Monday, 17 October 2016

* Raja Aissa, the photographer who anatomises identity
The name for one of your photo series is Scheherazade, just like the legendary queen immortalized as a spectacular storyteller through the book One Thousand and One Nights. Do you believe yourself to be a storyteller?

I think that we all are storytellers. We have to tell stories in order to survive as they are important for how we define our lives and the world around us. We make sense of the world by telling stories. In that way all of us are like Scheherazade who had to make up stories in order to stay alive.

I feel strongly that the importance of Scheherazade has returned to the world. I can’t rationally explain how as I didn’t choose the name of the series consciously, it just came to me during the process. I think that the whole idea started with the revolution in Tunisia in 2010. The revolution made me speechless for a long time, and suddenly I started making holes in pictures by burning them with a burning tool. As these holes emerge in the pictures I started to draw Islamic patterns on them, and that’s how the whole thing started to evolve. Somehow it was a call to the story of Scheherazade. The idea of mystery, the idea of multiple identities and how we need to burn away pieces of ourselves in order to know who we truly are.

At the start I didn’t know the significance of the burning, but it evolved to a search for identity. I don’t particularly like the word identity because it narrows and destroys who we are due to its inherent ambiguity. But for me the search transformed into a quest, a quest to find ourselves. The burning kind of signified the pain that goes with every quest to find out who we are. It is not a smooth path, and maybe because it is so difficult and because it could be so painful we have to make up stories and hold on to those stories until we discover that this whole thing is just one side of a much bigger picture.

An old meaning of the name Scheherazade in Persian is the person whose realm or dominion is free. Did this guide your process during the photo series?

With the Tunisian revolution came an explosion of identity that surprised us all. It was supposedly a revolution orchestrated to get rid of a dictator, but all of a sudden the political freedom gave us a sense of quest for who we are. This showed me that when we are confronted with many choices it could lead to a sense of freedom that people can’t really manage, so we need to hold on to an identity in order to feel secure.
When I was working with the Scheherazade series I realized how many different choices I had when it comes to identity and the perception of an image. I only worked with one image, one portrait and one pattern, but there were so many different ways of doing it. Just by moving the little holes, showing parts of the face and hiding others, it gave the image a sense of multiplicity, and this multiplicity of being is the essence of freedom. If only we are aware of the choices and stories that are available to us, then a moment of freedom could present itself. What is interesting with the Scheherazade story is that she managed to reverse her destiny by trapping the king with her stories.

The king became the prisoner of his own projection on women, on the world. So by freeing ourselves from our identities we can understand how much we are trapped by our own stories and start transforming them by “burning” different holes in our own images.

In your art you problematize the relationship between the image of ourselves and the image that the society gives us. In what way is it possible to escape this discrepancy?

What is interesting for me is that we are living in a world ruled by the image. The image is immediate and it can lead to discrepancies. One of the ways to escape from this is to understand the mechanism of social interaction and our own self. When we understand that stories are only stories and that our self-image does not depend so much on them, that they are only references and not an end in themselves, we can understand that stories does not make us who we are. In that way we can put a distance between ourselves and others and understand the way things really are. I made a point of making this series interactive with the viewer. That is why I incorporated mirrors in the photographs so when you look at the portraits your own face is reflected in it at the same time. So as a viewer you are not only a projection but you project to.

How can we truly know our own self?

Knowing ourselves is a life journey. It is important, it is complex and it fluctuates. It is something in movement, we cannot hold it and it is not material. And we have to accept that, that it can disappear and be transformed. Maybe this realization could lead us to an approach which is not an end in itself, that our identities are not static. The concept of identity somehow takes away culture. We think that it brings us culture but I think it pushes it away, inhibits it. One of the reason I used Islamic pattern in the images is because of its importance for the Islamic civilization as it carries the sense of unity with the self and the sense of unity with god. That is why I transformed and alternated it, opening parts of it and closing others. This shows that the search of who we are is not only to be taken within the definition of culture. When it comes to identity we have to be, not skeptical, but aware that its an easy way out to put ourselves within a cultural identity.

I think that the world we are living in today is scary to many people. It has become so globalized that people feel that they are loosing their own identity. This fear of loosing who we are makes people confused and because culture is so image oriented there is not much distance between ourselves and information. The images jump on us and consume us.

That is why I started my whole technique of working with layers. Things are not what you think they are, there are always layers behind it. I think it is the same process that allow us to know better who we are. We need to remove layers, veils, fabric and thoughts and distance ourselves from the need of belonging somewhere. Belonging means rejecting others at the same time, which leads to refusal and polarization. That is one of the problems that we are faced with in an increasingly globalized world, that sense of belonging that removes us from who we could be.

Your work acts as a kind of scalpel, dissecting the different layers of the image. But what is the ultimate power of the image to you?

This is very hard to answer. It is so difficult to grasp the ultimate power of the image because there are so many levels on which an image could work. And I think that they are kind of all-powerful. It could be a feeling of a deeper self that lead us to a sense of mystery and to a dialogue of stories. But it could also be a feeling of amazement where the image takes you somewhere else or it makes you have an experience at a higher level. An image is speechless, and it carries words that has silence in them. But the most important thing is our own reaction to the image, the fact that our experiences of images changes all the time. Maybe that is the ultimate power of the image, that it has no fixed meaning.

Monday, 10 October 2016

* The South Korean monk who has mastered the art of cooking with love

Jonathan Thompson
“These are my children,” says Jeong Kwan as she ushers me through her garden. “I know their characters well, but even after all this time, they surprise me every day.”

Kwan is a Buddhist nun. But she is also rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after chefs on the planet. This precious little patch of land, halfway up a hillside in rural South Korea, is where she quietly cultivates her progeny: aubergines, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, chilli peppers, wild sesame leaves and plenty more I can’t recognise, or the translator cannot decode.

Shaven-headed Kwan is a tiny, bright-eyed figure with a very real sense of mischief and humour beneath her (predictably) Zen exterior. She’s clearly amused by a situation which has seen her singled out by a number of leading international chefs – led by Eric Ripert of New York’s vaunted Le Bernardin – as a bona fide gastronomic prophet.

The hullabaloo reached such a level that the New York Times dispatched a critic on the 18-hour flight to Seoul, followed by a bumpy four-hour bus ride down to Baekyangsa, the seventh-century temple in the Naejangsan National Park that Kwan calls home. The extravagant pilgrimage was a success. The New York Times hailed the nun’s cuisine as “the most exquisite food in the world”, dubbing her “the philosopher chef”. The name stuck, and TV crews followed.

While hallyu, or the new Korean wave, continues to surge through the restaurant scenes of cities such as New York, London and Los Angeles, and heavyweight chefs like Noma’s René Redzepi travel to the Korean hinterland seeking culinary inspiration, the 59-year-old Kwan has become the movement’s unsuspecting cover star.

This is a woman who has never worked in a restaurant, let alone owned one. She’s never had any official culinary training and never published a cookbook. She doesn’t use garlic or onions in her (strictly vegan) recipes – ingredients which some Buddhists believe stimulate the libido. But Kwan has the New York restaurant scene in her thrall, directors climbing the steep, dusty half-mile between the temple and the small hermitage she shares with two other nuns – and an entirely new breed of acolytes queuing up to digest her wisdom. While she finds it the funny side of this, she also sees it as a useful means of propagating her own perspective on food preparation. For her, cooking should never be about greed – the licking of lips and the stuffing of faces. It should be about serving dishes as a means to a higher end: clean bodies and clean minds.

“Food is meant to nourish your body and help your mind find enlightenment,” she says. “It’s a way of bringing humans back to nature, of clearing our minds for meditation. This is how we grow.” To illustrate her point, she jabs a tiny finger in my direction. “You’re the soil,” she says. “Food is the seed.”
“Overcome” is a word Kwon uses a lot. Hunger is something to be “overcome”. The changing seasons, and their effect on her vegetable garden, are likewise to be “overcome”. And her food itself, in a way, is about overcoming, too. Overcoming gluttony in all its guises and eating simple dishes to clarify mind, body and spirit.

Just as Kwan’s cooking eschews “overly spiced, overly sized” western cooking, so too does her temperament. In her simple grey robes, a gentle smile almost permanently fixed to her face, she is the antithesis of the ranting, narcissistic TV chefs of the modern celebrity era.

As we climb the few hundred metres to her hermitage, she points out thriving nutmeg, enormous mushrooms she’s been cultivating for months and a rare, 500-year-old Taengja tree which still produces oranges she uses in her recipes. There is literally no distance between Kwan and her ingredients: this is less farm to table, more garden to altar. “Flavours still surprise and excite me every day,” she says. “Each moment I am thinking about the cooking, the ingredients, the recipes.”

Kwan’s wooden home is, as you might expect, very basic. Here she cooks for two other nuns and occasionally some of the 50 or so monks based down the hill at the temple. As we talk, she prepares lunch. It’s already late in the day (we rose shortly before 5am for Buddhist meditation and chanting – a compulsory undertaking for temple guests), but Kwan flits energetically about her kitchen, robes fluttering like one of the butterflies in her garden.

Simple as it looks, the resulting food has an instant impact. As the small dishes arrive in swift succession, so too do the surprises: textures melt and harmonise while sharp, delicious flavours appear unannounced as we chew. “She has magic in her hands,” wonders the awestruck translator, her mouth full of pak choi and perilla seeds.

Our wooden bowls fill – marinated aubergine with bean powder; pickled plum with zanthoxylum; pumpkin stuffed with spicy tofu – each delicate and intricate in itself, yet part of an overall symphony of flavours effortlessly conducted by Kwan. Afterwards we feel neither full nor hungry and, if anything, decidedly lighter and more energetic than when we started. Culinary alchemy never tasted so good.

So where next for the philosopher chef? She’s already been flown to New York twice by Ripert, but for now she’s happy to stay in her hermitage, meditating for a minimum four hours each day. In the long term, she says she’d like to open a temple food restaurant of sorts. In the mid term, publish a recipe book. In the short term, simply tend to her beloved herbs and vegetables. “I have grown and cared for these ingredients, I have poured my energy into them,” she says. “That energy comes out when I prepare them in a meal.”

And perhaps that, above all, is the secret of the Philosopher Chef’s success. Jeong Kwan has mastered the art of cooking with love.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Poll: To make Mauritius more democratic there is no alternative but to increase the number of députés?

A Best Loser System (BLS) that fails to factor in updated data does not make any sense. It is actually what the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) suggests too. As long as we do not lose sight of the bigger picture about what it takes to cure our ailing democracy: appointing the most credible people at the top of our institutions, striving to revive the elusive reward system and repair its dented vehicle of fair opportunities. Alternately, fetishising the BLS, even in an updated setup, does not make better sense.

In a twisted interpretation of the arbitration of the UNHRC, the most uninspiring IIe République was manufactured. How, according to our "reformers", to achieve that mission while wizardly sanitising the electoral delusion and  camouflaging the BLS? By, namely, fighting for the top spots of countries with the highest number of députés per voters. Here we go again, the R-Word (read buzzword reform, namesake of miracle and hub) is on. Are you any more sublimed? Are we getting our priorities right? 
Express your sanzman feeling (see top right corner) should you be awakened to the nightmare that you cannot afford outsourcing your thinking to politicians, their cheerleaders, and charlatans, any more. And should you be wary of manz pistas get sinema, of very shoddy genre, or unfit in the role of the useful idiot of their financiers, share and act beyond. Now.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

* The Boss sings passionately about the joy and heartbreak of everyday life

Image result for san francisco chronicle
James Sullivan
Several times in his rowdy, witty and frequently heartstring-strumming autobiography, “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen returns to one of his favorite subjects: nothingness. He writes of gazing out from the Jersey shore into the empty Atlantic Ocean at night, and of finding himself, years later, once again, having drifted into the middle of a psychic nowhere.

It might seem an odd preoccupation for an entertainer so well known for substance: his conviction, his work ethic, the hardy songs about recognizable characters with real desires and vexing hurdles. But one of the true rewards of this long-awaited memoir is Springsteen’s exemplary ability to make sense of himself — and acknowledge the times when he couldn’t.

The book’s 500 pages fly by with all the sustained exuberance of a live “Rosalita,” with everyone’s favorite lunch-pail rock star romping through his career highlights and missteps, exalting the people and places that shaped him, and taking good care to ground himself at every turn.

“I was not a natural genius,” he writes, recalling one eye-opening self-assessment after an early, pre-record-deal trip to San Francisco to try and find some rock ’n’ roll glory. “I would have to use every ounce of what was in me — my cunning, my musical skills, my showmanship, my intellect, my heart, my willingness,” just to survive.

But his success can’t be attributed only to burning gas; as the writing in this book confirms, he has talent to burn, too. “Born to Run” can take its place alongside Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles Volume 1” and Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” as a truly lovely work of prose from a top-flight songwriter.

There’s a lot of poetry in Springsteen’s account, from his recollections of being sent as a kid into the neighborhood watering hole to retrieve his distant, volatile father (“I’d stand there, drinking in the dim smell of beer, booze, blues and aftershave”) to his description of his beloved onstage counterpart, the saxophonist Clarence Clemons: “It was the face of an exotic emperor, an island king, a heavyweight boxer, a shaman, a chain-gang convict, a fifties bluesman and a deep soul survivor. It held one million secrets and none at all.”

Even when he’s typing IN ALL CAPS!, there’s a sweet kind of familiarity that transcends the hyperbole. On, for instance, his decision to credit his albums to “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band” rather than just himself: “It said there was a party going on, a meeting taking place, a congregation being called forth, YOU WERE BRINGING YOUR GANG!”

The guy’s always been excitable, at least onstage. That’s what fans love about him most. In taking stock of the making of his third album, 1975’s “Born to Run” — the one that got the previously obscure young street urchin from Asbury Park plastered on the cover of both Time and Newsweek, and would lend its title to this book four decades later — he crystallizes the yearning behind the songs.

They were, he notes, compelled into existence by identity issues: “who am I, who we are, what and where is home, what constitutes manhood, adulthood, what are your freedoms and your responsibilities. I was interested in what it meant to be an American.”

Within a few years, he writes, he’d realized that his usefulness as a performer had become his knack for navigating “the distance between the American dream and American reality.” Sometimes that distance can seem to be a vast desert, which might explain why so much of Springsteen’s later work involves the imagery of wide-open spaces.

Just when he’s getting all deep on us — just like the flow of one of his legendarily marathon concerts, come to think of it — he’ll crack you up with his self-deprecation. Learning to be domesticated by his then-new bride, Patti Scialfa, he recounts the day she told him he might want to alter his lifelong rock-star habit of sleeping in, now that he had kids.

He was going to regret missing mornings with his children, she told him. And she firmly suggested he make the pancakes.

“Make the pancakes?” he writes. “I’d never made anything but music my entire life.”

In another rock star’s biography, the fur might have flown. If Springsteen is a hero, it’s partly because he seized his opportunities to learn a new skill. He posted a recipe on the fridge.

“After some early cementlike results,” he writes of his flapjack technique, “I dialed it in.” Now proud to say he’s perfectly capable with a spatula and a frying pan, he submits that he could get he could get himself hired at any diner in America “should the whole music thing go south.”

The autobiography is neatly partitioned into Books One, Two and Three: “Growin’ Up,” “Born to Run” and “Living Proof.” For longtime fans, the milestones won’t surprise: there’s the signing of the record contract with industry titan John Hammond, the relentless self-promotion of the “Born in the U.S.A.” era, the long hiatus from the E Street band in the 1990s as the frontman turned inward, the renewed sense of purpose in recent years. (The one big reveal: hilariously, the man who practically caricatured the concept of the rocker singing about girls and cars divulges that he didn’t learn to drive until well into adulthood.)

The basic chords are all struck, but for diehards and casual fans alike, the real gift of Springsteen’s book might lie in the grace notes — his perfect description of his stark 1978 album “Darkness on the Edge of Town” as his “samurai” record, say, or his comic tale of taking an ill-fated, but ultimately healing, deep-sea fishing excursion off the coast of Mexico with his old man, late in his life.

His pop, Springsteen writes, wasn’t quite dressed for the occasion: white socks, dress pants, suspenders. “He looked great for a Polish picnic in Queens,” he razzes, “230 pounds of nickels in Sears slacks.” The boat was a wooden crate, a rust bucket. His dad had booked them onto a “death trap,” he writes, not so subtly alluding to one of his most famous lyrics, in the song that gave the album, and this book, their title.

There are many more moments of beauty spiced with humor — of sheer human feeling — in these pages. And that, despite the author’s occasional admissions of uncertainty, is certainly not nothing.

* Our IQs may have risen, but this hasn’t made us smarter or wiser

By David Robson
We tend to assume that our intelligence is simply a matter of nature and nurture – but as the celebrated psychologist James Flynn explains to BBC Future, many other factors can stunt or boost your IQ, right down to the person you choose to marry.

James Flynn is worried about leaving the world to millennials. As a professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand, he regularly meets bright students with enormous potential, only to find that many of them aren’t engaging with the complex past of the world around them.

“They have all these modern skills and yet they come out of university no different than the medieval peasant who is anchored in his own little world,” he tells me mid-way through our conversation.

“Well, actually they are anchored in a much bigger world – the world of the present – but with no historical dimension.” The result, he thinks, is that we have overly simplistic views of current issues, leaving us open to manipulation by politicians and the media.

We are talking in the living room of his son Victor, who is a mathematician at the University of Oxford, during a flying visit from his home in New Zealand. Open on the sofa is his latest reading, Alice Munro’s Runaway, the result of a recent foray into literary criticism – again, with the hope that he can encourage younger people to look beyond their smartphone screens. “I have a second book out this year that says to young people ‘for god’s sake, you are educated, why don’t you read!’” he tells me. When he was young, he says, “girls wouldn’t date you if you hadn’t read the recent novels”.

I am here to discuss his latest book, Does Your Family Make You Smarter? It is a wide ranging conversation on the ways that human thinking has changed over time, including a mysterious rise in IQ – the “Flynn Effect” for which he is now best known – and the various competing influences that shape our intellect over our lifetime.

At 82, Flynn is now a towering figure in intelligence research, but it was only meant to be a short distraction, he says. “I’m a moral philosopher who dabbles in psychology,” he says. “And by dabbling I mean it’s taken over half my time for the past 30 years.” As part of this philosophical research on the nature of objectivity, he came across dubious claims that certain races are intellectually inferior. Examining the evidence, he saw that the average scores for everyone – black and white alike – had been rising consistently by around three points a decade. Yet few people had noted on the fact.

“I thought, why aren’t psychologists dancing in the street over this? What the hell is going on?” These were no small, incremental, improvements – between 1934 and 1964, the Dutch had gained 20 points – yet it had been ignored by the very people administering the tests. “It was sitting there right in front of their noses and they didn’t see it.”

Psychologists had long known that our genes play a role in our intelligence, and that its influence only increases as we get older. At kindergarten, genetics matter relatively little: what’s more important is whether your parents talk to you, read to you and practise things like counting. Sure enough, twin studies suggest that your genes account for about 20% of the variation in IQ at this age.

As you grow up and begin to think for yourself, however, your parents’ influence wears off. You spend most of your time at school anyway, and if you have the potential, your brain will develop in line with the extra stimulation. Your genes may also push you to find new ways to stimulate your mind yourself – you might pursue more intellectually demanding pastimes, join a book club, or you might be selected for a harder maths class, which should in turn raise your score. So you begin to create your own niche that reflects your genetic potential. That’s not to say that your family background doesn’t count at all – it still matters if you attend a better school or if your parents buy you lots of books. And chance factors can add up; if you find yourself unemployed or beset by a personal tragedy, your IQ may take a blow. But overall, as an adult your genes can predict about 80% of the differences between you and the next person.
Yet the Flynn Effect was just too pronounced and too rapid to be explained by changing genes; natural selection happens slowly across thousands of years. So what could it be? Other psychologists were dumbfounded. “They were so wedded to the notion that intelligence only changed slowly that they couldn’t see what was in front of them.”

In fact, the answer is not so puzzling if you compare it to another trait that has slowly grown over the decades: body height. Within one generation you will find that tall parents have taller children, and short parents have shorter children, showing a large genetic component; but if you compare different generations, you will find we are all much taller than our grandparents – and that’s not because our genes have changed. It’s because modern life, with better medicine and diet, has allowed our bodies to grow.

Scientific spectacles
Flynn and his colleague William Dickens have hypothesised that exactly the same thing was happening to our minds thanks to shifts in the cognitive demands of our society. IQ measures a variety of qualities, such as vocabulary, spatial reasoning and the ability to think abstractly and recognise categories, which together are meant to reflect a “general intelligence”. And even though we are not schooled in all these skills explicitly, our education nevertheless exercises a more abstract way of seeing the world that could help us with that task.

Just think of the elementary school lessons that lead us to consider the different branches of the tree of life, the different elements and the forces of nature – we are slowly beginning to group things together into categories and classes and logical rules, which is central to many questions on the IQ test. The more children are asked to view the world through these “scientific spectacles”, the higher they will score, Flynn suggests. “Society makes highly different demands on us over time, and people have to respond.”

Western education may make us see the world through "scientific spectacles" (Credit: Getty Images)

But it’s not just education; some researchers have argued that our whole world is now engineered to make us think in this way, thanks to an increasing reliance on technology. Where our great-grandparents may have grappled with typewriters, our parents struggled to program their video recorder, while children today learn to use a touchscreen from an early age. Even reading the schematic London Underground map may have been tough for someone in the 1900s who was used to seeing the world more literally, Flynn says. This progression has forced us to think in hierarchies and symbols, to learn how to follow rules and draw analogies – and it is now so widespread that we forget the cognitive leaps it requires.

As a consequence, we all became a bit better at thinking abstractly, leading to an increase of at least 30 points over the last century. The rise in IQ may not mean we have ramped up our raw brainpower – we are fine-tuning our ancient mental machinery for the modern world, rather than upgrading it completely – but he argues that the improvements are “sociologically significant”, reflecting real changes in thinking. The Flynn Effect seems to predict a country’s rising economic performance, for instance. “If the gains were hollow, they couldn’t do that,” he says.

Flynn compares it to physical exercise – we are shaped by our chosen sport. “The brain is a muscle – and a change in mental exercise influences the brain just as much as if you gave up swimming for weightlifting.”
Crucially, IQ is malleable over a lifetime. This means that the elderly can still gain ground, thanks to better overall health (which is linked to intelligence) and longer-lasting, more intellectually demanding careers keeping their brains active for longer and forestalling decline. “There has been such an enormous improvement that today someone of 70 just kills a person [of the same age] 15 years ago,” he says. Overall, the rate is about 11 points a decade, he says. Flynn himself could be proof of this. “My father never ran a step after 12 and he retired at 70. I exercise more and I’ve never retired.” The result is a healthier brain and more active mind.

Flynn’s latest book is an attempt to fill in some of the gaps left in this picture, using an ingenious new analysis that allows him to break down the effects depending on the person at hand, and the particular skills it will effect. Consider the part of the IQ test that measures vocabulary. Having more educated parents, who talk with more varied and erudite language, will help give a boost even to people with little genetic potential; conversely, people with a genetic advantage may find themselves dragged down by those around them (just think of Lisa Simpson).

The differences are small enough that many would like to ignore them, but Flynn’s analysis shows that even a few IQ points can determine your path in life. For a fairly bright kid entering university in America, for instance, living in a slightly more academic home could push their score from 500 to 566 on the SAT exams, for instance – the difference between a place at a prestigious or more mediocre college. “Universities use the SAT as their measure of the viability of the student and if you are lousy on that you won’t go to UCLA, or if you do you will probably flunk out in the first year.”

Flynn is not a defeatist: no matter what our family background, we all have the power to take our intellectual development into our own hands. After all, the studies show that our circumstances today shape our current IQ more than our past history. This is apparent, he says, with his mature students. “Plenty of people come to us from environments that look as if they provide very little intellectual stimulation, and compared to our average students, they gain like crazy.”

I ask him how else I could hope to get a brain boost. “You can marry a partner, not because they look like a star, but because you found them intellectually challenging,” he advises me. “They would introduce you into a world of ideas and peers that would make your life far more interesting.”

Which brings us round to his concerns about millennials. Despite the gains in IQ, he worries that we aren’t engaging our minds effectively on the issues that matter. “I’m not being gloomy but actually the major intellectual thing that disturbs me is that young people like you are reading less history and less serious novels than you used to,” he says, arguing that we should have a background in the crises that have shaped world history before we form opinions on current politics. He chastises me for my lack of knowledge of Europe’s Thirty Years’ War, for instance, which he believes has many parallels with today’s conflicts in the Middle East. (His criticism is perfectly fair, and he is persuasive enough to convince me to fill the gaps in my knowledge.)

George Orwell, he says, painted a dystopia where the government rewrites history to control and manipulate the population. “But all you need are ‘ahistorical’ people who then live in the bubble of the present, and by fashioning that bubble the government and the media can do anything they want with them,” Flynn adds.

In other words, our IQs may have risen, but this hasn’t made us any wiser. “Reading literature and reading history is the only thing that’s going to capitalise on the IQ gains of the 20th Century and make them politically relevant.” You may or may not agree, but Flynn is not the only person with this concern: as William Poundstone shows in his latest book Head In The Clouds, everyday ignorance is influencing the way we make decisions in many areas of our lives.

Whether or not Flynn will persuade young people to pick up a book, there’s no doubting that he has forever changed our views of intelligence. “Today I think I’m leaving a field where you can write genuine cognitive history,” he says – meaning that we can finally track and explain the ways the mind has changed and responded to our environment over time.

At 82, however, he hopes that other scientists will continue this work, as he spends to spend the rest of his career writing about philosophy and politics. The question of IQ was, after all, only ever supposed to be a temporary distraction. “I got sucked into this area accidentally and now thank God I may get out of it again.”