Mystery of Donald Trump's brain

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This article by Dr Piotr Wozniak is part of SuperMemo Guru series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving.

Date: August 2018

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Introduction

Trump is a product of bad schooling

Donald Trump is the most erratic president in the US history.

If I told you I blame the education system for the emergence of Trump, you would probably first think about the president's own spotty world knowledge. His presidential credentials are not too strong in that department. However, his education is still well above the average. If I added that my claim is not about Trump but about society, your second bet might be placed on the dismal level of education provided by American schools. I would reply that it does not take a genius to differentiate between qualities of Trump, Hillary, Bush or Obama.

Education systems around the world are under the assault of critics of all sorts. We keep complaining and the change is coming. However, there is still a last bastion of schooling that seems pretty resistant: socialization. There is an overwhelming belief that kids get their socialization at school. Even the best homeschoolers or unschoolers have to repeatedly answer the question: "What about socialization?". In this text, I show that open system socialization would never let Trump emerge as the leader of the world. A tempered version of Trump might still be successful in real estate. He would be more ethical, less bombastic, more knowledgeable, less angry, more tame, etc. In open socialization, Trump would be better, Trump would be less prominent, and Trump would not care about his prominence.

We socialize children for readiness in the idealized society. As a result, they are not ready to face dangers of reality. If Donald Trump sparked a nuclear war, I would blame the polished socialization based on polished rules in closed systems such as schools or daycare centers.

Instead of preparing children for an idealized society, we should let them adopt freely to real social environments

Why should I speak about Trump?

Using Trump's rich twitter feed, many a psychiatrist cannot patiently watch the show without a burning itch to violate the Goldwater rule. It is tempting to produce a distance diagnosis from the comfort of one's own keyboard.

I am also mystified by Trump's brain and behavior. However, my diagnosis is pretty different from the consensus that seems to emerge in the media. My viewpoint is unique for two reasons. On one hand, my work on memory, learning, creativity, and intelligence provide a unique interpretation for Trump's thinking and his behavior. My knowledge exculpates the president on many counts. On the other hand, my own behavior and personality show some parallels that help me empathetically get into Trump's head. I need to hurry to add that I respect women, honor the truth, value the rich constellation of cultures, and worship science. However, my similarities with Trump go deep into how my brain works, and why it sets us both well apart from the social norm.

In the end, I believe my conclusions are pretty important. If I am right, we will know how to handle Trump, and how to prevent future Trumps from becoming troublemakers.

Diagnosis by media

Hundreds of armchair critics, haters, and homegrown scientists have hypothesized on the reasons for Donald Trump's weirdness. Serious scientists also took on the job of "remote diagnosis" with most of the conclusions drawn from news reports on Trump's behavior and decisions. I respect the Goldwater rule when it comes to serious diagnosis. Barry Goldwater was also "remotely" diagnosed as "unfit to be president". Psychiatrists tried to avoid making wild generalizations ever since. However, there should be no gag order on a free discussion. This is why I do not mind "virtual science at a distance". I like hypotheses and models, even if they are wrong. Luckily, I am no psychiatrist, and I need not worry about my license and reputation.

In wild hypothesizing, Trump is a particularly interesting case because he makes news daily, and so do critics who bring forward a whole array of mental diseases and cognitive impairments. My interest in Trump's brain comes from the fact that my job provides an entirely different perspective, and to the chagrin of all antagonists, I must say that I see no signs of serious pathology. Just the opposite, Trump's brain is pretty good a specimen that many should envy. A good brain does not prevent committing abhorrent acts such as "putting kids in cages" (compare: Putting puppies in cages). The trick to a well-organized society is to find ways to employ good brains for a good cause. I see a couple of reasons why this is not the case for Trump.

When Goldwater rule does not apply

Sharon Begley argues the pros and cons of the Goldwater rule in her article "Experts challenge the science behind ban on psychiatrists discussing politicians’ mental health".

If psychiatry is an art, we can often arrive at major differences of opinion. Apparently, personality disorders are particularly affected. Most of all, if Trump's prime diagnosis is narcisissm, he is a particularly grateful subject for analysis. Here is an excerpt from Begley's argument (shortened):

The flaws of psychiatric exams and the usefulness of other data make the Goldwater rule "scientifically indefensible," said Dr. Leonard Glass, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "I sort of believed" that interviews offer the clearest window into someone’s mind, he said.

"Psychiatrists are taught that if a patient says he has three drinks a day, double that," said Dr Glass. "The psychiatric interview is flawed." His and other psychiatrists’ clinical experience is backed up by studies going back to the 1970s in which patients were examined by two psychiatrists back-to-back. The rate of agreement was so low that "the unreliability of psychiatric diagnosis has been and still is a major problem in psychiatry," researchers concluded. Later studies reported similar discrepancies, especially for personality disorders, finding that examination-based conclusions by a psychiatrist often disagree with assessments in a structured research setting.

Markers of pathological narcissism — grandiose self-importance, entitlement, exploitativeness, and lack of empathy — can be seen in someone’s public behavior, especially in the case of a public figure whose behavior and speech has been documented in hundreds of hours of TV interviews, speeches, offhand remarks, and tweets, plus the accounts of people who have lived or worked closely with him. This evidence can also be more accurate than information from formal examinations.

Is virtual psychiatric diagnosis valid?

I refuse to give up modelling, or speaking about brains, esp. in a situation where important conclusions can be drawn and inspire others. This is also my chance to transmit an important message about the school system. I claim that Trump is a child of modern schooling. In part, schooling might have damaged Trump. But more importantly, schooling damaged the electorate that Trump can now easily play with his social tricks.

Secondly, we can't escape semi-professional psychiatric diagnosis and/or hypothesizing. Hillary 2016 was also a subject of wild hypotheses. At some point a strong meme started circulating the net: she suffered a serious brain trauma in a fall. Allegedly, she was no longer fit to be president.

I was a subject of a pop diagnosis too. My own odd behavior was at times explained by my colleagues as a result of growing up without a father. I disagree: I had a dad and two moms (with my older siblings playing the roles). I was also a subject of a wild hypothesis that my brain may have been injured by decades of incremental reading. That diagnosis makes me grin and giggle. The childish side of my personality makes me enjoy that kind of anxious theory. Most importantly, such a misdiagnosis is a fantastic ground for inspiration and further analysis.

I see nothing wrong with hypothesizing, esp. when it is done in a casual blog with all caveats listed. I stand for free speech, and I love inspiration.

Some of my words in this text might be a bit offensive to president Trump, and I hate to offend. However, so many bad things have been said about the president, that my text may actually be taken as preponderantly complimentary.

Trump's brain is good

Opponents may hate to admit it, but Trump's brain is strong and his success is attributable to his brain properties.

Most of the criticism of Trump's brain comes from the fact that we have set up a set of standards that we believe world leaders should live up to. They range from moral standards to spelling. In psychiatry, we should always divide abnormal behavior into two categories: (1) deviant and (2) maladaptive. In addition, we need to separate (1) cognitive tradeoff from (2) cognitive pathology.

Trump meets all the criteria of the narcissistic personality disorder except for one key factor: his narcissism does not lead to a significant impairment in functioning (in the light of his own goals). Just the opposite. Trump can use his bombast to his advantage. It might be a classic compensation via training. All healthy brains are capable of an excellent adaptation to the environment. Trump's brain has adapted to compensate for a great deal of bullets taken straight from DSM-5.

Trump is highly deviant, but his adaptation is excellent. He won the presidency. If an individual with a set of maladaptive traits could achieve that, we should fear for the future of democracy. Trump is also high on cognitive tradeoffs: he is strong at spotting patterns, and this characteristic always comes with a high disregard for detail. This is a typical cognitive tradeoff.

In summary, Trump's brain is strong. A strong brain does not prevent one from being a freak.

Mental health evaluation requirement

47% of Americans believe Trump is unbalanced (source: Public Policy Polling, 865 registered voters).

Should future presidents submit to mental health evaluation? It would be like a good habit of submitting tax returns or assets declaration. It could be made part of a statement of health. Perhaps Ronald Reagan would fail in his second bid for the presidency as his cognitive skills declined early due to an undetected Alzheimer's?

Psychiatry is part science and part art. This would open the field to abuse. It might become a form of censorship. A weapon to eliminate inconvenient candidates. It could be a test on conformity. I wonder if I would pass such a test with my "ADHD".

Perhaps the evaluation should only be submitted to the public for assessment with a proviso stating it is not an ultimate test for the unfitness for office? Let the public decide? Or perhaps it is a violation of privacy? Perhaps the concept of impeachment is all we need?

The Brain

Emergence in the developing brain

The concept of emergence is essential for understanding brains like Trump's. Biological evolution is a prime example of emergence that, at least, half the population does not get. My criticism of schooling is also based on understanding the emergence of a coherent world model in free learning. Most of the population does not seem to see education beyond instructions and teaching. Even the cream of the scientific crop was stunned when the genome project revealed how much of our DNA we share with the mouse. Human body is a fantastic example of emergence. The brain is also an emergent specimen that does not require complex coding. Emergence underlies evolving species, and it underlies the performance of self-educated geniuses.

The problem with emergence in developing a genius mind is that it can be sensitive to minor tweaks, i.e. minor changes to the initial conditions, or minor pushes to the development trajectory. Of the best-studied personalities in history, Adolf Hitler is an excellent example of a tweaked emergence. Despite all anti-Nazi propaganda, esp. in post-war Germany, Hitler's brain in his youth showed all the hallmarks of a potential for high accomplishment. Hitler in power might still have been a solid leader had it not been for a single twist: he was consumed by hate. Hitler's hate grew pathological and kept growing from year to year.

Historians attempt to analyze Hitler's motivations on many platforms. All those analyses are wrong unless they include the hate factor. Was Hitler motivated by the expansion of the Lebensraum? He was, and that motivation is comparable to Trump's wish to contribute to the reunification of the Korean peninsula: attractive but not visceral.

Hate gradually took over major functions of Hitler's thinking organ, and contributed to a total collapse of cognitive capacity towards the end of his life. This is how emergence can take a minor brain property, and contribute to transition from a talent to a madman. I write more about Hitler here: Hitler was a better hater

Trump is not sleep deprived

Arianna Huffington insists that Trump's erratic behavior is a result of sleep deprivation. She is wrong. Using Trump's Twitter feed we might use SleepChart to map his circadian cycle. He is a short sleeper indeed. That's beyond a doubt. However, sleep deprivation will occur only if he sleeps in a wrong time frame or artificially interrupts sleep with an alarm clock.

I also worship sleep and believe it is central for creativity and intellectual accomplishment. However, I disagree with all those who claim we need to sleep 7-8 hours per day to function efficiently. I do not just use sleep data from users of SuperMemo. My conviction is very personal because I often sleep less than four hours in the night. Those short nights are often followed by best creativity. My nighttime average is around 4.7 hours these days. I never use an alarm clock, and I religiously stick to a regular schedule. If I was sleep deprived, I would not enjoy writing these words. I do.

All presidents get their sleep interrupted, and all are sleep deprived to a degree. However, Trump seems to be on a less conscientious side. In his priorities, Omarosa beats climate change. I would bet that Obama was far more likely to allow interruptions to his routine in the call of duty.

Trump's short sleep is no indicator of sleep deprivation. His behavior would be a better source of information, however, I doubt we will ever see Trump node off during public events. We rather tend to see him on a high. Napping in public happened to Bill Clinton on many occasions. Bill's brain is great too. Those "lapses" are just great moments to recharge batteries.

Trumps suffers no dementia

Trump's dismal spelling or lapses of attention are taken by many, incl. the scientific community, as signs of dementia. I grin. By those criteria, I fall into the same category.

In addition, poor prefrontal executive control seems to add to the picture. For clarity, this is where I happen to differ from Trump as I claim solid prefrontal power, and self-control. I am impulsive but tend to channel that into creativity. I do not use Twitter. If I did, I would surely stop in the evening. I usually read e-mail only in a very short time slot in the morning (10-20 minutes). Once you live by a rule for decades, it needs little self-discipline.

Hypothesizing on Trump's dementia, one of the authors wrote (shortened):

There are signs of impaired social cognition and impaired frontal lobe brain systems. These typically provide some degree of restraint from saying the first thing that crosses your mind. In a healthy brain, these ideas must make their way through multiple layers of checks and balances that take into account the social propriety and appropriateness of the audience for a given remark. Such frontal impairment often does not stop at troublesome communication, but has physical manifestations such as childlike facial expressions and physical restlessness, both features we see in Trump. The integrity of primary cognitive domains like memory, attention, and concentration are tied up in all of the problems above. Memory impairment is specifically implicated in episodes like forgetting to sign orders that were the purposes of the press events the president was attending. Attention and focus are key to forming memory; the lack of either makes it more likely to forget why one was in a room in the first place.

All the above narrative is correct on one important assumption that Trump cares. Unfortunately, social propriety is one of the last things on his mind. Attention and memory should be judged in reference to interest and the learn drive. Trump cannot be gauged by the standard yardstick.

Trump claims excellent memory, while others observed catastrophic lapses. Those contradictions can easily be reconciled. A brain always remembers better what it cares to remember. Trump is justified in his claim for excellent memory. His memory serves him well, and he cares little about the sideshow detail. Does Trump have any problems with recalling the list of his enemies? I have not seen any evidence of that.

Anthony Scaramucci is one of the most articulate Trump defenders. He claims correctly that Trump accommodates his weaknesses and lapses with his managerial style. All he needs is a group of people who provide a tight filter on ultimate decisions, esp. in all areas Trump cares little about or is utterly incompetent.

With all due respect, claims of dementia may in part be sparked by wishful thinking. Many people hate Trump well enough to seek solace in explaining his brain with a major pathology. Many a good doctor would love to lock Trump in an asylum. Alas, Trump's brain is a healthy product of a jungle. In a section about Hitler, I explain that we cannot caricature reality for the risk of repeating the same mistakes in the future.

The entirely different question is that of Trump's future chances for a degenerative brain disease when he is an octogenarian. This is almost impossible to predict. As his brain is subject to constant learning and executive action, it is vulnerable and strong at the same time. Minor differences in parameters may lead to an increased health through learning, or to increased chances of pathology through abuse. It is hard to say how much of Trump's heavy brain operation is undertaken in conditions of stress, or sleep deprivation, or anger, or in conditions of being overwhelmed with information. However, that last component (i.e. overwhelm) makes me lean towards long shelf-life for Trump's brain. One of Trump's key features is a lack of concern. He does not care about detail. He suffers limited social shame. Most of the issues that could overwhelm his presidential brain, he is simply not interested in. There is only one major caveat: he cares about himself and about his own image a bit too much. That could ultimately be his undoing.

I claim that instead of fighting or destroying cases like Trump, we need to look for means of social adaptation that would employ such brains for a better cause.

One man's weakness is another's strength

When Trump is accused of dementia, I am sympathetic. Some of the "brain problems" attributed to Trump might equally well be attributed to me. Very often, the "problem" is just a characteristic that might be welcome in some circumstances.

The older I get, the better and faster my generalizations, the faster detection of patterns, esp. on established routes. 3 decades in the business of memory and learning take their toll. Now I am an "expert" and it may be hard to see new realities out of my box. It is sure hard to see detail. I care less about spelling (hence the wiki, reliance on spell-checkers or colleagues at work). I fail to spot familiar faces on the street. I live in my boxed world of ideas. This is fantastic for creative output, clear visions, and solid models, but outwardly I might seem inattentive. In the eyes of psychologists ready for a hurried diagnosis, inattentiveness could easily be taken as a sign of dementia. I rarely struggle to find my house key for only one reason: I always put it in the same place, and it is the only object I take with me for a jog. I remember it via "muscle memory". When it is missing from my hand, I am instantly anxious and "wake up". Otherwise, it is safely held underneath the level of conscious effort. If I take two objects with me, chances are high I will lose one. I love that kind of brain "impairment". It helps me focus on problem solving and isolate my mind from the detail of the surrounding world. This comes partly from personality (creative meandering always impairs focus), and from years of adaptation (e.g. if you never cook, you lose your ability to worry about the failure to turn off the gas).

One of the painful side effects of strong generalizations and strong models is the fact that the affected person seems impervious to argument. This is what exasperates John F. Kelly. However, strong models are key to problem solving and valuable even if they are wrong.

SuperMemo insert. What is SuperMemo?
Users of Anki often complain that SuperMemo is inflexible in setting the post-lapse interval. Two decades ago, the same complaints came from users of Amiga and Palm Pilot versions of SuperMemo. Users look at my inveterate position and see it as a stubborn refusal to adapt to customer needs. I see it differently. SuperMemo should rely on memory data and free the users from algorithmic micromanagement. I do not want to please users and thus abandon a scientific fact. At the very least they have a last resort solution: set the interval manually. Others see me as stubborn. I see myself as a strong adherent to a clear scientific model

ABC of Trump's brain

Trump's brain keeps people puzzled. However, from my vantage point, it can easily be explained by its core observables in conjunction with a bit of Trump's life story. The observables that depart from the average expected in the brain of a statesman set Trump apart in a good sense and in a bad sense in equal measure. Here is my list:

  • strong generalization: this makes Trump prone to wild errors, but this is also the key characteristic of a powerful human brain with a solid problem-solving capacity
  • simple models: running the state as a zero-sum business game, immigration as a scourge, cult of strong personality, superiority of white America, etc.
  • high creativity verging on mental confusion (see: Confusing creativity with ADHD)
  • focus on self as a sign of intense narcissism
  • low empathy for the enemy
  • good self-serving social skills. Trump can easily be very nice for others when needed
  • low inhibitions and shame (except for all things related to self)
  • respect for alpha males and bullies
  • anger and impulsivity: very atavistic brain, in a sense, this makes for a typical alpha male from 500 or 50,000 years ago
  • compulsions (e.g. late night Twitter). It is a bit like a rage to master in prodigious kids. Compulsions can drive greatness too
  • focus on short-term memory, which is an attribute of the majority of the population except for the intellectual elite that he scorns
  • poor long-term memory magnified by possible occasional sleep deprivation (see: Trump is not sleep deprived)
  • long-term memory shaped by visual and social input, incl. a great deal of TV
  • poor reading skills
  • poor mnemonic skills in the abstract domain
  • good mnemonic skills in a social domain
  • poor academic skills that he compensates for with generalizations. For example, he knows no calculus but can generalize by pattern extraction. He needs no understanding of exponentials to model a ban on Muslims (wrong generalizations also count)

If you believe the list is incomplete or wrong, let me know. I will gladly expand my argument.

Donald Trump's IQ

Trump claims stratospheric IQ. He claims to be a pretty stable genius. As most of his wild claims, his IQ has never been verified. Can we assess Trump's IQ on the basis of his behavior or his tweets? The short answer is: yes, Trump's IQ is very high. The longer answer is: IQ is a dismal measure of intelligence or problem-solving potential. Trump's followers will point to his versatile accomplishments in life. His detractors will laugh it off with the history of semi-legal and deceptive behavior that could give any crook an edge. They will point to Trump's spelling or low word count and call it "case closed".

IQ is a hazy concept, Trump might score a lot on generalization, creativity, and working memory tests, but lose on poor reading and abstract skills. Depending on the selection of tests, he might impress or underwhelm. In the end, Trump develops skills he thinks he needs for his operation. That's typical of someone who has reached a high level of expertise in his own field. Trump's skills show best in his ability to attract a rich following in politics, on TV, in public speaking, or on Twitter. That's the skill set he wants and that's the skill set he keeps improving. He cares little about the whole host of skills an average intellectual would expect of a world leader. This is a matter of priority. Intelligence is also a matter of tasks and/or interests. De gustibus non est disputandum.

Trump's brain is a constellation of skills, powers, and weaknesses. His generalization skills make for a great problem solver. His knowledge is extensive but limited strictly to areas of his interest. He had no idea where to find Namibia on the map. He even did not seem to know Namibia exists. If Trump's understanding of selected geopolitical issues is at the level of a 5th grader, it says little of his IQ. My understanding of a car's dashboard goes below the level of a preschooler, and I can still wear it as a badge of honor. I do not drive, Trump got Mattis. Pity his human filters did not prevent butchering through the complexity of the Iran deal.

George W. Bush confused Slovakia with Slovenia, and used terms such as Grecians and Kosovarians. Today, many of W's detractors would pay a lot to get him back. Our company isn't much better. We paid a VAT tax to Slovenčina instead of Slovenščina (or perhaps the other way around). For this, however, I blame the non-payment complaint received in the native language of the wronged country, while most of the civilized federal republics of the EU use English. Perhaps the shame should go to some lost clerk in some governmental office.

Knowing the world is considered essential for a well-educated man. Even 5-year-olds get questions about countries and capitals in their mental assessment tests. Ignorance is not a reflection of poor IQ. It simply reflects on a poor learn drive or a learn drive with highly limited focus. The correlation with intelligence isn't much different from the correlation between health and marathon results. Health is welcome in marathon, but most people are just not interested in running that long.

Taken together, Trump is a great problem solver in a limited area of expertise, or a great solver of new problems with low complexity (low complexity does not imply "low difficulty"). Trump's brain will simply reject detail and provide a fast solution that may be highly suboptimum or erroneous.

In summary, Trump's brain is great, but it is also greatly limited.

Is Trump a moron?

If Trump's brain is solid, why would Rex Tillerson call Trump a moron? Doesn't the Secretary of State know Donald a bit better than us?

Without much word use analysis, I would guess, we rather tend to use the word moron in reference to smart people! We do not use it to indicate low intelligence. We use it to express our annoyance with statements or decisions made by smart people. Smart people make stupid decisions all the time. It is just a matter of priority, available time, available knowledge, etc.

I am verifiably called a moron on a regular basis. I know I am called a moron by strangers who mock my scant clothing in winter, or the habit of moving around barefoot in speedos. In this case, a mere departure from the social average gives one a label without an actual IQ test.

In addition, I often refuse to make a smart decisions by virtue of delegation. My colleagues might call me a moron. They wonder why I seem not to care about the future of SuperMemo. Why do I make decisions that are verifiably bad for our legacy? My simple defense is a perpetual lack of time for making good decisions. There are simply too many things to consider, and too many things to learn. By prioritizing, I hurt decisions that I consider less important, even if their importance is still monumental.

As Trump is known for fast thinking and radical generalizations, his decisions can easily be stupid and dangerous. Trump keeps winning in the category of the person who is most often called a moron. It says little of his intelligence. Next time you are called a moron, take it easy. Perhaps you are just the opposite. The label of a moron has little relevance to a person's actual level of intelligence.

Trump's EQ

Trump's EQ is universally considered dismal. Someone observed:

"Trump’s EQ is probably around that of a 4 year old child with no sense of guilt or remorse. In other words, a sociopath with narcissistic personality disorder"

When a claim comes from someone holding a PhD, it can quickly become a potent meme even if it is not valid or verifiable:

"Trump scores low on emotional intelligence, cognitive style, vision, and organisational capacity" (source)

I disagree with the claim of Trump's low EQ. We should start from the fact that EQ stands for a constellation of skills that are poorly defined and overlapping. When I use the term, I primarily mean the ability to correctly read emotions, and play on emotions of other people.

All healthy brains have all that is needed for high IQ or high EQ. Both require training and exposure. The key difference is that IQ is best measured in absence of emotions, while EQ speaks of the emotional brain. For that reasons, all pathologies in emotional life will interfere with what we try to measure as EQ. Trump's narcissism might be the key interfering factor. It changes the perception of other people and often determines the response.

As much as IQ is best expressed in problem solving, EQ is expressed via social skills. It is hard to measure the basic subcomponents of IQ or EQ. It is much easier to gauge the observables in real life situations. In this case, social skills are a good measure.

Rich Twitter material seems to indicate that Trump's self-awareness and self-regulation are low. However, this again is a judgment based on a standard yardstick. Perhaps the crazy Trump we see is the exact image of Trump he himself wants to cultivate? Trump's empathy is considered low, however, I rather see only low empathy for the enemy, which is a typical resultant of competing forces in the brain. Empathy can easily be masked by anger. A dog lover can kick a canine when painfully bitten. If you hate illegal immigration, you can easily go a step too far in suppressing one's ability to empathize. Again empathy competes with anger.

Trump is no sociopath. If the absence of empathy reaches sociopathic levels, it can nearly always be explained by a serious brain pathology, cases of abuse in childhood, or other drastic factors that I cannot find in Trump's biography. All healthy individuals are naturally empathetic. A distinction between a sad face and a happy face is one of the first things a healthy baby learns to recognize. As compassion is trainable, an individual can also be conditioned to suppress it. A peek into the Nazi past paints a horrifying picture.

EQ is primarily about the correct interpretation of the emotions of others. Understanding the self underlies those skills. Social skills depend on the constellation of social contexts. EQ depends on the spectrum of interactions with other individuals. An arrival from Germany may struggle to read the emotions of a Japanese. Trump's interactions have always been rich, and his EQ should reflect that. His privileged life has only distorted his priorities. He did not really need to care about what others think. He was rarely punished. Consequently, he did not modify his behavior. Again what we read as abnormal does not need to be maladaptive.

Those who claim that Trump is highly unempathetic should consider that fact that he seems to be pretty weak at firing people in face-to-face interaction. This is pretty unusual for a bully. "You are fired!" may come easily in anger, or for show, but may become hard when it is based on a rational calculation, and the actual need to hurt someone's feelings. He is not scared. He is just uncomfortable and discomfort is based on empathy, even if it is vestigial.

When Trump saluted a North Korean general, the media had a field day and poured scorn on the lack of professional training in the president. All I could see in that saluting scene was a bit of mirror neurons in action. Trump acted on instinct based on the arsenal of his social skills. He is rarely restrained by political correctness, diplomatic protocol or the presidential norm. In a fraction of a second, the real Trump was revealed and the moment was sympathetic (in my book).

On the EQ platform, I see one major weakness. Trump is thin-skinned, but this is a reflection of his prime pathology: narcissism. As it always is the case with psychiatry, psychology and personality analysis, the feature overlap makes good diagnosis very hard, esp. for unusual cases like Trump.

I saw dozens of claims of the sort "Trump's IQ is good, but EQ is awful" as much as "He got a great EQ of a conman, but he is just stupid". With all these blatant contradictions, I see again echoes of wishful thinking.

As much as we may hate to admit it: Trump's brain is pretty solid in both spheres: emotional and rational. The only problem is that it works differently from what we expect of a US president.

The Personality

I write elsewhere about my issues with Big Five, and problems with separating nature from nurture. I see Trump's brain as a product of exposure and emergence, this is why I skip the Big Five approach that has been widely discussed by other authors. Instead, I focus on how the brain is shaped by socialization and circumstances. In Trump's case, this provides some ground to formulate a prescription for a better future for humankind.

Social skills with a twist

Donald Trump won presidency with social skills or social tricks (depending on where you stand). This has very little bearing on his capacity to do good, his morality, or his goals. Social skills are simply a tool to operate in society.

By my definition, Trump's social skills are excellent. In popular and politically correct lingo, social skills are supposed to serve society. If someone's social behavior makes one an outcast, we tend to classify it as poor social skills. I insist that the evolution and game theory shapes social skills in the direction that serves the individual in accomplishing his goals, even if those goals are self-serving. The reward systems responsible for that social plasticity are self-oriented. They only indirectly serve society.

Trump can get what he wants by playing others against each other, or by using bully tactics. For Trump, outcomes and side effects matter little as long as he comes out as the winner (by his own criteria). He can be sweet, he can be a bully. He wanted to be president, and he accomplished that seemingly impossible goal. Of thousands of qualified candidates, only dozens take on the effort, and winning is, statistically, not that hard. Trump bullied his way through Republican Primaries for he met intellectuals unable to go for a pig fight in mud. In Trump:Hillary face off, it was basically fifty-fifty independent of the millions spent on ads and campaigns. All political forces align into two camps. Roe v. Wade has the capacity to make a moralist swallow a toxic slug. In the statistical sense, the presidency is no big deal. Not even for Obama as of the point of being set against the sweet person of a recently deceased John McCain.

Trump is weird, and a great deal of haters cannot stand Trump's violations of the social norm. Here I am a bit sympathetic. I also tend to ignore the social norm when it does not live up to reason. When someone does not like my theses on schooling, or sleep, or memory, I often hear that my views should be ignored because I can go the whole summer without putting on the shoes, or have not "smelled the car's interior" since 2011. At that point, my all reasoning can be quashed by an ad hominem argument. More than once, I had my views compared to that of Hitler's. This seems like the last resort weapon in everyone's social toolbox. When all reasoning fails, comparing someone to Hitler is a clear sign of desperation.

A psychiatrist may, but should not, use the adherence to the social norm as a yardstick in the measure of cognitive impairment. Here is an exemplary hypothesis by a medical professional (shortened):

The president’s decision to launch into a fight with a Gold Star wife and mother who lost their soldier in Niger is also reflective of impaired social cognition. It could also signal memory decline, since it seemed as though Trump had not learned from a similar imbroglio during the campaign. Episodes like these often occur because of impaired frontal lobe brain systems.

There is nothing wrong with the above claim except that it implies cognitive impairment in Trump. I disagree. The same symptoms may be explained in multiple ways. In Trump's case, he can launch into a fight with anyone, because he cares about winning more than he cares about the social outrage.

A great deal of Trump's criticism has been distilled away from his approach to the environment, free trade, or different cultures. Trump is hated for anything he does. Rick Wilson called Trump an "intellectual midget and moral homunculus". The phrase is fantastically funny, but I argue that the intellect and moral standards need to always be gauged relative to person's goals and the hierarchy of value. In a hundred years, we may evolve a culture in which calling a beautiful black lady a "dog" would be ok. It would just be a case of being metaphorically critical. I cringe at that possibility, but I cannot exclude it. The intellect, on the other hand, should always be measured by its efficiency in accomplishing particular goals. We know that Trump would never read Anna Karenina. He can hardly read a two-page memo. He could never be an incremental reader, or a user of spaced repetition. It does not make him an intellectual midget. It only shows that his brain carries qualities that fit his goals, which do not seem to depend on a vast long-term knowledge store that the reader of this article certainly craves and likely possesses.

Trump is no master persuader

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, branded Trump "master persuader" and predicted his victory. He estimated the chances of Trump's success at 98%, at the time when Nat Silver had them at 2%. Ironically, both prophesiers had it right. They just used a different method that should always come explained in the wake of presidential odds.

Trump is no persuader. I am yet to see a single individual who has been persuaded by Trump's claim that climate change is a hoax. Those who agree with Trump agreed with him in the first place. Trump is not a master persuader but a master of propaganda. In the era of social media, he puts Goebbles to shame.

I separate here the positive term "persuasion" from the negative term "propaganda". Persuasion will use a rational argument and help an individual change his position. Propaganda will use selective information or psychological tricks that can jar on human emotions. Trump can utter no coherent scientifically valid phrase on the models of climate change. On the other hand, he can rouse the crowds by railing at illegal immigrants. At the age of 9-10, I have been persuaded to the validity of the theory of evolution by studying books on biology. Only at the age of 25, I was able to master English and free myself from the communist propaganda that I soaked in from Polish TV.

The only crowd Trump can persuade to anything is his blind followers. They have already been persuaded to his core message. Now they want that core message to change the face of America. In that eager rush, Trump's core following will take any bait and swallow any cheap generalization. The only power Trump has here is the natural simplicity of his message. His signals are based on a few simple words with an emotional anchor.

In addition to employing propaganda, Trump is also a master pleaser and entertainer of his base. Instead of persuading, he adapts like a weathercock to the wishes of his followers. Instead of doing the duties of the president, he listens to the ether for all signs of social feedback. Like a cat, he purrs when he is stroked, and claws with hisses when criticized. He will adapt, transmute, or transpose his stance to maximize the echo in the group of people he set out to please and rely on.

He can take crowd ideas and encapsulate them in a simple catchphrase. This is not about persuasion. It is rather to make others think "finally someone who thinks like me"!

This helps him mold his behaviors and appearances for maximum social effect.

SuperMemo insert. What is SuperMemo?
This is the opposite of what I do in reference to SuperMemo. SuperMemo has always been an excellent innovator. But it has stuck to the rules of effective learning with very little responsiveness to praise or criticism beyond their factual impact on the development trajectory. This is why SuperMemo's penetration is limited and it keeps surrendering to the Trumps of the industry. For this exact reason, I have a self-imposed ban on influencing progress at supermemo.com. I would love to see many features of incremental reading adopted, but supermemo.com is supposed to introduce innovation in proportion to demand and be customer-driven (within rational bounds). I cannot stain it with my ideas. In a sense, that principle is compatible with Trump's ruleset: Keep it simple!

Scott Adams will probably not disagree with me. In his texts, he admits that he used the figure of 98% for the sake of his own propaganda. Adams probably did not persuade many that Trump would win, but he left a good meme that kept snowballing with Trump's poll numbers. Incidentally, as Nat Silver relies on polling, his 2% was also accurate at the time when Trump was still just a joke.

Bullies sense no culture

As a well-trained bully, Donald Trump is fast to recognize other competitive alpha males in the room. Game theory provides optimum strategies for handling other bullies. Because confrontations with other bullies can be costly, the first thing a bully will do is to take the measure of the other bully. For this, a bully needs to assume the posture of friendliness. Nice smiles and handshakes are great to collect information and improve the strategy. This is why Trump will bearhug Putin and ruthlessly stomp on Theresa May who is limited by her polished catholic school kindness. In the end, those social instincts tend to translate to optimum strategies in political strive or at war. However, bullies have no sense of culture. Trump has no clue how offensive his stance on Iran is. In Trump's mind, Iran is weak. We know it is strong by its culture, tradition, religion, and more. Donald has no sensor for that quality. His schoolyard social skills were honed in a dog-eat-dog field of business. This is why Donald might paradoxically improve the relations with Russia, and destroy multinational effort to assist Iran in rejoining the community of nations.

Trump's racial and cultural insensitivity is widely recognized. It can best be summarized by Trump's feeling to one dark-skinned socialist intellectual with an Afro-Muslim name. Trump's models tell him that this is the type of an individual that should be easy to beat into submission. Few things can make Trump as mad as any hint that Obama might have been smarter in any respect. No wonder then that Obama's presidency is as infuriating for Trump as Trump's presidency is infuriating for the intellectual elite around the world. Obama will forever remain a sore thumb in Trump's eye, esp. if a decade from now, Trump's presidency is, by a general consensus, labelled a disaster.

Trump's lying is habitual but often innocuous

47% of Americans believe Trump is a liar (source: Public Policy Polling, 865 registered voters). Many call him a pathological liar. However, when lying helps one achieve one's goals, it may have some rational basis. It may violate social norms, it may cause harm to others, but all ethical measures are relative to the system of value, and the value of goals. As always in psychiatry, pathology must meet the maladaptive criterion.

Smart kids lie more and lie better. We all lie. If you deny, examine your day to see. At the very least, you lie a bit to prevent hurting somebody's feelings. When you publish your family pictures, don't you always choose those that are most complimentary? We all lie, but we set our limits differently. We all determine which lies are ethically acceptable. Trump's ethical borders are stretched to the limit.

Trump's social strengths and non-conformist attitude are an asset. However, they also result in little compliance with social norms. Trumps knows no social shame. He would be ashamed of being weak or losing, except those concepts would never enter his mind. You will never hear Trump saying "Donald Trump is second best to ...". This phrase would not only fail to pass Trump's throat. If would fail the coherence check with Trump's model of reality. That notion cannot exist in Trump's brain like we cannot ever believe the earth is flat like a pancake. All sense of shame gets crushed on input by the overwhelming model of Omnipowerful Donald. With no shame, there is no issue of lies being exposed.

However, there is a major exculpatory factor in Trump's behavior. He has been conditioned by years of lying in business. Lying was a means to winning. When his ethical limits are stretched, lying becomes a habit. When it is a habit, it can be profuse enough to start blending with reality in Trump's mind. The fusion of imagination and reality is likely the key reason why Trump lawyers fear a perjury trap. The whole birther debacle might have stemmed from the simple fact that it gave Trump early traction. As all fast-thinking generalizers, Trump might then become a believer in the idea. However, social traction was probably the key factor driving the issue, not facts.

The confusion between fiction and reality can easily be explained. The key to good lying is coherence and simplicity. In other words, good lying needs that what good science needs: good modeling. In that generalizing process, it is very easy to confuse facts with figments of imagination. This is vintage Trump. When he is lying, he often honestly believes in his own words. With dozens of interviews and tweets, he molds the reality, generalizes for fast conclusions, and produces different outcomes at each try. This is a hallmark of a strong brain. This helps him win in popularity contests. This assists in his propaganda. However, for the knowledgeable elite, it exposes Trump as intellectually careless. His own mind is too creative to harness the chaos. This can be a great asset, and this can also be a very dangerous phenomenon in a brain that determines the fate of the planet.

Trump's destructive narcissism

I am often accused of being narcissistic. Ask my family!

I struggle to recognize my errors. I see my past as deterministic with little room for improvement. This leaves little room for regrets and improves self-confidence. I do not feel much shame for bad things I did in my youth. I blame the immature brain. I blame the circumstances. This is a typical narcissistic trait: blindness to one's own error. In that area, Trump's eye catches not a single photon.

Narcissism would, in theory, give me some common denominator with Trump. I should understand him better. I do. However, deep inside, I know though, that I am a polar opposite of Trump in the narcissistic spectrum. Most of all, I love people and hate hurting anybody's feelings. Even when being critical, I try to be cautious so that not to be excessively offensive.

When looking for good differentiators, I found some answers in a classification conceived by Lubit (The long-term organizational impact of destructively narcissistic managers, 2002). Trump seems to fit the bill, and three differentiators come to front:

  • self-confidence is a healthy human characteristic, but it can reach pathological levels where self-perception stops having a grounding in reality
  • craving for power: power can be used for a great cause, but for a destructive narcissist it is also a source of pathological pleasure
  • grandiose goals and missions are great as long as they are grounded in universal values

Lubit claims that those narcissistic nuances might be determined in childhood. I agree. Freedom in large behavioral spaces is the key to a healthy personality. This is the opposite of schooling and discipline. Healthy development leads to healthy self-esteem. In addition, loving support from parents or family can complete the picture. We ruin that with daycare and long-hours at school. A kindergarten, preschool, private boarding school, military academy, or an Ivy League college can all do a lot of good, but they can also provide a breeding ground for destructive narcissism, esp. if they are employed for the purpose of limiting undesirable behavior that comes with freedom. It all depends on people, circumstances and support from home. I know too little of Trump to say, but sending privileged kids on the assembly line of "high quality" education with limits on freedom carries a great deal of hazard. High pressure for high education may be one of the prime risk factors in developing a destructive narcissistic personality.

Is Trump criminal or evil?

A number of psychiatrists worry about the impact of Trump on the future of America and the world. In that, they opted to risk their license by speaking up. In particular, they point to Trump's propensity for violence, and his impulsiveness that may lead to criminal behavior. However, there is a world of difference between saying "Trump's propensity to violence is dangerous for the planet" and "Trump's propensity to violence is pathological".

I see Trump more like an archetypal alpha male bullying his way to the top of the social ladder with minimum prefrontal restraint. We all have equally bad guys in our surroundings. The main difference is that those guys are usually poor social players, and they pose a limited danger to their environment, let alone the world.

I do not consider Donald Trump an evil person. Possibly, he will have been proven to have committed crimes, incl. crimes in office, however, in his mind, illegal acts will probably be excused by saying: "the end justifies the means", or "this stuff should never be illegal".

In my trust in Trump's relative benevolence, I might be proven wrong in the future. I have discovered many times that I am very naive about other people's intentions. I tend to overestimate goodness only to discover a darker truth later on. I never believed Bill Clinton was capable of taking advantage of Ms. Lewinsky.

Hitler was a better hater

Trump keeps a list of enemies in his mind (or perhaps in some secret file). However, his hate is fleeting and inconsistent. He can easily swing from hate to love and back. Hitler had a more precise target of hate and his hate was more pervasive and unflagging. Hitler's hate was far more dangerous. The two guys have one thing in common: an incredibly rich vocabulary of hate. Mein Kampf is peppered with adjectives of hate. You can sense the author's anger as he composed his sentence. When Trump is mocked for the simplicity of his dictionary, his ability to bring down an opponent in words is rich and skillful. His offensive labels have a good stickability and a good shelf life.

The emergence of personality in a healthy brain affected by a single differentiating factor, such as hate, can change the course of history. We do keep in our minds the image of Hitler as a monster, however, he was still capable of being nice, generous, or compassionate. His brain might have been twisted into an unrecognizable monster by a single force that shaped and molded all neural subsystems serving his powerful reptilian drive.

Figure: We should not forget the nice side of Hitler. All caricatures undermine our immunity. He is not the last case in history, and possibly also not the last case with limitless power in his hands. Ahead of time, you would never believe that the two nice guys in the picture issued orders that resulted in butchering thousands of little girl beauties like the one they smile to. Incidentally, the loving dad in white, also killed his own little daughter from the picture a mere 12 years later. The future is extremely hard to predict. One day, this whole text may turn out to be a case of such naivete (source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons)

Hitler was a mad optimizer and a perfectionist. He wanted a perfect Reich (see: Noble goals of Kim Jong Un). For perfect Reich, Jews needed to perish, and when the Germans failed to live up to his vision by losing the war, he professed they should perish too. By April 1945, he must have concluded that his own life failed to live to that perfection and he perished in the end as well.

For comfort, German society of 1932 was seething and far more ready for a mad visionary than American society 2016-2018.

Hitler was an artist at heart. We should have let Hitler vent his emotions in art! Schools can do damage even if you do not attend them! Hitler must have thought that if he had not been admitted into that elite circle delineated by the walls of the school of art, his art must have been inferior. He should rather remain his own critic, and enjoy his art. We should show more tolerance. Tolerance breeds peace, incl. inner peace.

By letting Hitler vent in art, counterfactual history may feature no World War 2! The art, like knowledge, despite all exceptions, is predominantly good. We might have spawned one bad artist, and prevented the war. That counterfactual hypothesis is pretty popular.

Trump may spiral out of control

The most worrying aspect of Trump's brain is that is has been plunged into a wrong environment. While narcissists can thrive in some social settings where they experience a positive feedback loop with accolades on their professional or artistic achievement, Trump has been dunked into a very toxic setting. There are poorly defined concepts of destructive and malignant narcissism, which might in part apply to Trump. In the worse case scenario, Trump might spiral out of control in a positive feedback loop of negativity. Positive feedback in control system leads to enhancement of the signal. In this case, the most important signal is the universal hate that surrounds Trump in the media. The feedback spiral would make Trump whip up the hate and go increasingly erratic in his decisions and behavior. In such a downward spiral, Trump would sleep less, his creativity would get more erratic and more dangerous, he would boil with anger and the overall decline in health might only make matters worse. The end might reminisce Hitler's bunker, except there might still be an atomic football around.

I strongly believe that the best way to handle Trump is to stay positive and praise him for all good deeds. As for bad deeds and misbehaviors, they should be handled with less venom, and perhaps even ignored until the time the president is out of office. The end of the presidency will naturally break the feedback loop, take Trump away from the spotlight, and weaken the venom spilled from the haters.

The Value

Trump is an expert

Trump's brain carries the two vital ingredients for fast and creative problem solving: old knowledge and new knowledge (for details see: Knowledge in creative problem solving).

Trump's old knowledge underlies his fast thinking. He has been doing the same things over and over again. This provides his brain with an expertise in the area. To the intellectual elite, that expertise may seem of little value. Trump's interests are limited. He is better known for reality TV or pageants than for interest of foreign cultures, geopolitics, or science. Trump's problem-solving capacity is therefore highly limited in its scope, but this is usually true of any expert. The key problem for most observers is that Trump's expertise does not match the expertise we expect of a president. This, in turn, can also have positive side effects. Like a creative association of remote ideas, mismatch of the needs and means can produce a novel value. Future presidents will have a lot of work and lots of material to think over.

Trump's new knowledge is also rich. He is hyperactive in social media and is a voracious follower of TV news about himself. This is a fantastically rich source of fresh and associative knowledge that can assist in creative problem solving. Again, the scope of Trump's interests limits his capacity. Within his field of interest, which importantly includes Trump's own legacy, Trump's brain will excel. He might do that one good signature with the sole motivation in the shape of the accolades of crowds or of the world. He has a capacity to provide novel solutions to some ages-old problems. He has a capacity to accept some outrageously outlandish idea that better-schooled brains would never consider. I would be highly surprised if we spoke of Trump solely in negative terms two decades from now. Unless he is impeached early, I predict Trump's name will be associated with a major social or foreign policy breakthrough. The actual area of potential success is as unpredictable as Trump himself.

The Art of the Deal

Trump's generalizing brain can collect a few pieces of information, create a simple model, and produce a fast decision. This is the opposite of the slow-thinking meticulous stoic intellectual like Obama. Trump's art of the deal might be summarized as "fast deal, shoddy deal". It can work marvels in business. Very often, speed trumps quality. You do not need to be right. You only need to be right more often than you are wrong, esp. in big payoff cases. This way the house always wins. The formula for big success is then to be right on an accelerating time scale. Instead of slow earnings with few mistakes, you can get fast earnings with a few bankruptcies. The same may translate to running the world. However, there are two vital differences: (1) decisions are more complex, and (2) errors are more costly. Iran deal comes to mind in this case. By going solo with wild generalizations, in politics, Trump is more likely to be wrong, and when he is wrong, instead of going bankrupt, he may incinerate the world.

If we are lucky though, major simplifications that lead to the all-smiles meeting with Kim Jong Un can actually bring some positive fruits in the long term. ABC of pragmatic social skills combined with vast generalization is a formula for a solution in the abstraction of its validity. Poorly designed peace may trump hostilities as long as all sides believe the peace plan is solid. If anyone can warp the perception of reality, Trump is the guy for the job. Equally well, Trump's effort may turn out to be no better than that of Dennis Rodman. I can't know. The subject is simply too complex. Your best think tank on the planet may not be able to predict the future in that respect. Due to the complexity of issues and Trump's unpredictability, in many vital cases, Trump's bet is fifty-fifty.

The value of a chaos president

Jeb Bush called Trump a chaos president, and this is a very accurate nick. The hyperactive creative brain is profuse in creative generalizations that sow chaos in decision-making. However, Trump's brain does not work in isolation. It is surrounded and tempered by the brains that received accolades from all sides of the political spectrum. On a good day, Trump's unpredictability may upset the cart and still be re-worked into a good cause. It is reminiscent of Nixon's bad temper that could be used for a better purpose by the good cop Kissinger.

In problem solving, we may use disruption to prevent getting stuck in a local minimum (as explained here). In collective problem solving, a disruptive individual will often be helpful in finding a solution when the problem-solving process stagnates. For example, an admixture of ADHD individuals to a problem-solving team may have this effect of increased creative power. In collective problem solving that spans decades, an occasional chaotic presidency may play the same role. If by a quirk of an accident, Trump manages to solve one major problem facing humanity, he may still be remembered as a president with a positive contribution. If he fails on all fronts, the disruption may still provide a great deal of educational material for his successors. The rich system of checks and balances should help reduce irreversible wide-reaching damage inflicted by a single individual, even though the US president is possibly one of the least curbed minds on the planet.

We often compare Trump to Nixon for their brushes with the law, corruption, and impeachment. 41% of Americans believe that Trump is more corrupt than Nixon (2018). However, Nixon is not just Watergate. In 1972, he opened up to China with a week-long visit that "changed the world". Perhaps something positive will happen to Trump too?

To the horror of all Trump's detractors, Trump's kids can actually contribute to building a Trump legend that may eventually equal that of Ronald Reagan's. Trump's kids are one of the best assets he has built in his career, and one of the reasons we need to appreciate his brain and rulesets. His kids provide a coherent team, and will likely be highly competent in expanding Trump's presidential brand and the memory of the unusual president. Naturally, the color of that memory may be soon be tainted with fast-track impeachment.

Trump's brain can be used for good causes

The overarching conclusion coming from my analysis is that Trump's brain can be employed for a good cause. If there are good grounds for impeachment, and if it is realistic, it should be executed swiftly without much fuss. Otherwise, we should rather focus on the positive. Needless to say, I do not believe Trump would ever qualify for the employment of the 25th Amendment on psychiatric grounds (unless stretched to the limits of pseudoscience). The likelihood of impeachment might be limited as the Dems would quickly regret that move if President Pence took over with consistent ferocity in executing a hidden agenda of a biblical state without the entertaining openness of Twitter.

As for the positive use of Trump, he is not likely to change his stance on immigration by listening to the reason or facts. Spewing vitriol will only stiffen Trump's resolve and waste time on both sides. Praising little good things might work better. Perhaps letting Trump rub shoulders with his favorite world leaders in a good cause might be the best of the bad presidency. Perhaps a bit of love for Kim Jong Un or Putin might be later hammered into some meaningful agreement?

Of good things, Trump is bound to have some of the Hitler effect: a major rethinking of political systems, democracy, qualifications, standards, law, and more.

Educational value of Trump

Facing a complex situation, the Noble Peace Prize winner Obama would walk on eggshells and seem excruciatingly slow in decision making. His optimum micro-adjustments befitted a stoic intellectual. Where Obama seemed slow, Trump comes in with a butcher knife to the cheers of his followers. Despite all the damage, butchering can also be highly educational. Humanity has a fantastic capacity for learning from its own gravest mistakes. Like a big collective neural network, it detects patterns in its own behavior and finds out ways of improvement. As the learning is collective, we still have an equally disheartening capacity for repeating our own mistakes.

One of the greatest mistakes in history was named Adolf Hitler. He murdered millions and destroyed a great swath of the planet. At the same time, World War 2 effort was extremely conducive to accelerated research that might have otherwise taken decades. Perhaps more importantly, we are extremely cautious of boisterous dictators with uncurbed ambition or seething hate in heart.

Similarly, Trump will go down as a big educational and inspirational chapter in the US history. My wild guess is that Trump's presidency will be largely undone by his democratic successors. However, Trump's biggest legacy will be the big awakening in America. The US Constitution is an intellectual marvel. However, it isn't perfect and it isn't sacred. Amendments that would strengthen liberal democracy should not be shunned. The US Constitution is not the ground for sainthood for the founding fathers. America's place in the world is at stake. I don't have good solutions for the stagnant aspects of American democracy or politics. However, I have already one proposition: kids should never be forced to attend school or to cram a pre-designed curriculum. Freedom in learning is the simplest formula for stronger and wiser democracy.

Preventing damage

Schooling affects the degree of anger with Trump

The way we react to Trump says a lot about our childhood and our education. I will reduce the picture to painfully simplistic bare bones:

This is how the reaction to Trump depends on education:

  • well-schooled brains usually abhor Trump except for all cases of ideological alignment (e.g. racial, immigration, nationalist, etc.)
  • poorly-schooled brains are a rich source of recruitment for the enthusiastic Trump's base
  • free learning brains: keep a distance, disapprove of Trump, and look for ways to peacefully accommodate Trump

Well-schooled brains hate all departures from the norm. These can be an ethical departure or just a social norm departure. The norm feels safe, and schooling instills norms, rules, and the range of the acceptable (see: 50 bad habits learned at school). In addition, well-schooled brains hate the fact that Trump knows no science.

I would put myself in a category of a well-schooled young man who liberated his mind through free learning. In youth, I might be horrified with Trump and severely depressed in the wake of his electoral win. Today, I can keep my distance, and stay cool.

Poorly-schooled brains love Trump's propaganda. They want America great, and this is healthy. Some of inner wishes and emotions that underlie that quest are sick, and they often stay hidden. Trump stretches the norms to make the sick acceptable. A poorly schooled brain feels at home: "A great leader thinks like me!"

I see the school as a major homogenizing factor that suppresses creative forces in society (see: Problem of Schooling). It also deprives societies of immune defenses that prevent the phenomena such as Trump or Brexit. As an alternative, I propose universal free learning that should be the best remedy for democratic imperfections such as Donald Trump's electoral success.

I am not angry with Trump and his policies even if I disagree with most of his moves. I am not angry because I could equally be angry with the fact that the sun will turn into a red giant at some point. Anger is not helpful. It can motivate action, but it is not a good advisor. Learn drive is a healthier motivator and it can provide a better diagnosis. Free learning is the best incubator for a healthy learn drive.

Free learning as the best Trump remedy

The US democracy was not ready for Trump. The system used to be run along the old well-tried and pretty rigid rules of political and social behavior. Each time Trump committed a violation, political pundits predicted his demise only to discover they were wrong and Trump's following kept increasing.

In terms of ecology, Trump is like a parasitic species running wild on an unprepared isolated ecosystem. In terms of game theory, he is like a hawk in a population of doves. He kills and keeps winning. Our education system needs to change. In those terms, Trump is like a well-trained bully unleashed on a prim innocence of a catholic school playground. We need better fighting skills, better immunity, and better resistance to fake news and deception. In 2018, the wolfpack of social forces keeps getting stronger and wiser. The Trump hunt is on the rise and it will probably end up bad for the hawk himself. In the end, doves may beat him up to submission by closing ranks, tightening the rules, and pumping up the ferocity.

The key problem of schooling in the context of Trump is the limited population diversity that weakens the social ecosystem. It all begins with an awful habit that kids often bring from school. They believe that a fast way to knowledge is to listen to a figure of authority. Ironically, it is the "good" students, esp. the Straight A students who submit to that habit. Trump supporters hang on his lips and believe in his genius. They do no verify or do not care. They have their guru that will change the world and they will follow blindly. Kids exposed to free learning quickly discover that in the realm of knowledge few things can be trusted with no verification. Even science can be wrong. Pharmaceutical companies can do harm. Businesses lie like gasmeters. Politicians echo the polls. Even spouses and kids separated by jobs and schooling have their own lives and lie to achieve their goals. The best remedy against fake news and fake leaders is wisdom based on strong and diverse models of reality. Nothing works better for an individual than his own strong vision of how social interactions should look like. Models and visions evolve in response to the environment. They underlie all skills a well-adapted individual needs for survival in the chaos of life.

Trump keeps mocking fake news while being one of the biggest sources of fake news himself. The school system with its conformist indoctrination provides poor immunity to fake news. Students rarely need to dig through contradictory sources and find things on their own. The general prescription is to provide them with perfectly crystallized material that can be consumed and memorized quickly. The large speed and volume quickly discourage verification and own thinking. This provides for a very poor defense against fake news. Estimates of the probability of veracity are impacted by past experience with false or contradictory information. Massive consumption of sterilized textbooks provides a habit of memorizing without verification. In addition, only free learning provides a good groundwork for the coherence of long-term memory. Despite all appearances, schooling does not contribute much quality knowledge for those who fail to take on good self-learning habits. With little knowledge and no immunity, well-schooled masses are a fantastic fodder for masters of propaganda. Hence the wins for Trump, Brexit, Orban, Erdogan, Kaczynski, Salvini, Kurz, Babis, and the rest of the Addams family.

Coercive schooling relies on ready-made curricula processed at high volume and high speed. This leaves minimal space for individual thought, creativity, and verification. The resulting knowledge comes with low retention, low comprehension, low coherence, and low stability

The future society based on free learning will be more diverse and open to fringe ideas. Homogeneous unity befits a Prussian army. Future society will be as diverse as the ranks of Wikipedia contributors who discriminate only against falsehood and bad quality.

Trump would not win if the school systems could provide for high-quality diverse education. He would fool very few. His bully tactics would turn impotent. Free learning is a formula for a better democracy. Paradoxically, by advocating free learning and democratic schooling, I expect more Trump-like brains to emerge, but they should be harmless if society is well immunized and uses them to its advantage.

Free-thinking individuals with strong social skills would never let Trump even make a scratch in the polls. That would quickly throw him out of the race on his own accord. Trump himself would need to adapt early and his business practices would have to improve or his career would end long before he could hit his first million.

Free learning will ensure a big supply of unusual brains and unusual personalities. There will be more Trumps, and they will be better adapted to social reality. Future Trumps will submit to social rules as the society will be more coherent and stronger despite all its diversity and openness to the unusual. Behavioral spaces will be larger, but rules will be stricter. Future society will be like a good parent. It will provide vast freedoms, but will be very strict at punishing toxic behaviors. It will optimize behavioral spaces and rulesets to maximize the benefit to society.

We need to change our school system or we will have more problems with people like Trump!

Future education must be based on free learning to maximize diversity and social immunity to toxic outliers



For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru