most precocious and initially successful can be thrown out of a university environment without it leading to them complaining about how much they are being prevented from doing.

09 October 2011

Notes on my CV

Herewith the ‘Notes on my CV’ referred to in the previous post.

In interpreting a CV it is normal to consider only what a person has been permitted by society to do as evidence of what they are able to do. However, in my case I have to ask for the realities of the situation to be considered, as my life has consisted of being artificially prevented from doing what I could have been doing very well and wanted to be doing.

Given my extreme precocity, it was both cruel and unreasonable to expect my education to consist of taking about the normal number of exams at about the usual age. The post-war legislation which prohibited the taking of any exams at all until after the 16th birthday had a particularly terrible effect on my life. I therefore took many fewer exams and at much later ages than I could and should have done.

My life was one of agonised frustration and deprivation. I did not get to university until far too late an age, by which time I was too old and had been suffering for too long to take any interest in the process of taking a first degree. My college continued to apply the policy of refusing to accept that any problems which arose from a retarded education needed to be taken into account.

Recently people have been suing the educational system for providing them with inadequate skills and qualifications. I should have been able to sue for being left with no paper qualification with which to enter the academic career which, in view of my ability and aptitudes, I needed to have.

I did not accept that I could have any other sort of career or that life would be tolerable without a career.

In spite of my lack of paper qualifications I was perfectly well able to teach or do research in several subjects, so that the lack of a paper qualification and of support from my college was the only reason for my not applying for appointments teaching e.g. maths or physics.

My only motive in everything I did was to effect return to a full-time academic career as quickly as possible. The research I did was not determined by considerations of interest to myself but by what I could get funding for.

It may be considered that I was ill-advised to attempt to do research in what would be, even if accepted, a new area of academic work, as a means of returning to an academic career. In fact I was not advised at all, as my college refused to give any consideration to my need to work my way back to a university career. Whatever advice I had been given I would, in my desperate situation, have been forced to work on anything for which I could get funding.

There appears to be a social convention that a person is not subjected to suffering and hardship by being deprived of a career, however high their IQ and however great their temperamental need to put their drive and effort into a progressive situation. Anything they do in exile is supposed to have been done because of a particular interest in it. Neither of these things has been true in my case. My life without a career has been one of severe hardship and deprivation and the increasing desperation of my urgent need to return to a university career has caused me agonising frustration for many years past.

It is the social difficulties that have prevented me from applying to return to an academic career at an earlier age (any applications I did make being turned down) so I must ask that my age be not held against me since I have made the best progress I could. So far as I am concerned I am just in the position of someone in their early twenties attempting to start on a full-time, full-length academic career.

My CV shows that I have held a (usually unpaid) position at the Institute of Psychophysical Research for many years. Since the death of Professor Hans Eysenck, who had been Director, I have resumed the position of Director. This is not, and has never been, an alternative to an academic career. The organisation was founded by me, not as an expression of interest in any particular field of research, but as a vehicle to facilitate my return to a university career by providing an environment within which publishable research could be done. In this objective it has failed, as funding has been rigorously withheld since a seven-year covenant thirty years ago. It could be argued that, without any financial support at all, it has provided me with added liabilities to increase my sufferings rather than alleviate them.

Being deprived of a career is very like being condemned to indefinite imprisonment. One is deprived of every normal social function or interaction, of everything that could make life worth living. The horror of the situation is only marginally modified by whether or not one was actually innocent when first condemned. As it happened, I was ‘innocent’, since I was perfectly well able to fulfil the functions of an academic career.

I advocate the abolition of the state controlled educational system since, if it could ruin my education and my life, it could ruin anybody’s.

05 October 2011

Oxford’s Professorship in Psychology

There follows the text of a letter of application which I made for a Psychology Professorship at Oxford University last year.

The ‘notes on my CV’ referred to will be posted separately.

I would draw attention in particular to the last paragraph, which for these purposes I have put in bold.

I hereby appeal to anyone in a position to provide finance for it, to consider this as an application for funding to set up a department of psychology under my direction.

I am applying for the Professorship of Psychology being offered by the Department of Experimental Psychology in association with Magdalen College, as advertised in the University Gazette, and attach my CV, which includes the contact details of three referees, together with notes on my CV and a testimonial from the late Professor H J Eysenck.

As my position is an anomalous one, I would be grateful if you could read the notes on my CV, as they give information about how I came to be in this position. As you will see, my CV is one that was prepared to go with an application for an appointment in philosophy, rather than psychology. I cannot in fact comply with all the ‘essential’ criteria listed on the website. However, I can comply with some of them. You will note on my CV that I have carried out research in psychology. It was pioneering research which broke new ground in various areas, but for which I received little recognition (more overseas than in this country) and no funding after the initial (very minimal) funding had lapsed. I also have decades of administrative and fund-raising experience.

I am in fact capable of carrying out research, teaching, and administration in areas in which I do not have paper qualifications, owing to my own ability to learn new topics very fast and very thoroughly in any situation in which I need to learn them.

For realistic information about my life, abilities, and situation, please see the Preface ‘How this Book came to be Written’ to my book The Lost Cause, a copy of which I am sending to you under separate cover. (This is the book version of my Oxford D.Phil thesis on causation entitled Causation and the Mind-Body Problem.)

I apologise for the anomalies in my application: these arise from the extreme social misplacement which has resulted from my ruined education. There is no recognition of the predicament of the exiled academic. I am making this application in spite of being above the normal age for a Professorship because the process of recovering from a ruined education is extremely slow, in fact there is no provision for it to be possible at all. There was a time lag of decades before the work which I had done in exile from an academic career led to my being offered testimonials from senior academics who were willing to act as my referees, and this still did not lead to my reinstatement in a normal academic career.

After still further delay, one of the areas of work which I had initiated (lucid dreaming) came to be recognised as a suitable topic for doctorates in both philosophy and experimental psychology. I still did not have funding for the expenses of research including a research assistant, without which I could not have done a DPhil in experimental psychology, so I applied instead to do one in philosophy.

The enclosed notes can give little impression of what I would have achieved by now if I had had a normal life, i.e. one that was normal for a person like me. As it is, they are a statement of how efficiently the expression of my abilities has been prevented by the society in which I have been living. Academics advising me have often said, ‘Don’t say anything about your ability, only about what you have done’, and ‘Don’t mention your unofficial teaching and research.’ But society can prevent one from doing anything officially, i.e. within a normal academic position. Is what one does outside its auspices, in an attempt to regain reinstatement, automatically to be regarded as disqualified from consideration?

Since I have had to work outside of a normal university context in attempting to establish a claim to reinstatement, it is difficult for me to give any academic referees at all. Nevertheless I give such as I can, and it should be considered remarkable that I have managed to acquire any at all. At one time I was sent a portfolio of testimonials from North American academics, who had worked on lucid dreams in some of the ways suggested in my book Lucid Dreams, similar to the testimonial from Professor Harry Hunt which appears on page xxxviii of my book The Lost Cause. However, these never did me any good and I have mislaid them, so it would be a lot of work to find out the present addresses of those concerned.

I give the referees I do, as best I can, because it should be regarded as amazing, and highly creditable, that I am able to give any at all. However I expect that my referees will observe the usual conventions that (a) one’s case is not to be considered highly anomalous and in need of redress, that (b) only work done by the holders of official academic positions counts as academic, and that (c) there is supposed to be no such thing as ability which is transferable from one field of intellectual activity to another. Therefore they can do no more than damn me with faint praise for the few pieces of work which I have been able to do within the restrictive parameters of what is regarded as ‘relevant’.

Finally, I should like to make a statement. It may be that you reject this application out of hand, on the basis that it does not meet the ‘essential requirements’, or that I otherwise fail to fit the University’s idea of what a psychology professor ought to be like. However, it is my belief that if the University really wanted to contribute to the advancement of psychology, rather than merely occupy a prestigious role in what has developed under the label of ‘academic psychology’, it would take this application very seriously indeed.