Thursday, October 19, 2006

Another moment of mindless levity...

Smarter than your average bore?
(Image from Wikipedia)

In my history lecture yesterday, we covered some material on the late 19th-century racial theories that emerged from applications of Darwinism to human biology.

Scientists of the day were interested in measuring brain size and finding correlations between size and intelligence, then checking further correlations between these two and gender or race.

The scientists tended to find correlations that put Europeans at the apex in terms of brain size and men above women.

This sounded good to the European scientists ... until they turned to the brains of Eskimos, Lapps, Mongolians, and Tartars and found that their brains were generally larger than those of Europeans. But everybody knew that Europeans were smarter, so that was considered an anomaly, and therefore largely ignored at the time ... though my Korean students' ears perked up at the information.

I then mentioned that studies have shown that Neanderthals also, generally, had brains larger than those of modern Europeans.

So (my class and I wondered), with those bigger brains of theirs, why did Homo sapiens neanderthalis lose out in the struggle for survival against Homo sapiens sapiens?

"Obviously," I told my students, "with those big brains, Neanderthals were intellectuals, and we all know how unrealistic intellectuals can be. They probably sat around the campfires discussing philosophy and art when they should have been out hunting that big game that they needed for their massive muscular physiques!"

That's my theory, anyway. Some scientists differ. John M. Berardi notes that:

1. Big muscles and big brains are expensive.

2. When food is scarce, we need to think good, not look good.

3. When you're weak, you don't rely on muscular strength.

4. Big brains don't always mean high intelligence.
But I didn't go into that material (and who's this Berardi fellow, anyway, using "good" as an adverb?). I saw no need to undercut my Neanderthals-as-intellectuals theory, especially since my students liked it. Well, they laughed ... which is a quantifiable measure of something.

As for my views on average racial differences in intelligence ... I remain agnostic and will wait until all the evidence is in. I approach people as individuals anyway and hope that my Korean students do the same ... especially since East Asians generally score about 5 points higher on IQ tests than do people of European descent.

Damn! They're smarter! But for any of my students reading this, just remember what happened to the Neanderthals...

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16 Comments:

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I like your theory, and thats the reason that men are good for opening jars.

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

HJH, in a college history class that covered Germany from the end of WWI (I think) to just before WWII, I had a professor who had lived through those times in Germany. He told us that one day he was selected to come to the front of the class to demonstrate the PERFECT Aryan. The pointed out all the perfect features of his perfectly formed Aryan head.

Only later was he rounded up, numbered, and tattooed.

 
At 10:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Hathor, and I've always been a good jar-opener. I look Neanderthal, too.

But I didn't inherit their fine brains.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, that's a frighteningly ironic anecdote.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:16 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

An amusimg read. The work of Lynn is highly debatable. These racial intelligence theories worry me no end. Especially since these emininent scientists see themselves as exceptions to their findings...is Lynn going to bow to the race theory of a South Korean...even if they are more intelligent (whatever that means)? I like your theory though! It is far more creative.

 
At 2:35 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I'm of the opinion that the superior use of language provided by Chompsky's hypothesized innate recursive grammar structures allows brains to become more efficient and, ceteris paribus, rewards smaller sizes. There is no certainty that this was a distinct difference between the two species, but the contrast in cultures is suggestive of a major difference in intellectual capacity, despite brain size.

Another theory is that the larger, stronger Neanderthals were able to intimidate the Cro Magnon types and prevent them from occupying the caves. As a result, Cro Magnon developed a hilltop lifestyle that allowed them to see game at great distances and arrive before the Neanderthals even knew what was going on. Since they were smaller they were also willing to go after smaller game. They were consequently getting more calories and out-reproducing the Neanderthals. Even a small difference in reproduction rates is enough to make the difference in such a contest.

The moral of this story is that 1) agility and good data trump strength and brains, and 2) the meek will inherit the Earth.

As to the superior Asian intelligence, you should be aware that there has been an upward trend in IQ scores since their introduction. The tests have been recalibrated multiple times to keep the scoring average down to 100. What that means is that racial differences get washed out with time, which in turn suggests that something about the environment is having a tremendous influence. Perhaps Asians have had a literate culture for a longer period of time.

 
At 2:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, thanks for the input. I'd never heard of Lynn before and haven't actually read his material. Although I'm fascinated by intelligence and creativity, I don't know the literature on it. I have noticed that people who score high on IQ tests are pretty smart, but I've also noticed that a lot of people who don't score so high are also very smart -- or seem to be to me.

I was telling my wife just last week that I think that a mind is more than just the sum of its parts, so even if a person is not outstanding on any particular dimension of intelligence, he or she could still be a genius because of the complex ways in which these dimensions interact.

But what do I know? I've already admitted my ignorance of the scientific literature on IQ...

(Though I'll still stick with my Neanderthal theory.)

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JJ, you know a lot more than I do on this. I have lots of interests but limited capacity for learning, i.e., I read and learn slowly, so I'll probably never know much about a lot of things that interest me.

I've heard about the rising IQ scores and have been waiting for my own to rise ... so far fruitlessly despite my having taken a bite from the apple of knowledge.

Somewhere, I read that better nutrition and health care might account for some of the increase. I suspect, as well, that the modern -- or postmodern? -- environment is a highly enriched one that might be stimulating brain activity at younger ages.

But, again, what do I know?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:22 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I think rising IQ scores are likely attributable to a recursive Taylor effect. That is, as a greater proportion of the population imbibe the cultural values underlying the IQ tests, some become incrementally better trained at performing the test, and the average slowly rises.

 
At 6:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dave, I'd never heard of the "recursive Taylor effect." That's one more thing that I've got to remember.

Good, clear explanation, though. Thanks.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:51 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I think Dave is talking about Frederick Taylor, the man who revolutionized factory productivity in the early 20th century US. He redesigned job teaching practices based on the most efficient workers rather than the least efficient. The resulting increase in productivity made American workers wealthy, at least compared to the rest of the world. I suppose the subsequent recognition of the mechanisms of productivity became part of the culture, and people who could learn them or teach them attained socially important positions, where they could inculcate further enhancements, thus establishing a positive feedback loop that could be called recursive. Dave may think this is a bad thing, but I think it is necessary. Did this kick off the IQ increases. It seems likely that such a process is part of the explanation, but I am more inclined to credit the Pygmalion effect, which causes teachers to expect more from those with high measured IQs, who then perform up to the higher expectations (like that really happens).

I have discovered that IQ goes up until children arrive. When the children have children it shows a brief surge. At least it worked that way with my father, who could think very goodly after my children were born. I, on the other hand, was not thinking too goodly at all, nor was I looking particularly goodly at that point.

 
At 6:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JJ, perhaps Dave will return sometime and confirm your reading.

As for my own IQ, it doesn't seem to be rising. In my own experience, I've grown in my ability to understand and analyze, yet on various 'objective' tests, my quantitative and analytical skills show a decrease.

But maybe everybody else is just getting better more quickly.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:05 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Yes, what jj mollo wrote is what I meant. I don't necessarily consider it a bad thing, just a statistical thing. It doesn't mean individuals today are smarter than they were yesterday, or that individuals today are smarter than different individuals yesterday.

 
At 10:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dave, thanks for the elaboration.

Perhaps the ability to improve on standardized tests is itself a form of intelligence, but I seem to lack that sort of ability.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:43 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

A new theory has been proposed concerning the advantage that modern humans had over Neanderthals. The suggestion, based on the absense of distaff implements, is that Neanderthals did not have a sex based division of labor and were consequently unable to exploit the environment as thoroughly as we were able to.

John Hawks, however, considers this theory to be hooey.

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JJ. I'll take a look at this stuff.

Jeffery Hodges

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