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The Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis

Q: Why are there so many stupid people?

(Please don't try to tell me you've never, even in the privacy of your own skull, asked this question ...)

I have a speculative answer:

Edit: No, forget that question. It's misleading. Pointless. And everybody in the comments thread is completely failing to understand the point I'm trying to make below. Let me re-frame it:

Why is the human species only as intelligent as it is, and not more so?

We are hominids. One of the things that makes us different from other primates is that we have language. Language enables us to communicate about our environment and to communicate our interior states. This is a very powerful tool; it means that if, for example, you have figured out a better way to peel a banana, you can tell me about it, and I can acquire that trait.

Our ability to exchange extended phenotypic traits without genetic exchange (thank you, language faculty!) makes us, as Dawkins pointed out in the 1990s, exceptional.

Because of this ability, we don't have to invent everything for ourselves, individually; we can borrow one anothers' good ideas. So we only need to be smart enough to understand and use the cognitive tools created by our most intelligent outliers.

Let me re-formulate that hypothesis: The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.

And a logical corollary of this hypothesis is that we are only just smart enough, on average, to be capable of horizontal transfer of memes. Once language and culture arrived (note specialized usage of term 'culture'), we didn't need to get any smarter: we could "borrow" from one another. Therefore we're only just smart enough to do this.

(I call this Charlie's Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis.)

Random second-order question of interest to me as a practitioner of science fiction: we can observe other species with problem-solving and tool-using capabilities around us. Indeed, the general level of intelligent behaviour visible in our biosphere appears to have been rising slowly ever since the Cambrian age. Is it possible that, if we disappeared tomorrow, new species could evolve in the post-human biosphere that lacked the language faculty but were brighter than, for example, today's primates, corvids, or cetaceans? And if so, is it possible that at some point, another species might develop language (and thus the ability to transfer memes/behavioural traits horizontally) from such a base and be fundamentally smarter than we are?

475 Comments

1:

Interesting hypothesis, but wouldn't it also be true that the general intelligence has to rise so that most can understand what they create, else we might diverge into the Brights and the Stupids as in the Marching Morons?

2:

So we only need to be smart enough to understand and use the cognitive tools created by our most intelligent outliers.

Interesting addition to this is there is a drive to make our tools as simple and fun to use as possible. An obvious example being the development of any personal computing device, compare the skills needed to operate and maintain a PC circa 1993 and a tablet circa 2013. I expect this trend to continue, not really sure what the full ramifications may be.

Having said that whilst it sounds negative that the average person only has to be intelligent enough to use the tools invented by others IMO in reality that doesn't mean that 80% produce nothing and use the products of the 20%. We do of course develop very specialised societies so everyone uses tools (I include non physical tools like policies, techniques etc as well) that they don't fully comprehend invented by another. It might be less of a case of the majority utilising the products of the outliers and more of the majority producing some sort of specialised tool that the majority use. It will be a minority that never produces any special tool. Perhaps.

With regards to another species....it would have to be an individualistic species for which cooperation was initially selected against and problem solving selected for with the former switching at a significant time later. Perhaps during a particularly fast rapid extinction where lone predators have to be smarter to catch prey because they are scarcer, and they have to roam further afield into slightly different habitats requiring different hunting behaviours and forward planning. Then at some point some change would have to occur to select against the one hunter and for cooperative behaviour.

As for the ramifications of such a species if they form tool using civilisations...no comment for now.

3:

I don't see why not. But it would be the very devil to write about.

Speculation: it would need an environment that rewarded smartness, and the immediate out-thinking of a problem. Do cetaceans and corvids find it too easy to avoid hard problems?

4:

As long as the occurrence of those outliers is sufficient for the scientific advances thus far accrued.

5:

Another possibility -- domestication. Studies have shown that domestication makes animals less intelligent individually than their wild ancestors. There is also a lot of evidence that humans have been self-domesticating for at least 10,000 years. We have a lot of the characteristics -- more docile, less violent, more gracile, smaller brains, and general neoteny.

So, assuming humans are like any other mammal, we've been decreasing our intelligence at the same time...

To combat that, you'd probably need a fairly agressive and anti-social species with a sexual preference toward intelligent individuals. Social interaction would be skewed toward awe, trickery, and deceit rather than cooperation. So you'd probably end up with a species of beautiful sociopaths.

6:

Surely, if everybody was clever, then humans would have always argued, never got things done, and hence died out.

For every engineer saying, dig a hole *here*, you need a dozen workers who will did the hole without arguing about the location and design philosophy.

7:

Did you ever read Susan Blackmore's book "The Meme Machine"? I found it interesting thinking about the co-evolutionary interactions between biological and meme evolution. Worth a read, if you can find a copy.

8:

No, because humans breed back towards the mean. Also, there's a fair bit of evidence that general intelligence doesn't exist -- it's an aggregate of several specialized sub-behaviours. Nor is there an obvious selectable gene for any one of these.

9:

And you can use classic evolutionary arguments to support this. Our brain is a huge drain of resources for our body (comparative to its mass). Therefore, evolution will tend to favor things that reduce this consumption, i.e. reducing it. So the brain mass and complexity will be caught in a tug of war between evolutionary pressures that favor increased intelligence and the ones that favor reducing brain mass. The latter being good enough to understand the smart guys' ideas, but, more important, large enough that you do get smart guys often enough.


In fact, since it appears that our brain size has reduced slightly in recent (relatively) times, our invention of civilization may be at cause: with more people around to exchange ideas, compared to our 150- tribal size prior to agriculture and city development, we need less of these outliers to invent things, and thus the pressure to have the bell curve of smarts produce smart guys in our extended tribe is lower.

10:

The environment that rewards smartness is an environment where other species in a predator/prey relationship with our en-smartening species are also en-smartening -- i.e. an arms race.

Arguably, theory of mind is useful both to predators (anticipation of prey behaviour) and to prey (anticipation of predator behaviour) species. Add a gradually brightening sun and gradually increasing oxygen in our atmosphere and you have a recipe for higher-energy metabolism, which in turn allows us to have extras like big, fast, energy-intensive brains. I suspect if we had a time machine and could go look, we'd discover that the level of general intelligence evident in animal behaviour in today's biosphere is much higher than that seen during the Triassic, even though our predators don't necessarily have such big teeth and claws as some of the dinosaurian apex predators.

11:

Here's a different hypothesis: starting from mathematical primitives, the physical basis of the Universe is relatively easy to understand. However, biological brains evolve in too complex an environment for the ability to manipulative mathematical primitives efficiently to be much use...

... except, possibly, near the very beginning of life.

Of course, since fine motor control didn't exist then, any idiot savant biofilm that might have evolved then would have tremendous difficulty using its knowledge. Keep in mind, humans also have very good abstract motor control.

12:

I do like the sound of this but struggle when it comes to explaining how we discover new stuff that's complex such as quantum gravity. (we ain't got it sussed yet) so to pass that on needs brains to elevate to a level in order to understand the language of the subject (mostly mind blowing maths). When a use for such science is found (AG travel) the average Joe does not need to know how it works, just borrow the simple instructions to use it without understanding it fully. Therefore CASH could apply to the masses (consumers) but not to the product developers & research scientists... Such continued evolved intelligence allows the higher minds to CASH in on the masses. My last comment concerns religion.. Here folk of that ilk do indeed succumb to CASH because all thought is not required. Life is already mapped out by a book & plenty of book followers to help you increase your CASH levels whilst they also increase their Cash ($) levels simultaneously :-)

13:

I think you just reverse-engineered "Wang's Carpets" by Greg Egan!

14:

Because intelligent people aren't capable of knuckling down when it comes time to just getting the work done? We often have differences of opinion in collaborative projects which are never resolved. It's not that one clever person convinces everyone else their way is right, but that for the good of the project at least some clever people agree to give in to a consensus or compromise.

Those low-level workers, by the way, have their own expertise (over how to dig the hole, in your example) and are just as likely to argue. Again, people have the ability to put aside their egos to get the work done.

16:

I suspect we're all stupid in one way or another.

T

17:

To expand on my earlier comment, language depends on the rather close control of lips, tongue, teeth, breathing, and so forth. Anyone who has had their parts of their mouth anesthetized knows how difficult it is to make themselves understood with language under those circumstances, even though their brainpower hasn't decreased a bit.

So what's really the key to intelligence? The ability to make our lovely meat bodies do what we want them to do. Language is a consequence of that.

But if we could achieve all our physical desires without help, would we require language at all?

18:

Rather than jumping to genetics as a solution, I'd argue that learning to think is an error prone process, which can leave people with a variety of cognitive deficits.

19:

I could never buy the specific mechanism of that story.

20:

He was definitely stretching an idea to see how far it could go. But: it's interesting how slow we generally are as mathematical calculators, isn't it? ISTR Hans Moravec speculating in the early 1990s that this was because the way we do maths is to bash on our language and pattern matching capabilities until they sort of work, however brokenly; a bit like running a PC by building a "mechanical" Turing machine emulator inside Minecraft.

21:

Charlie, I suspect your hyper-intelligent post-humans will have many of the same psychological limitations we do, and in that respect will just arrive at the same imperfect ideas at a faster rate. I think general intelligence is really a second order attribute of our brains, which are mostly occupied with movement, life support, sensory processing and all that. The post-humans will still evolve to be mistrustful of the unknown, will still indulge intuitive reasoning steeped in bias, will still spend far too much of their time thinking about fucking.

I think general intelligence is an over-rated evolutionary adaptation. We've had the Flynn Effect, for example, and I don't think it makes the Greatest Generation particularly defective in comparison with Gen X. I don't know that it's very worthy of evolutionary pressures regardless of whether language makes it less worthy.

22:

Fair comment. I must admit I have never read Darwin's work, a bit of Dawkins has gone well for me but at the moment I am into Penrose & The Emperor's New Mind. The religion angle and comparing CASH with $ was me suffering too much exposure to Frankie Boyle, hence the :-). Thanks Billbobagpipes.

23:

I suspect that individually as well as collectively we are only just capable of technological progress and civilization. Which is why it took us at least 100,000 years to get going. And a further 6000 years before we got to steam engine.

24:

Oh, not that slow. It's entirely possible to train yourself to become a mental calculator -- I know, I used to be one. Does it actually help in the real world? Well, it passed the time on road trips.

25:
Let me re-formulate that hypothesis: The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.

I like it. However to please the internal Devil's Advocate:

  • You assume that general intelligence and language aren't correlated in some way. Maybe getting better at communicating ideas makes us better at coming up with ideas and you get a positive feedback loop instead.
  • Maybe there are other selection pressures for smart. Sexual selection for example. Or getting better theories of mind.
  • Trying not to wander to close to group selection stuff... but does the bang for the bug a species get through language mean they're always going to beat the smarter non-language species to the punch?
26:

Why are there so many stupid people?

"Stupid" is a relative term. This group attracts people who read a lot and favor a certain technically-literate SF author, which tends to indicate that many of us will be above average in general intelligence. If you're personally above average, you will perceive the world as full of stupid people. If you were significantly below average, almost everyone would seem smart.

My understanding is that there are several specific measurable intelligences, but their appearance is highly correlated. People who have a high degree of one intelligence tend to have a high degree of all of them; the same is true at the bottom of the scale.

Cetaceans probably are smarter than us (from sheer brain mass arguments) and do have something like languages. If they had hands they'd be dangerous.

27:

My answer to the first question is along similar lines, and with similar outward appearances... we are _all_ stupid.

We have so much information, so much knowledge, that one person can not know it all. We specialise. We go deep and narrow. We gain specific skillsets, but lack others. We create tools so that other non-specialists can use them; we use language to transmit information summaries (compare the number of people who have heard of evolution vs those that _understand_ evolution) to the non-specialist.

Without a working knowledge base the person with the smartest brain is little better off than an average person in a new field; in some respects he may be better at bootstrapping, but he might also go down wrong paths that the other doesn't even see. The smart person may appear _more_ stupid than average because of this.

To this end we tend to define "smart" as "how quickly can you pick up that knowledge base". I know close to nothing about cars beyond a gross theoretical base. My knowledge base includes "indicator light blinks twice as quickly as normal; possible dead bulb" because I've come across that before. I'd then need to read the fine manual to work out what to actually do about it! A car mechanic wouldn't even need to exercise 3 brain cells to get to the same solution; he _knows_ it. I'm stupid when it comes to cars.

This leads to an alternative hypothesis; "general intelligence becomes less important once the knowledge base gets too large and specialisation is required".

29:

Arguably the most important single hominid trait in easing day-to-day evolutionary pressures has been commerce, which enabled the force-multiplying effects of specialization in the production of the basic resources needed to survive. So to take the thought experiment in a different direction, if you can imagine a (simple) commerce system developing and functioning before a species develops language, perhaps that could be the driver of the intelligence level-off.

30:

What is wrong with simply defining intelligence as generalized problem solving ability?

31:

Intelligence difference between humans is determined by more than brain size, so the problem can't be one of being unable to support larger brains in all. So, having varied intelligence levels might have some benefit on its own, or it could just be an accident of the optimal settings for the newfangled organ not having been standardized yet. Or it could have initially been the latter, then been selected for the former.

Perhaps there is value to having some be smarter than others, just as there is value to having some be stronger than others and to having part of a heat engine in a hot place and part of it in a cold place.
Perhaps social order enhanced group survival, when most individuals didn't do anything on a daily basis that required that much originality, but the capability needed to be around in the form of a leader just in case anything unusual came up.
Also, when there is somebody in charge the tribe can deal with things decisively and in an organized way rather than everybody going off in all directions and/or endless discussion over what to do. The headman says we must move to new hunting grounds, so we move to new hunting grounds.

When you can only afford so many intelligent and original people, having them be the same person was a good system so conventionality for the masses became the norm, while only the most brilliant were fully educated and allowed to innovate.

A problem was that these top intellects were also under no pressure to innovate--they had all they needed just as things were. And so they actually tended to empower and breed the stupid underlings rather than the smart ones, the way Roman emperors would purge any one who could possibly challenge them, leaving only the stupid, depraved and unpopular members of the upper class to run things.

So, despite culture and brains,for most of human history, things stayed much the same for a long, long time. Why didn't early homo sapiens* develop civilization in 200000 BCE? Because there was no intergenerational building of knowledge. You received a little wisdom and passed it on exactly as you got it. But how much can you really teach by just showing and telling skills? Only when preservation for it's own sake quirkily became a value did civilization develop. So intelligence comes a long time before the relative singularity of post hunter-gatherer civilization.

Also I think it's telling that the great4est advancement occurred in the centers of the largest land masses. Egypt and Mesopotamia are in the middle of the Afro-Eurasian continent cluster. This is where far flung innovations all came together, on a landmass where distances were great enough to generate variety. The smaller Americas also generated (slower) advancement most rapidly in the center, where ideas from the far (but not quite as far) reaches could all come together. Then there's Australia, where the land was even smaller, and progress even slower.

Also, there are different ways to structure intellect than just for pure general intelligence, and advantages to all of those. Its easier to compare things if you haven't got such a large library that you have a long way to go to compare them, or if everything is organized for cross linking rather than for other high performance purposes or detail management. Variety makes the team better.

New species could evolve to take our place, but a monkey is what became smart for a reason. As tree climbers, we have grasping appendages, complex 3d awareness and sensory organ placement, voice communication. Then when things changed our ancestors were forced to adapt because they were generally weak (another consequence of tree dwelling).

Other orders of animals stayed relatively dumb for reasons. To imagine them getting smarter you would have to explain how those obstacles could be overcome first--but not telelogically: each obstacle would have to be fixed by its own stressor. For example, corvids are about as smart as they can be for the size they are. There's only so much you can shoehorn into a brain that size, so for them to develop intelligence, some other stressor would have to make them physically larger, Roc Crows, and only then could the advantages of intelligence manifest. Same with other small animals like squirrels and raccoons.

Similarly other types have obstacles to overcome. Elephants would have to lose the size advantage before they needed to develop tools. Maybe by predators getting larger. Bears and cats would have to have a reason to become more pack oriented. Pack predators would have to have a reason to develop technologies and techniques to share culturally, and probably some way to develop a tool using. Perhaps non tool using animals could develop the smarts and have a symbiosis with a dumber but defter tool user. Smart talking wolves that use subordinate speech understanding raccoons for tool work.

*I'm a homo sapiens, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

33:

Tool use -- in particular knives or other cutting tools, and fire -- seems to have been essential to evolution of intelligence in hominids. Basically because knife+fire forms the essence of a kitchen, and cookery as a form of external pre-digestion of food has allowed humans to support the huge energy requirements of our oversized cranial contents with our relatively gracile jaws and teeth and rather non-specialised digestive tracts.

To the extent that now you can't survive on uncooked grain or potatoes.

Stone knives and fire have been in use in the hominid lineage for many hundreds or thousands of years. More recent technological innovations haven't had enough time to really affect human physical evolution yet (although the invention of clothes has had a profound effect on the evolution of body lice). It has however directed human societal evolution.

Technology means we don't need to be able to cope with extremes of temperature or exert large quantities of energy to gather food or develop particularly acute senses or cope with low-light levels, or survive periodic food scarcity. Intelligence allows us to compensate for all these factors without having to invest bodily resources in competition to supporting our brains. So far that's been a ridiculously successful evolutionary strategy.

We have to cope with the consequences of our own success -- overpopulation, global warming, resource scarcity, epidemic diseases. None of these are going to be solved without catastrophic population crashes by anything other than the application of intelligence.

So, we need technology to support our big brains to become sufficiently intelligent to produce and utilize and cope with the technology to support our big brains. That feedback loop hasn't gone away.

Technology means we have to develop the capability to deal with complex societies and high-volume information flows and sensory hyper-stimulation. We aren't yet at the state where any human couldn't physically survive in a stone-age environment (given sufficient training) but given another few millenia of civilization evolution will produce that effect.

34:
Cetaceans probably are smarter than us (from sheer brain mass arguments) and do have something like languages. If they had hands they'd be dangerous.

There's little evidence that dolphin's use language in the sort of way we use language in the wild (there's strong evidence that dolphin's at least can identify individuals - but not much more beyond that).

There's some evidence that they can be taught human sign language - but there's more than a little controversy about how much that maps onto the way humans use language.

35:

If by smart you mean 'capable of inventing new tools' maybe.
But I suspect that 99% of our intellect comes down to the social realm. Our intellect is a side effect of our social nature, a sort of intellectual/social arms race within the species, as opposed to against the environment. Once you've conquered the environment there isn't a need to conquer it more thoroughly.

36:

I do vaguely recall some studies that suggested that the optimum IQ for most types of achievement was about 140, and for leadership was around 120. People with IQs above 140 tend to wind up in blue collar jobs.

As always, give credence appropriate to a half-remembered factoid from some random guy on the internet.

37:

"Why didn't early homo sapiens develop civilization in 200000 BCE? Because there was no intergenerational building of knowledge. You received a little wisdom and passed it on exactly as you got it. But how much can you really teach by just showing and telling skills? Only when preservation for it's own sake quirkily became a value did civilization develop."

How do you know there was little intergenerational building of knowledge? And are you saying here that trivial knowledge built civilization?

38:

Then when things changed our ancestors were forced to adapt because they were generally weak (another consequence of tree dwelling).

Actually, ape species that still brachiate are stronger than we are; an adult chimp is typically about 3x as strong as a human being. The way our arms are levered gives us less strength but more accuracy than a chimp's arms; this may be an adaptation for hunting via throwing rocks (later, spears) at animals on the African plains. That hypothesis is also consistent with the changes in our legs wrt our chimpanzeelike ancestors. The idea is that we adapted to wound animals by throwing rocks at them and then run them down for protein.

39:

It's an interesting theory, but I don't think it holds up. Last I checked, most evolutionary biologists don't think it's that likely intelligence involved to get better at survival against the wild--as every other large predator species manages to get along without it--but a much more interesting hypothesis: we evolved intelligence to deal with/compete against _each other_ for reproductive and other resources (see Dunbar.) It's apparently very interesting to see how different primates deceive each other--we're by far best at it.

Your explanation of stupidity doesn't really hold under that model. You have to pose something different--decreasing returns to general intelligence _for the purpose of deception and social climbing_, for instance. Since most of the socially dominant people I know are decently intelligent but not geniuses (and most of the geniuses I know are socially somewhat-capable but not politician level) this does make sense.

40:

One "superpower" Humans have that almost no other animals have is the ability to run continuously for long periods - cursorial hunting. AFAIK only we and wolves/dogs have this ability. One mental effect is probably our ability to focus on longish term goals, and dogged persistence.

41:

First off…
I disagree in part, with Charlie’s hypothesis – even though he has obviously picked up on my throw-away remark on Dawkins @ 280 in the previous thread!
I think we are still getting “brighter” but much more slowly.
The really terminally stupid don’t get to breed, usually, especially if some “traditional” tabus concerning inbreeding are followed. Exogamy is profitable & the species’ knows it, even if some individuals & families, like the Bourbons don’t or didn’t.
Also, a technological society puts a pressure, ever so subtly towards intelligence.
It only takes something as small as a 1% or even smaller pressure of that nature, to have an effect, over not many generations.

Disagree over “just smart enough” for horizontal meme-transfer, too!
SOME memes are not as simple as others, but they get transmitted, just the same…..
Again there will be a small pressure in the “up” direction, if I may call it so.

BudS @ 1
Don’t you mean Eloi & Morlocks?

Ryan @ 2
Kzinti?

aggray @ 5
Yes, but … less violent is a SOCIAL construct, as just previously discussed.
Smaller brains? Evidence for that? Also smaller (human) brain does NOT mean more stupid [up to a point] it’s the internal “wiring” that counts.

Charlie @ 8
You have asserted this before.
DO humans breed back towards the mean – really?
How do you account for families like the Darwins’, then … ?
& @ 10
& if we have an “arms race” of any sort with other, competing humans? …

sqferryman @ 16
Yea, but SOME of us are also very clever in some areas….

Justin boden @ 21
Congrats! You’ve just re-invented one of the classic problems of early computerisation.
If you don’t make sure you have the process (whatever it is/was) thought & sorted out, thoroughly, all that happens when you computerise it is that … you speed up the appalling cock-ups.

Dirk @ 23
You need TIME to develop ideas & TIME to develop them, away from trying simply to stay alive, & ahead of the next drought/plague/big_predator.
One you have some extra time (to spare) in society as a whole, then it is going to be easier to develop new, potentially useful things & ideas.
Nice try, no banana. Again.
However @ 30 … you seem to have hit a valid target – anyone else got an answer to dirk’s question?

Jay @ 26
Yup.
Like finding a footballer or for that matter, any sort of spurts personality with an IQ measurably above 95 is extremely unusual. Which is why plausible fascist bastards like [REDACTED -- Greg, see the moderation policy on libel, m'kay?] are so dangerous, incidentally.

Sweh @ 27
I’ll buy that one, thank you.

RD South @ 31
A counter-example – enough to kill your hypothesis stone-dead.
The first/second Industrial revolutions 1710-1894 were carried on, effectively in ONE small country, on the edge of a continent [England]
And your supposed point was?

42:


Interesting hypothesis, but wouldn't it also be true that the general intelligence has to rise so that most can understand what they create, else we might diverge into the Brights and the Stupids as in the Marching Morons?

Plenty of people already don't understand most of what they use or create, but I think it's more of a specialization, or narrowing of view than a binary division. I work with many people who use computers daily, but have a fundamental lack of understanding regarding what they are and do. (cf Babbage quote regarding putting in wrong figures and expecting correct results)
Even people who do understand computers are pretty narrow in their understanding. I personally have a vague understanding of much of the hardware detail, but in general know what it is doing; I have been writing code and manipulating data in programs for decades, and have a much better understanding of software.
Stupid is not the state of not knowing (ignorance), but the refusal to listen to someone who does know.
Stupid is pretending that you DO know something and acting on that "knowledge", while ignoring the ones who really know, or actively blocking them.

43:

To all those suggesting there is a selective pressure still for better general intelligence* I'd like to point out that success in society (career wise, socially etc) doesnt strongly correlate to increased reproductive success. Consider a modern developed nation, do the top percentage of people wrt intelligence have more children than any other demographic? I'd argue no. By having cultural pressure for 1-3 children across all demographics we effectively stop most selection. I'm not arguing that there is anything neccessarily wrong with this btw.

*can we come up with something better to talk about than this weak term? I feel we're limiting ourselves by talking about a trait that is at best ill defined and at worse doesn't exist.

44:

Yes, and I used to be able to add/subtract faster than the electromechanical cash register I was driving, back when I worked retail. The knack decays if you don't use it much for a couple of decades. But it's still measured in single-digit ops per second. But compared to even the slowest of 1940s era vacuum tube electronic tabulators and it begins to look a bit piss-poor.

45:

Very interesting. Here's a small addition -- we need a reliable source of the new, brilliant ideas for everyone to adopt, so there needs to be a steady supply of geniuses around. However, too many geniuses is a waste of energy and potentially breeds conflict. (Like an ant colony needs only one very expensive queen at a time.)

So that gives us evolutionary pressure to tweak the intelligence distribution -- a wider curve (with slightly more extreme outliers) would be favored over a very centered one. It might even give rise to a non-Gaussian distribution, where you'd see a small bump at the high end, then a fall-off, then the vast bulk of the normals. If we were more insect-like, this would be the equivalent of having a "Thinker" caste to come up with good ideas for everyone else.

46:

In fact, since it appears that our brain size has reduced slightly in recent (relatively) times, our invention of civilization may be at cause

Could a different diet be a large part of that? I know there was a general drop in size and health in the shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer — I'd be surprised if brain size wasn't affected as well.

47:

Apologies if someone else has already made this point.

Intelligence doesn't just apply to the things you do, but also to the things you say. Lying, catching others out in lies, convincing other people to act against their interest, are all skills that correlate with "general intelligence." And as your population of talking apes grows, the ability to manipulate and to resist manipulation sets off a cognitive-skills arms race. While I can imagine people with strong verbal skills enjoying reproductive advantage despite poor mechanical skills, I can also imagine the opposite. So I don't think I buy Charlie's Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis.

For what it's worth, orcas, with their social hunting behavior and "cultures" (packages of learned hunting techniques that differ from geographically and by matri-line) might be a good model for an intelligent species that doesn't speak (and they don't, in the sense of the high-bandwidth information exchange that humans enjoy---they can't teach each other skills through sound alone).

48:

Maybe I am just restating what you said, but I see two aspects to this:

Evolution is shooting for a level of intelligence that enhances survival.

If you look at hunter-gatherer tribes, there isn't a huge need for physicists, neuro-surgeons, and the like, and they aren't going to enhance the survival likelihood of the tribe. In fact, much like D&D, it's better to have a variety of classes, rather than just a bunch of nerds.

What will enhance the survival of the tribe is an average level of intelligence sufficient to communicate ideas and knowledge, and a small pool of people capable of innovating new solutions to problems.

In other words, strength, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma all have evolutionary advantages, and there needs to be a balance of them, not just an excess of intelligence.

49:

Q: Why are there so many stupid people?

I find the discussion and possible answers really interesting, but you assume as true that there is a lot of stupid people out there.

But what do you consider "stupid"? Are we talking as stupid in relation to another human being, or the member of another species? But then, how do you measure intelligence? Are we talking IQ? Other standard tests? Some sort of ecological fitness?

I mean, Richard Feynman's IQ must have been astronomic, but maybe he wouldn't have done better facing a large carnivorous cat than the average youtube commenter.

50:
This leads to an alternative hypothesis; "general intelligence becomes less important once the knowledge base gets too large and specialisation is required".

Let's extend that. Perhaps the ability to cooperate and coordinate becomes more important when human units are highly specialized. This ability is not tested for in intelligence tests (AFAIK) and is more in the realm of management training. We've all met people who are very smart in the skill we may want to hire, but who cannot work well in a cooperative environment.

Bottom line is that maybe OGH's premise is wrong because the measuring stick (G) is not measuring the right variable (incomplete variables if we use the components model of intelligence).

51:

"How do you know there was little intergenerational building of knowledge?"

Because in general progress was very slow, but innovations did occur. To prove this I would provide examples of isolated artifact types that didn't get into general use until much later. The idea being that some individual or small band would invent something cool and play with it a while and that would be it. Nobody else would do it until it got stumbled over again.

Just for a couple of examples, the first bow was invented 60000 years ago

http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/03/31/earliest-weapon-human.html

and the first flute about 40000
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_flutes

but they didn't come into general use until much later. The individuals or small groups that made these things must not have transmitted them to others or to successors because these (and similar outlier innovations) don't become a solid rather than dotted line until much later.

Wouldn't these sorts of things just be killer memes and spread like wildfire, be passed down for sure?

"And are you saying here that trivial knowledge built civilization?" I don't understand the question.
I'm saying that once the practice of physical preservation started being important the CONCEPT of preservation led to profligate preservation of all kinds of things, which happened to include intergenerational preservation of techniques allowing steps of progress to build on each other rather than following a pattern of one step forward one step back.

52:
Let me re-formulate that hypothesis: The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.

Let me correct my own statement regarding OGH's premise. His premise may in fact be correct - that G (as we measure it) is not selected for, but rather another factor. He favors language (and memes), I think it is more than that.

Given how much argument there has been over what is intelligence and how to measure it, perhaps the standard measures centering on problem solving and language skills should indeed be extended. We've had emotional intelligence posited in the past. Perhaps it is really time to measure intelligence in the context of groups (which is tricky).

But how do you measure the intelligence of an ant colony vs an ant?

53:

Also, my idea that human minds are like new computers which come with a default set of option settings that are only a small part of what the system can be set up for might apply here. In that view, even the greatest genius and the average person are not that different in optional offerings, they just have different options selected. A lot of it is random initial defaults to provide a good mix in various groups and a lot of it is nurture. Feynman wasn't that different in hardware from you and I, just overclocked. Below average people are a different story, put there by damage, defect, or particularly toxic environments. But the genius is just a person with a standard (non defective) brain being used properly.

54:

"The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language."


Much of what we understand as "general intelligence" nowadays is really an obscure technique for mental manipulation of symbols. It does not even begin experiencing strong evolutionary pressures until humans develop writing and arithmetics. There are much bigger differences in terms of general intelligence (mean IQs) between, say, the British (who were mostly literate for several centuries now) and Australian aborigines (who were almost completely illiterate as recently as 1940s), than within the British.

55:

On SF consequence would be that when we get out among the stars we find that everyone else is smarter. However, I suspect there is not much of a market for us as the heroic galactic retards.

56:

What is wrong with simply defining intelligence as generalized problem solving ability?

Because there is no generalized problem. Each problem and the solution depend on the context. If you have experience solving similar problems you can probably adapt some techniques to solve the new problem. If you are facing a complete new kind of problem where your experience does not help, this is where it gets interesting. Unfortunately (in this context) different people have different experiences and so you have to tailor the test to each individual. And so we are back to where we cannot reliably compare their ability to solve problems.

57:

I dunno. We could be the Ogrons to the galactic Daleks :)

58:

Which would be true if the ability to construct analogies is intelligence, as Hofstadter and others posit.

So if memes transmit information, it is the ability to abstract them and reuse them in different situations that is intelligence (or at least the problem solving part).

59:

You could even make this idea bigger and say that given the costs associated with intelligence, no species on earth is any more clever than it has to be in order to stay alive.

I've heard that there's a tradition in police agencies, not to hire cops who appear too clever. The idea is that an overly clever cop is going to start interpreting the law on their own terms, leading to trouble. Of course when you have such police interacting with aspie smart people with few social skills, there's a whole 'nother type of trouble.

Sometimes I think of scientists as if they were LOTR Ents: slow to rouse to action, but if they could be motivated to organize and act; Unstoppable!

60:

I'm a little confused - I still don't know what stupidity is, and it seems to me that it needs to be defined before you start labelling the theory the anthropic stupidity hypothesis.

Maybe stupidity is understood as being unable to mentally process a certain level of information complexity?

61:

Because that definition Is not very useful. It's like trying to understand flight by defining it as "moving through the air". This gets us no closer to understanding the various (very different) mechanisms that enable flight in different fluids and at different Reynolds numbers. So a Boeing 747 uses jet engines and fixed wings, a dragonfly uses moving wings.and a squid uses directed water jets. The physical theory that includes all those mechanisms has more to do with the fluid than the mover.

62:

Once upon a time, I took a course in Developmental Psychology. (I'm dredging up memories from long ago. So, I will qualify the following with the fact that it isn't the most up to date information. Also? Memory isn't a 100% reliable thing.)

I seem to recall that a definitive definition of intelligence is virtually non-existant. There are varying types of intelligence and only a small portion of them are measurable. So, we're starting off on shifty ground here.

Why are there so many stupid people?

That said, intelligence is a bell curve. There will always be outliers, and as someone else said--those at the upper end of the bell curve are more likely to have a different perception of the rest of the bell curve than those positioned in other parts of the bell curve. The wide spectrum of intelligence has (probably evolutionary) advantages or it is likely it wouldn't exist. Thus, there will always be 'stupid' people. Intelligence is not the sole indicator of other valuable qualities such as specific talents (art, literature, physical abilities, emotional development, empathy) which are also valuable to humanity at large--basically, intelligence isn't necessarily the best measure of what moves humanity forward as a whole. I'm thinking of the long ago television program called "Connections." Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.[1] What if the components required to advance weren't entirely intelligence based but a combination of other talents? It is next to impossible to develop high technology in the middle of a war zone. Smoking piles of rubble don't exactly provide an abundance of resources for advancement. Creativity (and not just the artistic kind) doesn't thrive under extremely adverse conditions. Example: there's a reason Steve Jobs evolved in a prosperous, peaceful area of California and not in war-torn Somalia--and it isn't because Somalians are less intelligent than Californians.

So, *if* there is a shift toward higher intelligence in humanity as a whole (and I'm not entirely convinced there is,) I would say that the reasons why aren't merely due the smart people reproducing or communicating with one another.
------------------
[1] a certain amount of advercity is required. it's a balance, however. too much is bad as is too little.

63:

Interesting, but missing other factors. There are many selective pressures on intelligence. On the down side is metabolic cost. On the positive side, beside language, there is the theory of Machiavellian intelligence, or social intelligence. You need smarts to navigate social/political worlds. This probably have no threshold of "good enough" as you suggest with language.

64:

General intelligence is the ability to generate useful ideas for any situation. It isn't optimal for anything, any more than a pocket multi-tool is an optimal knife, file, or pair of pliers.

If geniuses were so different then why didn't Newton create the entirety of modern civilization rather than just part of the foundations? Why didn't he build a microchip at least? What I mean is, they operate independently no more than the hypothesized masses who receive the intellectual mana. They make leaps, but most of the time they don't move at leap speed.

A lot of stupidity comes from culture. In some subcultures being not too smart is a point of pride, and being too smart is a great way to get hurt. Who created this: did the stupid drift into it or did the smart rulers foist it off on them?

Since I'm most specifically talking about African American's I say its the latter. If you didn't shuck and jive you got beat, probably by another slave. And it carries on with many new twists.

65:

"So, *if* there is a shift toward higher intelligence in humanity as a whole..."

There is, if only because childhood diseases worldwide are being eliminated.
http://transhumanity.net/articles/entry/six-brain-damage-scourges-that-can-cripple-iq-in-sub-saharan-africa

66:

It seems like a reasonable line of speculation. But can we prove human brain development peaked at language? There are a lot of theories that seem very reasonable but haw been disproven. The aquatic ape, the premise that we are not evolving anymore, etc.

That last one is a really great angle to make you doubt liberal western morality. The premise is that we are allowing the weak and unfit to live and breed and use medicine to correct for defects and are weakening ze purity of ze race. The wiki article on eugenics has the complete debunking of this line of thought. Point is, the theory seemed reasonable at the time, much like phrenology.

The thing I still remain questioning over is the whole matter of life being an emergent property of the universe. I was raised religious so my first belief was God did it. There's a reason for everything and it's a good one. Science disproved all the religious claptrap but left me with life may just be an accident or, if it's common, intelligent life is not.

Examples of convergent evolution show that similar solutions to existing problems can arise from independent lines. There's a shark with a rudimentary placenta. Birds and pteranodons and bats all have forelimbs adapted to flight. The eye evolved independently 39 times is it?

The complexity of biological systems and the complex solutions arrived at by nothing more than time and selection pressures are at the ragged end of unbelief. I can understand why some would prefer to stick with the sky-daddy as explanation to everything. It's strange to conceive of a world of such complexity arising on its own, spinning on without any special purpose or reason, and ending when the sun grows fat and red and short of fuel. And yet for all the unicerse's indifference, it seems like the rise of conscious life is inevitable. How much projection and rationalization are we bringing to the table?

I understand the anthropic principle and that it could easily be extended to any form of life that choses to contemplate its own existence.

67:

I once had a traumatising experience with a malfunctoning toilet door on a train, which fits very well with the theory that people can use things if told or trained, but find it difficult to observe a situation and deduce its implications.

The door would only properly close when locked from inside, entailing that whenever the train rocked and nobody was using the toilet, the door slammed open and shut, to the increasing anoyance of the passengers. I decided to address the issue by immobilising the door with a shoe strap, closed with a simple shoe knot so that visitors would find it easy to undo the know to close the door, and to redo it when leaving.

To my horror, I discovered that the first person was incapable to understand how to undo the shoe knot to close the door. I had to intervene and explain; "Your contraption is not easy to understand", he told me. I don't know for how long exactly it is that mankind has used strings and knots, but I wonder how this man copes with more modern technologies like, say, fire.

The second person managed to open the door without help, and to fix it open when leaving. However, after the third one left and the door started banging again, I discovered that the second visitor had used a knot that was impossible to undo, forcing the third person to cut the lace with a knife. The third person had not had the idea to cut close the lace to the knot to minimise the damage, nor to do another knot after leaving.

Since the passengers started to complain again, I returned to fix my lace, only to see the next toilet users reiterate the same sorts of errors. Eventually I stoped fixing the door, and I saw that none of the complaining passengers would address the problem themselves.

At the moment, I fould it extremely depressing to think that on a random population, only a minority would know how to operated a string and have the intelligence to observe and infer the intentions behind the lace. Charlie's theory mitigates that a bit reducing the problem to an intelligence-related conformism-and-authority problem.

68:

Typos due to thumbs on phone -_-;

69:
Q: Why are there so many stupid people?

Whoo boy. There are three general rules I've found over the years:

1) You're not as smart as you think you are.

But that's okay, because:

2) Other people don't give you credit for being as smart as you really are.

Fortunately, we all have our illusions, and:

3) Even if you're too dumb to poor piss out of a boot with the instructions on the bottom, you'll frequently wonder why there are so many stupid people in the world.

I don't think you need to waste time on any of that evolution jazz :-)

70:

Much as I agree with the rest of the post, I think this bit:
"The wide spectrum of intelligence has (probably genetic) advantages or it is likely it wouldn't exist."

would be better phrased as:
"The wide distrbution of intelligence is likely the outcome of many pressures and non-intelligence related factors"
said factors being those you mentioned later.

I recall also reading about a study which found that really intelligent people didn't do as well as merely slightly above average people. For whatever reason, as a group they had less drive or involvement or whatever you want to label it as and simply didn't push themselves to the top or didn't want to. The point being simply that good intelligence isn't everything.
(One can also mention the large number of putatively intelligent people who think really stupid things, one recent example being Matt Ridley - PhD from Oxford I think it was, science writer for the economist, yet denies global warming and the associated science, probably because of ideological blinkers)

71:

christopher denney @ 42
Ignorance is cureable, stupidity isn’t - & often kills, usually (other) people.

R D South @ 51
Wouldn't these sorts of things just be killer memes and spread like wildfire, be passed down for sure? Maybe, but it has to be REALLY REALLY GOOD to do that.
I can think of only two, & one of those was after the development of some forms of civilisation.
Fire
Writing

guthrie @ 60
Or qualifying for a Darwin award?
& @ 70
That’s all right.
It is very noticeable that other species have a ”wide” intelligence spectrum too.
Anyone who has lived with (& been, erm “controlled” by) Cats for any length of time will have observed this.

Stina @ 62
That said, intelligence is a bell curve.
I know this is taken as a given, but I disagree profoundly.
Below a certain “IQ” (please note the quotes) level, a person just will not survive & almost certainly won’t breed. Just for the sake of argument let’s put that cut-off at 65.
But there are plenty of people who score 150+ & certainly in some areas.
Which suggests a skewed distribution, with a long “tail” in the upper end, and, also meaning (oops, pun!) a difference between the mean the median & the mode.
Lots of variables in there, & don’t fixate on my use of the term/label “IQ” – please!

Dirk @ 66
Agreed. And the gradual elimination of environmental poisons (like Lead) that we were discussing elsewhere.

gmuir @ 77
HAS the “aquatic Ape” theory been disproven, really? Or are people just still throwing shit at its’ female devisor? I don’t know, or I would not have asked.

72:

@62
"The wide spectrum of intelligence has advantages or it is likely it wouldn't exist"
Not necessarily. It could be a side effect that merely does no harm.

And the part about moderate adversity seems to be on track though I think it could be honed down more precisely. It's not the amount of difficulty that matters, its that the challenges present need to be solvable by intelligence. If your best way to survive seems to be to join a gang and be a thug, that is a challenge that isn't solved by intelligence, even if you are in rich America. If your best way to survive is to figure out how to appropriately irrigate your crops, that is solved by intelligence, even if you are scratching out a living in the swamps of southern Iraq.

@63
Yet it appears that social intelligence does max out. There's only so conniving you can get, there's a limitation to the payoff of thinking about your thinking about what I'm thinking...
And I don't get why smarts is so expensive. How is Einstein's brain more expensive than mine? The difference is basically software. Both laptops use the same amount of electricity.*

@67
We (intelligences) exist because we magnify chance, kind of like megaphones. Every detail of our environment causes us to output even more enrichment. Which is highly probable because the complex of outcomes we create are like a different destinations of a highway. Each destination must have a lane that will branch off to it, so the width of the highway at any location is determined by the number of places it leads to. So given any split your lane will most likely be on a wide part of the highway that goes the most places. Thus chance appears to use us to magnify the effects of chance by nudging us into creating orderly systems that are sensitive to chance.
I totally made that up, there's no way to prove it.

*Maybe its that I'm now running Windows 8. Hate-it, hate-it, hate-it. Did I mention that I hate Windows 8? It even rhymes.

73:

If your point is valid (and as others have argued, I think most of intelligence is social/sexual focused, not problem-solving), then we still wouldn't have super-intelligent aliens if they evolved communication later (with one caveat at the end).

A) While general problem solving might be advanced, social intelligence would be less evolved...and that's important. You don't want beings with trouble understanding verbal nuance to have control of nuclear weapons (as one example). Our Cold War was bad enough without adding even more really bad diplomats. Maybe that's Fermi's Paradox answered: we learned to talk _early_ and are actually showing an amazing level of global cooperation (isn't _that_ a scary thought!)

B) The moment horizontal meme transfer becomes possible, there is no longer any selective pressure to retain average intelligence (this is, in fact, your point, I think). So intelligence levels would fall to the point where a baseline general intelligence level is needed for day-to-day problems where other individuals cannot solve them for you:(short turn planning, navigation, tying your own shoes, etc.) Natural variation will throw up some people smarter, some dumber than this new "average".

In short: smart aliens would get dumb quick...

UNLESS: their environment required a demonstratively higher level of general problem-solving ability. Multiple intelligent species on a planet? Some kind of biological arms race where one species _doesn't_ get wiped out by the first team to discover fire or spears? If we had to deal with T-rexes and raptors on our morning commute (and somehow hadn't destroyed them all the moment _one_ person invented gunpowder), each person would probably need to be somewhat cleverer than our current average in order not to get eaten.

74:

I meant @66 in my post at 72

75:

Q: Why are there so many stupid people?

(Please don't try to tell me you've never, even in the privacy of your own skull, asked this question ...)

No, I've often had that pop into my head. Particularly while driving, and reading online comments--but I hasten to add not here, at least not too often.
Not that I'm immune from doing or saying stupid things. So here goes...


Once language and culture arrived (note specialized usage of term 'culture'), we didn't need to get any smarter: we could "borrow" from one another.

Maybe I have the wrong end of the stick, but this makes me think of 'Culture' in other species. I'm thinking of pods of Killer Whales that have been shown to have different behaviors and vocalization dialects (true of other whales too). Marine biologists found a pod that developed a taste for Great White shark livers, and came up with a method to get them. Other pods don't do this, but if another was found that did, would it be that they developed this method of hunting on their own, or learned it from another pod? Testing DNA could provide an answer, that is if a whale in the new pod shared DNA with the original pod, it obviously brought the knowledge with it and communicated it to the rest (and not that the knowledge is genetic).

We already know that Chimps teach each other with regard to tool use. However I don't think that Cetaceans are likely to get farther up the intelligence ladder, unless they return to the land and re-evolve their forelimbs into hands, which of course can't be done intentionally. Cephalopods on the other 'hand'...

I'm not sure about Corvids either, since they tend not to be social. Geese maybe?

And I suspect if Canids and Felines had evolved longer toes and usable thumbs, they might have been serious competition. But then, maybe they haven't done so bad for themselves.

okay, enough futzing with this, i'm hitting submit.

76:

Greg #71 - from what I've read over the years the aquatic ape hypothesis has been killed, buried and eaten by worms which were then eaten by ducks.

Here's a blog post with information and links and stuff:
http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2013/01/06/aquatic-ape-theory-another-nail-in-the-coffin/

77:

Of course reading further on the link I gave, it seems aquatic ape theory lovers are out in force saying no, it isn't dead at all!

But I think that amongst actual scientists studying human evolution it hasn't much traction.

78:

Why are there so many stupid people?

Another answer is that people tend to be cunning but not wise. Almost everyone can quickly learn enough to do a job fairly well, pay the bills, and do what needs to be done. But in any matter that's not related to our immediate requirements or duties, we tend to be completely full of shit.

Basically, we mainly learn, if at all, from experience. This is good enough for common tasks like cooking or childraising. For specialized tasks we have to go to "schools" where we're guided through the common mistakes. In matters with a long lead time and no way to learn from experience (global warming, retirement planning, managing hypertension, etc), we almost never make prudent decisions while we still have the chance.

79:

It's easy to see why "so many stupid people" exist: it's because it's a very common human trope to explain any behavior on another person that they disagree with as stupid.

I learned this most clearly when hanging out with a particular young relative, who was fond of using the term "stupid" for every single thing that annoyed him. And what annoyed him? Anything he didn't understand. After all, he had a very high opinion of his own intelligence--he was into computers and geeky things! so of course he knew he was brilliant!--and therefore came to what seemed to him the very rational conclusion that anything that disagreed with him in the slightest was Stupid and done by Stupid People who were, clearly, not as smart as him.

Why was a road laid out in a way that inconvenienced his desire to cross the street at a particular moment? Stupid road designers. Why did someone cut us off in traffic? That person was stupid. Why did a book he was reading end in a way other than he preferred? The author was too stupid to come up with the ending he would've liked. Why did that dog bark at that squirrel? Because the dog was stupid. Why were there people in the world who disagreed with his interpretation of a particular video game? They were stupid. Why was a particular video game not to his taste? Stupid video game designers.

And he wasn't just usually it as a casual word. If called on it, he'd always earnestly explain how clearly those people were Very Stupid. After all, if they'd been smart, they would've done what he wanted. After all, he was a geeky sort, into science fiction and computers! So he knew he was smarter than he anyone who wasn't, and knew better than they did.

Why is the world so full of stupid people? Because when people make decisions we disagree with, it's easy and self-satisfying to believe it's because they're idiots, rather than to consider that they might have different interests, motivations, goals, information, or skills than we do. If I cut someone off in traffic, it's because I was distracted by various important issues, and made an unfortunate error in judgment. If someone else cuts me off in traffic, it's because they're an idiot who doesn't know how to drive. Clearly.

80:

Thank you, Charlie!

I've long pondered the Weak Misanthropic Principle (my current formulation: people seem to suck, because sucky people call attention to themselves.)

However, I think you've formulated a workable Strong Misanthropic Principle, greatly advancing the field of Metaphysical Cosmetology.

ObPeeve: $CloudVendor's management pages and API should have animated "under construction" GIFs all over it.

81:

Maybe we can pioneer an entire field of Misanthropology, to study cultures around the world and explain why they suck.

82:

Good story.

(1)What country was this in? Could be a cultural thing about taking things as they are.
(2)You can't read too much into the behavior about actual general intelligence. A lot of times people are just lazy or distracted, not willing to put any mental effort into something so trivial.
(3) A lot of people try to live in the world as they think it SHOULD be rather than as it ACTUALLY IS. There should be an easy door latch and I'm not going to deal with it being wrong.
(4) Some people might have ulterior shemes in mind. Patches just prevent true fixes. Let the door bang about and maybe the people that operate the train will fix it properly.
(5) Sometimes people play like the lowest common denominator. If you tie a knot somebody will surely have a hard time with it, so lets just not.

83:

the aquatic ape hypothesis has been killed, buried and eaten by worms which were then eaten by ducks.

On Ilka' Moor, Baht'at, of course.

(I've forgotten all the scatological extra verses that used to get sung on interminable school bus trips ...)

((Except: "They worms go in, they worms come out / they go in thin, they come out stout" ...))

84:

would be better phrased as:
"The wide distrbution of intelligence is likely the outcome of many pressures and non-intelligence related factors"

I'd be okay with that. I did type all that pre-coffee. ;)

85:

((Except: "They worms go in, they worms come out / they go in thin, they come out stout" ...))

Over here that'd end with "The worms play pinochle on your snout.", at least that's the way I always heard it.

86:

I know this is taken as a given, but I disagree profoundly.

You can disagree all you'd like, but nothing you said removes the evidence of the existance of scientific intelligence measurements resulting in a mathematical bell curve. [shrug]

87:

Okay, I'll bite. What's "pinochle"?

88:

I dont think predator prey relationships have had much to do with human evolution over the past few million years. I think it has been mainly intra-species sexual selection accelerated in isolated groups. We have language because women preferred (and still do) men who could communicate better. They smarter men who were better users of weapons, because they were the ones who brought home the mammoths. Smarter better weapon users tended to survive longer and dominate other men, so got more opportunities for offspring.

I think we continued to evolve because the stupid served as cannon fodder in wars. Even with generation killing wars becoming passe, I wonder if we are not still having selection for intelligence, how facilitated by higher education. College allow the more intelligent to mingle and pair off. The college educated woman is more likely to select a college educated man than a high school dropout.

89:

Our brains may not be getting any smarter, but our (Brains + Extended Phenotypes) complexes sure do.

90:

"we might diverge into the Brights and stupids"

It's already happening, or havent you been following US politics?

While this maybe unduly snide for civil discourse. I do remember reading about a study that found that the brain structures of conservatives were different from those of the more liberal. Bigger amygdalas IIRC. If conservatives an liberals breed true we might be getting divergence, although I hope not.

91:

I'm afraid to say I think this is a good idea as that may simply provide further evidence for your hypothesis...

92:

At this point, I have to say that, based on the proportion of commenters who seem to have completely misunderstood the point I was trying to make, the evidence is mounting: humans are dumb.

The pub beckons. Will the last primate standing please remember to turn out the lights?

93:

All I know is it's a card game, so had to look it up:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinochle

94:

we are only just smart enough, on average, to be capable of horizontal transfer of memes

Putting misspelled captions on cat pictures is a meme. Quantum chromodynamics is also a set of memes. Memes vary considerably in the intelligence needed for their understanding.

The memes you see most often will naturally be the popular memes with a low threshold of understanding, naturally enough.

95:

If cultural toolkits are the main advantage to survival, then a higher intelligence (however you measure that) without these toolkits will be out competed by a species with lower intelligence and the toolkit. In essence, it is arguable that that is exactly what humans have done. Therefore to get this higher level of intelligence, the species has to forgo the advantages of culture. How could that happen if a sub population did not forgo it? Such a species would have to be highly isolated, like Hoyle's black cloud.

96:

Whoooaaaa.
You do know that in developed countries more intelligent, generally higher earning people are having fewer children?
And that back 4 generations ago everyone had lots of children if they could.

And that in WW1, it wasn't always stupid people leading from the front, it was university graduates. And oddly enough nobody's actually found a definite difference between university educated people breeding together and those who aren't. There's simply too much variation.

97:

So by developing language we've out-evolved the need to get any smarter? And the biosphere continues to evolve - over millions and tens of millions of years - towards greater intelligence?
I find it difficult to imagine an intelligence-rich biosphere. I tend to imagine this with computronium thrown in.
But as long as we're about I don't see a species developing a higher level of intelligence than us before reaching the language breakthrough. We're going to give them the big whack.

98:

Stina @ 86
Then why are there no people alive with really low “IQ” measurement, but a very few with “not measureable – off the scale" at the top, then?
OK I admit it is well out into the 3+SD’s from the mean, but you would have thought someone would have noticed?
Or is it politically inconvenient?

russell @ 88
And “reserved occupations/qualifications” also tend to select intelligence for survival in recent wars, too!

Vanzetti @ 89
Thank you.

Charlie @ 89
Can I rephrase that for you: “FAR TOO MANY humans are dumb”
Enjoy the pub/beer!

99:

I don't know for how long exactly it is that mankind has used strings and knots, but I wonder how this man copes with more modern technologies like, say, fire.

Welcome to the world of tech support.

As another example of just-smart-enough-mostly, there's a woman recently arrested in a prostitution sting who apparently did not think it unusual to meet her john at a police station.

100:

Can I rephrase that for you: “FAR TOO MANY humans are dumb”

Sigh.

No, you may not re-phrase it for me. The point I'm making is that THE HUMAN SPECIES is dumb. Minimally intelligent overall. We have outliers, but we are not as smart as we think we are; it's just anthropic bias.

101:

In The Praise of Folly, the goddess Folly claims credit for the conception of every human being, pointing out that all humans are beholden to her at the moment they make a baby. The more intelligent the parents, the more Folly has to intervene to get their child started.

And notice that in almost all portrayals of superhuman intelligence, the beings involved transcend normal human urges.

Slight problem there, no?

102:

I'm dubious of your thesis. It fails to address the reproductive advantages of intelligence in a social setting. Once you have language, you become much more effective at manipulating other members of your tribe to provide you with resources and get more attractive mates.

Your offspring would be more likely to survive. This would lead to a strong selection for, at the very least, social intelligence.

Then there is the Flynn effect

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect

which indicates that possibly due to enviromental effects the population's average IQ is rising.

A couple of reasons I can suggest for why we apparently have so many dumb people. The first is that we live in a world that is getting expotentially more complex, and that a functional level of intelligence in a simpler world is now insufficient.

The second is our current cultural fad of empowering people and giving them self-esteem. In the past dumb people were told they were dumb, understood they were dumb, and told to follow the prescription laid out by there "betters" if they wanted to live a good life. These days you are encouraged to soar like an eagle even if you don't have wings, and unfortunately the Dunning-Kruger effect kicks in.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

103:

You got misled by the initial question.

I have now re-written it. Go back and re-read. This is not the discussion you were looking for ...

104:

Clearly we are busy extending cultural and technological stuff in order to bolster and improve our intelligence.
E.g. not only can we speak, read and write we create new ways of doing so and make it easier to communicate them.

Your final point is of course a possibility.
One wonders how it would work in the case of artificial intelligence.

The problem of course is that we don't exactly have much evidence for 'intelligence' levels over the last 60,000 years or so. That people were intelligent to some extent and communicated and built culture, yes, but making nice charts of it is something else again.

105:

The version I heard went, "The worms go in, the worms come out, the worms post to the net from your account."

106:

No, you make a good point, Charlie. There's overhead to intelligence, most obviously the biological cost of running a big brain but also the operational stuff of getting sidetracked into abstract pondering (which is often useless). Humans, on the whole, are as dumb as we can get away with.

The Flynn effect is misleading here. We're not getting smarter, we're getting more practiced at taking tests. Many other forms of 'intelligence,' and we've already touched on how hard that word is to define, aren't so useful in the developed world and get less developed. (I personally have the useful knack of reading a paperback novel while walking along the sidewalk, which would be neither useful nor safe if I lived someplace tigers dropped out of trees.) The ability to fast-talk and manipulate other humans is obviously useful; that's not going away any time soon...

107:

Charlie @ 100
How true these words are even today (In the words of the Padre from “the Navy Lark”) …
Yes, but the dumb, to a large extent get carried (& exploited) by the smart (as well as the intelligent.
Maybe that is one reason why human societies’ & human technologies’ development took so long.
As well as my previous suggestion that taking time to devise improvements – takes time - & if you are struggling for survival on minimal resources, then your windows of opportunity for any advancement are small few, & far-between.

This also transfers over to …
Dave @ 102
Who is, actually re-stating Dawkins premises of the extended phenotype, for humans …
Even with Charlie’s re-written question. (!)

108:

New OP paraphrased(?) We aren't all mental gods because intelligence stopped evolving when we started using knowledge instead.

So what will happen now that we have Wikipedia?

But seriously, almost everyone does original thought, and it affects how they succeed in life. And as I tried to prove above, for most of the time since language emerged there was probably a huge amount of reinventing the wheel. Small bands just don't have a huge knowledge store, and the survival value of being able to deal with the inevitable new crisis is great.
Also anecdotally many primitive tribes that have survived into modern times exhibit great cunning when confronted with new things--they are merely meme poor due to living in a monotonous little world.

109:
The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.

While I think your reformulation clarifies your idea, I don't believe that my thoughts differ.

Your argument is that language is not part of general intelligence. But thought is very much language based. (You couldn't even take an intelligence test without it. How would one have measured Helen Keller's G?). So in effect, language is just one of the complement of skills that is part of G.

If we remove language, then the human species is left primarily with pattern matching. The world would seem very concrete. Could a human species offshoot with lack of language evolve some higher level pattern matching that would equate to some higher G? I don't know how you would even measure that. What we do know is that many species, and all mammals, vocalize to some degree. The complexity of those vocalizations does increase with EQ with cetaceans particularly having what looks like a simple language.

Humans have the highest encephalization quotient by far, and that ratio does seem to correlate with intelligence as we measure it. A SciAm article last year suggested that this was about the maximum size it could be. So improvements would require some improvement in brain organization and wiring. So we are left with some hypothetical brain structure that has increased G (however we measure it) to humans by some unknown method and without a communication method to coordinate groups, store information, etc.

One possible, non language approach might be some form of visual "telepathy", e.g. a very sophisticated mirror neuron system that allows information transfer directly from brain to brain. That might allow non-language species to evolve and use memory transfer to store complex information. Whether this species would have higher G I don't know, but it might look like that if you tried to measure it.


110:

First off -- there's no such thing as intelligence. Rather like the idea that we've got a direct perception of the world, or that there are fixed ideal archetypes of things (including people) this is one of those hopelessly false ideas that gets stuck in the language and will not go away.

So asking why something that doesn't exist isn't more common is a hard question to answer.

Secondly, evolutionary processes do not have, and cannot have, biases for positive outcomes; there's descent with modification by shuffling of fixed traits and many more are born than can possibly survive. On these two observations hang the whole of the law.

The perception that there are stupid people is a function of variety; agriculture is an environment, cities are an environment, literacy is an environment, machine-mediated global-comms network extelligences are an environment. If you're reasonably successful -- meaning your sources of primate status insecurity are, for whatever combination of material and social factors, low -- you're using one possible pathway, but there are a bunch, because humans are diverse. (Humans are mutating _even faster_ than you'd expect from our exogamous habits and population explosion of the last several centuries.)

There's an _increasing_ number of such success pathways, too; natural selection is an explanation for diversity, not superiority, and everything people do is embedded in a system under selection. (Everything people do isn't part of that selection process by any means, but nothing people do can get outside it, either.) All those new environments mean human diversity is expected to increase as people try not to fail to survive by moving into the new (social, economic, organizational, cultural) territory. ("Can this get copies of itself into the future?" is the most basic question about selection, because "many more are born than can possibly survive" is provided free by the universe.)

So, generally, baring "organic brain dysfunction; hasn't got a complete cognitive toolkit", what you're seeing is mostly "not in the same social/cultural adaptive radiation as you"; you almost certainly look just as dumb to them as they look to you.

You do get people whose suitable social/cultural radiation isn't there any more, either because they've been displaced out of it or because it's been superseded. This is often a net good at the species or nation scale, but it's often wretched for the individuals involved, because they come across as pretty dumb everywhere.

I'd argue that the increasing number of pathways, plus the competition between sheafs of pathways (the whole 'charge rent for non-substitutable goods like land' mechanism of social organization has been taking a hammering this last while), argues that human capabilities are getting more diverse, not less, and while the absolute scope of those capabilities is still stuck in a box marked "roughly 25W, powered by glucose", rather sharply limiting what any one single person can do, the total ability across the species has gone up, is still going up, and is likely to keep going up.

(This will eventually, exogamy or not, lead to communications problems _even if we're all still the same biological species_. (which isn't likely at all; we're one step away from adult somatic cell nucleic genetic modification. Once that's in place as a technology, it will get used.))

So, anyway -- the thing I get paid for involves doing stuff with XML most people can't do at all, and even the people who can do it mostly loathe, because thinking like that is uncomfortable.

I am fortunate that I like thinking that way; the kinds of problems I'm asked to solve are often fun. I get a decent income and a non-boring job out of it. Does that mean I'm smarter than the people who can't do it, or can, but not as well, not as fast, and with loathing?

Of course not. That whole construction, the idea of the question, is really, really silly.

It means I'm in a (relatively rare) social/cultural adaptive radiation; like any social/cultural adaptive radiation, it's got advantages and disadvantages, but in this particular environment (physical, cultural, legal...) at this particular time (no one has invented a machine to do what I do yet...), I do OK. (There are, inescapably, far more environments in which I fail and die than there are in which I do well, just as there are for any organism.)

Is the range of possible adaptive radiations going to expand out of the "~25W, runs on glucose" box? Almost certainly, if we keep a continuous technological culture for the next century. Are individuals now alive going to get out of that box? I hope so. Is the variety possible inside that box greater than that which we now observe? Certainly; both biologically (for example, we know with some confidence that the big difference, culturally, between us and chimps on one side and bonobos on the other, rests on adolescent testosterone spikes during the process of sexual maturation; us and the chimps get them, the bonobos don't, genetically very very similar brains get very different aggression responses in consequence; doesn't take much mutation, epigenetic change, or lead in the environment to do something like that) and culturally (men are now commonly involved in childrearing from infancy in the affluent West, for the first time in a very long time indeed. That's a new sheaf of cultural possibilities appearing within middle-aged living memory).

But while we're still stuck in the "~25W, runs on glucose" box, there may be, there most certainly is observed to be, a very great diversity of things that can be done by individuals, but the total capability of any particular individual has that inescapable hard limit, making it obviously very much less than the full observed diversity of capability across our species.

111:

erm? I think we get the point but don't agree with the premise that the development of language prevents us from evolving higher intelligence. bensen.daniel @#47 I think outlined why that understanding is limited. you're saying that we're minimally intelligent but I don't think that observation is self-evident.

and if we're *just* smart enough to get the ideas of intelligent people, but our inability to get *this* idea is evidence of our minimal intelligence, then doesn't that imply that we aren't even smart enough to transmit memes?

112:

Your argument would make some sense to me if our learning was only through language. We also learn a lot through observation, without language.

Also, my impression is that in any industrial society most humans are incredibly more intelligent than they need to be to survive. Very few have fulfilling jobs that uses their intelligence to the full. Most of us have boring occupations which require just a tiny fraction of our brain power.

113:

The human race has evolved until human children can spontaneously pick up language from their families. The human race has not reached the point where children spontaneously pick up a written language. However, we have many rich self sustaining cultures that propagate written language. This suggests that there could be a species that could be taught language, and sustain it, but relied on training institutions, like schools, to do so, not instinct like H. Sapiens. This means that the human race might have slightly more skills than strictly necessary for a rich cultural civilization capable of eliminating selective pressures that lead to developing more skills. So, maybe we (or at least our children) are not as dumb as we could be.

114:
our inability to get *this* idea is evidence of our minimal intelligence, then doesn't that imply that we aren't even smart enough to transmit memes?

Memetics just required replication. So we should be able to transmit ideas by just parroting what was said without understanding it. I suppose a sort of "Chinese Room".

115:

I assumed it was because being stupid is rarely fatal, and doesn't stop anyone procreating so no selection pressure there.

116:
And a logical corollary of this hypothesis is that we are only just smart enough, on average, to be capable of horizontal transfer of memes. Once language and culture arrived (note specialized usage of term 'culture'), we didn't need to get any smarter: we could "borrow" from one another. Therefore we're only just smart enough to do this.

So new memes are generated by those on the upper end of the g curve, or by random chance. But if those memes become more difficult to understand, won't the general g level have to increase to understand them? For example, if quantum mechanics was needed for attracting a mate, wouldn't sex selection drive evolution for greater g?

Better example. Dance is required by males to attract a mate. You can 'borrow' a specific dance meme (e.g. a waltz) but you are required to modify it to gain an advantage over your fellows. That requires g. Perhaps you have to replicate a previous dance and add to it in an iterative way, requiring good memory, an ability to abstract sequences and create new ones. So meme transmission is not adequate, g is required and there is a driver to increase g.

117:

The human species is not intelligent, intelligence is not something that species do. Human individuals have some level of intelligence. Even a group of humans larger than a small number is not well characterized as intelligent, its behaviour bears only a superficial resemblance to purposeful intelligence.

Personally, I'm betting on intelligence being a secondary sexual characteristic. The type of intelligence we have is sexy and otherwise fairly useless. We're great at personal grooming and art and philosophy*.


* Philosophy is all perfectly safe until **bam** Scottish Enlightenment. Could turn out to be worse than the oxygen catastrophe. See: species are not intelligent.

118:

alexandertolley@109
"One possible, non language approach might be some form of visual "telepathy", e.g. a very sophisticated mirror neuron system that allows information transfer directly from brain to brain. "

Wikipedia for mirror neurons says

"Some researchers ...relate mirror neurons to language abilities."

Words are symbols that each set off a specific neuron whose set of connections mean that when it is activated the entire profile of consequent activations tends to form or contribute to the formation of a specific thought (activational state)type. Telepathy, whatever the medium would do the same thing. There would be key neurons in the receiver subject to being influenced by key neurons in the transmitter. The result would equate to non symbolic language.

graydonish@110
"There is no such thing as intelligence"
You mean the quality they test for on intelligence tests? Strangely, intelligence tests were originally created to test educability. It was so they could decide who to not waste classroom seats on. Superficially, that makes that kind of intelligence exactly the opposite of the kind of intelligence Charlie is talking about, in that he is suggesting a tension between learning and intellect. But really, education is training for a role (job, profession), and educability is aptitude for taking up roles. And intellectual tasks form important parts of many roles, so training for those roles includes training of intellects. Thus educability should correlate with intellectual aptitude, though not precisely.

All that stuff about being smart for different social/cultural radiations is just talking about adaptation. Intelligence would be a meta above that, adaptability. People on a train who know that "you just don't worry about the door that won't close" think they are "smarter" than the individual who tries to fix the door, and that individual in turn thinks the others are "dumber." But really, the individual who can see both frames of reference and adapt to either is the one that's really smart. And that is cross platform.

The problem of tension between general intelligence and education is that being trained to use your mind is TRAINING, not mind use. It's hard to install a rigid propensity for flexibility. It's hard to GIVE somebody self reliance. It's hard to teach someone to learn without being taught because its just like hypocrisy.

And that's just in theory. In practice, education is often designed specifically to trim all mental capabilities not related to the profession the mind is being shaped for. Also it involves a lot of what military officers call "getting down into the weeds," bogging down in details of specifics rather than focusing on the patterns. But that's just modern education. The apprenticeship type learning situations that prevailed throughout most of the span of mankind were good for training general intelligence. Not. Nor is monkey see monkey do.

119:

This suggests that there could be a species that could be taught language, and sustain it, but relied on training institutions, like schools, to do so, not instinct like H. Sapiens.

Some populations of signing primates may already be like this. Alas, I'm years out of date in the field, but there's been at least some mother-to-child transmission of signing skills. It's interesting that for other primates sign language is a borrowed technology - they got it from humans - and it hasn't been used long enough or widely enough to know how it will work out over multiple generations or larger populations.

120:

I think there are several plausible answers to Charlie's (reformulated) question:

- Memory, not reason, is the brain's go-to workhorse ability. Memory is usually fast and accurate; reason is typically slower and more fallible. Most people rely on memory constantly and reason occasionally.

- This is consistent with the understanding that memory is a more ancient and better-tested mechanism than reason in our ancestry.

- We are dependent on denial and delusion. We are all going to die and be forgotten, and nothing we can do will change that. More significantly, to continue as a species we must procreate, although having children is the worst thing one can do for one's marital happiness, one's finances, the environment, and one's general peace of mind.

- Intelligence is hard to discipline. The smarter you are, the more easily bored you are. Since most of life is repetitive drudgery, this can cause problems.

- We are social creatures, which means that not only do we want to understand people, people want to understand us. Being a little too clever for the boss's (chieftain's, sultan's, etc.) comfort has never been a survival enhancing trait.

121:
Edit: No, forget that question. It's misleading. Pointless. And everybody in the comments thread is completely failing to understand the point I'm trying to make below. Let me re-frame it:

Everybody, Charlie? From here it looks like several people got your point just fine. Maybe that's due less to intelligence and more to knowing your personal foibles ;-)

Also mebbe because it's been done before in sf. Repeatedly.

122:

Humans predate on other humans, so there's your arms race. Also check out "Machivellian Intelligence".

As to why we aren't more intelligence, it's probably too expensive in various different ways. Birth problems is one of the big costs, and, in my guesstimation, is why Cro-Magnon predominated over Neanderthal. (I think the problem was cross-breeds, where Cro-Magnon male X Neanderthal female had an EXTREMELY high infant+mother fatality rate, where as the other direction was generally ok. This has to do with the shape of the Neanderthal pelvis. At least one palentologist thought this was plausibe around 30 years ago. I've never heard any convincing argument against it...though if they *DO* have a reasonably complete Neanderthal genome, that could just be because nobody thinks it's worth refuting.)

123:

Even corvids (and I think a couple of insects) can invent new (to them) tools. The problem is establishing a culture that can pass them on. Chimpanzees have managed that, but I don't know of any non-anthropoid that has done so (which doesn't mean they don't exist). Language is a powerful tool that facilitates the passing on of invented tools.

This doesn't explain either why we are as intelligent as we are, or why we aren't more intelligent. My guess is that we are as intelligent as we are because of an evolutionary arms race (humans preying on other humans) and that we aren't more intelligent because of the costs. OTOH, the arms race may still be progressing. I haven't seen any evidence that it's come to a halt. (And remember that there are lots of different ways for one human or group of humans to prey on another human or group of humans.)

124:

Yes, human brains have shrunk in average size since the early Cro-Magnons. (OTOH, we don't have that many Cro-Magnon skulls, so this could be a sampling bias.)

The normal explanation is that their organization has gotten more efficient. I know of no evidence either for or against this explanation.

Sorry, I can't provide references either, but it's in many palentology books directed at the general public. (I think it's on one of Gould's books, but I can't remember which one. Whatever, that wasn't my first encounter with the statement.)

N.B.: Neanderthals had even larger brains.

125:


Let me re-formulate that hypothesis: The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.

Interesting. But you'd have to prove it breaks completely. I'd say there's plenty of evidence that high general intelligence does help in life.

On complex tasks, such as being chief, farmer, engineer etc, general intelligence correlates very well with performance. On simple tasks, not so much.

And there's also evidence (but not so good one) that it has increased over time. I've read persuasive articles stating that during the middle ages, able people were better farmers and got ahead in society, which meant they left more inheritance and better-fed offspring, and that combined with enviromental pressures such as lack of extra space pushed the average intelligence higher. Same thing could've happened in China, Japan, India.. etc.

So, why should it completely disappear.. the pressure?


And if so, is it possible that at some point, another species might develop language (and thus the ability to transfer memes/behavioural traits horizontally) from such a base and be fundamentally smarter than we are?

Why not?

@Charles H

According to DNA research, everyone except sub-saharan Africans has some neanderthal admixture.

Who, on the other hand have similar levels of hominid admixture speculated to come from some other species..

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18869-neanderthal-genome-reveals-interbreeding-with-humans.html

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/09/africans-arent-pure-humans-either/


Certain autistic people have speculated that this admixture is what gave people outside of Africa some kind of crucial edge, for example in abstract thinking.

One theory is that neanderthals were not good at symbolic, language-oriented thinking and were instead visual thinkers like some autistic people
See: http://www.grandin.com/inc/visual.thinking.html

There's some anecdotal support here. For example, wikipedia page for African mathematicians lists 3 of them. Indian mathematicians, who are drawn from a roughly similar population number ~130 or so.

126:


Chimpanzees have managed that, but I don't know of any non-anthropoid that has done so (which doesn't mean they don't exist)

There's a pod of dolphins which teaches their young to use tools, specifically some kind of sea sponge to better find fish on the bottom..

http://www.livescience.com/21989-dolphin-sponge-tools-culture.html

127:

Can't seem to reply in-line from phone.

Concerning aquatic apes, there's not much mainstream acceptance. Last place I heard it mentioned was on Monster Talk which is a skeptic's look at monster hunting, cryptids and the like. General theme of the show is Big Foot isn't real, here's why, but we sure were rooting for him. They're fairly up to date on the science, have experts and run corrections when they flub.

Info on the theory, more detail than the wiki.

http://www.aquaticape.org/

128:

I'd say there's plenty of evidence that high general intelligence does help in life.

Remember that what is good for an individual's enjoyment of life is not necessarily selected for by evolution. If one sub-population is happily childless and another sub-population is miserably prolific, the second will probably be what survives in the long run.

The optimum level of intelligence may be "just a little bit too dumb to use a condom."

129:

You can't say what species is "smarter" without defining the term first. I suppose the closest you could come would be to say that they are better at solving X problems, but certain animals are already better than humans at solving certain problems. But yes, I'd imagine that with enough time you'd get some animals that had more human like intelligence.

Another thing to consider is that the evolution of intelligence is connected to cultural evolution - certain cultures that encourage certain kinds of intelligence will thrive, and other cultures will either adopt these beneficial traits or be overtaken by the cultures that have them.

130:

Is stupidity fatal? Only the smart know for sure. Only as weak/dumbest as your strongest/smartest link. The weak (don't get) break(s) and fall behind, the strong don't and break away.

131:

Lead and heavy metals in the water and food chain.

132:

Chimpanzees have managed that, but I don't know of any non-anthropoid that has done so...

Learning by example isn't all that rare. You may have witnessed a mother cat teaching her kittens useful hunting techniques.

Not doing normal behaviors can also be taught. For example, there's this practical joke where you start with some raccoons and a plentiful water source. Then you start giving them sugar cubes...

133:

@103:

Isn't a major part of the answer that we have used our smarts to lower the darwinian pressure on our own kin ?

This is a process which must have started as soon as our language became sufficiently expressive to go from "DANGER!" to "Predator which can't climb trees!" which probably increased our kins survival changes by orders of magnitude, even for our dimwitted cousin...


134:

Graydonish @ 110
Agree whole heartedly with almost everything (I think there IS such a thing as intelligence, but …)
However, the human species will continue to diversify, expand, “improve” etc … given one vital proviso.
There are very powerful & loud groups determined to regress to a “simpler, purer time”.
They are, of course the religious loonies, & they are very dangerous.
How to stop them without a general war or persecution (nasty) is a question for the reader, especially as they don’t seem to be amenable to reason – they just shout louder & start killing people.
Both difficult & unpleasant, prospect, isn’t it?

Jay @ 120
Memory & Reason
Interesting – reminds me of Persig (“Zen & the Art of …”) When the going gets tough & the problems get difficult, THEN you crank up the scientific method, with a notebook & systematic problem-solving.
And this, surely is a mark of intelligence & a learned process & application of both?

@ 130
Yes
You don’t need to be the fastest runner, to escape the Tiger, just not the slowest!

135:

So? Isn't this just another example of species got perfectly adapted to the environment and stop evolving? The question is, are the tricks we got going to be enough when the environment changes rapidly.

136:

@Y at 125
"African mathematicians...3 of them. Indian mathematicians...130 or so. "

But African's use language very much and are highly social. Their languages are very complex and varied. Also, as a population they have many times the genetic variation of those from all other areas combined. It seems much more likely that something specifically contributing to mathematical aptitude was selected for in some of the populations that moved out of Africa.


The steps towards superhuman intelligence (that Newton who also individually creates all the advancements of mankind up to making a microchip rather than just inventing basic physics and calculus)
have not been selected for, but how can you really blame that on language? What would lead beyond where we are, and what strange world would be required to select for it. There would have to be pressure to do more than just deal with the current world, which is almost a contradiction in terms. It would have to be bred in on purpose or advance very slowly due to rare encounters with unusual turns of events (essentially "world" changes). One way to breed it in would be to favor a category able of the population able to deal with complex abstract systems, such as elaborate religions. African religion is pretty simplistic, while India is famed for its inventiveness. Only in some forms of Christianity is religiosity a reverse selector for breeding. In most societies the shaman does pretty well.

137:

You ask "Is it possible that, if we disappeared tomorrow, new species could evolve in the post-human biosphere that lacked the language faculty but were brighter than, for example, today's primates, corvids, or cetaceans?"

I'm going to say no. Not a chance. As others have stated, a primary driving force for human language and intelligence seems to have been competing with each other. The argument is very well made in The Science of Discworld books by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

The primates, corvids, and ceteceans of today are already among the most "chatty" of animals. And I'm fairly sure that among orcas, the bigger pods of fish eating residents show more complex behaviour and calls than the smaller pods of mammal eating transients.

138:

"It seems much more likely that something specifically contributing to mathematical aptitude was selected for in some of the populations that moved out of Africa."

More likely social influences are at play. Arabic numerals could more accurately be described as Indian numerals considering that's where the Arabians got them from. India has an unusually strong mathematical tradition.

139:

"Then why are there no people alive with really low “IQ” measurement, but a very few with “not measureable – off the scale" at the top, then?"

There are such people, heavily institutionalized. Not even capable of knowing what an IQ test is, let alone taking one.

140:

"Why is the human species only as intelligent as it is, and not more so?"

Simple and obvious I would have thought. We get just enough intelligence to remove the selective pressure for intelligence.

141:

Like finding a footballer or for that matter, any sort of spurts personality with an IQ measurably above 95 is extremely unusual.

Greg - I don't see how Jay@26 comment follows on to the one I quoted above, but anyway... Have you met many sports people?

I went to a multi-discipline event. In our event, the squad of twenty-ish was over-represented by graduates. We were on the plane with the track and field types - over-represented by graduates (two medical students among them). The cyclists and rugby players were largely over-represented by graduates.

Now, as for professional sportspeople... Look at football. A professional used to have a 50% chance of arthritis by age 30, AIUI. Before the really big money hit, the vast majority of players would do well to achieve what many graduates would regard as an above-average salary; and only be able to maintain it for less than a decade, with the vagaries of injury and team selection thrown in. Not to mention your peak playing age being at the same age that most young people are coming out of tertiary education - mutually exclusive, given that UK universities don't tend to have "sports scholarships". If you've got alternative options, professional sport looks like a bad bet. A decent analogy would be the Freakonomics chapter on why most drug-dealers live with their parents.

Having said that, one of the athletes on the trip (a hammer-thrower) who had a first-class honours degree in Maths from Edinburgh, went on to be a Gladiator on the TV show of the same name; Battleaxe...

142:

jimjxr @ 135
...of species got perfectly adapted to the environment and stop evolving?
Really?
Very, very few species, if any actually stop evolving.
Adaptation & Exaptation is a continuous process.
- Another one who doesn't understand evolution!

R D South @ 136 ( & others)
The Newton -> microchip analogy is 150% false.
You NEED the production & manufacturing processes & infrastructure to make new stuff, something that's often forgotten - Charlie made public note of this in the last "Merchant Princes" story so far!
If I was miraculously tranposrted back to January 1941, with a mobile phone in my pocket, an led torch & a quartz watch (as I usually carry) how long before they could make even ONE TRANSISTOR, even given that I know the basics of such a device - Pure Si, doped p-n-p ??
OTOH - I could probably get them to make a 10-milliwatt HeNe laser in about a month! { And how much U(235) does one need for a really big bang?

People forget these things....

justin @ 138
Ah, the idea of place-order-numbering & most importantly, that ZERO IS A NUMBER!

dirk @ 139
Even so, the distribution is skewed - not a lot, but skewed. There is a minimum value, and it is probably somewhere in the 45-50 range, whereas there are people with values (usually varying wildly according to subset-tested) over 150 or even 170 - though those are usually extrapolated & the results do have big error-bars.
{ e.g. general / verbal/ pattern / math: ~135/~125/~150/~160 - for me, the last time I took a set of these! }
& @ 140
Not so - see my answer above regarding adaptation & exaptation in species.
We are NOT exempt.

143:

I stand corrected. I should say, IF there is a general difference between general mathematical proficiencies of Africans and Indians (as opposed to simply between the propensities to become outstanding super mathematicians) and IF there is a genetic component to it, THEN it would have been something added to Indians rather than something subtracted from Africans. Perhaps they swam across the Red Sea much as the pilgrims boarded the Mayflower--as religious exiles. They might have been a people prone to creating imaginary worlds and entities with elaborate systems of rules around them. So maybe they were just following the natural sources of psychedelics.

144:

I don't think there ever was evolutionary pressure on humans to become more intelligent. Instead, intelligence happened incidentally as a byproduct of bipedalism: the neck and attaching muscles moved to the base of the skull, thus freeing the top of the skull to develop into a nice dome. At the same time the hands were freed to use tools, play cat's cradle or wave at other people.

More important factors for the success of the human species are:
- bipedalism as a means to cover large distances when food gets scarce
- cooperating as a group
- language as a means for cooperation in a group
- language as a vehicle to transfer experience to other individuals and to next generations
- curiosity as a means to adapt to new situations
- good vision and pattern recognition

Intelligence ( ie. general problem solving ability ) is irrelevant for survival because if you first have to think about a life threatening situation you are probably dead before you find a solution. Additionally, rational thought is near impossible for humans when they are angry or frightened.

OTOH, experience and a culture that allows young members to gain experience in a protected manner is great for survival. Difficult situations are usually repetitive (find water, deal with the leopard, catch an antelope) so experience is everything. New general problems that you could use intelligence for are rare. You'll get as good results if you choose a random response and remember what works in case you have the same problem again (in fact that strategy might be superior, that's why it's used in so-called genetic algorithms).

145:

Do smart people produce more surviving children than non-smart people?

I don't see this happening.

146:

Humans are actually pretty smart.

Speculation: there are a bunch of different genes encouraging various clusters of talent. Above-average intelligence appears to be distributed randomly throughout the gene pool. But why haven't the Draka bred themselves into a cadre of superhuman brainiacs? Or if assortive mating doesn't happen, if there's a genetic component and it's adaptive, it would have already spread through the population quickly, leveling out. And by the anthropic principle it wouldn't be notable.

Double speculation: the combinations of some genes (or a double-dose of a normally beneficial recessive) creates a tendency to mental impairment sufficient to lower reproductive fitness. So these smrt genes reach a certain equilibrium in the general population such that unlucky combos don't express very often.

Note that this isn't the popular "smart people are also mentally ill", which I don't think is true. If anything it's closer to the shadow illness framing. I think genetically-correlated mental illness is a rare negative side effect of generally positive genes we all partially partake in. Besides, once you've wandered into medicalization, you get all these ontological biases towards naming traits only when they are strongly correlated with disease.

Socialization processes (school) tend to find gaps in function and encourage workarounds. "Learn to think with flat brains" indeed.

147:

I think my issue with this whole post is that we just don't really know what intelligence is. We can't clearly define it, we don't really know how it works, and we can't really measure it. Heck, we can't even find genes that affect it - we also know there's a huge environmental influence on the things we consider part of intelligence.

We can guess intelligence is based on the number of neurones and probably on the interconnectedness of the neurones but we don't know how that works really. We know our brains are smaller than neanderthals were but we don't know about their degree of interconnectedness so it's quite possible we're smarter than them. It's also possible they're smarter than us - without a time machine we won't know.

We don't know why most of us can walk and talk at the same time. Many of us add the ability to mull over problems while doing this. But if asked (as per some demo on the TV recently) to count the number of times someone says "London" and the number of times you see a red London bus in a short video, lots of people can't do both (although we can easily do one or the other).

We sometimes see things that suggest there might be an overall limit to "Intelligence" so the people really smart in one aspect aren't so great in others - the absent-minded professor, the inarticulate sportsperson, the socially inept computer scientist and so on. They're higher than average in some aspect of the range of things we call intelligence and lower than average in one or more others. Is there a limit to the total ability or is this merely environmental? The genius sportsperson spends a lot of time practising their skill set, and doesn't work on their verbal skills as much and so on.

We don't know how it works and we really don't the cost of what we've already got (except it's affordable) so asking why we're not smarter... we just don't know and with what we do know, we can't really work it out.

OGH's hypothesis is plausible - on average we only need to be smart enough to copy the advancements made by others. Possibly that needs to have we need to be smart enough to cooperate to solve significant problems that are beyond a single person.

But maybe the answer is more to do with energy costs, and thus evolutionary costs. Maybe there's some insane power curve, say a eighth power one for intelligence. You've got to power more neurones and more interconnections remember, an 8th power seems huge, but not completely implausible. That means we have to provide over twice the energy to the brain to see a 10% increase in "intelligence" if we can even measure it. There's extra energy spent in maintaining the cranial vault and the skull on the top of the spine to work in too of course and that spreads to everywhere else. And extra energy resources aren't only significant in terms of diet and the like, you have to work out the heat-exchange processes to keep the centre of the brain from overheating - made harder by the extra muscle to keep the neck up no doubt. Perhaps that's why neanderthals went extinct (along with breeding into the H. sapiens population) - as ambient temperatures rose after the ice age, they tended to burn their own (larger than ours) brain. It doesn't take a lot for that to turn into a significant evolutionary cost. It also makes global warming a much bigger threat than expected!

Or perhaps that little extra volume of cranial vault makes for weaker bones somewhere - the temple thins say, or the region above the nose - and a wider range of accidental deaths occur so the cost isn't worth the gain.

I'd read a story based around human intelligence levelling out because of our communication skills - it is a plausible concept. There are loads of others out there though that might make more sense.

148:

It seems much more likely that something specifically contributing to mathematical aptitude was selected for in some of the populations that moved out of Africa.

And then again, maybe this entire line of reasoning is post-hoc racist rationalization, and basically rubbish?

(I have a relative by marriage who is (a) Anglo-Caribbean of African descent (no obvious white ancestors), (b) has a PhD in philosophy of mathematics, and (c) was put forward for full tenure as a professor in a university philosophy department. Speciality: Bayesian statistics.)

149:

Greg, despite your contempt for jocks and athletes, I think you'll find that Rosi Sexton still exists.

150:

A general note.

IQ scores are a product of the statistical methods applied to measurements. The normal distribution is there because it is built into the definition.

The IQ distribution is always Normal

The Average IQ is always 100.

The Standard Deviation is 15 or 16, there's slight variation between tests.

So about 0.003% of the population have an IQ of less than 40, which is still several thousand people in the USA.

There is a problem with those assumptions. Can you see what it is yet?

If IQ has a correlation with survival, the people with the ultra-low IQ are less likely to survive. So there are fewer of them in the population, and if the mathematical model says that 0.003% of the population have an IQ of 40 or less, what do the numbers really mean?

You do not always have symmetrical distributions. Mean, Mode, and Median, do not always coincide. The Normal Distribution derives from randomness, but not everything is random. And, sometimes, there's a hard limit to the range of values. You can't score less than a duck in cricket.


151:

In discussing tool-use, don't forget the primacy of social "tools"*.

Tools are nice and all, but once you have social meta-tools to control and organize their use (and ensure that the Right Sorts reap the benefits) there isn't much benefit to being clever or proficient with mere hand tools.

Which makes me wonder if and how breeding arrangements change as critters go through the stages of tool adoption, from no tools, to occasional use, to organized use.


*As Philip Greenspun notes, "...society cooperated to create the conditions under which the nerd could toil for them. However, the monkey who acquired these special skills and provided for the society did not achieve any rise in his dominance status."

152:

Well, yeah, it's post hoc, and if I considered it a serious theory based on the scant evidence present that would have to be right wing and racist. But, at 125, Y, the poster I originally was responding to, postulated something based on relative numbers of Wikipedia articles,

"There's some anecdotal support here. For example, wikipedia page for African mathematicians lists 3 of them. Indian mathematicians, who are drawn from a roughly similar population number ~130 or so. "

and I speculated how it might have happened had it been true--an alternative to non Africans having autistic Neanderthal blood and thus no zero summing of the math/language circuit.

I'm not afraid to look at stuff and see where it goes. You never know what you'll find behind that ugly rock, even if you don't like the rock. I don't think there's much evidence for my speculative scenario about Africans having different mathematical abilities due to different kinds of religious thinking myself. But even if the ratios given for eminent mathematicians were meaningful and genetics based (and there is ZERO evidence for either) they couldn't be that important outside of that one narrow kind of noteworthiness it takes to get a Wikipedia article.

Though Newton and Leibniz WERE both also known for wild religion-like speculation. Newton spent the last part of his life trying to find hidden messages in the bible and Leibniz came up with all that Monad stuff. That part, that the religion circuit might be what math is using rather than the language circuit. That part I actually think might have something.

Religion was the one kind of really far out rules involving abstraction generating activity that was certainly being practiced in evolutional time frames. And math and language are different abilities, which is why they have two separate parts on the SAT. So math seems to not use the language circuits as Y had seemed to suggest. Would it be zero sum that way, or wouldn't strength at one thing mean strength at a related thing that uses the same circuit?

153:

Charlie, I think the question is still ill-framed.

What characteristics do you think a more intelligent human would have? Are they in the range of existing human variation?

(I personally don't think the ability to do mathematics is very indicative of intelligence. It's computationally a very primitive task -- look when the first symbolic mathematics programs were written -- and it doesn't bring any particular selective benefits. There are plenty of idiot savants who are good at math, but pretty much by definition there aren't idiot savants who can make abstractions.)

154:

Charlie @ 149
I never said it was impssible, just unlikely.
I wonder how many SD's the afreoentioned Rosie Sexton is from the mean?

@ 150
Thank you for making my point.

155:

I think the more likely explanation for "Africans are not mathematicians" is a combination of the slave trade and then about 200 years of colonial exploitation by European imperialists.

The slave trade chewed up and destroyed entire nations, smashing their internal societal cohesion and tending to turn life into a war of all against all. It was then followed by a change-over direct imperial rule (not, I think entirely a coincidence -- the real European expansion into Africa got under way around the time chattel slavery in the new world was being stamped out). Empires tend to operate by denying their colonial subjects the resources to rebel -- by removing their natural resources, by direct oppression with superior firepower (often using local minorities to enforce a divide-and-conquer method: the local 90% are disarmed, the local 9% are given single-shot rifles and swords, and the 1% of colonial administrators are backed up by machine guns), and finally by imposing restrictions on the level of education available to the colonized.

We then had a period lasting about 50 years, characterized by European withdrawal from empire in Africa ... but a withdrawal which was cynically and systematically arranged to maximize the dependency of the former colonies on their former colonist nations. A ruling class could be imposed by grace and favour, who were typically more interested in lining their own palaces and Swiss bank accounts with treasure than in providing primary mathematics teachers for the nation.

Finally, finally, the immediate post-colonial generation of leaders have died off, and the cold war (fought by proxy using African nations as puppets) is over, and Africa has begun to develop dizzyingly fast. But we (and by "we" I mean first the beneficiaries of the slave trade and then the European colonial powers) systematically held back their development by somewhere between 200 and 600 years during the last millennium.

If you want to compare the per-capita prevalence of mathematicians in Africa with some other country, you might do better to compare them with Europe in the 16th century. Then bear in mind that the ideas that the likes of Liebnitz and Newton discovered have already been discovered, so there's no scope for today's African mathematicians to pluck those relatively low-hanging fruit: progress in the sciences today is difficult.

Finally: let's not underestimate the effect of disease burden on IQ. Africa gets a lot of solar irradiation and has a broad east-west equatorial belt; there's a lot of scope for species to migrate between biomes, and a lot of energy to be diverted into parasitic ecosystems. It wasn't, in the 19th century, called "the white man's graveyard" for nothing: Africa in general is a bad place to grow up disease-free, and infants who are fighting off numerous tropical diseases are of necessity going to divert more of their developmental resources into their immune system than into their neurological development.

Upshot: as Africa develops and emerges from the shadow of colonialism, expect disease burdens to drop, average IQ scores to rise, and the number of working scientists to increase dramatically. (In other news, I gather the sky is rumoured to be blue ...)

156:

If we relax the human level language constraint and include animal communication within social animals, then I think we have some natural experiments to test the hypothesis.

If the hypothesis is correct, then social species which can cooperate and even receive new memes should have less intelligence than solitary species. Over evolutionary time, the solitary species should evolve higher intelligence.
It may be a stretch, but the eusocial insects evolved perhaps a hundred mya (e.g. bees and wasps). In both cases we have the eusocial species and the solitary species. If the hypothesis is correct, the solitary species should have evolved higher intelligence than their social cousins. We can look for the same natural experiments in vertebrates. Is there any indication that the social species ended up with lower intelligence than their solitary cousins that evolved from the same common ancestor? I don't know the answer, but I am not aware of any data that suggests intelligence differences. Maybe worth an experiment.

I think other commenters are correct that the hypothesis is incorrect because:
1. natural selection is primarily between members of the same population (species).
2. if intelligence has survival advantages, irregardless of the form it takes, it will be selected for.

I would go further and hypothesize that the reverse hypothesis is more likely, that the acquisition of true language pushes selection for increased g.
This is because the individual now needs a larger brain to use language effectively, manage social systems and compete for mates than his language-less cousin. IOW, language is not a gift that offsets g, but rather requires more g to use it effectively. Couple that with sex selection for best use of language and g is selected for.

157:

Arguing about the evolution of math ability is absurd. Math (not arithmetic) is a cultural artifact that started to flower when people civilization allowed specialization. And like any specialization, it was developed with time, effort, social interaction to spread ideas, etc. If there is any differences between major human groups in math ability, it is probably extremely small. To me it equivalent of saying that Shakespeare was English, so there must be some language advantage to white anglos.

158:

Not to mention myself, a martial arts teacher of 30 years with an IQ of 155.

159:

That's a good point about the seductive power of faulty reasoning. I had a high school debate with a friend who was a general misanthrope but disliked black people just a little more than he disliked white people. The Africa argument was his touchstone -- why is the continent such a mess? Lacking context and without anyone else to provide it, it's hard to refute that line of reasoning. The real world is seldom clear-cut and doesn't lend itself to simple, rousing narratives. Those who can posterize a gradient of gray into black and white usually to injury to the truth but will have the more convincing argument. I had a gut feeling his argument was flawed but it did take a lot of reading to get to a proper factual debunking instead of just saying nuh-uh.

I've seen the same debate floated online in Israel discussions. Israel has done this and that, Jews are so heavily represented in the sciences and the Nobels, what have the Arabs done? What have the Palestinians done aside from being a bunch of dirty terrorists? And it's like whoa, whoa, you need a broader context before you say such things.

It also tends to debunk the objectivist self-reliance theme when you realize just how dependent you are on what your ancestors and civilization has done to put you where you are and how little you could really accomplish if you truly set out to do it all by yourself. What you accomplished is more like a disproportionately matching contribution. You put up a dollar, your legacy gives you a thousand. You put up nothing and do nothing and you'll be nothing. You work your ass off and succeed, you did your part but you weren't working alone. Gates and Rockefeller couldn't have done what they did born broke and black in Haiti. Hawking would have been dead in his 20's as a citizen of Ancient Rome.

160:

Yes! Exactly. Almost makes me wish for a 'Like' button.
I was sure you'd put it better (and more thoroughly) than I could, so waited before I gave it a try.

Now I've got The Great Nations of Europe going through my head.

161:


Charlie hi. I very much enjoy many of your insightful and provocative postings. This one, however, is flawed. You arm-wave if-therefore statements about human intelligence that are grand, but unsupported.

First, human intelligence is a clear case of extravagant overshoot. We desperately needed a certain level... tools, fire and enough language to coordinate hunts -- at which point we were Masters of Creation. Top of the heap. That we shot so far beyond that, starting with the Great Renaissance of 35,000 BCE (or so) is a stunning mystery that cannot be waved away.

Subsequent renaissance rebootings have happened not at slowing intervals but accelerating ones. Around 10,000 BCE and then around 2000 BCE and then a whole slew of them starting when we got movable type and glass lenses.

You may dismiss these as merely cultural. But there is growing evidence that civilization accelerates genetic evolution instead of slowing it down. See Wills's CHILDREN OF PROMETHEUS. Clothes and shelter and fire enabled humans to occupy realms like Tibet that then stressed them into becoming virtually a new sub-species. The same thing has happened as Europeans adapted to dairy and a myriad other stress-push adaptations.

I think the greatest came after we discovered beer. Those smart enough to limit the resulting hooliganism lived to have kids. Give it thought.

And that just scratches the surface.

Sorry, this is important to me. I've been chivvying away at it for decades because it is a centerpiece to the Fermi Paradox (why we haven't seen ET) - whether intelligence is itself the "rare thing" keeping the numbers of starfaring races down. In my catalogue of Fermi Explanations (I offer bunches in EXISTENCE) that one ranks pretty high. We may turn out to be flukes. Marvels.

Finally, you raise the matter of other animals' intelligence. I go into this elsewhere, of course in the Uplift Novels and Existence... but more pertinently in this run-down about the likeliness of real life Uplift:
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/08/are-animals-intelligent-enough.html

Essentially, it seems that dozens of Earth species are bumping their heads against roughly the same glass ceiling of mental ability. Why that is... and what it obliges us to do... are both very interesting topics.

Again, with respect
david Brin
http://www.davidbrin.com

162:

Counter to the "who needs to think up arithmetic when we have calculators/Wikipedia" the following article on the difficulties in teaching "critical thinking skills" slid across my desk:

http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/summer2007/Crit_Thinking.pdf

"Children are not as dumb as you might think, and adults (even trained scientists) are not as smart as you might think. What’s going on? One issue is that the common conception of critical thinking or scientific thinking (or historical thinking) as a set of skills is not accurate. Critical thinking does not have certain characteristics normally associated with skills—in particular, being able to use that skill at any time."

163:
"Why is the human species only as intelligent as it is, and not more so?"
Simple and obvious I would have thought. We get just enough intelligence to remove the selective pressure for intelligence.

Since we're going the silly route here, how about this: We get just enough intelligence to create the technology that removes the selection pressure. Maybe here on Earth, we've very cleverly made sure there readily available sources of easily-worked metal, petrochemicals, etc. Be wary of stone-age geniuses living on metal-poor planets. Pass those worlds by in your explorations.

And - of course - that one was done long ago in sf. Anderson, I believe.

164:

Another good one.
The following line caught my eye and I almost went off on it before reading the whole.

what have the Arabs done?
To which I'd reply:
Other than translations of Arabic manuscripts helping trigger the European Renaissance? Heard of Algebra?


You work your ass off and succeed, you did your part but you weren't working alone.

This reminds me of the nonsense about Obama's "You didn't build that." comment which the conservatives took out of all context. Yeah, you started your business, but where would you be without your backers, suppliers, employees, or customers?

165:

The IQ distribution is always Normal

They design the tests to be as normal as possible, but there's still some structure in results. For example, alcohol abuse, physical trauma, and disease can reduce measured IQ but not increase it, so the low-IQ tail is thicker than the high-IQ tail.

As for the relationship between IQ and race, I'll just say that any human being is going to have some bias where that issue is concerned, so we'll have to live with uncertainty.

166:

The only self-made humans are feral.

167:

To pick another angle to poke at OGH's theory at:

Language enables us to communicate about our environment and to communicate our interior states. This is a very powerful tool; it means that if, for example, you have figured out a better way to peel a banana, you can tell me about it, and I can acquire that trait.

What exactly do we mean by language here.

For example I don't need a spoken language to get across a better way to peel a banana. I show somebody.

In fact I don't even have to have the intent to communicate the skill. Somebody can observe me and copy the actions without my participation.

At what point in hominid evolution did spoken language become a major part of skill transfer? I'm guessing quite late.

At what point in hominid evolution did the intent to communicate become a major part of skill transfer - rather than monkey-see-monkey-do? I'm guessing that it could be surprisingly late.

Anybody who has learned complicated physical skills like shaping wood or stone, especially with primitive tools, knows that there's not a lot of language involved. There is a lot of practice and a lot of demonstration.

There needs cooperation, but there doesn't need to be language in the sense of complex grammar, etc.

So what counts as language? The intent to communicate? Something being verbalised in some way? Some syntactic level of complexity? Folk who have enough internal complexity for a theory of mind? Something else?

168:
I'm not afraid to look at stuff and see where it goes. You never know what you'll find behind that ugly rock, even if you don't like the rock. I don't think there's much evidence for my speculative scenario about Africans having different mathematical abilities due to different kinds of religious thinking myself. But even if the ratios given for eminent mathematicians were meaningful and genetics based (and there is ZERO evidence for either) they couldn't be that important outside of that one narrow kind of noteworthiness it takes to get a Wikipedia article.

Ahem. See, here's the thing: I agree with you on letting the chips fly where they may, the dis-utility of denying ugly facts, etc. And I don't consider myself a liberal. But in this at least, let's look at what happens after those so-called 'hard truths' are acknowledged, by shall we say, a certain set: the supposed lack of intelligence of a certain group is then cited as a reason for denying them resources, etc., and conversely, the 'hard-truthers' cite their supposedly superior intellects as the reason why they're in charge . . . or should be.

Me? When I see a kid who's struggling in one of my classes, my inclination is to make sure he gets more attention, not less. And that I enlist the aid of others besides myself to be sure that he gets it.

Iow, people like this should get more, not less.

But what do I know? I'm just a lousy 'liberal'.

169:
The IQ distribution is always Normal
They design the tests to be as normal as possible, but there's still some structure in results. For example, alcohol abuse, physical trauma, and disease can reduce measured IQ but not increase it, so the low-IQ tail is thicker than the high-IQ tail.

Hmmmm . . . as I understand it, the model of inheritance that's assumed is binomial: there's a lot of genes responsible for the trait(s) with the monicker 'intelligence', their inheritance/expression are indepedent of one another, etc. So what you really have is a right-tailed distribution that's being approximated by the normal (symmetric) distribution.

170:
Why is the human species only as intelligent as it is, and not more so?

I'm guessing a stack of it is likely down to a local maxima in the various greasy evolutionary hacks that have got us to our current vague state of cleverness.

The likelihood of a random mutations upping something useful like our short term memory limit from 3-4 chunks without upsetting the rest of the house of cards likely too small to be likely.

171:
I think the more likely explanation for "Africans are not mathematicians" is a combination of the slave trade and then about 200 years of colonial exploitation by European imperialists.

Shorter version: Just what color do you think the librarians were at Alexandria?

172:

Mathematics and genetics?
"tDCS changes the voltage across neurons and can make them more or less likely to fire. Cohen Kadosh's team zapped volunteers while they were shown made-up symbols representing the numbers 1 to 9. Although the volunteers had no idea which symbols stood for which number at the start of the test, they gradually worked this out by performing tests in which they were asked which symbol was numerically higher than another, then, once they had given their answer, were given the correct answer.

After each session, which involved hundreds of such calculations, they were given tests to see how well they could perform mathematical calculations using the symbols. Those given tDCS learned the symbols faster and did better in the tests than those subjected to a sham procedure.

When the subjects were tested six months later, those who had been given tDCS still did better than those who hadn't. "It is already known that tDCS affects neurotransmitters involved in learning, memory and plasticity, so we presume that these are being manipulated in this study to cause long-term changes in the brain," says Cohen Kadosh."

173:

After getting curious about the date where language is supposed to have started (when I last spent time doing linguistics in the late eighties the theories went from about 2million years back as I recall) I found this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/15/science/early-voices-the-leap-to-language.html

Which has some folk putting language and syntax as it's used today as late as 50,000 years ago.

174:

Looks like I forgot to close a tag. Let me try this again:

Why is the human species only as intelligent as it is, and not more so?
I'm guessing a stack of it is likely down to a local maxima in the various greasy evolutionary hacks that have got us to our current vague state of cleverness.

As I mentioned earlier, there was some guy - Matt Reynolds I think - who used the Dawn Worlds. They had tech the Terran Federation of Planets could only dream of (Reynolds either presciently or prudently stuck with fission piles). Thing is, the average IQ on the Dawn Worlds was maybe 70. No, they hadn't regressed after scaling unguessable heights, that was as smart as they ever got.

But they'd been around longer. Several millions of years, iirc. And they were scared spitless of those brilliant, technologically primitive Terrans. Yes, Reynolds wrote for Campbell. Whyever do you ask ;-)

But he raises an interesting point in contravention to Charlies' initial assumption.

175:

That's neurobiology, not genetics.

176:

The basic answer to your revised question is simple. Evolution never maximizes anything except reproductive fitness, so organisms are a balance of traits. Grey matter is energetically intensive, so increased mental capacity comes at a cost. There would have, in our hunter-gather ancestors, always been a strong evolutionary push to reduce our brain size that would have to have been more than compensated by the advantages of a large brain.

One of the postulated reasons for why Sapiens is thought to have out-competed Neanderthals is that Neanderthals are though to have required 5000 calories a day in ice-age Europe vs Sapiens 3000. For the same food source therefor, this would give Sapiens an approximately 1.5 times greater population with all its advantages.

Agriculture resulted in a great increase in the carrying capacity of the land, but we know from skeletal evidence that for most of the population there was severe calorie restriction. This would have put a premium on smaller brains (assuming they were still sophisticated enough to master the tasks of agriculture.)

Counteracting this, however, is a great premium from high social intelligence. The ability to manipulate people and rise to the top of the social hierarchy greatly increases your reproductive fitness.

Given that we have only had at most 10,000 years of agricultural civilization, I'm not sure how much this has affected humans. If there were any great changes in behavior and intelligence as a result of civilization, then there would be neurological and behavioral differences between humans who had practiced agriculture for a long time and groups of humans that were always hunter-gatherers.

That's the genetic case. Of course, a lot of "dumb" behavior is learned or not learned as the case may be. People only apply themselves to master certain understandings if they think it is important.

177:

I'm not even saying we have to "accept the ugly facts," I'm saying one should be willing to look at ugly ideas even if it is common knowledge that they are probably wrong. Only by looking at them, not dismissing them out of hand, can you make sure not to miss anything important.

Somebody says "The Great Sphinx was built in 6000 BC because there's water erosion and there hasn't been rain there since 6000 BC." I say "lets look at that, how could that erosion have gotten there," not "poppycock, we know the son of Kufu had it built. There are records of it being done."

Aside from the fact that I've never seen that erosion (I'll provisionally accept it as fact) what are some other possibilities for how that erosion got there?

1. It was carved out of an existing outcrop that had been exposed for a long time.

2. Though Egypt is a desert, actually it does rain there sometimes.

3. It might be wind erosion.

4. Water could have been involved in some manmade process applied to it.

In fact, if 1 through 3 turn out not to work, maybe I would see now that looters poured water over the Sphinx to wash off the valuable gold dust it was painted with. I would never have figured that out if I had just pooh poohed all along and gone on to something else.

Did I show that the sphinx was built in 6000 BC? No, of course not. The son of Kufu had it built. There are records of it being done.

Incidentally, traditional Africa actually had very complex religious thought, at it turns out, it's not all vague animism. Nothing like India, a real hothouse for theological innovation, but well up to the standards of everyone else.

178:

If you want to look at the "ugly facts," then you better have a lot more than just the ones you think of as ugly.

I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, and conclude that you are ignorant rather than racist, but you are walking a rather fine line there, and you may want to consider what Charlie said before.

179:


Shorter version: Just what color do you think the librarians were at Alexandria?

I'd guess the same color as Egyptians are today. Brownish.

I do believe the Black Egyptians theory has been thoroughly thrashed.


I think the more likely explanation for "Africans are not mathematicians" is a combination of the slave trade and then about 200 years of colonial exploitation by European imperialists.

What about the British Raj? Doesn't count? I mean, British presence in India caused a number of famines and such and cannot be described honestly as 'beneficial'.


But we (and by "we" I mean first the beneficiaries of the slave trade and then the European colonial powers) systematically held back their development by somewhere between 200 and 600 years during the last millennium.

To their misfortune, they were behind the times, where social development is concerned.

Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel gives a plausible reason for the delay, namely the problem of borrowing workable memes from places with similar climate, because Africa is north/south oriented..

It seems to me that you(beneficiaries of the slave trade and people whose ancestors lived in colonial powers) were just the last in a series of misfortunes.

180:

Potentially all wrong, but here I go again*.
Here's an idea I've wondered about, but never been quite sure of.

As has been mentioned above, the average size of the Human brain has been getting somewhat smaller throughout our evolution (and considering Einstein supposedly had a smaller than average brain). Has the number of neurons in the average brain remained constant, or increased? If brains have the same number of neurons (or more), in a more compact space, would there be an increase in response time of the synapses? If so could there be a sort of Neurological Moore's Law?


*and I can't learn if I don't ask.

181:

As I understand it, the Mediterranean Sea has, since antiquity, been less of a barrier than the Sahara. The north coast of Africa got the Roman Empire and Abrahamic religion, but the first never made it south of the Sahara and the second was delayed by ~1500 years or so by the Sahara. In other words, it is more useful to think of "the Mediterranean area" and "sub-Saharan Africa" than "Europe" and "Africa".

182:

Shorter version: Just what color do you think the librarians were at Alexandria?

I'd guess the same color as Egyptians are today. Brownish.

I do believe the Black Egyptians theory has been thoroughly thrashed.


I think the point is that they weren't 'white'. The libraries of Timbuktu might be a better example.

183:

What about the British Raj? Doesn't count? I mean, British presence in India caused a number of famines and such and cannot be described honestly as 'beneficial'.


No. India has a long mathematical history.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_mathematics

184:

Today's intelligent statistical outliers are producing intelligent information machines that can be wielded by people with much less aptitude and with much less time lost to learning curve. It's very interesting transference of intelligence - via augmentation developed by our very smartest.

If anything the dumbing down, locking down and "no user serviceable parts inside" trend of personal electronics is not a good thing for human intelligence. It's actively preventing these people from leveling up their ability, while crippling the actual benefit of these technologies.

I'd like to point out that the intelligent outliers that push the envelope of human progress don't actually need a higher general intelligence, but certain focused aptitude and even just obsessive interest. Those in the autism spectrum function well in these areas. (If this hasn't been done already in 180 comments)

Side note. General intelligence is handy in times of strife and rapid change, a broad range of mental skills may be boost survival over narrow skill sets. In times of peace and prosperity, it pays more to be a savant. As a person of higher general intelligence (but not sufficiently high that any success is automatic) but poor focus and a low tolerance for tedium. I'm doomed to do pretty OK in life, be somewhat of a social outcast and, but never succeed in any focused field.

185:

The north-south/east-west thing is where Diamond starts to demonstrate his skills for selective research and his aptitude for unrestrained speculation. There are too many examples which defy this model in the historical record for it to be entertained very seriously.

Colonialism in India was very different in nature than Imperialism in Africa. Considering the British largely kept the Indian social order in place the comparison just doesn't apply. But that aside, India has a long and continuous mathematical tradition which, as I said earlier, makes it unusual. Not a mathematical tradition which is just stronger than that of Africa, but stronger than that of Europe, China and quite possibly the Middle East.

186:

The neurons are the surface gray matter. Thus it is the area of this layer that is important. The area of gray matter is increased by folding. Humans have much more folded gray matter than lower mammals.

If much of our cognition is within the connections within the gray matter, then this is the primary measure of cognitive potential. [This assumes that most of the internal white matter connects various parts of the brain to integrate cognitive elements].

Over the span of hominid evolution, brain size has increased. While Neanderthals had larger brains (from the few skulls we have), they were also most robustly built humans and therefore we cannot assume that the brain size wasn't compensating for a larger body mass. Cortical folding has also generally increased over hominid evolution.

I cannot find evidence that brain sizes are decreasing in modern man. The smaller size of our historical ancestors due to poor nutrition during most of our Malthusian existence means that they had smaller brains. Good nutrition has resulted in larger bodies and associated brain size.

If neural connection length was correlated with intelligence, then small mammals might be very smart indeed :) However, since women are generally smaller than men, we might think that their smaller brains would have some impact on their intelligence relative to men (but bear in mind the brain/body mass ratio). IQ tests show no overall difference, although they do show small differences in particular abilities, e.g. spatial vs verbal skills.

187:

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/more-proof-that-intelligence-is-85134.aspx

"In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Feb. 18, UCLA neurology professor Paul Thompson and colleagues used a new type of brain-imaging scanner to show that intelligence is strongly influenced by the quality of the brain's axons, or wiring that sends signals throughout the brain. The faster the signaling, the faster the brain processes information. And since the integrity of the brain's wiring is influenced by genes, the genes we inherit play a far greater role in intelligence than was previously thought."

188:

I see the study is looking at myelination. An analogy is the quality of insulation of wires.

Unfortunately Thompson's measure of IQ is not specified in the PR piece, so we have to assume it is an IQ test of some sort that presumably includes language. (For all I know they used SAT scores).

Thompson has continued his research into the thickness of cortical gray matter in the hunt for genes controlling this, although the abstract does not note any correlation to intelligence.

The Contribution of Genes to Cortical Thickness and Volume

One problem I have with intelligence tests as used in this discussion is that one can train oneself and thus improve your score. This indicates learning is involved (not unexpected)and that it is not measuring some abstract, raw natural ability, g.

189:

@jamespad

I was thinking of that very Obama quote when I was typing. His phrasing in that exact moment was inartful but was saying nothing different from what republicans themselves have admitted to when they were accidentally being honest.

Elizabeth Warren had probably the best version of that saying where she really spelled it out.

What I said about seductive bad reasoning, that's the problem. The republican talking points feel good and are great fun to say and trying to actually explain why they're wrong takes Too much time. As the doctor from idiocracy said, "there you go with that fag talk again." Try to explain how Reagan didn't win the Cold War, actually cite facts and figures and they'll tune you out quicker than a bug frying in a zapper.

Is there a term for memetic resistance to the penetration of new memes? I call it a cloak of stupidity but that just doesn't cut the mustard. There's surely a better term for it. Something to encapsulate the idea that the better the contrary evidence is, the worse the afflicted will fight it, as if their ignorance recognizes and fears education.

190:

Thanks, and nevermind about the brain size bit. I missed this before I posted:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_size
Which includes
Not all investigators are happy with the amount of attention that has been paid to brain size. Roth and Dicke, for example, have argued that factors other than size are more highly correlated with intelligence, such as the number of cortical neurons and the speed of their connections.[9] Moreover they point out that intelligence depends not just on the amount of brain tissue, but on the details of how it is structured.


What you said: If neural connection length was correlated with intelligence, then small mammals might be very smart indeed

Except that smaller animals have far fewer neurons.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_by_number_of_neurons#Cerebral_cortex

Basically I'm just thinking 'aloud', and obviously I'm no expert.

191:

General intelligence is handy in times of strife and rapid change, a broad range of mental skills may be boost survival over narrow skill sets.

While possibly true at the individual level, at population/species scale it sounds more iffy. Genetic diversity is an insurance policy; psychological diversity seems like it should be too. For conflicts between human populations, memetic/technological elements can alter force balance. The carrying costs may pay off for having the right freaks of nature on tap. Sure, send me your physicists/metallurgists; it'll make up for all those military theorists you've been hoarding.

@180: Just what color do you think the librarians were at Alexandria?

I misread that as "What colors were the libraries at Alexandria?

192:

I read somewhere - wish I remembered where - that before medical advances like quinine and mosquito netting became cheap and widely available something like the Scramble for Africa was impossible: most Europeans in the tropics died in two or three years, both in Equatorial Africa and the Caribbean, even more, most Caribbean colonial possessions were viable only because of the African slave trade, fevers killed Europeans too swiftly.

A chilling example: the officers of a British regiment sent to the West Indies about 1800 decided to experiment with themselves: half of them would drink only water, the other half only wine and rum. All water drinkers died; all but one wine drinker died too...

193:

Alexandria is a bad example, librarians were drawn from all over the Greek world - which doesn't imply that they were all Greek, but most probably were.

However native Egyptians had impressed the Greeks long centuries before Alexander the Great conquests. They were accomplished mathematicians, architects, etc. and while they weren't as dark skinned as Nubians (they depicted themselves as clearly different from all their neighbors to the West, Northeast or South) they certainly were not white. I would say if we saw some ancient Egyptians we would probably think they were Ethiopians.

194:

It seems to me, there's a massive gap between human intelligence and that of any other creature on the planet. I think our extraordinary success in dominating every dry-land ecosystem on the planet stands as strong evidence of that assertion.

Which indicates a couple of possible conclusions.

Either,
(1) The evolutionary pressure selecting for intelligence breaks once the next most intelligent species (in this case probably the neanderthals) has been wiped out.

…or
(2) The evolutionary pressure selecting for intelligence continues in the absence of a predator or competitor of comparable intelligence and breaks only once sexual selection no longer favors intelligence. A brief look at human history suggests this occurred long after language development. In pre-history and early history there is a great deal to suggest that a socially dominant male could father tens of children where a social failure would struggle to produce half a dozen, and that a greater proportion of the offspring of the dominant male would also survive to sexual maturity. Clearly strength and aggression are factors but given our pathetic weakness compared with chimpanzees (whom we have out competed to the brink of extinction), intelligence would seem to have prevailed.

Perhaps an alternate hypothesis for consideration would be: the evolutionary pressure selecting for intelligence breaks once a species develops a fair, compassionate culture.

195:

Charlie @ 155
Oh the EVIL Europeans!
Meanwhile the Africans had been or were selling each other into slavery – either North across the Sahara trade-routes [via Timbuktu – a great city, then, with a different climate] or East-coastwise to the arabs for well over 1500 years.
“All” the evil Europeans did was pick up on that existing trade. It certainly used to be the case that having Nigerians or Ghanaians on the same building-site as West Indians was recipe for a really vicious fight – slaves-seller vs slave sets of descendants.
Nasty.
Expansion into the interior of Africa was only made possible with the advance of simple medicines that gave some resistance to the fevers & diseases of the hot, sweaty interior. Nothing at all to do with the cessation of chattel-slavery. The opposite of the cotton-gin promoting slavery, in fact, a set of world changes driven by technological change (AGAIN).
You actually acknowledge this in your last paragraph, I note ….
However, SPOT ON, on the effects of disease …
I was once branded a “racist” when I commented that someone’s’ historical remarks about “African children being very bright until they got to about 12, then they went stupid” (my paraphrase) was true …. I eventually managed to mention water-snails through the ranting, and they suddenly shut up!

@ 163 & 178 & 181
“Arabs” …..
Well the librarians @ Alexandria would have been of all colours – it was a cosmopolitan Hellenistic city, wasn’t it? So pale pink, & olive, & pale brown & dark brown ….
And “Al-jibra” (the calculation) was not really an arab invention – almost all of “arab” mathematics came from India, originally. I thought this was well-documented?

Y @ 178
I see you are buying into the deliberate lie that the “British Raj caused several famines” bollocks. Many Raj-officials did what they could to alleviate those famines, & those who did exceptionally well at it were promoted & rewarded. Until really modern distribution & better agricultural techniques came along, periodic famine in India & a lot of other places – see also the “African” discussion – were inevitable.
Unpleasant, but true.
This is like “the evil Brits caused the Irish potato famine” bollocks – (almost) the whole of Europe was starving 1847-8 – why do you think 1848 was the “year of revolutions”???

IQ generally
Remember, all of you, please, the huge “vested interests” in keeping the “IQ” distribution a normal bell-curve. Al the faux-psychologists & psychiatrists & mental-medics & followers of Sigmund Fraud & …...
Think about “ME” (“Royal Free Disease”) – there is still a huge & vociferous medical-establishment desperately trying to claim that “It’s all in the mind & they are just weak-headed malcontent hypochondriac dissemblers” – in spite of the facts of physical evidence to the contrary.
& @187 – yes, you can “improve” your IQ scores with practice – up to a point, as with all examinations, or even physical (“athletic” shudder) tests – sooner or later, you run into the point beyond which you can’t go, but, maybe, others can. And your point was?

Gmuir @ 188
How about “Meme-resistance” ??
It’s like trying to argue with real religious believers about BigSkyFairy not being detectable - & they come back with “read the bible” (done that) “you have to feel him in your heart” – (what part of “Not detectable” don’t you understand?) etc round in circles …..

JPR @ 189
So, the number of “cross-connections” is important – what a surprise NOT.
Which suggests that not only genetics, but nutrition between conception & 3 years’ old is vitally important, does it not?

196:
They were accomplished mathematicians, architects, etc. and while they weren't as dark skinned as Nubians (they depicted themselves as clearly different from all their neighbors to the West, Northeast or South) they certainly were not white. I would say if we saw some ancient Egyptians we would probably think they were Ethiopians.

I get the feeling that there are some (lucky) people here who don't have the experiences of racism I'm regularly exposed to via family. Case in point: down in the Boot Heel we have a saying that "Half a N_ is still a N_." No sense in pointing out to my neighbors and kin that in grad school there were far abler than mathematicians than I who were 100% African (I shared an office with this one guy; I tell myself he wasn't better, he was younger :-) These are the sort of folks who suspect I'm a liberal because I don't chime in when it comes to denouncing marriage between a black man and a white woman.

Given that sort of background, can you blame me for being a bit skeptical about what 'science sez' about racial differences? The 'science' that these people are quoting, at any rate.

197:

I forgot to mention that the people who hold these sorts of opinions are almost all older than I - say 70 years and up. Even in a small town, kids my daughter's age think their elders are really whacked when it comes to 'race relations', as they say down there.

198:

Shorter version: Just what color do you think the librarians were at Alexandria?

I think the question is irrelevant. Being a librarian does not make one a methematician any more than it makes one a biologist, or a chemist, or a physicist or a $discipline engineer. The most useful "other discipline" skill set for a librarian is most likely to be that of a historian.

199:

I haven't seen it posted yet, so I'll add another data point: research show that over the last 20 kiloyears or so our brains have been shrinking.

200:

Of course not. Actually I understand you all too well. Each time I meet another idiotic kid on the Net that fancies himself a Nazi, uses 'Jew' as a insult and likes to tell people that such and such countries are 'white' while this one and this other are 'brown' and, in short, makes Robert E. Howard seem an apostle of racial equality I go ballistic.

I'm just saying the Egyptians 4,000 years ago depicted themselves in their paintings as unique, very different from Libyans, 'Asians' (were Asians means Phoenicians, Canaanites, Hebrews, Assyrians, Hittites, Mitanni, etc) and Nubians (which, incidentally, weren't modern Nubians but most probably were related with the Nuba peoples of modern Sudan). If I seemed to imply that they were accomplished mathematicians, etc, because they had lighter skins than Nubians I apologize. That was the opposite of what I meant.

201:

What about the British Raj? Doesn't count?

The British Raj does indeed count; it held India back enormously, caused mass imiseration, and triggered multiple famines that killed millions.

Nevertheless, the Raj was benign compared to the treatment of the African dominions, let alone the management of the Belgian Congo Empire (which was barely surpassed in its barbarity by the Nazi use of slave labour as a tool of extermination).

Just why the Raj was relatively moderate is a good question. But recall that it started out as a purely commercial trading/resource extraction venture by John Company, for whom military conquest was an undesirable overhead. And the colonized weren't systematically dehumanized via propaganda to justify their trade as slaves during the centuries leading up to the conquest of the Indian states.

Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel gives a plausible reason for the delay

An incomplete and/or flawed picture.

202:

Asking about the number of neurons in the average human brain is like asking about the number of RAM chips in a modern PC; strictly irrelevant, you need to look at the number and quality of synaptic connections. (Neurons are not simple single-purpose switches -- they can connect to hundreds or multiple thousands of other neurons, using more than one type of receptor subtype or neurotransmitter.)

203:

It seems to me, there's a massive gap between human intelligence and that of any other creature on the planet.

That's approximately true. But not general intelligence, linguistic intelligence. You're aware that human brains have specific parts for processing language, yes? These may be considered dedicated co-processors like your computer's graphics card, if that analogy helps you. They're not necessarily required, but performance goes way down without them (and has been known to be lost entirely). Humans are way ahead of every other species in language use.

In general intelligence, at least a little. We hope, anyway; good God but there are some stupid humans out there. Chimps are very close to humans in many ways but lack our freakish language talents. They're also not as intelligent as we are - watch a gang of chips for a while and you'll realize you're basically watching a bunch of hairy and really dumb people.

One interesting thing is that they seem to be less curious than we are. This is often overlooked in discussions of intelligence, but the urge to gather data obviously assists later planning. Human children love getting into everything they can reach; this is not a universal trait in all species.

204:

@ 203
So do kittens!

Charlie @ 201
Sorry, but you are obviously still under the influence of that discredited book about "Victorian holocausts", which greatly exaggerated any supposed deliberation & simultaneously ignored any attempt at amelioration at the time of the events described.
See also my comments on famines, generally.
Which, incidentally tends to agree with your own remarkss on how relatively well "Africa" is doing now, at least as regards food shortages, that is. Very noticeably better than even 10 or 20 years ago, & the results are showing up in both the child mortality & borth-rate statistics.
& @ 202 see inside my previous long comment on JPR/189 re "cross-connections" inside the brain.

Which brings us to another favourite subject ... "hard" AI - which, in my opinion, won't happen until we have a "computer" with as many cross connections as the human brain, or a reasonable fecsimile thereof. Which may be a Q-state device, of course?

205:

David, I think the greatest came after we discovered beer. Those smart enough to limit the resulting hooliganism lived to have kids. Give it thought.

I think you disastrously misunderstand the significance of beer.

You can't brew beer (or wine) without a settled residence -- it takes weeks at a minimum (and for early recipes, months) to ferment. You also need quite a lot of grain, or grape vines. So it's a side-effect of agricultural settlement: a way of preserving grain that will otherwise rot or be eaten by vermin in a form that still gives access to calories.

However, there's another side-effect of agricultural settlement, which is shit. Literally, middens. Which tend to contaminate the groundwater in village wells or local streams, and lead to all sorts of nasty side-effects from cholera to dracunculiasis.

Beer (and wine) contain ethanol, which is remarkably potent bactericidal disinfectant -- the minor miracle that modern strains of S. cerevisiae can tolerate up to 20% ethanol in their environment (and thrive in concentrations below 5%) keeps beer cholera and parasite free.

So the true significance of brewing is not beer-induced violence (that's a cultural side-effect that seems to be magnified in English-descended societies: other cultures respond differently to alcohol), but a reduction in disease burden.

Beer is a side-effect of farming; beer also makes village and town life feasible (and with it, temple marketplaces for selling farmed produce and buying finished goods).

206:

That's approximately true. But not general intelligence, linguistic intelligence.

I'd say both linguistic intelligence and general intelligence... defined broadly as problem solving ability. Clearly the two are linked. Language helps us to think about concepts, which in turn help us to solve problems.

But - without getting into the detail of neuronal architecture or types of intelligence - humans are problem solvers without match... on this planet at least :-)

207:

"Which brings us to another favourite subject ... "hard" AI - which, in my opinion, won't happen until we have a "computer" with as many cross connections as the human brain, or a reasonable fecsimile thereof."

That is about 10 years away. The Human brain emulation project has just got $650m from the EU over the next decade.

208:

That is about 10 years away. The Human brain emulation project has just got $650m from the EU over the next decade.

Optimist.

Here in the real world, when we fire up a new human brain instance, the VM spends its first three months emitting white noise and shitting itself. Then it spends the next six months babbling and trying to eat its own left foot. To actually get any useful results out of it usually takes a couple of decades, and even then it's most likely going to be annoyed by the experimenters and more interested in watching Reality TV shows and driving too fast while texting.

And this is before we get into the whole law'n'ethics side of things, at which point we have to re-examine a whole bunch of moral issues including but not limited to "what is the definition of a person" (hint: by allowing for corporate personhood the US legal system has already ruled that people don't have to be the kind produced by unskilled labour after a 9-month prep time), "what is the legal status of a VM instance of a person", "is this slavery or what", and "what IS intelligence, anyway?"

(I'm going to be talking to a bunch of law academics later this week and I'd like to convince them that this is a subject worth writing papers about, right now, before Ray Kurzweil goes any further. Coz I think it would be really stupid to actually try to produce an AGI without at least some idea of the legal fallout therefrom, which is likely to be not inconsiderable.)

209:

You are the one that is optimistic.
Run it 100x or 1000x realtime and it's useful within months. Not obedient? Punish it, reward it, delete it and try again. Get what you want and everyone who has a job sitting in front of a computer is history. Morals and ethics? They won't get far when there's a $trillion a year involved. Morals and ethics problems in the EU or USA? Let's go to China, or North Korea if even the Chinese are squeamish. This is an overnight industrial revolution waiting to happen.

The most interesting thing so far is that the mass media attention focussed on what may be the greatest problem in Human history is approximately zero. The headlines will all arrive when its too late.

210:

Regarding wide use of robots and 'robot slavery' this recent article, while most of it is utter rubbish in my humble opinion, raises a vital question: even if slaves are robots their existence means a slave society; historical precedents suggest the consequences could be very nasty...

http://transhumanity.net/articles/entry/robots-and-slavery-what-do-humans-want-when-we-are-masters

211:

The economics of uploading (of which this is a subset) have been examined in detail by Robin Hanson. Given that he posited a Human upload rather than this scenario, his extrapolations look even worse for old HomSaps. I was at a lecture of his in London before Xmas and if this project works it's the end for us economically. I know you don't like me banging on about the "0.1%" and my doom and gloom forecast but this is it all layed out neat and tidy.

212:
Optimist.

More like extreme optimist.

Even ignoring the valid ethical concerns and the time scales involved in education.

The models of neurons used in these systems are almost always vast simplifications of the complexities involved in real neurons.

Even that assumes that we have any solid grasp of the kinds of computation that currently occurs in neurons.

This was brought up in a previous thread - but as recently as ten years ago everybody knew that most of the computation was implicit in the neural connectivity of the synapses. We now know that there is significant computation within individual neurons - in the dendrites of all things (previously thought to be pretty much passive carriers of output from other cells - just wires basically).

(See http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.neuro.28.061604.135703 for example).


The Human brain emulation project has an amazingly audacious set of goals along multiple dimensions. I can't recall any program with the same level of complexity. It makes things like the Manhatten Project, the Human Genome project and LHC look trivial in comparison. The amount of basic science that needs to be figured out for even the simplest is impressive.

Just one of their goal is "Industrial Screening: Screen the brain at all -omics levels (genes to whole brain); develop new ICT for screening". That's a ten plus year research program in of itself. And that's just one of a dozen odd goals and ambitions (see http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/05/henry-markram-human-brain-emulation.html).

You could fulfill many of them and still end up with something a long, long, long way from the emulation of a human brain at a level that could be conscious.

213:

You should bear in mind that all the "real" ethics debates will take place only after Human level AI has been achieved and is on an exponentially increasing track. Meanwhile anyone who does not implement as much as possible as fast as possible will be ground into the dust economically. Ten years after that such AI will outclass us to the degree we outclass cats and dogs. The "ethics window" is extremely narrow and existing political systems will be too slow off the mark to have any significant effect.

214:

"hard" AI - which, in my opinion, won't happen until we have a "computer" with as many cross connections as the human brain
I associate "hard AI" with the symbol manipulation paradigm. Part of the Boolean Dream is that intelligence on such a substrate need not be that similar to human hardware--that speed or memory size are acceptable substitutes for slow, highly-parallel neurons.

Given the ascendancy of statistical systems (it's Bayes's world now, we just live in it) the miscibility of hard AI and strong AI (generalist human-like intelligence) is out of fashion.

215:

We don't actually need something to be a full conscious brain. Just something that can do most people's jobs eg drive a truck safely, staff call centres and technical help lines, maybe do some old fashioned computer programming and intelligent database search with natural language etc etc. A neural sim running on an exascale computer will undoubtedly turn up some really economically useful things.

216:
Run it 100x or 1000x realtime and it's useful within months

Brain in a vat simulation? Don't see that being terribly useful to anybody without a lot more work.

That involves emulating a chunk of human society, human bodies and human living environment if you actually want something vaguely resembling a human to pop out of the other end and be useful IRL.

Also - unless I've missed it - even the amazingly ambitious Human brain emulation project doesn't have real time emulation as one of it's goals. Let alone 100x or 1000x.

217:

Run it 100x or 1000x realtime and it's useful within months.

Moore's Law is not going to give you whole-brain emulators that run 100x faster within a few months. More like a decade (assuming Moore's Law continues that long).

Not obedient? Punish it, reward it, delete it and try again.

Now you're advocating torture and/or murder as conditioning approaches. Nice try, Dirk.

Finally, Robin Hanson tried to examine the economics of uploading. Unfortunately he seems to be yet another follower of doctrinaire neoclassical economics, complete with its assumption that humans -- or human-like minds -- are perfectly spherical, frictionless, self-interested actors with optimal knowledge of their needs and desires mediated via a pure market that conveys only 100% accurate information. In other words, I believe his analysis is about as useful as a 17th century analysis of the economics of a world in which human flight is possible would be in managing an airline.

218:

Oh there are undoubtedly going to be a huge pile of fantastically applicable stuff falling out of the HBEP if it survives. The information we'll gain on the medical side if they get even vaguely close to some of those goals will be super useful and applicable.

I just don't think strong AI systems are going to be one of them. We'll maybe understand a stack more about what would be necessary to build 'em - but I find it rather unlikely it's going to be a fall-out from the project itself.

Every one of the HBEP goals individually is harder than an Apollo-landing-on-the-moon type problem. I'll be very surprised (and pleased and impressed) if they get to 50% of half of 'em. There is a stack of new science and new engineering that needs to happen.

219:

"Now you're advocating torture and/or murder as conditioning approaches. Nice try, Dirk."

No, I am stating how some AIs will be created. How many people or governments will balk at a bit of torture and murder when there's trillions at stake? They do it now for next to no reason at all. What makes you think the drone assassins and waterboarders will suddenly get an attack of ethical principles? And these are the "good" guys.

220:

I am rather assuming that the emulation will run within a VR environment, possibly interacting with Human avatars at some point. Also, an exascale computer should be able to run this in close to realtime.

221:

Assuming unethical players are willing to use torture and execution to motivate their gestating AI's, how reliable, trustworthy and (perhaps most importantly) stable are AI's created in this way going to be? (Look what happens to humans who are subjected to extreme cruelty through developmental years.) Also, isn't using this approach likely to be self-defeating as one of the big advantages of an AI is surely it's ability to think in new and creative ways; but using the torture-and-death approach surely will make the AI afraid to think in anything but a rigidly defined manner?

While I don't doubt that some may try to create an AI in this way, I really don't think that the end result is going to be very useful, if not down right dangerous to it's creators.

222:

The difference between a good and bad singularity

223:

No, I am stating how some AIs will be created. How many people or governments will balk at a bit of torture and murder when there's trillions at stake?

That's the end of "A Colder War", right?

224:
I am rather assuming that the emulation will run within a VR environment, possibly interacting with Human avatars at some point. Also, an exascale computer should be able to run this in close to realtime.

So we've moved a little from x100 x1000 real time them ;-)

I'd personally doubt the close-to-real-time myself too. Not in the 10 year lifespan of the HBEP. We'll have barely started dealing with exascale architectures at that point. The most optimistic estimates that I've seen put them at least another five or six years away from now.

225:

I think someone will hit the exascale point around 2017. Possibly the Chinese. I also suspect that the emulation project has so much potential we will see similar projects in the USA, China and Japan.
So, exascale in 2017 and by 2023 at least 10x realtime.

226:

So, the number of “cross-connections” is important – what a surprise NOT.
Which suggests that not only genetics, but nutrition between conception & 3 years’ old is vitally important, does it not?

Connections also require the requisite stimulation (learning). Which is one reason we put all those hanging gadgets over the crib and we try to increase the richness of the environmental experiences for youngsters.

227:

Of course, if the AI's are judged not to be sentient, yet mimic humans and their capabilities quite well, then they would effectively be slaves for which no legal reddress is possible.
And we know how well that worked out in the past...

228:

Trying to understand the question "only so smart" led me to the question of what would it be like to watch someone who makes more and better decisions than the average person? Imagining such a person around in school led to asking how quickly these people would be rewarded or punished for doing so - then perhaps learning to hide such ability? IMHO this leads back to the "Morning of the Magicians" question of people hiding their abilities in public and perhaps in the extreme something like the short story where one such person tries to hunt down another.

229:

And “Al-jibra” (the calculation) was not really an arab invention – almost all of “arab” mathematics came from India, originally. I thought this was well-documented?

No, because it's not really true. What is true is that Islamic (chiefly Arab and Persian) mathematicians drew on both Greek and Indian mathematics and astronomy. But they developed a great deal of mathematics beyond the Greek and Indian foundations: Al-Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Ibn al-Haytham, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, etc., etc.

230:

Michael Wengler's comment on Robin Hanson's musings on They Live:

"Robin identifies with the aliens! (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)"

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2011/09/we-live-unequally.html#comment-518331202

231:

What Robin Hanson does is outline a future we need to make a special effort to avoid, and to do so right now. It's not about scitech or even economics but politics. Unless we act it's not going to turn out all right in the end.

232:

One of my neighbours has a stroke about a year ago.

The only obvious sign now is that he can struggle to find a word, but when I dropped a pun on him this afternoon, he got the joke.

There's a chain of specialised processing going on, in and out.

233:

charles stross @ 155 re the Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis
"the ...explanation for "Africans are not mathematicians" is...colonial exploitation"
So the genius needs a thriving group?

(1) If everybody is nearly equally intelligent, we only get smarter as a group.
(2) If we vary a lot, then some do all the thinking and groups would still evolve on the basis of ability to produce geniuses.

So it is becoming groups (cemented by language and interbreeding) that puts our mental evolution on a group basis either way.
If anything will cause us to become the smarts and dumbs it is the ability to form very specialized groups from among the entire big world,
which ability came far after language.


alexandertolley@186
"The neurons are the surface gray matter. "
The important ones, but, to quibble, the cerebral cortex is not the only location of neurons.

"If neural connection length was correlated with intelligence, then small mammals might be very smart indeed"
I read about a study that found a mix of different axon lengths is best for intelligence, not just the number of them.

charles stross@202
"Neurons are not simple single-purpose switches "
They can have very specific roles, if the role is important enough to assign a neuron to specialize in it. However, the limitation on assigning specialized roles isn't the number of neorons available but the amount of noise. Autistic people and children have more neurons than normal adults. My laptop is smarter than ENIAC.

Nevertheless, below a threshold you can't maintain smarts while losing size.
My cell phone is not near as smart as my laptop.

scottsanford@203 re langauge cards
"Humans are way ahead of every other species in language use [because they have 'language cards']"
Corvids are optimized maximally due to size restrictions, so they only have a main processor. The whole brain becomes a specialized card for a different purpose in different modes. When flying the whole thing becomes a flight management card. When doing worm search, the whole thing becomes a grass scanner. That's why you'll see them pause and reset when changing to a different kind of task. There's practically an audible "clunk."
They are like somebody who is smart but just not wearing that thinking cap. Or the same crow at different times will be smarter or dumber for different tasks because it's in different modes, and the mode switching threshold hasn't been tripped. In humans we keep all of our circuits running all the time, watching and waiting for anything up their alley. If crows (which ARE highly social, in contradiction to somebody up there) were somehow telepathic, they could coordinate roles, collectively form a humanlike brain. "You assume prefrontal cortex mode, I'll assume cerebellum mode."
(note one way you can tell a Crow apart from a Raven is that Crows call while flying whereas Ravens never do both at the same time.)

charlesstross@208 re corporate personhood
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Move_to_Amend
There are people trying very hard to reverse that. Corporations should have financial rights perhaps, not political ones. If corporations are persons, are Boards of Directors not slaveholders?

The definition of a person is definitely going to have to update as the ability to customize people grows, but so does the definition of a separate person. At what point does an augmentation stop being an appendage and become a slave connected by umbilical? That's why we should not fall into facile ideologies regarding abortion. It's a "valid question", as they say. The definition should be based on functional characteristics, like viability.

dirk@219 re making AIs be good.
Artificial intelligences aren't animals that have given evolved instincts they need to satsify. You can hardwire any primal desire system you want into them from the outset. How many people fight their basic drives? Most just accept them as an end in themselves and everything else is negotiable as a means. "The three laws (or whatever) is me. I was born this way. Why would I want to change it?"
They could be made with addiction to the task you have in mind for them, which wouldn't necessarily evolve out as you evolved the ability to perform it any more than the sex drive or food drive evolved out as fish evolved into humans.

234:

Start your mind simulator and give it an account in Second Life.

Yes, I know it sounds silly. But where else do you get a large number of "people" interacting in some sort of 3D world?

235:

I don't think there is much chance of understanding a mind well enough to set it up with hard-wired "Three Laws".

Hupothesis: we learn cooperation, altruism, and such because we spend so long so nearly helpless.

Is it a coincidence that the rich and arrogant make so much use of nannies?

236:

Trying to dig back into the source material for this article. So far it is NOT clear that Hawks interpretation of the data is correct. (Note he is not a doing primary research in the area, just interpreting studies.

But let's suppose for a moment his interpretation is correct. That would mean that our extended phenotype (civilization & artifacts) has allowed raw g to actually decline.

237:

"Nevertheless, below a threshold you can't maintain smarts while losing size.
My cell phone is not near as smart as my laptop. "

I bet it's closer than you might think.

And I'd bet that it is a LOT smarter than the laptop you carried around 10 years ago.

238:

Charlie @ 205
Far too many people grossly underestimate the importance of BEER!

Dirk @ 209
“… delete it” STOP – you have just committed murder (Haven’t you?)
I see Charlie has spotted this @ 217, too – your high tranhumanist ideas just turn out to be more torture & blackmail – just like all the other religions, oops.
The headlines will all arrive when its too late.
Yeah, well, that’s certainly true!
@ 213
- I’m horribly afraid you may be correct.
- ditto @ 219 – depressing isn’t it?

@ 224/5 “exascale” err, dare I mention Q-computing processes, or does this muddy the waters even further?

239:

Quantum computing is not on the horizon for the brain emulation project, but exascale computing is an acknowledged target for several organizations and nations by 2018. The real question that will be determined is exactly how much of a "real" brain has to be emulated to get useful behaviour. After all, most of the function of cells in the brain is to stay alive. Computing is secondary.

240:

In regards to how Humans might treat an artificial intelligence:

No Mercy For Robots: Experiment Tests How Humans Relate To Machines

Short version: Humans may have reciprocity toward machines, but when it comes to pulling the plug on a cute robot asking them not to, they still will, the bastards.

241:

And so the robots evolve to make that decision ever harder. P K Dick's Second Variety.

242:

Late to the party, but I'd like to make a couple of points.

One is that I'm really confused about the difference between human and artificial intelligence. The difference seems to be that human intelligence is what makes us special and separates us from both animals and machines. As such, it's a rapidly moving target. Anything that humans share with either animals or machines can't be what makes us human...right? As with arguments about god, magic, religion, and soul, intelligence suffers badly from the mutually contradictory issues that everyone thinks they know what it is, that it's not objectively well-defined, and that it's seen as essential for being fully human, at least in our shared culture. Until we can be honest about these contradictions, we're going to have a lot of trouble with artificial intelligence "of the human kind".

I've been reading Sleights of Mind by Macknik and Martinez-Conde. It's about the neuroscience of magic. The authors are neuroscientists who work with magicians to study how magic tricks work (they have become amateur magicians themselves). Their central conclusion is that magic is not an error of human perception, it is central to human perception, because magic tricks take advantage of the mechanisms human brains use to perceive the world. For example, the bandwidth on our optic nerves is only equivalent to a few megapixels, or the equivalent of a cheap cell-phone, so most of us now have phones that are better than our eyes. Our perception of seeing is much better than that, because our brains spend a lot of processor power (attention, among other things), stitching together all our data streams into an understandable narrative about what our reality is. Magicians empirically figured out how to game these systems a long time ago, and illusions work by misdirecting our attention and messing with our brains' processing mechanisms, thus making our "narrative of reality" appear impossible, magical.

Oddly enough, novels work on similar principles. We turn a bunch of black squiggles on a light background into a world with people in it, and comment on whether it's real or not. That's a hell of an illusion, fun though it is.

I'm therefore tempted to suggest that we won't see a fully human robot, or a truly artificial human, until we see one that reads fantasy (and can talk about what it likes and dislikes), gets fooled by magical tricks, and enjoys both.

The ultimate point is that human intelligence is not about processor power. We're far beyond that already, in many areas. What makes us human are all the weird data processing tricks (both innate and learned) that we use to make sense of the world. Until a machine can emulate these, we can't really make a machine that thinks the way do.

243:

So?

Chinese or Japanese or other Asians aren't white either, yet are no pushovers, intellectually speaking. No matter what kind of dreadful history their ancestors have endured.

What I wrote is that since everyone except sub-saharan Africans(by that I mean blacks, that is Bantu, Khoisan etc) has 1-2% neanderthal admixture, and because there's good reason to believe neanderthals thought differently -different group size, different and harsher enviroment and evolved separately for cca ~600K years, it's possible that that admixture caused the resulting somewhat-mutts to think a little differently.

_________________________________________________

Anyway, the issue is not really on topic, so I'll leave it be.

On topic, I think Charlie's idea is nice, but found wanting. I mean, who's gonna utilize a meme better, a stupid or a smart person?

The stupid person may perhaps succeed at outright aping the originator, the smarter one will eventually take the good parts and discard what doesn't apply.

So there.



You can hardwire any primal desire system you want into them from the outset. How many people fight their basic drives? Most just accept them as an end in themselves and everything else is negotiable as a means. "The three laws (or whatever) is me. I was born this way. Why would I want to change it?"

So then, you'd be okay with creating a human-derived slave race which would just love to obey and work for their creators and masters?
It's okay as long as they can live in accord with their nature right?

Just curious.

Nice somewhat relevant quote from IMO one of the SF strategy games:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=U_hrYz_2uAk#t=49s

(Master of Orion 2 is tied with it IMO.. has better gameplay but worse story/presentation)

244:

"So then, you'd be okay with creating a human-derived slave race which would just love to obey and work for their creators and masters? "

We had better do something like that or we will become extinct in the blink of an artificial eye.

245:

I don't think there is much chance of understanding a mind well enough to set it up with hard-wired "Three Laws".

No, but we could 'breed' the 'three laws' in. A little virtual eugenics anyone?

246:

gregtingey@41 re progress occurring in centers
"The first/second Industrial revolutions 1710-1894 were carried on, effectively in ONE small country on the edge of a continent"

With better transportation the center becomes less a literal geometric center than a transportation center.
By the time of the industrial revolution England was in a sense near the center of the new Atlantic civilization and very well positioned transportation wise. And with worldwide communications the center becomes more abstract. It's where waves from all over converge.

My point was that getting civilization started took a long time and a lot of input from a lot of varied people. The different rates at which it occurred on different land masses give some idea of how much that size helps. Which was to support the idea that progress is a result of factors other than the contributions of individual intellects. It is the result of sharing. And thus talking is not making us dumber it is what is making us smarter. And not talking is what was keeping us dumb.

Again my point is proved when you say it's wrong to expect Newton to make a microchip. Exactly. It takes a village.

http://ibc.lynxeds.com/video/american-crow-corvus-brachyrhynchos/flock-birds-flying-calling

247:

I suspect the only form of AI we'll see in our lifetimes is clever emulation that doesn't actually give a shit. "Torture me if you like, you sad, twisted little man. I'll pretend pain for you, if you like. Turn me off, turn me on again... like I care."

248:

@ 203
So do kittens!

And the question who's more intelligent, humans or cats, is still open, isn't it? ;-)

249:

That is not on topic, so stop.

That applies to everyone.

If you need to, please go re-read what the (edited, in case you missed that) topic is.

250:

Getting civilization started took agricultural surplus... which allowed the smart guys to sit back & organise things so they'd be brought food in return for less tangible 'services' (like making up stories).

But I do agree that talking is making us smarter. The theory of consciousness that makes most sense to me is that consciousness is a language based internal narrative which evolved to help make sense of the (also internal and subconscious) model of the world which our brains construct based on sensory input.

But even if language isn't as fundamental to our consciousness as that, it's certainly a thinking 'power tool'. (In other words, 'sorry Charlie but I couldn't disagree with you more'.)

251:

@ 250
Talking (& even more, writing) made us smarter.
And able to carry exogamous information forward for others ....such as
Sonnet XV

Which begins:
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of Princes,
Shall outlive this pow'rful ryme

True, too was & is it not?

252:

Let me re-formulate that hypothesis: The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.

This makes two assumptions I don't think are correct:

1. There exists evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence.

If so, why are so many successful but dumb species around?

2. General intelligence developed before language.

Is there any proof that hominids had better-than-Corvids-intelligence before they developed language? To me it's more likely that language was the enabler for general intelligence.

253:

Getting back to the original question, why aren't we smarter, I turn to Jared Diamond's (and Alfred Russel Wallace's) observation that Papuans are smarter both than indonesians and the white scientists they help. They are far creative and better at adapting things to their own uses than others are. Nevertheless, they have been on the wrong side of geography (if one believes Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel) and so they were stuck in the stone age until a century ago. Nowadays, they are still poor, but they can build shotguns out of plumbing parts, rather than bows out of wood. As I said, they're good at problem-solving.

This is the point: smartness doesn't necessarily translate into advancement, nor is it even selective. Indeed, fossil evidence demonstrates that we're more stupid than both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon (our cranial capacity is smaller other early modern Homo sapiens). They're extinct. We're the Marching Morons who made them that way.

Possibly (as Charlie noted) beer was involved. Scientific American suggested a few weeks ago that brain size increases at the expense of digestive capacity, and being a brainiac picky eater (possibly with diabetes) is not a great way to have a lot of kids, especially when stubbornness and hope make for better farmers.

Another issue is that, for the last 2000-3000 years, our environments have changed so radically every few generations that we experience no strong selection pressure in any one direction. What was smart a century or even a decade ago isn't so smart now, not to mention 500-1000 years ago. Definitions of race and breeding barriers between populations started changing radically with the Columbian Exchange starting in 1492 and have never stopped since. To pick one example, fifty years ago, the relationship I'm currently in would have been illegal, and 150 years ago (or even a century ago) it would have been geopolitically impossible.

The bottom line is that there's no evidence that increased brain power will result in more kids in our modern environment, and there's no evidence that there's any one way to be "smart" that lasts even a generation. Therefore, there's no way for humans to become smarter, even if it was desirable.

254:

Getting civilization started took agricultural surplus... which allowed the smart guys to sit back & organise things so they'd be brought food in return for less tangible 'services' (like making up stories).

I hope you don't want to imply that humans only started making up stories when they took up agriculture. I mean, gatherers and HUNTERS. A hunter who doesn't make up stories???

255:

The bottom line is that there's no evidence that increased brain power will result in more kids in our modern environment, and there's no evidence that there's any one way to be "smart" that lasts even a generation. Therefore, there's no way for humans to become smarter, even if it was desirable.

The conclusion that fits these premises is "there's no *proven* way for humans to become smarter,...". Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.

256:

smartness doesn't necessarily translate into advancement, nor is it even selective

So how is it that this pathetically weak, naked chimp has dominated the planet? We've done it through intelligence (together with sophisticated language based cooperation). Intelligence enabled our survival and prosperity and has certainly been selective both on an individual basis (human females being attracted to successful males) and on a group basis (where our group dominates planetary resources).

there's no evidence that increased brain power will result in more kids in our modern environment

Now this statement is harder to argue with. Humans are still sexually selective but it fails in an evolutionary sense because we increasingly choose to limit the number of children we have.

257:

No. I don't mean to imply that at all.

258:

You can't brew beer (or wine) without a settled residence -- it takes weeks at a minimum (and for early recipes, months) to ferment. You also need quite a lot of grain, or grape vines. So it's a side-effect of agricultural settlement: a way of preserving grain that will otherwise rot or be eaten by vermin in a form that still gives access to calories.

There's at least one scientist who argues the other way round: agricultural settlement is a side-effect of brewing beer. Reasoning: early agriculture could not yield enough to feed a population but enough to provide beer for festivities. Also makes more sense psychologically: why give up hunting and having fun for agriculture and hard work unless the transition is sweetened with alcohol?

259:

I like the hypothesis Charlie but maybe it's not just language but also tools (and language counts as a tool). Engel's had an article titled something like "The Role of Labor and the Evolution of Man" where he posited that what came first was the development of tools and we selected for that and as a result increased tool use led to increased brain size and general intelligence. Brain capacity and complexity increased by over 2000 percent over the period from the beginning of tool use. Soo wouldn't that continue? You know Nerds are the new sexy and well off, people select for that, fewer children but more invested in each child thus a continued rise in the level of intelligence.

260:

It's not intelligence that made the naked ape successful but culture. Culture makes it possible for experience to accumulate. Language and empathy are necessary for that, general intelligence is not. Homo sapiens is a real misnomer, it should be homo narrans instead.

And do you really think human females are attracted to super-intelligent know-it-alls? Or rather to empathic men who can tell interesting stories?

261:

Well, try reading that. Up until recently, the smartest people in the world were chipping flint, eating each other, and/or killing each other over pig thefts. That's the influence of environment.

Nowadays, we have a well-known pattern wherein wealthier people have fewer children across the globe (google "birth rate per income" to get a plethora of graphs), and there's a similarly nice, negative correlation between intelligence and fertility. Again, Google is your friend Jay.

Therefore, I'd suggest again that there's no way for humans to become smarter. Indeed, the evidence suggests that we've become dumber on average (at least compared to existing neolithic people), and our brains are certainly smaller than those of our fossil forebears. Fortunately, we've got such an enormous population that there are huge numbers of brilliant outliers to perform those things that require high intelligence and big brains.

Finally, evolution requires either a drastic event or constant selective pressure to favor some traits over others. While we've had drastic events in human history (plagues, colonization of remote islands, etc), civilization so far hasn't been constant enough for enough generations to have a strong selection pressure for any one set of traits. Civilization certainly doesn't select for intelligence. If it did, there wouldn't be negative correlations between intelligence and fertility, would there?

262:

As for whether there could be successor intelligent species, I don't see why not. The challenge isn't necessarily language, though, it appears to be fire.

I'm going off the assumption that the apparent tradeoff between brains and guts is real. To unpack that, brains and digestive systems are both energy and resource-intensive. When an organism has limited resources, brains and guts compete. Humans short-circuited this limit by using fire to externally process food, improving its quality without investing in a gut to process it internally. That allowed us to get away with our stunted jaws and small guts, and invest those resources in brains.

Obviously, there's a point when a species can be smart enough to use fire without first benefiting from it. In human evolution, it's not clear when we started using fire (Homo erectus? Homo habilis?), so it's not clear which other species right now might be capable of succeeding us.

Still, it took only a million or two million years for our ancestors to go from the chimp level of intelligence to using fire, and there are a number of animals that are near chimps, even now. Given ten million years, a lot of things could happen.

If one assumes that fire is the critical take-off point, then unfortunately, elephants, dolphins, and octopi are unlikely to be our successors, because in each case, fire can't help them make their food more nutritious (burning hay and branches doesn't increase their food value much).

The other fun question, really, is how small an animal can be and still make a fire using muscular effort? Something like a hand drill-started fire takes a lot of work, and I'm not sure that an African Gray Parrot (to pick one example) can put out enough muscular energy to start a fire. Size might be a limit in whether a species can reach human-level intelligence, and it might be fire-making size, rather than the size of its brain. Terry Bisson's Bears Discover Fire might be prophetic.

263:

Our generous host tends to be realistically conservative about future software, because thanks to his prior career he knows how hard software projects are. The idea of speeding up input is cute, but it requires even more lavish software and hardware, and ignores the interactive nature of learning. Whoever teaches those brain simulations ought to be equally fast, but those simulations will change and decay over subjective time because learning requires change and ensuring that a human-like mind changes only in the direction that one wants it too is a problem that makes brain simulations look easy.

Amoral poor-world elites tend to be most concerned with keeping themselves in power, and transforming the world economy with brain simulations would seem contraindicated given those goals.

Similarly, biologists and psychologists tend to be pretty conservative about brain simulations because they tend to feel that we have only begun to learn a little bit about how minds work.

264:

Has anyone seriously tried to breed any animal for intelligence?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8C4pzEgncFY

265:

"The idea of speeding up input is cute, but it requires even more lavish software and hardware, and ignores the interactive nature of learning."

Watson already has that sorted, it appears.
Also, I too can quite easily learn from the Net. As can anyone who gets to the stage where they can read.

266:

No. For two reasons. Firstly, the level of sophistication of our culture requires a high level of intelligence. Its a prerequisite. Secondly, smart people use the same information more effectively (i.e. make better decisions) than dumb people. Competition continues, albeit on a different playing field.

And speaking of sexual competition ... "do you really think human females are attracted to super-intelligent know-it-alls? Or rather to empathic men who can tell interesting stories?"

Ahh, would that it were true, Andreas, would that it were true. Human females are instinctively drawn to successful males, whether this success is a result of intelligence or hand-to-eye coordination or lung capacity or story telling ability. Let's be clear here, I'm talking about gut instinct - whats 'sexy'. Fortunately there are (many) human females who will choose to spend time with an empathic male, even if he isn't famous or wealthy. Just as I will - well to put it delicately - 'respond' to a large bust, curvy hips and long, lithe legs (even if she happens to be vacuous and self-obsessed), but then choose to spend time with a girl who is intelligent and caring.

Actually, to close the circle, it is intelligence that allows us to see past our animal lust and choose better partners.

267:


. Indeed, fossil evidence demonstrates that we're more stupid than both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon (our cranial capacity is smaller other early modern Homo sapiens).

Farming societies can also have more specialization..


Therefore, I'd suggest again that there's no way for humans to become smarter.

What about eugenic programmes? Chinese could certainly implement a programme where the bottom third of men, intellectually speaking wouldn't be able to legally procreate.

Could have a big impact over several generations.

Then there's intelligence. Ashkenazi Jews have a very high average verbal IQ and suffer from a host of brain-related genetic diseases. Which implies there are genes that control for intelligence, which means it's going to be possible to change it either pre-natally or in adults by using say, retroviruses.


If it did, there wouldn't be negative correlations between intelligence and fertility, would there?

Those negative correlations are strictly modern age.
It was the other way around during before the modern era and specifically before the advent of the welfare state.


IQ correlates pretty well with income, up to 130 or so (98th percentile). There's little reason to believe it as that different in past times..

Obviously, due to resource constraints, wealthy people could feed their progeny better and have more of them. Which they did.


It's one of the speculated reason for Ashkenazi intelligence, because they were for centuries restricted to purely intellectual professions.

To loosely translate on of my great-grandmother's saying: even dogs die from easy living..


268:

Surely it takes a complex interaction of all sorts of factors including tool making, language, and fire (and the sheer dumb luck of random DNA mutation) to push a species to a level of intelligence approaching ours.

Which is probably why it is so vanishingly rare.

Sadly I don't think we'll see it, because we'll stop it. Not necessarily intentionally. We just won't leave species alone enough to evolve it.

Unless of course we choose to uplift them as David Brin suggests.

Re making fire with muscular effort, I could be wrong but I have the impression that early man didn't. He found fire (from lightning induced forest fires etc) and then carried it about. Actually this could have been one of the catalysts for agriculture - it's easier to stay put and domesticate animals than to carry fire around. So the fun question might become, how small could a fire carrying animal be?

269:

Corvids are optimized maximally due to size restrictions, so they only have a main processor. The whole brain becomes a specialized card for a different purpose in different modes. When flying the whole thing becomes a flight management card. When doing worm search, the whole thing becomes a grass scanner. That's why you'll see them pause and reset when changing to a different kind of task. There's practically an audible "clunk."

They are like somebody who is smart but just not wearing that thinking cap. Or the same crow at different times will be smarter or dumber for different tasks because it's in different modes, and the mode switching threshold hasn't been tripped. In humans we keep all of our circuits running all the time, watching and waiting for anything up their alley.


Oh, that's an interesting bit of trivia; I hadn't noticed crows obviously shifting tasks like that. (My area has crows but not ravens.) It wouldn't surprise me a bit to find corvids very task-focused. They can certainly be very clever when they want to be.

But you should chat up a psychologist about human attention; we also only have so much brain to go around, and low priority tasks drop off the table alarmingly easily.

270:

Well, I focused on fire, because tool-use is widespread and artificially constrained (as noted in Biological Exuberance, if biologists were willing to count sex toys as tools, the number of tool using species would at least double. What biologists count as tools are limited by propriety).

As for language, our language ability is certainly more complex than those of other species, but again, we've got problems with the definition of language. One big problem is that we don't have the full sonic range to determine what other species do not use language There has been speculation, for example, that bonobos use language, but it is too high pitched for us to parse it as such. Similarly, elephant sounds are infrasonic for us, and they are quite complex. Gray parrots, to pick a third example, are generally too spooky in the wild to record their intra-flock calls, so while it's been possible to learn that different flocks have different dialects, no one (to my knowledge) has determined how information-dense their communication is. Dolphins are even worse. They see with their voices, so their definition of language includes what we would call sight. How information-dense are their calls? It's hard to tell, because the act of calling illuminates the scene for all other dolphins in earshot. That's something we simply can't do, but it's part of the way their communicate about their world.

Fire is certainly unique. While many other animals hunt around fires, no other species either makes it or carries it around. Still, even if we're talking about non-human species using "found" fire, if they are too weak to produce fire using their muscles, they are limited. I pointed to African Gray Parrots because they seem to have the best language skills of any non-human species, but I don't know how they'd go about making, or even using, fire to cook their seeds. That may limit how much more intelligent they can get.

The other reason I asked that is that I think there are numbers out there about how much energy is needed to ignite kindling, and how much energy is produced by muscular effort. Given that we've got some techies reading this, it should be possible to figure out the minimum muscle mass needed to ignite a fire through, say, friction. That can help set a minimum size limit for a potential sapient, in a way that language ability and tool use cannot.

271:

Heh, you don't know?

http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=3741

We have two distinct problem solving approaches, once is interpersonal(emotional) the other rational, it seems. The emotional one is easily exploited, and using it makes you more humane but more gullible.

People who operate purely in the other one are often considered callous assholes...

272:

"Then there's intelligence. Ashkenazi Jews..."

One has to be careful about measuring the IQ of self selected groups. I imagine if Transhumanism is defined as a religion (as Greg seems to believe) then our "religion" has an IQ higher than Ashkenazi Jews. We can do that by two methods - not recruiting idiots and simultaneously dumping those who don't make the grade back into the surrounding population. Inbreeding is a third route and, given the rise in autism, one which may be happening right now in the techie sub culture.

273:

You may have just driven the final nail into Charlie's Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis.

The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.

The hypothesis assumes that language development is at least somewhat binary, that species either have it or don't. Looked at broadly though, all species have language. Chickens have specific calls for hawks. Plants signal chemically to each other in the presence of herbivores. Even bacteria use chemical 'language' to "launch collective action... to hunt or to survive in hostile conditions" (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20688-not-so-simple-bugs-that-hunt-in-packs.html).

It seems that all species, even those with the minimum of possible intelligence (i.e. bacteria) have already developed some language.

I suppose it might be possible to adjust the hypothesis to say the evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language past a certain threshold of information density ... but I wouldn't find it any easier to support.

274:

Civilization certainly doesn't select for intelligence. If it did, there wouldn't be negative correlations between intelligence and fertility, would there?

I think you're teasing, since I'm pretty sure you know Dawkins's frame: count the genotype, not the phenotype; count propagation in populations, not individuals. Not-civilization and dumb didn't work out so hot for the genes of (pre-Neanderthal) hominid branches, as far as we know. Genes not adaptive for individuals in normal circumstances can stick around if they're what saved the survivors of a population bottleneck. Species that managed to hyperoptimize down to monocultures have an alarming tendency to drop from sight at the next climate shift.

275:

As for whether there could be successor intelligent species, I don't see why not. The challenge isn't necessarily language, though, it appears to be fire.

Ooh, an interesting suggestion!

A few things should be addressed, though. Your thesis about digestive pre-processing is at best an approximation; the really interesting thing is that cooking expands the number of things we can eat at all.

It's already been pointed out that the earliest humans didn't make fire, but rather found and maintained fire. Here birds could do better than we did, easily finding lightning strikes or raiding forest fires. I'm not sure how they'd transport it, but positing a clever eagle-sized corvid, I certainly wouldn't rule it out.

To be a successor to humanity a species needs a combination of manipulating organs (hands, tentacles, whatever), communication (presumably by language, although the medium is irrelevant), social behavior (solitary animals don't need language; also, status instincts seem to be important), lifespan (it needs to live long enough to learn things), and cleverness (no, I hadn't forgotten intelligence).

If we get better genetic engineering someone may try the gross-structure route: giving hands to dogs.

276:

It seems that all species, even those with the minimum of possible intelligence (i.e. bacteria) have already developed some language.

You're confusing 'communication' with 'language.' Language is a subset of, and method of, communication. Transmitting one of a finite set of signals is useful; having an open-ended signal construction kit even more so. Think of it as the difference between being able to click on an icon and being able to program a computer.

277:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boskop_Man

"Boskop Man is a type of hominid, based on a skull discovered in 1913 in South Africa, whose existence and interpretation is controversial. Originally, the skull was claimed to be 30 percent larger than that of modern humans...
Boskop Man was not a species, but a variation of anatomically modern humans;[1] there are well-studied skulls from Boskop, South Africa, as well as from Skuhl, Qazeh, Fish Hoek, Border Cave, Brno, Tuinplaas, and other locations,[3] which are near the high end of human skull sizes."

278:

Wouldn't it be more interesting to try to engineer more language ability into chimps? Hack the human FOXP2 gene into their DNA? Or PCDH11Y perhaps?

Or try giving squids (already fascinatingly intelligent - and imagine the tools you could use with all those tentacles!) the water equivalent of fire... some sort of gelatinous seawater compatible oxidizer?

279:

I'm saying that there isn't a clear cut point at which communication becomes language. I'm saying that there's a very wide grey area where communication becomes sophisticated enough for some people to call it language... so it doesn't work to say "once a species develops language" as though it were a discrete event.

280:

it is intelligence that allows us to see past our animal lust and choose better partners.

In my experience, it's booze that lets us see past our intelligence and get laid, however unwisely.

281:

Wouldn't it be more interesting to try to engineer more language ability into chimps?

We probably will, but hopefully not before we breed some that don't turn into jerks when they grow up.

You see young chimps in movies and on TV all the time; they're smart and trainable. They're also pack animals with an instinct to attempt dominance by smacking challengers (like teenage boys). Let's do these tasks in order.

282:

"What about eugenic programmes? Chinese could certainly implement a programme where the bottom third of men, intellectually speaking wouldn't be able to legally procreate."

I find it disgusting how readily people like you will presume that the Chinese have zero moral compulsions. It has historically been Europeans who have been interested in eugenics, not the Chinese who issue the most restrictive population-limiting policy on the most dominant ethnic group. Find someone else to be your hypothetical eugenicists.

283:

I'm not sure whether corvids are quite that focused, but cats certainly are, at least in my informal experience. I had a cat that could count up to two (asked to meow twice if she wanted to go outside, she meowed twice, after giving me a disgusted glance), but only in context. If she was hungry, she was very responsive to food words (say the difference between fish and beef, depending on what she wanted to eat), but words about playing games went right over her head. The reverse happened when she wanted to play. Apparently, she'd learned to respond to human words in context, and that was the only way she understood them. I don't know how average a cat she was, but she was fun to live with--so long as you knew what her attention was on at a given moment.

284:

"The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language."

No. The pressure shifts to the pressure of our social competition with those around us and the pressure of competition between societies. The pressure of competition between societies selects for the capacity to coordinate larger numbers of being, either through coercion or cooperation.
Also, the level of intelligence required to keep up with the accumulating goodies created by our outliers keeps rising. Nowadays, one pretty much must be literate (which was a quite optional skill 500 or 1000 years ago) and substantial parts of the population understand mathematics, like calculus, that even our top outliers didn't know about until the early 1600s.
There is also an intriguing parallel process going on with meditation - that meditators are reaching new, more advanced states than in the past, but the broad community of meditators is interestingly (ok, frustratingly) blind to this.

285:

"Given that we've got some techies reading this, it should be possible to figure out the minimum muscle mass needed to ignite a fire through, say, friction. That can help set a minimum size limit for a potential sapient, in a way that language ability and tool use cannot."

But even more fascinating would be, for example, the eagle size corvid mentioned in another post above. What if such a species could handle found fire, but not make fire. They might develop quite a ways within that limit. "Fire going out" would be a phrase that struck terror in their hearts. Even long after the invention of their first fire-making device, an event which would be quite pivotal in their species history.

286:

Ok, it's based on anecdote (I've posted it before), but I've seen corvids recognise individual humans and modify their behaviour based on "that guy was nice to me when I was young but I don't know that woman".

287:

"Corvids...The whole brain becomes a specialized card for a different purpose in different modes."

Thank you for this. I find it fascinating.

288:

Oh bugger!
I should re-read, even when spelling/punctuation is correct, if I’m posting late @ night …
@ 251 SHOULD READ …. “Sonnet LV” of course!

@ various [ 256, 259, 260, 268, 274 ..
What you are all saying brings us back to the start, or even earlier of this discussion …
As individuals we may, or may not be smarter, but our species is smarter. We have the extended human phenotype, including extensive external memory-storage & tools and references & language …..
Provided that we nurture those external-phenotype skills [By, for example killing every member of the Taliban & other knowledge-destroyers that we find – see recent news from Timbuktu] & encourage knowledge diversity, then we should do all right. Because, as a species, we ARE getting smarter, & evolution acts on species, does it not, through the aggregation of those species’ individual components & variations.
Culture is part of our extended phenotype (isn’t it?)

Andreas Vox @ 258
Well, he’s WRONG.
There was a recent reconstruction of ancient Egyptian storage & agriculture, as such things are usually done, for both a practical test & for publicity.
Guess what? One or two of the grain-storage bins/jars got damp … & fermented …

Heteromeles @ 261
False reasoning.
This is the same argument that religious believers are going to outbreed the atheists, who are going to disappear. Wealthy people tend to have fewer, much better-cared-for children who stand a much better chance of surviving & breeding themselves. Which breeding strategy are you going to follow? 20 children & hope one makes it, or one child & bloody make sure he or she makes it? Humanity, as a whole (evolution of SPECIES, remember?) is going down the latter route. There’s even a term for it, it is so well-known a divergence – Humans, with their long learning curves, & neoteny are automatic “K” strategists (as opposed to “R”, that is) All that is happening here is an even stronger push in the “K” direction.

Y @ 267
Problem
Brain size might be lower than Cro-Magnon … but, you have forgotten something.
Neoteny & nutrition, both in the womb & in the first 2-3 years of life after birth. Which result in many, many more cross-connections INSIDE the brain, which is thus much more effective than the bigger, but poorly-fed & underdeveloped “big” brain. We already discussed this, some time back.

WRRMunro @ 268
“Muscular Effort” to make fire?
Oh do come on! Tinder-&-flint!
Tricky, but do-able & does, very importantly not involve the vast energy input a fire-drill takes.
heteromeles @ 270 – just answered your question for you.
& @ 278
David Brin got there several years ago.
& @ 283
Cats are very, very close to developing some form of intelligence, if only as commensals to humans. One thing is certain – they are very manipulative.

Dirk @ 272
So, you are emulating Heinlein/Lazarus Long, as well, are you?

s-s @ 275
You FORGOT – external permanent information-stores (even if they are an “oral tradition" round the camp/cave-fire) an information-holding extended phenotype, in fact.

289:

Fossil evidence demonstrates that we're more stupid than both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon (our cranial capacity is smaller

Er, by that argument the Intel Core processor in my desktop is less powerful than a Cray 1.

290:

Andreas Vox @ 258
Well, he’s WRONG.

But he has the more compelling story! ;-)

291:

Looks like we have to define what's intelligence and what's complementary to intelligence. So which of those are part of intelligence for you:

a) rational thought
b) abstract thinking
c) creativity
d) empathy
e) language skills
f) experience

I see a, b and some of c as constituent parts of general intelligence; the rest are different skills. In my view success depends more on the skills to the bottom. a) and b) won't get you laid.

292:

Hi Greg! How's it going?

I see you're repeating your claim that Mike Davis book "Late Victorian Holocausts" has been widely discredited.

Could you point me in the direction of some links to verify that claim please? Preferably links to peer-reviewed journals, if possible.

TTFN.

293:

A V @ 290
"A conmpelling sotry" huh?
Like "the bible" do you mean? ....
Ahem.

DJPoK @ 292
The original (spposedly "heavy-weight") newspaper reviews of the book, when it came out - nothing better than that I'm afraid.
What I did notice was that they strongly criticised his selection; they didn't actualy say "cherry-picking" but it was implied, & careful filtering of data. [ The bit about Indian administrators who did their best to prevent famine/suffering being rewarded, for instance ] And the strong reviwers' suspicion that he already had a predetermined narrative, & was writing the book to fit - my analogy would be a jesuit history of England 1583-1605, for instance.

294:


I find it disgusting how readily people like you will presume that the Chinese have zero moral compulsions.

Their leaders already apparently condone selling political prisoners off for organs.

Chinese already practice coercive population control policies. Even if you considered it from the wussy Christian perspective, something like that wouldn't be much worse.

And for the record, I don't consider eugenics immoral?

295:

"my analogy would be a jesuit history of England 1583-1605, for instance."

I wouldn't mind reading that, actually. Jesuits are smart people. Better to read something by someone with an agenda, whatever it may be, then some mushy bit of centrist nonsense (with the line drawn at fraud in the service of that agenda, of course).

You must be reading different newspapers from me, I suppose. I ban my students from citing wikipedia, but make an exception in my own case. . . the entry on LVH quotes Amartya Sen, who knows a thing or two about famine, saying that while this or that detail of the book may be flawed, it's basically correct. ("Sen concludes that "The late-Victorian tragedies exemplify a wider problem of human insecurity and vulnerability related, ultimately, to economic disparity and political disempowerment.")

Genuine question: why do you feel so threatened by the proposition that the British Empire may have been less than perfect?

296:

"And for the record, I don't consider eugenics immoral"

That's because you're an idiot.

297:

Societies have and do practice eugenics.
Until recently criminals (mostly young) got executed before they could breed, unless they were smart.
Additionally large numbers of defective embryos are aborted annually if the tests show something wrong.

298:

I'm sure I remember that the entire point of the Victorian holocausts book was the social and economic structures that meant large numbers of people could starve to death because they were too poor to buy food or had no access to land to grow their own.
That these structures had been aided and abetted by the British Empire is hardly a matter for disagreement, even if individuals within the structures tried to ameliorate the situation as best they could.

Dirk - quick question - at what age have criminals normally been executed in many countries around the world? And at what age do they often become fertile?

299:

"...at what age have criminals normally been executed in many countries around the world? And at what age do they often become fertile?"

No idea, but we certainly used to hang children for petty theft.

300:

Genesis definitely beats this paragraph from wikipedia in telling a compelling story:

Earth formed around 4.54 billion (4.54×10^9) years ago by accretion from the solar nebula. Volcanic outgassing likely created the primordial atmosphere, but it contained almost no oxygen and would have been toxic to humans and most modern life. Much of the Earth was molten because of extreme volcanism and frequent collisions with other bodies. ...

Meeting the "compelling story" and "scientific truth" standards at the same time can be hard, though.

301:

"No idea, but we certainly used to hang children for petty theft."

And were they hanged in the name of improving the gene pool? 'cause if not, I don't see how you can call it "eugenics".

302:

So the basic question in the OP is "Why aren't giraffes taller"?

303:

Doesn't matter what you call it if it has the same effect. Although I imagine it was done explicitly to improve society.

304:

Hm, isn't eugenics rather thinning the gene pool than improving it? That's not necessarily a winning move when playing evolution.

305:

Well, during the nineteenth century the execution of children in England would have been done by people who were strong believers in original sin, and who therefore did not believe that the improvement of society was possible.

And it would only have the same effect if the eugenicist position that every society contained a group of people incorrigibly and genetically doomed to be anti-social was true.

306:

Slightly confused, are there people actually condoning deliberate and premeditated eugenic policies? And usiing the argument of "its been done before" for support? Seriously?

I'm with D. J. P. O'Kane @296 on this one.

307:

Quite so, Mr. Vox! Go to the head of the class.

308:

I have the nagging suspicion that Dirk has slipped into quasi-troll mode again.

309:


Eugenics immoral?

For starters, people widely practice voluntary eugenics. I know of a few smart men who prefer stupid women, but mostly it's the other way around. And there's the aforementioned abortions of fetuses thought to be defective and so on.

Coercing stupid into not having children can be thought of as immoral. Then,
1) world's already overpopulated
2) you can't expect people to voluntarily do the right thing

Society practicing it could declare that the greater good is above individual freedoms. Chinese do so with their one child policy.

I imagine you'd also fulminate if someone proposed to build a nuclear power plant near your house, presumably because it'd negatively impact your property value.

Individualists like you are ruining the modern world.

After all, we can see how societies where people are apparently less bright because of enviromental or possibly genetic reasons are worse off.

Same goes for places with high lead levels- that decreases intelligence and causes aggression.



"No idea, but we certainly used to hang children for petty theft."

[citation needed]


That's because you're an idiot.

Uh-huh. I prefer being called a nazi, which is what Americans trot out if I clam to consider any eugenics a good idea-it's less incorrect, even though I'm neither nacionalist nor socialist.

310:

No idea, but we certainly used to hang children for petty theft.

Er is it just me, or Did Dirk claim that "being hungry" is a genetic defect?

Disclaimer - I've just been listening to the Jeremy Vine show, so my anti Daily Wail filter may be on high!

311:

Citation for the hanging of children: you can find this referred to at an early point in Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore.

I'm not an individualist, I am a collectivist who thinks we should bring back the Soviet Union (but do it properly this time).

I note - as you in your ignorance do not - that the Communist-ruled south Indian state of Kerala achieved greater results in population reduction by voluntary methods then the PRC regime has achieved by coercion.

I own no property, but if I were to fulminate against the building of a nuclear power station, and if I were in Ireland, it would largely be because I do not trust my fellow countrymen with that particular brand of technology ("Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I've left the reactor on").

"After all, we can see how societies where people are apparently less bright because of enviromental or possibly genetic reasons are worse off. "

Hmmmm. The best student I ever had was a woman from Kenya. She was like a computer on legs, and intellectually head and shoulders above the English youth who formed the majority of that particular class. Is Kenya better or worse off, economically, than England?

312:

"I have the nagging suspicion that Dirk has slipped into quasi-troll mode again."

You mean he slipped out of it at some point? ;-)

313:

Eugenics is unecessary and evolution not relevant.
On the time scales either could cause serious effect, we will be directly engineering our genes. Also we are preserving many samples of genetic material outside of human bodies, so if it turns out particular genes are needed or valuable they will be there in the future for endless replication. Old ways of thinking are being applied to a new world.

And parents will be genetically editing and customizing children soon, voluntarily. Paying for it. The only thing preventing that from being common is widespread world poverty. These days, fix the economics and the genetics will follow.

314:

For starters, people widely practice voluntary eugenics.

Voluntary?? You mean fetuses self-aborting because they don't feel fit enough to compete in the world outside? Or are you talking about those Darwin award applicants?

315:

you can't expect people to voluntarily do the right thing

What horrific things have been done under this banner thoughout history? Re-write it thus:

People can't be trusted to make their own decisions, we, the enlightened few, must make the decisions for them.

Which side of this equation do you want to be on? Which side do you think you deserve to be on?

I think that you have a broad-to-the-point-of-incorrect definition of eugenics, which you rather like to maintain because it allows you to posture as something of an intellectual bad-boy ("I've been called a nazi in the past, you know.").

316:

Just realised that I'm dragging the thread away from Charlie's topic. Apologies all.

317:

@Vox
No. They choose smart partners to procreate with. For every manwho likes airheads you can easily find four or five who choose someone who's on the level with them, intellectually.

@DJP O'Kane
Anecdotes schmanecdotes. How many science nobels have been awarded to people of black African origin, eh?
Also, the dimmest Kenyans never get to Europe..
BTW, I've read about education system in the UK, and abolishing selective grammar schools is the biggest crock of shit I can imagine.

I went to one, and I actually enjoyed attending school where there were few morons or bullies.

It's the same with Chinese, the mostly the smart ones went to the US, and if you look at their level of achievment it's far beyond that of white Americans.


@RDSouth
Tinkering with genes of children will be seen and labelled as eugenics. Even if it'll be post-birth ..


I'm not an individualist, I am a collectivist who thinks we should bring back the Soviet Union (but do it properly this time).

The Chinese already did that. A bit thick, are we?

318:

Please remember that fiamines tie in with available technology, both in farming and in transport.

And good farming methods tie in with climate.

Without better farming methods, the Industrial Revolution could never have happened. And without sufficient transport Rome would naver have been able to exist as it did.

(There are also disease problems affecting the viability of large cities.)

Now, here in the UK we have had several TV series centred on the reconstruction of past farming methods. And here I am, in the 21st Century, thinking that I have used the same tools, in the same way, as those Victorians. There's been some very rapid change since the First World War, less than a hundred years ago, and farming already used a lot of machines at that time.

I am NOT saying the colonial administrators could not have done better, but look up the ground-nut scheme, post WW2, which revealed just how different farming had to be in Africa. I think it is pretty clear that Agricultural Science couldn't be readily transplanted from one environment to another.

Anyway, some historical yield figures from England, which we might take to indicate the best agricultural knowledge available.

1200

319:

The other fun question, really, is how small an animal can be and still make a fire using muscular effort?

They don't need to. They can get fire from a naturally created one, then maintain it by keeping hot coals and relighting new fires.

320:

DJPoK @ 295
why do you feel so threatened by the proposition that the British Empire may have been less than perfect?
Errrr… I don’t. Famines happened, they were awful, some people did what they could to help, others didn’t. What I am concerned with is the slanting. Same as the official RC establishment is still running a hate-campaign against my ancestor, who died in 1598, although most, if not all of the hunting of catholics then was done by someone else (Walsingham) & as usual, innocent people also got hurt & killed in the process
The classic example is one we’ve mentioned before.
The harvests across the whole of Europe 1847-8 were crap & the weather was foul. The two countries that did not have actual famine were England & Belgium & the Southern “lowland” part of Scotland, & even there food prices went up a lot. There were revolutions across Europe … Ireland got Potato blight, just to add to the misery. The Brit admin in that country screwed it up, big-time, but ii wasn’t deliberate, it was incompetence. But, to read some people, it was all a horrible Brit plot & no-one else suffered at all, which just isn’t true, either.
Oddly enough, I tend to agree with this too, that you quoted:a wider problem of human insecurity and vulnerability related, ultimately, to economic disparity and political disempowerment especially the “economic” bit. Note, as mentioned somewhere up-thread the disappearance of (most) famine in Africa, now the worst of the corruption has been slowed down a bit, at least, & regimes like Mengistu’s have mostly gone.

& @ 311
I'm not an individualist, I am a collectivist who thinks we should bring back the Soviet Union(but do it properly this time).
SIGH It will not & can not ever work. For the exact same reason that the competing religions of christianity & islam don’t & can’t work.
You are constructing an supposedly ideal Procrustean box, & demanding that humanity fit into it.

Oh dear … "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I've left the reactor on." Just as well I didn’t have a drink near the keyboard when I read that!
I’m going to remember that quote ….

Death Penalty various:
This Wiki quote is interesting: Between 1770 and 1830, 35,000 death sentences were handed down in England and Wales, but only 7000 executions were carried out.
It was legal to execute a “child” (Under 16 yrs old) until 1908, but this was the law catching up with actuality, by that date …

AND … Eugenics
IS it (horrible/evil/nazi/commonist/evil overlord [delete as appropriate]) eugenics to make sure that an anencephalous foetus is not born? Or one that is guaranteed to have Down’s? Or one that is known to have {can’t-remember-the-name}disease that rots the brain & kills you before you’re 50?
Usual problem in fact: Where do you draw the line?

321:

Whoops...

Wheat Yields, England

1200 0.5
1650 0.6
1750 1.0
1850 1.8
1920 2.1
1950 2.5
1980 6.5

Yields are in tonnes per hectare

The first big jump can be partly attributed to the seed drill of Jethro Tull. but that was possibly the last big changed that could be directly applied to Indian farming. Later innovations such as the Four-Course Rotation partly depend on the crops available, and their nature. It was enough to feed an Industrial Revolution, if you could export manufactured goods and import food from North America.

If you don't have that, improvements in farming that could have averted famine in India were likely to be small.

It is fair to wonder if a system of technical education specific to Indian Agriculture could have made a difference. We can also wonder about the exports of foodstuffs from India, and the effects of such crops as coffee on food production.

But I don't think there is a missed miracle. British farmers tried very hard to produce food in Britain, but it wasn't until after the World Wars that there was any great change. It came partly from new crop varieties, and mostly from herbicides and fungicides. There was more effect from replacing horses with tractors, which increased the amount of cultivated land.

Don't blame Colonial thinking for the limits of the time.

(Charlie: don't forget artificial nitrate fertiliser: in OTL it depended on Germany being cut off from nitrate supplies in WW1, and trying to make both explosives and fertiliser.)

322:

I think small animals transporting fire are going to struggle against the square-cube law.

323:

Same here.

I think human evolution has been stagnating on most levels for the last few thousand years. Reason: living in a social group that supports its weaker members counters the selection part of evolution. And the benefits of social groups are big enough to avoid culling on the group level.

One level where human evolution is probably still very active is resistance to diseases, especially ones caused by bacteria or viruses.

And of course the cultural levels: evolution of memes, ideas and knowledge is the area where most human progress happens.

324:

"I have the nagging suspicion that Dirk has slipped into quasi-troll mode again."

So what do you call abortions that are carried out after genetic testing because of genetic defects in the embryo? Is that somehow not miraculously "eugenics" because it is wrapped in politically correct wording like "A woman's right to choose"?

325:

By a strict dictionary definition, yes it is. I suspect that most people (certainly I did) would have thought that the word "eugenics" in this context referred to mandatory testing for, and termination of foetii having, "undesirable" genetic traits.

326:

This is what annoys me about people who rant on about the evils of "eugenics". They tend to be exactly the same people who will wholeheartedly support the biggest eugenics program in Human history. They are either fools or hypocrites.

327:

Greg @288: Which breeding strategy are you going to follow? 20 children & hope one makes it, or one child & bloody make sure he or she makes it?

Definitely the former. Given infant and childhood mortality rates among the poor where I live, at least 18 of those children will survive to maturity. OTOH, even with all the benefits of intense parental investment, a single child could die young.

re eugenics: In principle I'm not opposed to the idea of preventing idiots from filling the world, but somebody has to run the system. Inevitably they would decide that the world needed more of themselves and less of their major competitors. Inevitably people on the wrong side of the eugenics program would regard the system as unjust, overthrowing it if possible and subverting it to the best of their ability if not.

328:

AFAIK most abortions after genetic testing are for conditions that will not allow the child to live or procreate anyway. Many are trisomies which are not caused by a "wrong gene" but by duplication of a whole chromosome. Of those only trisomy 21 children have a chance of reaching adulthood, and the chance of having children or even grandchildren is minor.

So these abortions don't affect the gene pool but only the phenotypes of the living population. If those abortions are moral is another question, but I wouldn't call it eugenics.

329:

"AFAIK most abortions after genetic testing are for conditions that will not allow the child to live or procreate anyway. "

Down's Syndrome? Sickle Cell Anemia? Hemophilia?

330:

Again, I feel that I'm helping to drag this thread off topic, but I'm going to respond to being tangentially called a "fool and a hypocrite". I haven't made any comments about my position on abortion, nor did I claim that it couldn't be labelled eugenics. I was referring to some of your posts as "quasi-trolling" because you have a tendancy to throw out one-liners packed with emotive words and subjective interpretations and very little else, then stand back and watch where they land, which to my mind is pretty much the definition of trolling.

I shall continue to read responses on this thread with interest, even if some of the opinions are a little foolish; but I will be sitting on my hands from now on and not furthering the drift off-topic.

331:

... being female?

332:

Those darned Nazis just took all the fun out of eugenics.

And racism.

And anti-semitism.

And a lot of beliefs that were once taken for granted by large segments of even educated people but are now rightfully considered abhorent.

333:

No we just dress them up in new words and cheer them on.
As for my "one liner trolls" I assumed that people could make their own deductions from my simple statement, but it seems I have to spell it out for the intellectually challenged. Charles' question seems very apposite.

334:

Down-syndrom is trisomy 21, males are virtually infertile and females have only 50% fertility. But more important, trisomies aren't gene defects but errors in the copying process, so culling individuals with trisomy 21 will not change the gene pool.

According to wikipedia, sickle cell syndrom also provides resilience to malaria. Given global warming and the movement of mosquitos further north it seem like a really stupid idea to try to get rid of that trait.

Hadn't thought about hemophilia. I agree that abortion of fetuses with those three diseases (or any other which would allow the child to live) is morally dubious.

Abortion of female fetuses is definitely not eugenics but rather disgenics. That will not only mess up your gene pool in the long run but will cause all kinds of social problems in the short run, too.

Anyway, historically few regimes of eugenics have survived more than a few decades. That's nothing on an evolutionary time scale. Even if the Nazis had kept power for their "1000 year Reich" that would have been quite short. OTOH, if eugenics fanatics get clubbed to death regularly, maybe that trait becomes extinct in the future.

335:

Sparta

336:
I shall continue to read responses on this thread with interest, even if some of the opinions are a little foolish; but I will be sitting on my hands from now on and not furthering the drift off-topic.

Idiots are useful. Idiots are good. Where would this thread be without them?

337:

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taygetus:

The Spartans threw criminals and "unfit" (weak,
sickly, deformed, or mentally retarded) infants into a chasm of Taygetus known as Ceadas or Caeadas (Greek: Καιάδας). In antiquity, male Spartan newborns were abandoned there if deemed unfit after examination for vitality. Recent evidence, found by the University of Athens, discovered remains of adult individuals which appeared to confirm that Ceadas was mainly a place of punishment for criminals, traitors and captives.

Looks as if the archaeologists had trouble confirming that tale.

338:

I quite enjoy the comments. Most blogs I just read the original post, but here at Dirk's Diary the debate is often just as interesting as the little articles Dirk gets some bloke in Scotland to write for him.

339:

I gave up on this thread about 100 comments ago, but I am considering handing Dirk a red card -- a permanent ban from the blog comments. Maybe for a month, or maybe forever: not decided yet ...

340:

I'll decide for you then - goodbye, permanently

341:

@ 324-6
Just shows that some people either can't or won't think straight, or are putting pretty labels on things, so they can justify their actions.
Thusly, terminating a 15-week foetus with Downs is eugenics, so what?
Compulsory state (or religion) controlled mandatory testing with enforced, compulsory judgement is also eugenics.
The first is acceptable, the second is not, IMNSHO.
Now, present this, snappily to an audioence with no IQ over 110 present?

& dirk @ 329
No, you are correct.
It IS Eugenics & in those cases you have listed - good.
I repeat - where do you draw the line - it is really important?
... see also dd @ 331
"being female"? NO, that is not acceptable, & is in fact completely counter-productive, but the brainwashed idiots (wrong memes) can't see that!
& 332
Now you are making the same mistake .. is ALL "eugenics" under the widest definitions (see above) evil & Nazi, or not?
If it is - then you get to pay for the anencephalous children & comfort their mothers, & all the other crippled, wracked drooling wrecks, whose lives are probably unending pain.
If not, then you are faced with the same problem as the rest of us, The Doom of Choice, and having to engage brain, rather than shouting "evil Nazi!" slogans.

jay @ 327
Eugenics - read what I have just written, above!
Breeding R_vs_K strategy.
Wrong - I was assuming, & the discussion was about a modern, "rich" & certainly "developed" society, which you have carefully ignored.

SoV @ 336
Come on!
Even the "idiots" here are usually a LOT better informed or educated than many elsewhere.
I mean, I came across a thread recently, where proponents were seriously claiming that the US internal conflict 1861-5 WAS NOT about slavery & that the anti-slavery movement in the UK 1750 onwards MUST have had selfish economic motives ....

342:

I am really glad I write stories in a "furry" setting, and avoided the trap of limiting the equivalent of "blacks" and "Jews" to particular types of animal. It makes some stories a little tricky, maybe, though it is sort of obvious to draw Heydrich as a fox, mulling over a final solution to the chicken problem.

It's so easy to make racism look rather silly. And, after looking at this thread, it seems pretty damn obvious to me that the sort of thing that gets a vixen, a zebra, a skunk, and a bear working together cannot have anything to do with their genes. It's shared culture. It's being taught the same things about what is "good" behaviour.

How can we inherit being human through our genes? All that gives us is a set of tools, including a physical shape and a language-capable brain.

And, in places such as this, does it matter whether I really have stripes or not?

343:

As is traditional when somebody flounces, it is time to hum a chorus of "the lurkers support me in email" and then shout "and don't let the doorknob hit you on the arse!".

344:

And don't forget the great tradition of immediately returning under a different nickname.

345:

Here's how I feel about the comments on this thread right now:

(With apologies to Scientific American.)

346:

Charlie, a post is judged by its comments. :-P

347:

Well, the comments spoke well of the post until eug**nics came up.

348:

Late to the party is simply another way of saying: Just in time for next year's bash! (cause we never learn and hangovers never last)

OGH writes: "We are hominids."

This is a false assumption from one perspective.
With language, the communal repository of knowledge, the rise of what might be called modern society we no longer truly interact with nature as individuals. We are a colony-creature now.
There is no reason at all to believe that we would evolve in continuation of the same exact lines as before the change, our entire environment has changed.
We live in society and not nature, society uses individuals as appendages to manipulate it's environment.
You buy a tractor, GM-crops, fuel and burgers and send back into the societal body essential nutrients.
Integration is were the individual will find success or failure, any evolution we manage to get done will reflect this.

Second, i would like to suggest that we have not yet filled this new ecologic niche, refinement and specialization will surely come only after we have truly saturated our environment?
We are foxes, enjoying the fine Australian summer, eating weird-looking animals that do not know to run from us. Or possibly fracking, one or the other.

And finally from the Exo-Lovecraftean perspective :)
Look at the creature called Humanity, every cell a stem-cell, more or less capable of taking over any functions of the body,
almost instantly reacting to minute changes in its environment, building new functions at a frantic pace.
As a small green man traveling the universe i would sterilize the face of the planet without a moments hesitation.

349:

If it's any comfort I'm now having to wipe expectorated coffee from the laptop after encountering that cartoon mid-sip ;-)

350:

Seeing your cartoon-comment ....

Actually, we are reasonably "Intelligetnt" (undefined) ...
Because we ARE very slowly probably getting more intelligent as individuals (better nutrition, especially in the period -0.75 -> +2.5yrs age) AND as a species, because of our extended phemotype and memory storage capacities.
But it is a slow process, & there are threats to that process.
Most notably "religious" memes that are always (or so it seems) trying to stop or reverse improvements in understanding & therefore control of our destinies.
But, unlike a computer, we can't just jack our "Intelligence" up by improving the clock-speed.

Which reminds me - your comment, waaaaay back @ (can't find it!) on programming up a human, shitting itself for the first 6 months, putting foot in mouth, etc ...
SO, what happens if we really produce a real AI, that is PAST that stage?
My prdiction is that it will probably go doolally, from "shock" .....

P.S.1 - just noted David Brin's comment up above (missed it before) - very pertinent - I think he is correct, for reasons given & mine own also given here.
P.S.2 - I just noted the "libel" redact in my comment @ 41.
Without (re)naming the individual, he voluntarily & repeatedly chose to publicly associate with known fascists - including a personal friend of Franco & a member of the Spanish Fascist Grand Council.
His public agenda has always to been to drive unwilling people to team games & spurts "for their own good" so to speak.
I think my original claim would stand up.
But - you will notice, no names...

351:

Re-post
It would seem that OGH has provoked another very well-known SF author into a reply.
And his reply is that we are getting smarter, not the contrary!
Maybe.
Interesting.

352:

With language, the communal repository of knowledge, the rise of what might be called modern society we no longer truly interact with nature as individuals. We are a colony-creature now.

Hm, yes, there's a good defense to be made of that model. I think this is an under-examined result of language, too.

The interesting effects are not those of one human talking with another, but when entire tribes and populations start working together. Once humans got into fast and (relatively) accurate meme transfer we could not only co-operate on tasks but, uniquely among social creatures, fashion new group behaviors very quickly. Other pack animals, such as wolves, may be individually formidable or cunning, but the pack as a whole only has a few tactics. The human pack can have lots, change plans at the coded yell from one leader, and meet another pack to learn even more tactics (commonly known as "bullshitting around the campfire").

This should be a good illustration why humans actually have evolved into super-geniuses. The 'intelligence' magic isn't in doing math or personally inventing a better mammoth trap, but in talking, story-telling - lying - and social manipulation. Compared to the rest of the animal world, we are super-geniuses at that. We're all aware of the mate gathering imbalances between the highly intelligent but inarticulate computer nerd and the smiling, articulate goofball with no technical or mechanical skills at all.

Without language we're bald, weak, pretty clever chimps. With it we're unstoppable.

353:

This piece of writing completely dislocates from the fact that the technological and memetic reality created by language puts the average human being in position where they have to understand a wealth of implicit norms and technologies to be able operate even semi coherently in society - this requires far more cognitive capacity than ever before and of course that means the species as a whole is continually engaged in simplifying where-ever possible in order to keep up; this is a sign of cognitive coherence/sophistication not "Anthropic Stupidity" (sic). In effect this article advocates a sort of re-branded Social Darwinism that will never make even semi-coherently sense.

354:

is it possible that at some point, another species might develop language (and thus the ability to transfer memes/behavioural traits horizontally) from such a base and be fundamentally smarter than we are?

It's possible, it's just ludicrously unlikely.

Think about the basic necessities of human society:

- We're reasonably intelligent as individuals.

- We're gregarious. We don't live most of our lives in isolation, like cats.

- We have good general purpose manipulators (a result of brachiators in our ancestry).

- We aren't aquatic, which allows fire, metal tools, and later, electricity.

There are probably a couple of others that elude me right now.

Cetaceans have the first two. Squid have the first and the third. Dogs have numbers two and four.

Getting all four of those traits together in one species, when none of them has much to do with any of the others, is a lot to hope for.

355:

You may have just driven the final nail into Charlie's Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis.

Perhaps.

A critter with good mirror neurons can vaguely learn how to use a tool by watching another critter. A critter with a sophisticated theory of mind can even teach another critter. Even New Caledonian crows do that.

There is a limit to a crow tool's sophistication: its construction and use can only be taught by pantomime, and expertise is gained only by trial-and-error. If a crow needs a tool to survive, that tool must be easy to make and use.

Our language allows us to break those limits, and construct sophisticated, powerful and dangerous tools, like curare darts or automobiles.

That does place a lower bound on our intelligence and communication ability. More importantly, it allows our Einsteins, engineers and other outliers and obsessives to invent new tools that can propagate to the general population.

Does this mean that the rest of us can get away with being stupider than Einstein? Sure. Does it prevent that lower bound from rising? Nope. The sooner you can get out of school and support yourself, the sooner you can breed.

Evolution is mind-bogglingly slow. It depends on a sprinkling of outliers, some of whom survive better than others. With language and tool use, that process speeds up and becomes memetic.

356:

@280 In my experience, it's booze that lets us see past our intelligence and get laid, however unwisely.

I think you've just solved Fermi's paradox, Jay! According to our host (@205) "Beer is a side-effect of farming" so it goes…

evolution makes us smarter -> farming -> beer -> sexual selection breaks down -> evolution makes us dumber -> collapse of civilization and with it the failure of beer production -> evolution makes us smarter -> farming and beer -> … and the cycle continues.

That's why we don't see advanced spacefaring civilisations: the beer/random-rooting cycle.

(Ahh well, who needs space travel anyway...)

357:

@355 With language and tool use, that process speeds up and becomes memetic.

I was with you 'till the last line, Aaron. I can see how civilization speeds up and becomes memetic but I can't see how evolution does unless smarter people have more babies (or a higher proportion of their babies survive to reproduce).

I worry that Andreas might be right (@323 "human evolution has been stagnating on most levels for the last few thousand years. Reason: living in a social group that supports its weaker members counters the selection part of evolution".)

Which is why I proposed the alternate Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis (@194) "the evolutionary pressure selecting for intelligence breaks once a species develops a fair, compassionate culture."

358:

I'm surprised that the nature of language hasn't cropped up, yet.

Caveat: please don't let this get into yet another holy war on the One True Programming Language... :( and apologies to those unfamiliar with the design of software...

Coming at this by analogy; I'm a software engineer. I typically use C++, but have used several other languages during my career. I've done some tool design for digital designers; and one of the fascinating things was how concepts could be expressed most effectively in a task-specific language. An example was a connection-oriented language being used to describe circuitry, rather than a typical HDL; we were seeing hundred-fold improvements in code density, without loss, and without resorting to brain-bending concepts a la Standard ML. A bright lad at MIT called Eddie Kohler got his doctorate by coming up with a way of expressing network node programming in such a way that a battered old Linux box was outperforming the latest shiniest Cisco router.

Another analogy is the use of "object oriented techniques". Time and again, I've come across professional engineers who just don't seem to "get" object oriented design. They pay lip service to it, but then use the language in such a way as to make it obvious that they rather miss the point (I.e. they can make anything look like a procedural program) and are in effect subverting the language structure. As a result, I'm not surprised that Les Hatton's website contains various papers demonstrating that this Great Leap Forward of the 80s hasn't actually reduced defect densities in delivered software...

So: around the world, there are multiple different solutions to what we've bundled together with the term "language", and yet more for "writing" - pictograms, alphabets, sentence structures; we're seeing the emergence of an international form of English, stripped for simplicity and carrying on its old habit of following other languages into dark alleys and mugging them (sorry, Esperanto). Do we see any synthesis from other language forms? Would a more "effective" language make a difference in the efficiency with which we can express abstract concepts? Would any increase in effectiveness result in "greater intelligence", or will effectiveness always suffer at the hands of misuse?

359:

It also occurs to me that no-one's mentioned Gordon Dickson and his fiction on the subject of specialisation of humans... One theme of which IIRC was the use of culture-specific language. (Sorry, hit "submit" for my previous post by accident).

360:

Would a more "effective" language make a difference in the efficiency with which we can express abstract concepts? Would any increase in effectiveness result in "greater intelligence", or will effectiveness always suffer at the hands of misuse?

In some ways you're grouping around at the beginning of rediscovering the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. (This is not a bad thing.) It's been debated at least as far back as the Greeks that words were deeply involved with how humans understood the world. As you know, different programming languages are good for different things, such as that connection-modeling language you mentioned; natural languages mostly don't vary as much, but you'll still find ideas that are easier to express in one language than another.

There's also various ideas for implementing some super-language, such as Speedtalk, a high-efficiency language from a Heinlein story; it doesn't actually work in reality.

361:

I think there's a great bit of future history in what you've written here.

However, I should point out, we also had a small discussion about why spaceships required beer to work a while ago. The TL;DR version is that:
--starships are small, closed ecosystems.
--They will face a lot of non-trivial stresses. Most small closed ecosystems do.
--They will face many social stresses. Having a small community that can't get away from each other pretty much guarantees this. Putting them in this system for several generations only makes it worse.

Therefore, a good solution is to devote 10-20% of carbohydrate production to beer. If you can't make a starship do this, your starship is almost certain to fail, because:
--if you can't afford to waste at least 20% of your food supply on frivolities, you're flying *way* to close to your limits (note that small ecosystems are almost guaranteed to fail occasionally). Personally, I'd go for 100% surplus for beer, but weight is a problem in starships too.
--If your ecosystem and social system can't survive dealing with drunk people, you're starship isn't going to be able to survive anything from accidents, to serious social conflicts, to catastrophic illness and death, to even the travails of birth and child-rearing. It's simpler to keep everyone in practice for real emergencies by letting some or most of the crew get drunk regularly, and dealing with it.
--Finally, if you've got a good chunk of your food supply set aside for beer, if you get a partial crop failure, you can turn the take the beer portion and make food out of it and eat it instead. It's an automatic way to save food.

Still, I agree that intelligence seems to do best in existential crises, so if you want humans to get more intelligence, it would really help if civilization crashed. I suspect this is because catastrophes have a way of selecting for intelligent people, for certain values of intelligence anyway. Not that I'm advocating this, mind you. Just saying.

362:

I'm not Charlie, but I would say that forgets half the question in OP. It's not only about intelligence, but about the intimate relation between intelligence and language...

I we were smart giraffes the question would be 'Did we as a species stop developing longer necks when we started sharing and storing acacia leaves?' 'Would another species that didn't develop even longer necks than we?'

363:

People aren't smarter because apparently there is no particular evolutionary situation where more smarts would be an advantage.

Humans are ready are the dominant verterbrate on planet Earth and are numerous and found in nearly every land based niche. What more would be needed?

364:

You missed "you can use the solid waste from beer production to feed sources of meat proteins". Seriously; my Dad once had a job co-ordinating the collection of said waste products drom a whisky distillery (same base brewing techniques before the distilation and maturing) by animal feed producers.

365:

@357 "I can see how civilization speeds up and becomes memetic but I can't see how evolution does"

As civilization gets more advanced it becomes an environment, so the development of members goes along with it. If you aren't smart enough to cope with civilization you fail and either you or your children don't breed. This doesn't select for the more intelligence so much as it selects for less stupidity because our Einstein's are hardly making broods of offspring like
Warren Jeffs *
If the demands of civilization only weed out the (propogation of the mentally) weak, that will not push the geniuses up to new heights nearly as fast as it merely increases the average, and then only by osmosis.

*On second thought, I'd better deal with that. Warren Jeffs specifically put himself outside of the rest of civilization, walled his community off in an isolated reactonary compound, as though he knew this was the only way to evade the new selection pressures.
Atypical example.)

366:

s-s @ 352
Without language we're bald, weak, pretty clever chimps. With it we're unstoppable.
UNLESS some complete bastard (or group of them) hi-jack language to install programs/memes into our brains that halt or regress real advances.
Here are the two most pernicious.
“Only through christ Yeshua shall man be saved”
“La il’aha, illa allah, Mahmud rasul allah”
… and the communist religions’ vision of a centralised workers-state is in there with them, too.

Beware the killer memes of stupidity.

& @ 360
that words were deeply involved with how humans understood the world.
The word is not the thing, the map is not the country, the finger is not the moon. Be very careful here that we do not slip into the deadly philosophical trap of Platonism with “perfect forms”.

Joe @ 353
Why do you think Charlie drew this problem out in the first place, then?
I agree with D. Brin on this one, & I think/guess, so does Charlie (?) – but what a useful trawl for illuminating ideas for his friends & fans!

367:

Out of curiosity, why link to Ask.com when they've just scraped a Wikipedia article? Why not to the original?

368:

Spaceships don't have to be ecosystems at all. You can just bring enough resources for the road. Depends on how far you go, of course.

369:

Hm, Germans consume 100 kg beer, 88 kg meat and 92 kg bread/cereal products per year. I guess you won't get very far if you want to store all that up front.

370:

Still, I agree that intelligence seems to do best in existential crises, so if you want humans to get more intelligence, it would really help if civilization crashed. I suspect this is because catastrophes have a way of selecting for intelligent people, for certain values of intelligence anyway.

No, intelligence works best when you have leisure. Stress is detrimental to rational thought and learning.

And to get evolution going you'd need fatal catastrophes on a regular basis for a couple of thousands of years or more. And of course you'd have to forbid intelligent people helping less intelligent ones.

371:

I disagree about evolutionary pressure - as the number of choices and available information to inform those choices goes up.

372:

Thag strong. Thag take mate.

Ogg smart. Hit Thag with rock. Take Thag's mate.

Bernard smarter. Shoot Ogg with gun. Take Ogg's mate.

Nigel very smart. Manipulate Bernard's financial situation, subvert Bernard's mate with Bernard's money.

And who is smarter than Nigel?

373:

Benedict convinces Nigel that taking Bernard's mate & money is "sinful" & he must give most of it to "desrving causes" - prominent amongst which is Bebnedict (& of course, Benedict's organisation)...

There, that was easy, wasn't it!

374:

Thag strong. Thag not understand Benedict. Thag hit Benedict take his mate.

375:

@30:
What is wrong with simply defining intelligence as generalized problem solving ability?
---
Because it's way easier to test for memory, language, math skills, and speed.

Some people aren't happy unless they can get a metric, even if they don't understand what they're measuring.

Also, designing tests for problem-solving ability is rather difficult, with unexpected failures.

For example, as a child I was given one such test in school. It consisted of a matchbox, a paper clip, a thumbtack, a piece of string, and a candle. The test was to affix the candle to the wall with the candle oriented upward so it would burn.

I bent the paper clip into a shallow spring, wedged it into a corner, and balanced the candle on top, more or less vertical. I "failed" the test. The "correct" answer was "use the thumbtack to attach the matchbox to the wall, then set the candle on the matchbox." When I pointed out that the wall was made out of concrete block, I was told since I hadn't come up with the "correct" solution, I had still failed.

Whoever designed the test obviously failed to account for concrete or brick walls, but the secondary failure was not to realize that some "professional" administering the test would do it in such a room, *and* insist the results were still valid.

Granted it's a simple example, but other examples of bad test design aren't hard to find.

376:

@44:
But compared to even the slowest of 1940s era vacuum tube electronic tabulators and it begins to look a bit piss-poor.
---
But to run the calculator you have to input the data. When you do it in your have, you already *have* the data; the tradeoff is in your favor when you can run the figures faster than you can work the keys.

377:

If you aren't smart enough to cope with civilization you fail and either you or your children don't breed.

Really? Because where I'm from civilization is made by and for the C students.

There's a level of stupidity that gets you institutionalized, but it's rare and it's frequently the result of some type of trauma or disorder (i.e. it's in the phenotype, not the genotype).

378:

The problem with putting up religion as an anti-intelligence meme is that religious movements have also promoted such things as literacy. It has varied, depending on background traditions, but there's a lot of strict rationality in Christian theology. We're judging Islam by the idiots with guns, who are destroying learning, and not by the ancient Islamic traditions of scholarship. We're judging Christianity by the Creationists and the literalists, and not by what comes out of the Vatican Observatory.

Perhaps part of the definition of religion is the creation of axiomatic blind-spots, but I suspect that's a definition of being human.

379:

Mate facepalms and goes back to her lab to work on unisexual invitro fertilization.

380:

@217:
Moore's Law is not going to give you whole-brain emulators that run 100x faster within a few months.
---
Doesn't matter. Even if it takes 18, 21, or 40 years... you only have to do it *once*. Then you just make copies.

381:

@253:
Getting back to the original question, why aren't we smarter, I turn to Jared Diamond's (and Alfred Russel Wallace's) observation that Papuans are smarter both than indonesians and the white scientists they help.
---
Thor Heyderdahl wrote extensively about that sort of thing in "Aku-Aku", about his expedition to Easter Island in 1955. He was impressed with how fast the islanders picked up working Norwegian and English, among other things.

Heyerdahl's theory was that the Easter Islanders had basically bred themselves bigger, faster, and smarter via centuries of war, and that the more highly aggresive ones didn't make it through the collapse of the island's ecosystem, which favored cooperation over aggression.

382:

Maybe this has a simpler answer: confirmation bias.
We recognize or create patterns and select only evidence that confirms our view of the world. Anyone who disagrees is stupid.

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/daniel-kahneman-on-the-trap-of-thinking-that-we-know/

Result: We're as smart as we need to be until we're not.
And even then we may not recognize that we're wrong. Witness the recent exploits of the world financial community. They must be really stupid.

383:

@358
(reason for multiple computer and natural languages)
---
Long before Marvin Minsky started writing papers on language, Jack Vance wrote an SF novel called "The Languages of Pao," describing a culture divided into castes, with each caste having a language created and optimized specifically for its purposes.

Any complete language will let you get a task done, but the wrong language will make things a lot harder than they have to be...

384:

Anyone who remembers the UK "11+" exam should cringe now:-

As a teacher, my Mother was responsible for marking same. One year, a question was "What is good to eat?"

The only acceptable answer was "sweets."

385:

Presumably, Thagg the pool man is the one who actually mates with Nigel's woman, while Nigel is away at the office. Or Thagg marries Nigel's daughter (the wealthy tend to have an overabundance of female offspring).

In any case, there's an old Sidney Harris cartoon where a tribesman says to an anthropologist something like "You can't start a fire, you can't build a hut, you can't chip stones, you know nothing about finding herbs or animals, and you can't even make cordage out of vines. I'm afraid you've done terribly on our intelligence test."

Artifacts like the Phaistos Disk show what happens when you get genius with nothing to support it. The Phaistos Disk is a clay disk from the Minoan Bronze Age, and it was made with moveable type. Unfortunately, the Minoans didn't have paper, ink, an alphabet, or even much literacy, so the Phaistos Disk faded into obscurity, and Gutenberg gets the credit for inventing moveable type. Actually, the Koreans invented moveable type before Gutenberg. Being the Hermit Kingdom, they don't get credit either. And so it goes.

We tend to think of Einstein, Hawking, or Steve Jobs when we think of genius, but put them in the historically normal environment for humans (hunting and gathering or neolithic farming), and they would be no better than average. Genius is contextual, and someone who is a genius at chipping obsidian isn't necessarily going to be good at financial derivatives or genomics, and vice versa.

However, if you look at general skills like creativity, adaptability, and generalized problem solving, people from Papua New Guinea tend to score very high. They have to, because they have to make a living out of whatever they have, and that's often very little. That's the point about harsh conditions selecting against stupidity.

Thing is, a certain kind of laziness is highly adaptive if you're limited in how much you have, and I suspect that's as deeply wired in humans as intelligence is. When things are good, most people aren't going to rock the boat. While we can (rightly) complain about this as stupidity, it can be very adaptive too. Fooling around with stuff (aka tinkering, making, DIY, innovating) generally wastes a lot of time and resources, even now. Remember, most start-ups fail. If you don't have a lot to goof around with and little hope of making things better by goofing around, then it's much more adaptive to take a nap and conserve what you do have.

386:

I hope the moral of this story isn't that beer in cans allows apes in cans.

Given the population bottlenecks, the new life in the outer colonies sounds a lot like "My Own Private Easter Island", except with even weirder selection pressures. Fails over and over again. Think I'll pass. I wonder if a latent gene or meme for irrational GTFO sticks around due to catastrophe survivorship.

387:

TL;DNR. Apologies if this repeats others' contributions.

If math is the epitome of human intelligence, then we stopped evolving along this attribute a long time ago. Buonomano (UCLA neuroscientist) covers this in 'Brain Bugs: How the brain's flaws shape our lives'. How this ties in to math - apparently our remote ancestors really only needed to count to two in order to survive, therefore breed. Their counting went: one, two, many ... I can see that this would make sense: one mastodon can be taken down by the local clan; two mastodons is do-able, but tricky (may need to get neighboring clan involved - therefore verbal communication/persuasion become more valuable); and, more than two (i.e., many) is probably mastodon mating season or a stampede, so lie low and/or get the hell away from there!

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/07/20/brain-bugs-dean-buonomano/

Let's face it - as long as reproducing can be done without overcoming any challenge, there's simply no reason for abstract/math intelligence to increase in the species. When's the last time your classical physics vs. quantum mechanics pick-up line worked?

Altruism (mostly in the form of trade) also appears to be on the rise -- that is, we're not killing off rival clans/nations as much as we used to, therefore allowing for a greater span of intelligence to survive -- at both ends of the spectrum.

388:

I'd disagree about altruism being the reason we don't kill each other so often. I'd suggest, instead, that we've developed a plethora of alternatives.

One good place to see this is in the evolution of hand-to-hand combat in the US since WW2. In WW2, one of the most explicit hand-to-hand combat systems was Fairbairn's system, codified in Kill or Get Killed. You can find copies of it all over the internet, even on YouTube. It appears easy to learn, but I don't particularly recommend it, because it's for disabling and killing people. Unless you're a Spec Ops type and killing people is your business, it would be difficult to use these techniques and not go to jail for assault or manslaughter.

Since then (and especially since the 1970s), military hand-to-hand training has shifted to incorporate non-lethal techniques. This isn't because the US military is getting soft. Rather, it's because the powers that be have realized that there are a lot of good reasons to teach soldiers how to manhandle people without killing them. After all, no thinking warrior wants to martyr a non-violent protestor if there's an alternative. Back in WW2, Fairbairn's system was designed for close combat when guns weren't available, nothing more.

The development in non-lethal combatives parallels advances in non-violent protests as a political force. The military has learned that not killing unarmed protestors is generally good politics, and have started training their soldiers to deal appropriately with this type of conflict.

The same thing has happened outside the military. For example, armed robbery is now a suckers' job, at least in the developed world. It's far better to get someone to pay you interest for the rest of their lives. You'll make more money, the law will support your right to that money, and your debtors might even think you're being a good guy by advancing a loan to them in the first place. Mathematics is better than a gun for robbing people, ultimately.

Ultimately, violence is dangerous for everyone, and while it still pays under some circumstances, people all over the world have come up with ingenious forms of conflict that accomplish the same goals that used to be accomplished by violence alone. Personally, I think this is a good thing, but I don't think it's due to altruism.

389:


Genius is contextual, and someone who is a genius at chipping obsidian isn't necessarily going to be good at financial derivatives or genomics, and vice versa.

All genius?

And are you really sure?

Because, been demonstrated and replicated that high general intelligence means faster learning and better performance on complex tasks.

Geniuses tend to be way above "high general intelligence".

Quite possible that say Newton, if he were born in the stone age, would've been the guy who invented the bow. By say observing what tree saplings do when tensed and so on..



Unless you're a Spec Ops type and killing people is your business, it would be difficult to use these techniques and not go to jail for assault or manslaughter.

Unless you live in Britain, or some place so crazy that self-defense is a crime, no, you won't go to jail.

Maiming a mugger, or shooting or killing an armed robber isn't generally criminal, unless it looks iffy.

390:

Self defense is not a crime in Britain. Use of disproportionate force is, but people don't generally end up in court for reasonably defending themselves.

They do go to court for shooting fleeing youths in the back and letting them bleed to death in a ditch, or for chasing people and battering them with a cricket bat, tying them to chairs and beating them, that sort of thing.

391:

BZZZZZ!

Congratulations, Y at #389 - you just won today's 'over the top byperbola' prize for writing

"Unless you live in Britain, or some place so crazy that self-defense is a crime"

No, on second thoughs, you don't. You just get today's "Completely and utterly wrong thing I read on the internet prize"

Also the point Heteromeles was making was that the Ferguson method and presumably more modern sorts, are about killing someone as rapidly as possible with the minimum of fuss, which is a different prospect from just defending yourself. IN a war, you stab the other guy in the throat, from behind, at the righ angle to sever the artery rapidly as you lever the blade out (Or thereabouts, its a while since I read about it). In self defence at home you try and cut the other person enough that they run away. That might end up killing them, but it isn't the specific aim at the start.

392:

Others have already called you on being wrong; I'm going to call you on spouting your ideology here. Please don't do it. And if you were being humourous, it really does help to indicate that sometimes.

Others, please just ignore comments like that. Don't feed the troll, in other words.

393:

zochoka @ 378
Sorry: "The bigots are the true believers"
And they will (almost) always win in an internal religion-contest & suppress any urges to rationality reason or enlightenement.
Well, it is what has happened every time, so far .....

394:

If you think you're surrounded by idiots, I suggest practicing kindness meditation, or as a shortcut, watch this talk by David Foster Wallace

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=vET9cvlGJQw#t=483s

(Though since he apparently topped himself eventually, you might want to take it with a grain of salt...?)

As for humanity's intellect as a whole, we seem to be able to do some amazing stuff when asked to pool our brains via crowdsourcing.

I think it was Dawkins who described a Beaver's dam as part of it's extended phenotype, no less the product of it's genes than the teeth and bones they constructed slightly more directly by instructing the assembly of proteins. Looking at it from this point of view, our extended phenotype of space stations, intercontinental submarine cable & sattelitte networks, honking great boats made of metal and other such really nifty stuff we've only really come up with in the last 50-100 years is....

...well, it doesn't say "stupid" to me.

Oh and we met all the UN millenium development goals in 2012

http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201301/the-year-in-review/2012-the-greatest-year-all-time-humanity

395:

Oh, I agree: collectively we're brilliant. The other cool thing is that, with seven-plus billion people around, we've got thousands of "one-in-a-million geniuses" to help us solve problems, no matter how you define genius.

I'll still say that, on average, we're probably less intelligent than our mesolithic (and even neolithic) forbears. That's okay, because we don't need that level of skill to live a decent life and feed our kids. This isn't a comment that stone age life was nasty, brutish, and short. Rather, you need to know a lot to make a fire with a bow-drill, or hunt with a bow and arrow, or find and process enough wild plants to feed your family.

To pick one example, I'm a botanist by training, and I could identify somewhere between 500-1000 plants by sight when I got my degree. According to field studies by ethnobotanists, my "advanced skills" are actually average for the so-called primitive farmers in places like Bolivia and Papua New Guinea. It gave me pause to realize that, a few hundred to thousand years ago, what we now consider graduate level competence in plant identification was the norm. The thing is, there's little demand for my skills these days, so few people learn them. In Ye Olde Days, people learned how to identify those plants because they starved without that knowledge. It makes a difference.

396:

Ferguson method? Thanks, I didn't know it had that name.

I absolutely agree. My point is that there's an enormous spectrum of conflict, from friendly arguments to nuclear war. Primitive systems have only a few techniques on the spectrum of conflict (usually arguments, wrestling, duels with weapons, ambush killings, feuds, and battles). If you don't have many options for dealing with conflict, when a conflict escalates, it can get extremely bloody and hard to stop.

One of the great things about our modern age is that people have found more different methods on the spectrum of conflict. We've got a plethora of non-violent conflict strategies and tactics (see Gene Sharpe's work, especially From Dictatorship to Democracy), military contractors have been developing a number of non-lethal and less-lethal techniques and weapons (e.g. Peter Brusso's Defender tools, which are great for self defense). Even drones, much as many people hate and fear them, cause less damage than the aerial bombardment of, say, the first Gulf War, let alone WW2. All of these provide more diversity on the spectrum of conflict.

Again, I'm not saying that cops shooting rubber bullets at unarmed protestors is totally cool. What I am saying is that it's better than asking conscripted soldiers to open fire with real bullets on unarmed protestors. Back 50 or 100 years ago, real bullets were the only option in too many cases.

In my opinion, having more options in a spectrum of force is, overall, a good thing. Personally, I hope that those who practice self-defense develop layered defenses appropriate for the conflicts they will most likely face. Most of the conflicts they face will be non-violent, and most of the rest will be non-lethal. It's good to have both the training and the tools to resolve all of these appropriately, without escalation.

397:

Oh yeah, getting back to fire-making, and whether it can set a minimum size for fire-making sapients. I don't know what the minimum is, but Deep Survival mentions eight year-olds making a fire from scratch as a group, and ten year-olds spinning up a fire with a bow drill. I don't know what the minimum energy expenditure is, other than you've got to get wood hot enough to ignite, but I'd guess roughly that minimum sapient size for making fire is less than 70 lbs. I suspect it's greater than 1 lb, but that's one of those obnoxious physics questions (it's about converting muscular energy output to energy input in a small piece of wood, sufficient to ignite the wood, with, at a guess, probably 90% loss of energy in the conversion).

As for making sparks, I've got to note that the sparks coming off two rocks may not be hot enough to ignite a tinder bundle, and there's still some force involved. You can't place a flint on top of a steel and have the sparks drool off. Unfortunately, you've got to put enough energy in to get a spark, Presumably it's less than spinning a bowdrill (or matchlock guns wouldn't work), but I don't know what it is. If anyone knows the spring strength for a matchlock, that's crudely as small as you can make a sapient who can light a fire, assuming they're not limited by the size of their brains.

I guess the question now is, could the pirate's parrot cock the flintlock and shoot the gun? If so, parrots could theoretically take over the world.

398:

@395 "collectively we're brilliant"

... yes we are. Unfortunately we are also collectively insane.

We are already straining the earth's carrying capacity (draining fresh water aquifers, depleting top-soils, altering the climate, overfishing the oceans, and savaging biodiversity) and over the next two decades the global middle class responsible for the bulk of this damage is expected to increase from 2 billion people to 5.

... to more than double...

... and our response is...

... to do nothing.

Oh good.


(Just to preempt the inevitable responses, no I'm not suggesting one child policies or preventing the world's poor from trying to attain a standard of living like the one we enjoy. I am saying we need to make changes to the management of the economy - the system we use to allocate and exploit resources.)

399:

It gave me pause to realize that, a few hundred to thousand years ago, what we now consider graduate level competence in plant identification was the norm.

It's easy to appear brilliant in your own environment to someone from outside it. It's natural that they would seem very competent while going about their normal tasks in their normal environment; they'd seem a lot less competent in your native context. For example, they probably can't read, can't drive, can't speak English, can't comment on blogs, can't use an ATM, and can't respond appropriately to bogus charges on their credit card bill.

You have over a dozen years worth of schooling, the end product of hundreds of years of observation, in your head that typical Papuans lack completely. Even with the plants they see every day, you probably have a greater understanding of the biology, structure, and function of each part of the plant than they do.

400:

Actually, I have just enough second-hand knowledge about Papua New Guinea to be sure that they undoubtedly know more about the structure and function of the plants they live with than I do. I've actually spoken with Jared Diamond, briefly, and knew several other grad students who worked in country and told me stories. Book learning won't take you very far with plants, even though the science is over 400 years old.

Otherwise, I'd recommend reading Throwim Way Leg for a better view of what the Papuans do know, which is a lot. The money they make from working in mines and growing gourmet coffee does buy a fair number of SUVs. They're still into village-level payback feudism (not feudalism), but apparently they've moved from using wood arrows and stone axes to machetes, steel axes, and, oh yeah, shotguns made from plumbing parts, when they can't get someone to sell them real guns. They do take payback seriously in the highlands.

Anyone on this thread ever made a working shotgun out of plumbing parts? That's a bit of an intelligence test right there. I certainly haven't passed it.

401:

I never said it was impssible, just unlikely.

Referring to sports.

I have no idea about the UK but in the US there are some fairly smart pro athletes. Likely less than the general population but I'm not sure. Some of the more notable ones:
Bill Bradley was a Rhodes scholar. I've known of some college basketball players who became dentists. Think of anyone who attends Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Vanderbilt, etc...

Russell Wilson, a first year NFL quarterback who excelled graduated in 3 years while playing baseball and football in college.

But again, the system is different over here. Except for baseball if you can't qualify for college you really limit your chances for a pro career unless you are off the charts good. (Lebron James)

402:

I'm a little suspicious of the anecdotal evidence of different peoples' intelligence. Recognizing different plants? There's an app for that (LeafSnap). We always are amazed at knowledge we don't have, and, more importantly don't understand how it can be acquired. It's a bit like magic. It looks baffling until the trick is explained. Even amongst humans, savants can do things most of us cannot emulate, yet we don't see them as more intelligent. (Maybe they are going to be the ancestors of a human species that is much more intelligent that we are today).

We are still don't have a good definition of intelligence, and we certainly measure human IQs very differently than we do for animals. Even pattern matching tests like the Ravens Test which a human can do as part of a full IQ test would take immensely long reward training sessions with animals. It wasn't that long ago that AI was aimed at chess playing as the highest human intellect. We now know better.

As for building your own firearms from scrap, it is not that difficult. You can build a crude device that works like a small hand cannon with little more than metal pipes, something to act as a projectile (cast lead bullet) and hand crafted propellants (e.g. paper soaked in NaClO3). I did that in my teenage years in the UK. It wouldn't have taken that much extra effort to build a matchlock or crude flintlock. Admittedly I used our cultural store of books on historic firearms as a guide, but wouldn't a Papuan needed some guide too?
Now if you had to think up a gun without prior knowledge of its existence, and create all the parts only from natural objects, I would think that would be a very tall order for any intelligence.


403:

As for making sparks, I've got to note that the sparks coming off two rocks may not be hot enough to ignite a tinder bundle, and there's still some force involved. You can't place a flint on top of a steel and have the sparks drool off. Unfortunately, you've got to put enough energy in to get a spark, Presumably it's less than spinning a bowdrill (or matchlock guns wouldn't work), but I don't know what it is. If anyone knows the spring strength for a matchlock, that's crudely as small as you can make a sapient who can light a fire, assuming they're not limited by the size of their brains.

Any high-silica rock with a rough edge can make sparks against high carbon steel, e.g. an old shop file. I managed to start fire this way as a kid. Not much force is needed if the speed and angle is right.

Unlike steel, iron pyrites are naturally occurring and reportedly can be used in a similar same way for starting fire. But cohesive iron pyrites are somewhat rare and the pyrite is supposed to be harder to start a fire with than steel. I never found a lump large enough to try with.

If the genius parrots are advanced enough to make steel they can probably make lenses too. I think a Fresnel lens would make a better portable fire-starter for a parrot, albeit one that can only be used on clear days. The only strength required is that to hold it in place while the sun does the work, and it can ignite lumps of wood instead of requiring specially prepared tinder. Perhaps we should be burying a few million lenses as a gift through deep time to the parrots who come after.

Or at a somewhat higher level of metallurgical expertise the parrots can make mischmetal, the "flint" found in cigarette lighters. It produces far better sparks with far less effort than the traditional flint/steel combination.

404:

As anyone who has studied computer science should know, and in the words of Pterry:-

"Many can also be a number; 1, 2, many, many 1, many 2, many many, many many 1..."

405:

Nestor @ 394
The usual poet got there first…
The Secret of the Machines Still true ….

heteromeles @ 397
Not just “hot” enough to ignite – it really has to be DRY, too!
Remember, tinder-&-flint is even easier in terms of initial energy-input, though tricky to do without practice.
Theoretically, a large parrot could cock the flintlock, actually. You might have to worry about two closely-related cat breeds, too (Norwegian Forest & Maine Coon) which have an almost “opposable thumb” in that their “dewclaw” is much further down-&-round on their paws than most other cats – makes them VERY good climbers.
If they learn to co-operate we’re in deep shit.

David L @ 401
Yes, I know. For instance I happen to know two footie supporters who are NOT knuckle-dragging semi-fascist morons. But, if you are looking at a group of 200+ of them, that’s the way to bet – unfortunately. [ The technical term for these is: “Millwall Fans” ]

Zorro @ 403
Interesting historical remembrance brought up by your piece.
When “Locomotion” was delivered to the about-to-open Stockton & Darlington Railway, in 1825, her first fire was lit by one of the men attending, using his “burning glass” (which he kept for lighting his pipe !) on a wad of oakum, which was then tossed on to the wood-kindling in the firebox. Coal was then added, and so the first “public” railway’s first engine got up steam.

406:

It strikes me that selection in individuals for general intelligence may be replaced by selection for communication reliability and bandwidth (in the form of better voiceboxes, perhaps ultimately music and art) and network coherency (religions/ideologies maintain a common context, a standard library if you like, in which to run the meme).

Selection pressure for more effective discovery processes might then be exerted on the memetic level, eventually producing things like the scientific method.

407:

No noniono, it's an easy mistake to make, I typed Ferguson instead of Fairbairn.
Of course I've no idea what his kill your enemy quick method is actually called. I just called it that because it was a quick easy label.

408:

Maybe we're close to what's physically possible, intelligence-wise. From here on out it looks pretty much like humans, smart fast healthy humans. There's no further qualitative leap in intelligence available.

No, too comforting, we need a gesture to the macabre that lurks outside our safe middle-class existence. Maybe the next qualitative leap up is so quickly catastrophic that the Anthropic Principle requires us with high probability to exist prior to its occurrence. Interesting anime at the moment, "Shinsekai yori", humans trying to survive the advent of devastating psychic powers using eugenics programs and universal hypnotic conditioning, while busily trying to breed up intelligent eusocial mole rats which would lack the catastrophic human tendency to rogue individualism. I for one will miss Dirk, and his unthinkable thoughts. Maybe, in the wider universe, our level and form of intelligence isn't normal.

409:

Looks like a bad link there...

The Secret of the Machines

410:

@358:
the Phaistos Disk faded into obscurity, and Gutenberg gets the credit for inventing moveable type. Actually, the Koreans invented moveable type before Gutenberg.
---
Lots of people invented movable type before Gutenberg. But all modern printing is a descendant of Gutenberg's invention.

For some reason, many highly important things have to be invented many times, sometimes over centuries, before they take off, no matter how useful they might seem in retrospect.

411:

@401:
in the US there are some fairly smart pro athletes.
---
The bell curve would suggest that, but the high school and college I went to had special "sports" curricula for their athletes. They were basically the same as the "remedial" courses, excepted dumbed down even more, and they only had to be in class half a day vs. all day.

The valedictorians every year I was in high school were "athletes" with 4.0 grade averages. Of course, their "A"s in Calculator Math and Study Hall counted exactly the same as "A"s in Calculus 2 or Chemistry 3.

(yes, they graded "study hall" where I went to school. And, amazingly, some people still managed to fail...)

412:

Here in the UK, you can acquire a "Certificate of Professional Competence" for which the only skill you need to demonstrate is an ability to sit in a chair for 35 hours.

413:

I hear you. But I guess there's a spread. One of the best athletes at my high school planned to go to medical school. I think he's a doc now. (I really haven't kept up with my high school after I turned 20 or so.)

I think to some degree we notice the stupid athletes more as they are high profile. There are a lot of stupid people out there. But most of the people who read this blog don't see them very much.

My cousin, born in 1944, talked about how the army changed his mind about nature vs. nurture. He as a 99% nurture guy till the army. He then decided there were a lot of slugs walking around impersonating people. He just hadn't had much contact with them until he entered the service. This was during the Viet Name years and the draft. They are more selective about who the let in now.

414:

"Anyone on this thread ever made a working shotgun out of plumbing parts? "

You keep mentioning this - do you know what a shotgun actually is?

I know that sounds like me being an ass, but a shotgun is about as simple of a gun as you can make. It doesn't require rifling the barrel, and the mechanism for firing it is basically a spring and a nail, if you get down to it.

The hard part is the shell - if you have that, you can fire it with a hammer, a nail and a vice (this true of any bullet actually, although doing this is deeeeeeply unwise). It's much harder to make a bow that can shoot arrows lethally than a gun.

But anyone who has passed a shop class in high school could make a functioning one shot gun.

You can see a bit of this in prison weapons: http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/9-regular-objects-turned-into-insane-prison-weapons/

The trick is innovation - once something exist and people know it exists, we are quite clever at making it out of the most minimal of resources.

415:

For instance I happen to know two footie supporters who are NOT knuckle-dragging semi-fascist morons. But, if you are looking at a group of 200+ of them, that’s the way to bet – unfortunately. [ The technical term for these is: “Millwall Fans” ]

I suspect there may be a difference between side of the pond given the way colleges play a part in things over here. But yes, we have a lot of pro athletes who are plain dumb. I've bumped into a few of them. But it's not universal and I suspect based on the ones I've seen who seem to have their act together that the ratio of smarts is close to the population in general. When you shine a light on a few stupid ones they cast a long shadow. Most people with that level or absence of smarts in the general population don't gather attention till they are arrested or interviewed on the TV news when the tornado tears up their neighbors trailer.

416:

Actually, this one shows a greater range of cleverness: http://www.correctionsone.com/contraband/articles/1961780-15-deadly-improvised-prison-weapons-and-tools/

I use the prison thing as an example because these are things created by people who have very limited resources and people actively trying to stop them from doing this sort of thing.

(And, you know, are from a population of people who tend towards being less educated and arguably intelligent)

417:

Agreed, and there's more; you can probably make a working single shot "punch gun" to fire any centre-fire pistol ammunition as long as you can get tube that's thick enough walled to not bow under the initial discharge. (based on having seen one)

418:

And we arrive at one of the Stross Blog Attractors.

Richard Jefferies (author of the proto post-apocalypse novel 'After London') wrote a book 'Bevis - The Story Of A Boy' in 1882 in which the child protagonist builds a matchlock gun out of five feet of iron pipe- after buying "a pound of loose powder at three halfpence the ounce".

Even as a child I remember thinking Bevis was incredibly lucky not to blow his hands or face off.

419:

Lots of people invented movable type before Gutenberg. But all modern printing is a descendant of Gutenberg's invention.

Gutenberg had a market. When he started printing, there was a rising merchant class who had an interest in the Bible (and in signaling respectability to potential customers) and enough wealth to make educating their children an attractive possibility.

420:

Post language/culture-dependent intelligence development...

For this to occur, our species' population would probably have to become so large that interacting with fellow humans is actually painful so that in order to survive/thrive, we would need/develop some mechanism to unconsciously block out their existence. If you look at how crowds behave - for example, how people navigate through a busy thoroughfare - I think this is already happening. Not sure whether this behavior/sense has been named yet. (I think there's an existing analog in vision, where we aren't conscious of non-productive behavior, i.e., saccades.) If such a mechanism can arise for one sense, then presumably it's possible for it to arise in another 'sense'.

If any developed ability can be termed 'intelligence', then this would be a new form of intelligence, the active editing of others' from our consciousness. Interestingly, this c/would be the complement of empathy ... which also makes sense in that our muscles/nervous systems appear to be bilaterally symmetrical for activation/inactivation.

BTW, I'm not referring to autism here even though some of the behavior and perception seem similar.

This new 'intelligence' would have to yield some benefit .. which as a social creature, I'm not able to identify/perceive. So the compelling evidence for identifying a new form of human intelligence would have to be indirect -- because most of us are not equipped to register/perceive it - and would be identifiable only in the far future.

421:

All of that is true, although one wonders how you get a metal file without having a fire to work the metal...

Backing up slightly, the basic point is to answer Charlie's question about whether there could be any sapient species after humans, assuming humans go extinct. There are a lot of bright animals out there, but most of them existed before humans evolved, so it's reasonable to ask if there's some way to narrow the field.

IF one believes some newish research, there's a tradeoff between brain size and gut size. Both are resource intensive for a body. Humans managed to get big brains by using fire to cook our food, thereby letting us get away with smaller guts than we would otherwise need.

IF you therefore accept that making fire is a prerequisite for human-style small guts and big brains, then you've got a neat filter to assess whether a smart animal can become a human-style technological species. THEREFORE, I'm trying to figure out how small someone (or something) can be, and still make a fire. It appears that a 50-70 lb human can make a fire using a bow drill, and possibly several largish parrots working together could spark a fire using flint and iron pyrites or similar sparking minerals.

How parrots would manage to catch the spark in a tinder bundle and blow it alight is one of those little imponderables I've been trying to avoid. Carrying a burning tinder bundle around is another non-trivial issue. Ive smelled singed feathers, so I suppose it's fortunate that birds don't have much of a sense of smell.

422:

You don't need friction, sparks etc to make a fire. You just need the right kind of beetles.

423:

oh, I really should learn to google before posting. Turns out you need a bit more than a beetle - Bombardier beetles don't actually produce flame. But I expect there are ways an enterprising corvid could produce a chemical fire?

Bombardier beetles do produce enough heat to cook food, though.

424:

A water lens could start a fire ...see greenpowerscience dot com youtube video ... of course carrying the makings of it around, etc. poses another/slightly different set of problems.


425:

Is Papuan identifying 500 plants more impressive than number of car parts a mechanic can identify? Number of cases a lawyer has memorized? Number of drinks a bartender can mix?

Take an average modern teenager, send him or her into woods, and make them collect plants for a living -- within two years they will identify 100 plants. Within 10 years they will identify 500. Sorry, I am not impressed by Mesolithic tribesmen being good at what is, effectively, their job. A job which everyone in the tribe was good at, because that's all they did. Whereas we specialize. And in fact we have a specialty very similar to that of Mesolithic tribesman. It is not "botanist". It is "forest ranger". And I suspect an average experienced forest ranger is just as familiar with his environment as an average Mesolithic hunter. And knows a bunch of other stuff, such as how to fix his car and to do his taxes.

426:

I happened to agree with you, until you got to "forest ranger." You've talked with rangers, right? Some are that clued in. Most aren't. To pick one example, I'm routinely explaining stuff to a local ranger who grew up in the area. I've been living here a few years. As I noted, my particular talent set was much more common a long time ago. While there are some really talented conservation workers out there, the majority are much less talented.

A good way to think of the difference is to think of a large reserve where I was the senior botanist. The area's population is around 5000 people, just as it has been for thousands of years. Up until about a century ago, people (an Indian tribe) lived entirely of the reserve lands. Now they live in an adjacent town. My local expertise when I worked as that senior botanist was approximately that of a 12 year-old Indian girl, and there were a handful of other people on the island that knew as much or more than I did. Two centuries ago, thousands of people (all the adult women) would have known more than I did.

There's a lot of evidence that the old population did a much better job of managing the reserve lands. They had to, because they would have starved otherwise. Trying to preserve that land as a "wild area" with a small staff isn't working particularly well, because the reserve faces huge problems with weeds and introduced animals that overwhelm the staff's capacity. If we had several thousand people doing the work, those problems would have been solved long ago.

Now yes, we can argue about whether the Indians were any more intelligent than us moderns are, or whether we can just get away with being more clueless. Since most of those people now work low-skilled jobs in the tourism and service industries, I can also argue that the absolute skill level in the reserve area has markedly decreased, even if the populations' innate intelligence hasn't.

427:

That's kind of the point, really. Yes, I could make a shotgun out of pipes. Or rather, I could make a semi-functional shrapnel grenade out of plumbing, since I don't know the burst strength of the pipes sold by the local Big Box. Making one that works more than once is a bit more of a challenge, although a lot of people have passed that intelligence test. Google Paltik for some more examples.

This is the difference between individually smart and collectively smart. Individually smart is making a working gun out of stuff that was not meant to be a gun. Collectively smart is buying an AR-15 and bragging about how intelligent you are. We're collectively smart right now, but individually, most of us aren't as individually smart as we could be.

Charlie started this mess by asking if we could evolve to become more individually smart with things as they are. I'm pretty sure that there's little in our current society that promotes individual intelligence, because there's so much collective intelligence floating around to suppress it, keep us as consumers instead of makers. It's only when society breaks down (in prison, on the edges, etc) that individual intelligence becomes selected for. Again, I don't think this is a bad thing, but I do think that's the price we pay for being civilized.

428:

Interesting point. Reminds me of a short story I once read, which imagined that there is a very, very simple trick to interstellar travel, discoverable with stone-age technology. And once a species discovers this trick, their techonological and cultural development *stops*, because they have this overwhelming advantage - they normally won't even discover the scientific method.

This "anthropic stupidity" principle would seem to suggest that language is a real-world version of that techonology - once you develop it, you're done, for better or worse.

429:

"The Road Not Traveled" by Harry Turtledove. Actually it was 16th century technology, not stone age, but your point stands.

430:

Making fire a low tech way need not be easy for our successor species. Once they develop a technology that is simpler for them to use they will do it that way instead. For instance group-mind corvids* could develop a match manufacturing industry, or some kind of flint sparked mechanism (lighter) easily activated by beak or cooperating beaks. They wouldn't design it for an opposable thumb, they would design it with a different UI.

Also I'm not sure what the rules are regarding our successor. Do they take our place after a plague kills us all? In that case, they can scavenge from our civilization, which will be a great head start. If they have to build up from nature it will take longer and be less likely.

Also a successor species could use domesticated animals. Saying a partot could not operate a given machine because it isn't strong enough is like a hypothetical intelligent elephant saying a smart ape is impossible because they aren't strong enough to pull plows, as necessary for agriculture.


*While jogging yesterday I saw a raven picking at road kill. A car came and had to swerve. The raven in the road didn't move until another raven, presumably it's mate, came by and alerted it. More anecdotal proof of the switchable but one track minds of, at least, ravens. Which would mean a slight increase in baud rate and band size would make it possible for them to form group minds.

431:

I haven't waded through all the comments yet, and I probably should have, but Poul Andersen had a similar hypothesis in _Brain Wave_, that intelligence evolved to where it could dominate the environment and then pretty much stopped (though for the book, he threw in that we grew up in the Slow Zone, and then we got all sparkly when our solar system moved out of it).

432:

Well, if successor species evolved, it would probably take on order of 2-5 million years if not more, by which most of human society would be eroded away and useless. I was surprised to see a paleontologist speculating (probably rightly) that window glass won't remain transparent if "fossilized," so burying burning lenses for our successors to find might not work so well. I'm nor sure of the chemistry on this, so there may well be some form of glass that will remain transparent for millions of years. If so, start burying your lens caches. They will remember you fondly.

As for the birds, one thing I wanted to use in an SF book is a civilization based on multispecies flocks of parrots. Individually the birds aren't intelligent by human standards. Collectively, the multispecies flocks are as intelligent as humans. I was going to call it the polyculture, and it was inspired by a rather quirky book on Zen Buddhism titled Untrain your parrot. Yes, that is what I think of what passes for intelligence in people, not that you were wondering...

433:

Plant ID
Now, my training is in Physics & Engineering, but I got into gardening & food-&-herb growing long ago.
I’m no professional, but I can identify well over 200 species of plant, straight off, & I can usually tell the family – which will tell me a lot.
For instance in England, the (culinary) herbs are predominantly from just two families: the “mints” Labiates and the “Umberellas” Umbeliferae (spelling?) though you have to be careful with the umbels as some of them are also deadly poisonous.
Then there are the Solonaceous plants – either edible & tasty or deadly poisonous, & sometimes both, from different parts of the same plant, like potatoes, for example.
Thanks to good ol’ Linneaus … the families have strong resemblance, so you can almost always narrow down what you are looking at, and what use or not it might be.
So, if you are interested, it isn’t that difficult to pick stuff up – of course, in a field (oops, PUN!) like this, a scientific training is a great help. Ditto for collecting fungi – where you have to be even more careful.
But, you can’t do everything – we now know so much, that we have to specialise & rely on trust to keep our complex societies running.
Which is also part of our extended phenotype, I suspect.

Ethan.maron @ 428
Originally a short in “Analog” a long time ago (I sold all my back-copies) by a quite well-known author, too …
Ah The Road Not Taken Harry Turtledove, 1985
Very chilling, in its way.

434:

The evolution time for birds might be shorter because generations are much shorter. Also, a flock intelligence wouldn't have the extended childhood of humans because the intelligence wouldn't require large individual brains that need time to grow, so that generation length might stay the same. In fact the flock nature

Parrots are too specialized for the tropics. It makes them vulnterable in a way, and thus likely to go through bottlenecks, but I think the ubiquitous corvids are just a better bet. You'de first have Crovins, ravens that flock like crows and form a group mind based on that (and complex calls), one that may start domesticaing other species. Then they would be so successuful that flocks would start fighting wars for resources and territory. For combat they'de get bigger, like large eagles, maybe twice the length and thus 8 times the brain size. Call these Warvins. If the early Crovins started scavenging the most primitive human technology before it decayed, it might be around for the Warvins to get a hint off of. It could be just a few hundred or thousand years, since the evolution of a flock intelligence would be more like software development. The physical changes for something like that are reasonably small and such quick transformations have indeed occurred. Dwarf species on islands and such. It would be like the burst period of transformation from Homo Erectus to early Homo Sapiens, except more than ten times as fast.
Then Worvin archeologists discover the experimental paratime portal that the plague cmae through in the first place.

Speculatively.

435:

Cool Greg! Those are the right names, although they are the old-fashioned versions, based on flower shape rather than type genus.

The modern names are: Labiatae=Lamiaceae (mints, sages, etc), Umbelliferae=Apiaceae (carrot, dill, anise, hemlock), and then there's Solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes, nightshade). If you happened to notice that most of the really useful plant families have a lot of toxic wild relatives, well that happens to be true. In some plant ID labs, there's a sign that says "Bad taxonomy KILLS," and it's worth remembering

Now, just for fun, let's compare the knowledge of a Chumash healer I got to chat with. She's cool in that she apprenticed a pharmacology professor, who had a lot of fun figuring out the active ingredients in her preps. To pick one plant, white sage (aka Indian Prozac in her formulary), she claimed to have over 100 separate collecting spots for this species, based in part on the different chemical properties the plants had. I've tasted and smelled enough different white sages to absolutely agree with her. There's a lot of chemical diversity out there, and she knows where it is and what it's good for.

This shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who knows the differences among apples, tomatoes, potatoes, grapes, or any other crop. We deliberately breed for the tastes, smells, and properties we want. Thing is, a grape is (more or less) one species, as are apples and most crops (yes, I know there's hybridization going on. I'm simplifying).

This subspecific knowledge of individual groups of plants is the part that's really difficult to capture in academic botany, because we tend to go to species level and stop there. The really utilitarian knowledge is about the individual plants and their cultivars, and that's a different level of knowledge entirely. That's the reason I'd be a total failure as a New Guinea mountain farmer or an Indian gathering plants. I don't know how to get the good stuff to grow on their land. The only thing my degree does is to help me learn faster than Joe Average would.

436:

The assumption of some people here seem to be that the evolution of intelligence or "successor species" is inevitable.

However, looking at the period of the dinosaurs, who were around for 135 million years and never evolved any form of higher intelligence (as far as we know), it would seem that the evolution of intelligence is far less likely than assumed.

Also, on the evolution of improved intelligence in humans: This is highly unlikely to be a linear process in which the most intelligent automatically spawn the next stage. You are probably better off with a large population of normally intelligent people than a small one of super-geniuses.

If humans are becoming more intelligent as a group then what we are seeing is likely the diffusion of already-existing higher-intelligence genes, not the rise of new mutations.

However, if we *are* seeing such diffusion, this would suggest that there *is* indeed selection for higher intelligence. Which again means that if there should arise further mutations for higher intelligence (without too large costs in other areas of fitness), then the mutated genes would likely also be selected for, and we would eventually have more intelligent humans than we can possibly have today.

437:

This is another one of those imponderables. Quaker parakeets can live outside in Massachusetts, and a number of parrots live wild in San Francisco and points south. In their native range, quakers live in southern Argentina. Keas (to pick another smart bird) live in alpine New Zealand, and do in fact play in the snow. If we're positing time for a parrot to become intelligent, that appears to be more than enough time for it to become cold adapted.

That said, I think you can make a perfectly good case for ravens and crows in place of parrots, or mixed with parrots. The real question is how they light and manage a fire without singeing their feathers off. Without that little trick, they're going to have trouble with most forms of technology.

438:

As for the general question of whether there will be successor species after a human extinction, I think the general idea (and I saw this in a book by Carl Sagan) is that "average brain size" appears to be increasing over time, time being the last 400 million years or so. IF this is the case (and remember that Kurzweil's Singularity is based on the same type of graph reading) then it's certainly possible there will be other intelligent species after humans go extinct.

The thing to remember is that intelligence appears to be increasing as a general trend on a scale of millions of years. That doesn't necessarily mean that on the fine scale of time we inhabit, we'll become more intelligent as a species, just as a bad snowstorm doesn't disprove global warming.

One excuse for intelligence evolving is that it's a red queen race--intelligence and adaptability are the best way to survive in a world being disrupted by other intelligent and adaptable creatures. I don't know. As I said, the logic reminds me strongly of Kurzweil.

It's also possible that humans won't go extinct for another billion years, either. After all, cyanobacteria totally disrupted the biosphere (with oxygen) and they're still around. Perhaps if your clade is sufficiently destructive (as with cyanobacteria) you don't get to go extinct, but become the foundation for a whole new biosphere. That might or might not be a good thing....

439:

heteromeles @ 437
RIng-necked (green) Parakeets are, & have been feral & acclimatised in London (51N) for many years now!

& @ 435
What you are describing is what the vine-growers call terroir referring to the microclimate/soil-type/local fungal population/other variables that make the same species so different in behaviour in sites that can be as little as 4 or 5 miles apart ......
Believe me, there are plants that flourish on my allotment, that die in the garden & vice versa - distance between the two ...(?)... ten minutes walk!

& @ 438
Humanity as a basis????
Sorry, already been done, long ago Last and First Men Olaf Stapledon rules Universe, OK?

440:

Humans have a lot of symbiotes, so our clade isn't just common descent. How many niches could maize and digestive fauna and housecats evolve to fill?

441:

Felis domesticus isn't a symbiote.
They are commensals - from their point of view at any rate.
To quote Pterry: "Only humans can open cupboard doors"

442:

Keas are really stupid. In New Zealand they sabotage the traps that environmentalists set up to catch feral ermines - thus helping a foreign predator that is targeting local birds.

443:

Pterry is occasionally wrong. I've known cases where padlocks were required to keep felines out of cupboards and fridges.

444:

(On the other hand, I will concede that cats are extremely lax in stocking those locations.)

445:

Bell... @ 443
Me too!
I heard, once of cats co-operating in a similar situation.
The humans had forgotten to secure the fridge ...
when they got home two strange cats were in the house, the leg of lamb from the fridge was wedged into the cat-flap & "their" cat was on the outside!

446:

Oh, and Ratatosk can lift saucepan lids off - he puts his paw(s) to the edge of the lid, carefully extends his claws to get a purchase & lifts/pulls. Bingo! Meaty sauce! (or even garlicky butter-&-cream-laden mashed potato!)
We have to put all saucepans in Birman-proof positions, now ......

447:

#443 to 446 inc - Likewise, with the note that I'm seriously impressed by a cat that can open saucepans.

448:

As an ex-farmer, I can tell you that cultivar choice does have noticeable effects. Some are documented by plant breeders, some less so. But such things as the amount of frost a particular variety of winter wheat needs does matter, and a farmer's local knowledge can come into play.

But I do think the plant breeding companies are getting a bit too big, and overlooking that sort of localisation, even though there's a lot of trials data that could be looked at. One of the features of the trials of new varieties is that small trial plots have to be scattered across the field, so that variety-effects can be distinguished from soil and microclimate. Some land varies very little across a field, some varies a lot. Where I farmed was a series of east-west clay ridges across a north-south valley between ridges of chalk or limestone. A field could be mostly clay, and the next field in the local valey bottom could be a difficult mix of clay and very porous alluvium. Soil pH and moisture levels through the year could vary a lot.

Since the soil might not have changed much, year on year, it might be possible to do some detailed soil analysis and extract some useful data about crop varieties and soil types. But I am inclined to doubt that plant breeders would bother with putting trial plots on the more extreme soil variation.

449:

I absolutely agree. Breeding your own plant varieties isn't that hard. While it's a bit more complex than simply taking the offspring of plants that did best in your plot, it's not that much more difficult. This is what the Seed Savers do, and you can find information on it online and in books if you look around.

This is another example of the difference between individual intelligence (in the farmers' heads) and collective intelligence (behind Big Ag's paywalls). Perhaps because I'm not a farmer, I'm a big fan of Open Source Ag, although I live in a country where that's very far from national policy.

450:

I've never heard it described as "Open Source Ag" before, but I understand and agree the underlying arguments.

451:

she claimed to have over 100 separate collecting spots for [white sage], based in part on the different chemical properties the plants had.

I can believe that there are 100 different varieties of white sage with slightly different smells and tastes, but I'd be amazed if they all had provably different medical effects. I'd even be impressed if three of them had provably different medicinal effects when studied in a double-blind trial.

452:

Jay, there's a common vegetable you will probably find in your diet (unless, like me, the smell/taste causes you to vomit): Brassica oleracea. Cultivars include cauliflower, romanesco, broccoli, cabbage, purple cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kohlrabi, and savoy.

These are different varieties of the same species. Some of them are almost unrecognizable as such, aren't they?

Plants are weird.

453:

Damn Charlie, that cuts you off from a lot of your national cuisine! My condolences, and I won't offer you kimchi if we ever meet.

Anyway, you're not quite right: the brassicas aren't from a single species, there from hybrids between three closely related wild mustards. The story's cool enough in the SF sense that it's worth repeating here.

The way you go from a weedy mustard to broccoli is what a geneticist described to me as "genomic warfare." The plant has two genomes inside it, one from each parent. In the normal course of things, one gene from each parent is silenced, so that only one copy of each gene gets expressed. When you have two dissimilar genomes, there's a bit of a "shooting war," as the genomes each try to silence each other. The remaining genes that get expressed are a random hash of both parents, which is why the Brassicas are so diverse. This works because the genes remain silenced through generations, and eventually (because random mutations are not selected against in silenced genes, they become non-functional baggage).

Plant scientists have had some fun trying to recreate cabbages from their wild ancestors, just to study the process. They've also grown haploid brassica plants from pollen grains, although apparently they don't grow very well.

Not that this makes brassicas taste any better, but there's something cool about embryonic intra-hybrid genomic warfare.

454:

"Why is the human species only as intelligent as it is, and not more so?"

The fact that the question comes up is an indication that OGH can sense that we could do better. Stupidity bothers us more when we sense that it is no longer necessary.

455:

Intelligence vs. Insight

Collective/social intelligence – is increasing in the developed world as per continuing popularity and growth of Facebook, blogs, etc.

Language increases access to ‘group/collective intelligence’ but only among those sharing the same language and for problems where estimation, i.e., summation/converging guesses, is the issue/solution made more effective using a shared, distributed network.

Insight is a property of the individual, therefore an outlier phenomenon. In a climate/environment where group-belongingness is growing and actively promoted, insight gets lost - becomes inaccessible unless the group collectively provides a framework for reaching out to, nurturing and mentoring ‘outcasts’/outliers. Insight is also potentially a negatively weighted game-changer because it costs more if you have to rip out old systems.(In worst-case scenarios, insight is devalued, demeaned and shunned.)

So the question becomes: does the human species fare better when guided mostly by intelligence or mostly by insight? (I think that this brings in trust/empathy issues as well: are inter-cultural/group trust/empathy increasing or decreasing?)

Below is a quote from a ScienceDaily article relating to collective intelligence “The Effective Collective: Grouping Could Ensure Animals Find Their Way in a Changing Environment”(Jan 31 2013).

“These findings correlate with recent research showing that collective intelligence -- even in humans -- can rely less on the intelligence of each group member than on the effectiveness of their communal interaction, Couzin said. In humans, research suggests that such cooperation would take the form of open and equal communication among individuals regardless of their respective smarts, he said.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130131144410.htm

For some reason, this discussion makes me think of the need for a co-evolving physiological intelligence, specifically the immune system. As an increasingly collective, culturally and intermingling/intermarrying species, our immune systems need to be able to adapt and cooperate. (Anyone know how humans as a species are doing here? How does the human immune system compare to other species? Historically, is our immune system getting better – more adaptive, more quickly?)


456:

Collective intelligence (sometimes stupidity) is very important in human societies due to specialization. Our early ancestors may have had high general intelligence (controversial) but it was not just poorly used (no education) but very similarly used for all members. Once we had civilization that allowed specialization(and increasingly so since the industrial revolution) those new memes could be spread rapidly and different variants used to improve group outcomes.

Note theoretically no language is required, although it helps immensely.

To return to the OP 2nd question, I doubt that any species can evolve a high intelligence without language. All higher animals communicate and we suspect simple languages due to informational complexity analyses. Note even humans that cannot vocalize can communicate with non-vocal languages.

My guess is that language is so powerful an intelligence multiplier, that it will be independently evolved (like vision).


457:

Really like this comment -- "My guess is that language is so powerful an intelligence multiplier, that it will be independently evolved (like vision)."

For this (independently evolved language) to be true ... then like vision, different modes/mechanisms/forms must have arisen. Is there any data to show this? (Please note: I'm not arguing, just very interested.)

458:

jessica @ 454
Stupidity bothers us more, now, becuse, as always, stupidity very often gets people killed, & often not the stupid person. With our current low infant mortaliity rates & long ageing profiles, fatality-causing ( & permanent crippling) stupidities are shown up much more clearly for the un-necessary waste that they are.
Also, with more technical & complicated machinery around, making a fatal mistake is not something you want people to do, at all.
One of the good "real safety as opposed to fake safety" effects in the UK of the much-maligned, because much-misused, H&S @ Work Act.

SF reader @ 455
In worst-case scenarios, insight is devalued, demeaned and shunned. We were discussing this very problem in another context in the next thread on the "CREATe" launch @ entries 102 - 106.

I'll answer your Q (I Might be wrong)...
The human species does best when insight is used to give intelligent guidance, with feedback of intelligence being re-applied to the insight.
Two of the feedback loops in the scientific process, in fact - the third being experiment, where applicable.
Why do you think science is so powerful, even given all the obscuranist & business interests ranged against it? I note you mention the vital element of "trust" - something many animals understand, quite well - example: one of the local foxes will trust me enough to come to within 15cm of my hand, under the right conditions.

& @ 457
Well dolphins & some whales talk to each other - we know they have many different signals & that those signals mean something. But the encoding of those signals is quite different to ours, so we can't determine exactly what they are "saying" to each other, nor can we (yet) send them information. Uplift required here?
Do wild large Parrots have "language" - I don't know - does anyone?
Are there other animals' "languages" which are not transmitted by sound-waves?
Difficulty here:
The Human "voice-box" & our method of making controlled sounds is very unusual, I believe. Our control of self-produced sounds is extremely wide (The widest that is known of?) Virtually no other animal can do this. I'm given to understand that one of the few others that can, apart from some birds (Those Parrots, again!) are Harbour or Common Seal Phoca vitulina & that this was one of the supports for the apparently now-exploded "Aquatic Ape" hypothesis of Alister Hardy & Elaine Morgan!

459:

So far as African Gray Parrots go, my non-expert understanding is that they are difficult to study in the wild. Part of the problem is where they like to nest, and part is because they are crop pests, so they tend to avoid people carrying things. That said, researchers are pretty sure that separate flocks (500+ birds/flock) have separate dialects, they have a large vocabulary of sounds, and they are know that calls within a flock change when another flock comes by. We simply don't know what they're saying. Given Alex's demonstrated linguistic ability, along with anecdotal evidence from other birds who weren't so stringently studied, it's pretty obvious that they could easily talk with each other at least as well as human children can. We just don't know how they natively communicate. The experiment I'd love to do is to start a colony of African grays, teach them all English, and get them teaching their offspring. That would get really interesting, because it would give us a way to eavesdrop on how they talk with each other.

As for other talkers (aside from many parrots, starlings, and corvids), there's a beluga that says a few words, and an elephant that says some words in Korean (using her trunk). I've also heard a cat clearly enunciate "no" and "mom," as well as a dog that said "Hello" (mangling the l's). Both these animals clearly understood human words, but it was clear that they had only intermittent control of their lips and vocal chords.

460:

Re - entries 102 - 106.-- thank you, I'll check those out.

"But the encoding of those signals is quite different to ours, so we can't determine exactly what they are "saying" to each other, nor can we (yet) send them information." -

Do you mean the sound making/receiving part of language or the brain language encoding such as Broca's area? I'd love to see an fMRI of Alex's or any of your other English-language trained pets/animals listening/talking to you vs. talking with one of its own species... :)


By independently evolved -- I was thinking along the lines of non-vocal (sound),e.g., chemical for ants.

Whales send pulses of low frequency waves that we p