I was an inquisitive child, and I’ve never really lost it. The other day, someone described me as a ‘hyper-intelligent toddler’. I wasn’t quite sure how to take this; it took me reading about Cat Couplings on the excellent Everything Studies blog to fully understand why.
Cat couplings are cheeky things. Let’s consider what they are using an example from Georg Henry von Wright (no relation):
Pessimism has its downsides, but is still preferable to naive optimism.
Think about the role ‘naive’ is playing in this statement – is Wright positing that all optimism naive? Or is it saying that pessimism is only preferable to naive strains of optimism? If so, what of other strains of optimism? It seems Wright might be claiming all optimism is naive – but is that really fair to say in the first place? Shouldn’t we be dealing with that first?
Back to ‘hyper-intelligent toddler’. Firstly, I’ve added the hyphen. For all I know, it was meant (this is thorny in itself) unhyphenated, meaning that I was being described as both ‘hyper’ (overly energetic, to the point perhaps of mania) and ‘intelligent’. If we compound the expression, it’s my intelligence that’s ‘hyper-’, meaning ‘over, beyond or above.’ Unhyphenated, it’s passing judgment on both my behaviour and my nature. Hyphenated, it’s just my nature.
But this is without considering the noun. ‘Toddler’ can’t be meant in the sense of ‘one who toddles’, because I’d like to think my walking skills have improved since those heady days of toddlerhood. That much is clear; less clear, though, is what ‘hyper intelligent’ is doing to the noun. Am I being described as not only a toddler, but one who is ‘hyper’? Or am I like a toddler who is ‘hyper-intelligent’. But, wait: hyper-intelligent for a toddler, or for an adult? In other words: am I being described as someone who is ‘hyper-intelligent’ but has behavioural attributes analogous to a toddler, or am I just as bright as a very bright two-year old? One’s a compliment; one very much isn’t.
Why am I thinking like this? Blame Douglas Hofstadter’s ideas about analogy:
Doug’s theory is that analogy-making is central to human cognition. He talks about there being a ‘subterranean fight’ whenever we’re trying to pick a word. That ‘fight’ is us rooting through analogical frameworks to cogitate what we mean so we can best express it. I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to think, and Doug has tipped me in a direction I didn’t see myself going.
And that’s the nature of me, and that’s going to be the nature of these posts. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I do have the restless curiosity of a toddler. I’m not hyper-intelligent (at least, for a 34-year-old), but I’m going to get lost in thinking anyway. One might call it ‘overthinking’ – if so, fine. It’s fun for me.
Well, sometimes it’s fun. Perhaps it’s better to say that it’s fun enough of the time to encourage me to carry on. Sometimes I get really lost. My next post will be a rather experimental ramble about how it feels to get intellectually and creatively lost.
Think enough, though, and you find yourself again.