Congrats: MAM Wins Sapphire Award!

Mid-America Mensa (MAM) received some well-deserved recognition during the recent 2019 American Mensa Annual Awards. In Class II, MAM was awarded a SAPPHIRE for a variety of its activities and accomplishments – earned by the local group as a whole. Basically, groups can earn points for “active participation in all that Mensa has to offer to positively impact the experience of the local group members”. The award was the culmination of points earned during the fiscal year just completed for April 2018 – March 2019. For more about this see: Jewel Awards Criteria, https://www.us.mensa.org/recognize/group-awards/local-group-jewels/

Awards like this one from America Mensa are like a precious gemstone because they show a degree of bright, active participation and glowing vitality that are so greatly needed by a living, breathing social organization. Besides marking a high level of service to MAM’s members, the SAPPHIRE award shows that we are continuing to build MAM’s story, that we are sincerely working well together and we are having fun as a local group, and that we do truly like each other to a significant degree. So, congratulations to Mid-America Mensa for winning this American Mensa Jewel Award in recognition of MAM’s continuing service to our members!

Q&A: Rob Swenson on Mr. Mensa

Q1/ What was the 2019 Mr. Mensa contest like? Can you describe it to us?

Rob/ The Mr. Mensa contest is a sort of beauty pageant with legs, talent, question, and date auction segments. We had 7 men competing this year, with several doing stand up comedy routines, two singing (including one song as a proposal of marriage), and a sword fighting martial arts demonstration. The judges are women from leadership positions within Mensa as well as a raffle ticket winner and a seat auction winner. This is a fundraiser for the Mensa Foundation, and it raised about $10,000 this year.

Q2/ Have you tried winning other awards and contests? How did you join up with Mensa?

Rob/ I have not done this sort of thing before, but decided to this time. I joined Mensa in 1992 with an admission test at the Plaza Library. [Edited for brevity.]

Last year at the AG in Indianapolis several friends encouraged me to compete this year as we watched the competition.

Q3/ How much of it was based on previous experiences (talent) and how much of it is just the luck of show business?

Rob/ I think the talent portion of the contest is fairly key. The winner this year danced to the song “Wrecking Ball” in a Magic Mike -type routine, which the crowd and judges all loved.

Q4/ What is the purpose of the Mr. Mensa contest?

Rob/ The purpose is to raise money for the Mensa Foundation, which gives scholarships.

Q5/ Was it fun? Do you plan to participate in Kansas City next year?

Rob/ Yes, it was both nerve wracking and fun. In addition, an M friend from Las Vegas organized a flash mob during the time between when the judges tallied their scores and the winner was announced. It started with my daughter dragging me onto the dance floor as a song came on, and the rest of the group joined us, culminating with me dipping my daughter at the end of the dance.

I will absolutely compete in 2020 in Kansas City, and have every intention of stepping up my talent game for my second try.

Philosophy in Bite-Sized Chunks: Reviewed

To begin, Philosophy in Bite-Sized Chunks (published by Metro Books, 2017) reminds me of when I first had to learn Boolean logic and how that seemed very important in a way to me as a freshman. So, caring deeply about other people and the human condition are things I learned at university years ago. Sometimes I even think of my own small — yet entertaining — thoughts as things of passion and great virtue. Why not, right? However, what Lesley Levene (author/editor) does in this inspirational, little book is put together a story of searching for how the absolute principles of knowledge merge (into a new theory) with the better virtues of the current age. Read this book – if so inclined – and learn it with a sense of humor too. It is not difficult reading, especially since the author often tries to intentionally grab for the reader’s funny bone. This happens almost automatically despite the fact that her humorous approach to philosophy acts on a naturally more serious subject.

Another one of my first impressions of Levene’s book is that it has been arranged as a collection of sketches (which she calls ‘entries’) and has been organized into chapters based around the major periods of world civilization. It reads like a dictionary of philosophy, or maybe more so like an encyclopedia of philosophers. Her entries are the chunks to which the title refers. Also, look for a small number of simple line drawings (cartoons) mixed in between these interconnected entries. What is formed during the process of reading this book is a multi-dimensional story tying all of the chosen philosophers together into some loosely organized memory within the reader’s mind. This ‘landscape’ is surpassed only by the rich, albeit short, abundance of details she provides for each entry. How the story actually unfolds is almost more spectacular than the philosophers and their philosophies.

First, Thales (pp. 12-13) was perhaps the first ‘real’ philosopher of Ancient Greece. His line of reasoning went like this:

Earth is superimposed on water.
So, the nature of all things is moist.
Water is the origin of moist things.
Therefore, water is the epicenter of all things.

Pythagoras (pp. 16-18), on the other hand, was a mystical numbers fellow who thought about reality as a ‘quest’ for ultimate truth. Numbers were like the fundamental building blocks with which all universal patterns were to be formed. In other words, his fundamental numbers had a mystical yet elemental meaning, namely:

1                <=>                    Monad, Point, Top (Atoms)
2                <=>                    Matter, Line (Space)
3                <=>                    Ideal, Surface (Constant movement)
4                <=>                    Seasons, Solid (Bundles of energy)

Now that was really ‘plastic’ thinking for that historical age; can you imagine? Parmenides’ rhetorical and logical type of inquiry may have seemed a little heady, yet it was simple enough for anyone who tried to follow through it. Parmenides (pp. 22-23), for example, thought of nature as:

  1. Singular;
  2. Undivided; and
  3. Never changing (Eternal).

And so, he asked questions like:

  1. What is meant by ‘exist’?
  2. What ‘exists’ in the world?
  3. What ‘exists’ in the mind?

These early attempts at the establishment of a culture (based upon bursts of thought) counted and remained of a high Greek importance. Again, it should be noted that these philosophers were great thinkers who asked some really good questions.

‘Forever study the Greeks’, an assertion which I attribute to Goethe, leads the readers to the really big thinkers of Ancient Greece: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Briefly, Plato (pp. 35-37) thought of philosophy as that which had been laid down before humanity. He was famous for the Ideal Forms of reality (Nature) and the Allegory of Shadows about shadows cast on a cave wall. How we observe things everyday in our lives is imperfect when they are compared to the ideal forms. He applied this general line of thinking to: beauty, truth, justice in an ideal society, math, and music, for example. Even modern Christian thought has been influenced by what Plato, and others, had started.

This exercise of building upon the shoulders of earlier philosophers helps to explain a lot. St Augustine (pp. 65-67), for example, really pushed the idea that it is only through faith that we can obtain the truth. Both philosophy and so religion too are a quest for rational thought. Consequently, we must continue to remember that the Christian faith is a divine gift similar to the struggle between light and darkness. He asked:

How are you responding to calling from God?

But these views invoked some opposition from critics. Skeptics began asking fiery questions about knowledge to Augustine. Among these concerns:

How can we know with absolute certainty that God is the supreme creator of the universe and of all other abstract things that exist in the world?

The implications to mathematical and/or rational thought that followed showed what a great thinker he would eventually be.

Maybe you would rather see things as something of a blueprint for our social contract. Then you can read about Jean-Jacques Rousseau (pp. 115-117) whose idea of a ‘contract’ evolved after an education involving reading/studying literature. His model came from the small Greek city states where institutions were to be democratic. A community as a whole is sovereign, and the individual members contribute to the whole. Needless to say, serious tensions existed in his thought. For example:

Are individuals forced to comply? Or, do we have the free will of expression?

Rousseau tended to be an outcast in the grand scheme of this rich philosophical history; however, his approach was novel.

I Think, Therefore I Am (from Descartes), which is another title sometimes given to this short book, takes a chronological path through the ‘living’ history of the greatest minds, thinkers, writers, and sages of all the world’s major ages. Starting with the earliest known philosophers, what I see happening is a variety of attempts at searching for an originally, unique method of achieving objective knowledge (truth). I read about people like Thales (water, water everywhere), Pythagoras (everything by the numbers), Parmenides (On Nature), Plato (the broad-headed philosopher), St Augustine (faith comes first), and Rousseau (the Social Contract). All of these philosophical players asked great questions about how the world evolved and continues to evolve as a universally based system. You may struggle along with these thoughts people can read about explaining how philosophy works. You shouldn’t, I think.

Simply, Philosophy in Bite-Sized Chunks is about a love of wisdom and an award-winning cast of great thinkers who made leaping strides along a historical timeline. It was written to reach out and grab you, a potential reader. Hopefully it will spark a little light in the darkness and inspire you to go on learning about the greatness that all of those mentioned here offered. Finally, Levene is someone easy to relate to as an author perhaps because she is also an editor. Editors have been known to take the good assertions of other people and make them appear great. At that point it is just a matter for readers like you and me to view the information – like what’s presented in this short yet enjoyable-to-read book – and make a few first steps toward doing something good. In my opinion, if you want to become ‘smarter’, then follow these standards (and their subjects) discussed in part here, and by doing so, begin to understand what are the good questions that have been laid down before humanity and what other people may have thought about them.

Q&A with Bentley Ousley: SciFi SIG

Q1/ What is science fiction (media)? Isn’t it just “knowledge explored” or is it something more?

A1/ I like your definition of SciFi as “knowledge explored” but I would go one step further and say that SciFi is “imagination explored” or perhaps “ideas explored”. Even Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” I would say that before you can inspire knowledge you have to imagine what might be possible. What better way to create new ideas than to start with the question: “What if?”

Most radical changes in concept (that now are considered mainstream) started with what must have seemed, at the time, ‘kooky’ assertions.

J. Harlen Bretz proposed that a huge cataclysmic flood scoured thousands of square miles of the Washington/Oregon scab-lands and created enormous ‘dry’ waterfall and other colossal water-movement features. He was shunned by his contemporaries. What? A waterfall twice the height and four times the length of Niagara? In the desert? Where did the water come from? Now we know that the huge ancient glacial lake Missoula repeatedly burst its ice dam sending up to 9.46 cubic miles of water per hour rushing toward the Pacific over a period of 2000 years at the end of the last ice-age.

Reminds me of the Schopenhauer quote: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”

Q2/ How did you get started in science fiction media? In Mensa?

A2/ My mother bought me a collection of SciFi short stories when I was 10. This initially peaked my interest and I’ve been hooked since then. I recently contributed a chapter to the book The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe (available on Amazon). I have an affection (some would say an affectation) for the Blade Runner milieu. I’m attracted to big ideas disguised as art.

I took the proctored test when I was in college. I thought it would be a cool addendum to my (then unsubstantial) resume and it actually was mentioned as something that caught the eye of the manager who eventually hired me. Looking back, that reaction was probably the exception rather than the rule and I haven’t included it on my resume for quite some time.

Q3/ In moving from the past to the future, what are your expectations, interests, and needs for (re)starting a SciFi SIG?

A3/ I’m looking to start a friendly, welcoming SIG where folks can relax, have a good time, and enjoy some pleasant, civil conversational exploration of the SciFi topic. I hope that the participants will feel welcome and unencumbered to express their thoughts and desires about the direction they would like to see the SIG move in the future.

Q4/ If I was to meet you face-to-face, what additional thoughts would you want me to remember about you & the new Full Moon SciFi SIG?

A4/ I look forward to learning from and being influenced by the folks who have an interest in this SIG. When I hosted the casual meet-ups (nearly 20 years ago), I always enjoyed the banter and humor that the members brought to the group. I’m hoping to re-establish something similar and hope you will join me to help launch and sustain this SIG.

Climbing SIG News

In order to make our Climbing SIG (Special Interest Group) more accessible to MAM members who may be wanting a ‘higher’ Mensan experience, a one-hour open climbing session is being offered on the 4th Sunday of any month whenever we are climbing at Apex (Overland Park), or this next May and June for instance. There are many technical (and some mental) aspects of climbing we all should learn too; so, if you would like to participate during an hour of free coaching, please contact Mark ([email protected]) ahead of time. Find additional details – like the minimal cost of a day pass and shoe rental – in the March 2019 issue of the Mension.

In addition, following below is a quick summary of the various bouldering grades:

  • VB: Basically, a ladder with large holds.
  • V: Also, a ladder with large holds, just a tad more difficult than a VB. In climbing gyms, it’s typically labeled a VB.
  • V0: A simple climb the uninitiated can do, but it requires some shifting of body weight.
  • V1: Has some complexity, usually you have to figure out the sequence. Still, it is possible to simply muscle up it.
  • V2: Smaller handholds and footholds. Usually it has a crux or two that must be solved. Most V2s can be muscled up, but some cannot.
  • V3: Tricky sequence, difficult balance, foot switching, flexibility demand, or similar issues. Few of these can be muscled up. It is here where you find experienced climbers who climb only occasionally.
  • V4: Think of a V3 that has either much more demanding balance or some holds that are poor. These cannot be muscled up. Here is where most climbers stop their progression. They become V4 climbers and that’s as far as they go.
  • V5: Think of a V4 with poor holds. These are “finger tippy,” pinch grip, or “slopers;” all require a great deal of hand strength and perfect body positioning relative to the hold.
  • V6: Think of a V5 with either worse holds or even more gnarly balance.
  • V7: Think of a V5 with both worse holds and even more gnarly balance.
  • V8: As of this date, V8 is the hardest any of us have ever attempted but we don’t have a clear picture of what makes it a V8.

So, what do you think: Are you interested in gym climbing?

‘How Intelligent Are You?’ Reviewed

Have you ever thought about IQ tests in the sense that you asked questions like: Why do they exist? What is the education behind them? And, is there something beyond them? As the shortish yet wonderful book about universal IQ tests called How Intelligent Are You? (Victor Serebriakoff, 1998) points out, there may be many rough yet perfectly acceptable and normal definitions of smart. It is with this idea that the book’s author addresses the sometime amusing evidence and often instructive intelligence problems surrounding IQ tests and their use in testing.

It is possible that each of us will develop our own unique definitions of IQ – which we create and design to suit our own approximate understanding of the complexity of things in the universe. Perhaps some of the well-meaning intellectuals among us formulated universal IQ tests with one purpose in mind – namely, to torment all the rest of us. Or, maybe, IQ testing is simply a biological strategy of those who want to know something meaningful – like how well a person functions in terms of a range of natural reasoning abilities – about anyone who cares to know the measure(s) of intelligence across a general reality of statistically reliable markers. All of these notions are considered, to some extent, throughout this little book about IQ tests.

What I really liked about reading How Intelligent Are You? (Victor Serebriakoff, 1998) was how greatly improved my impression of universal IQ tests (and my own IQ) is now after having given the book a quick and lighthearted reading. In conclusion, it is my opinion that everyone should seriously consider participating in the variety of available Mensa testing opportunities which appear listed on this website and elsewhere online from time to time. Testing sessions are held somewhat regularly and a number of different formats of tests are acceptable for qualifying for admission to Mensa.