Tuesday 22 April 2014

Reconsidering the exceptional nature of Ashkenazi Jewish intellectual achievement in the light of declining European intelligence over the past 200 years


It is well-established that, through most of the twentieth century, Ashkenazi Jews (that is, Jews from central Europe, around Germany) had an IQ of about 115 - that is, one standard deviation above the British average IQ of 100 which is used as a reference.

This is been plausibly linked to the proportionately much greater number of Jews who attained intellectual eminence through the 20th century - especially in mathematics and the sciences.


This differential Jewish pre-eminence emerged throughout the 19th century, and this emergence has almost-always been put down to their emergence from the ghetto at about that time, and the gradual and partial elimination of barriers against Jews in Europe occupying high status social positions.

But now that evidence has emerged for a rapid and substantial and of decline of intelligence from sometime in the 19th century, it is possible that the differential of intellectual achievement between Ashkenazi Jews and the European populations that surrounded them may be partially or mostly explained by an opening-up of an intelligence gap: due to the decline of the gentile population having begun a few generations before the same process took hold among Jews.

In other words, it is possible that the 19th century Jewish 'emergence from the ghetto' was either a coincidence, or else was itself a consequence, of the opening-up of differentially greater intelligence among the Ashkenazim.


Thus, current evidence is that Victorian English had about the same intelligence as middle-late 20th century Ashkenazim.

So one explanation was that initially English and Ashkenazi intelligence were pretty much the same; but that the decline in English intelligence (with, presumably, much the same story of decline in France, Germany, the USA etc) led to a situation where Ashkenazim emerged through the twentieth century as having differentially higher intellectual achievement than other European-descended populations.

Nowadays, the Jewish-European intelligence gap may have narrowed, and intermarriage has become much more frequent; but the main trend is that both Jewish and European intelligence are now declining; such that the most obvious thing about modern human accomplishment is that there is so little of it; with an almost complete absence of geniuses.

Obviously, the above is an hypothesis, which invites empirical investigation; but it has some plausibility in terms of being a parsimonious explanation of the rise and decline of Ashkenazi Jewish genius in relation to other European groups.


Note: Even if Europeans and Ashkenazim started out - say 1750 - having a very similar level of general intelligence - this does not mean that creative genius was identical in the two groups. Indeed it almost certainly was not; since personality (high Psychoticism) is the other main factor along with very high intelligence in enabling genius; and Jews and gentile Europeans were two substantially separate populations living in significantly different societies, and therefore experiencing different selection pressure with respect to personality traits. 


Further Note: But if it is true and Jewish intelligence was indeed significantly higher than gentile European intelligence in - say - 1800, then this implies that average Ashkenazi intelligence circa 1800 would have been around two standard deviations higher than modern average intelligence - in other words an average intelligence of around-about 130. This would be startling, but not, I think, impossible; since some 'intellectual families' of high social class nowadays apparently have about that level of average intelligence.


Thursday 17 April 2014

What IS intelligence (in the lay sense)? How do people think?


What is a good way of conceptualizing intelligence in the sense that lay people use the term?

It is mostly an ability to think - rather than an amount of knowledge (much knowledge is, rather, a result of intelligence), intelligence is quantitative (people can be more or less intelligent)...

High intelligence is (I would say) a combination of two attributes: thinking rapidly about a large number of things simultaneously

Intelligence could therefore be reduced to a combination of fast processing speed (i.e. 'g'), and a large working memory.


So, how do people think (intelligently)?

I envisage intelligent thinking as going on within a 3D space - and the subject matter of thought being something like complex 3D shapes in this space.

But all thinking must be done in a finite time-frame - say 5 seconds (just to clarify the explanation).


(This 5 seconds represents that the neurons which do the thinking can only be activated (and interact) for a finite time - and that thinking therefore occurs in a time window. Thinking can only be done over about 5 seconds because after that time the earlier information will fade and be lost. That is, only a finite number of things can be 'held in mind simultaneously" - and the "simultaneously" therefore actually boils-down to the period of time in which an idea can remain active while other ideas are added to the 3D space.)


The number and size of 3D shapes is constrained by the size of the space (ie. the size of working memory) and the stuff that can be done with them is constrained by the speed with which manipulations can be performed.

So, there is a maximum of 5 seconds in which to manipulate the ideas (3D shapes) - and higher intelligence means that either more manipulations of ideas can be done in those 5 seconds (because the processing speed is faster), or else that more ideas can be manipulated in 5 seconds (because working memory space is larger) - or both of these (more rapid simultaneous manipulation of more ideas).

What results from this thinking is


So, what is the role of experience and knowledge?

I envisage learning as a matter of chunking.

Chunking is the process by which ideas are summarized or condensed - so that instead of memorizing 1 2 3 4 5 6 as six pieces of information, it could be remembered as (say) two chunks of 123 and 456, or a a single chunk which abstractly represents "the first six digits".

In other words, by chunking we 'encode' information, in a smaller and briefer form. In effect, chunking takes many 3D shapes and encodes them into one 3D shape which can later be decoded to yield the many shapes which made it.

When a person is learning, they are (in effect) taking large amounts of information and encoding them into 3D shapes - so that each shape can be decoded to yield a lot of information.

So a trained and experienced mathematician is able to think using ideas that could be understood as highly-encoded 3D shapes. And indeed, mathematical learning could be imagined as an iterative or cyclical process of chunking, then chunking these chunks into new chunks; by which more-and-more complex ideas are encoded.

(Many ideas are encoded into one chunk - then many of these encoded chunks are combined into one chunk - and so on.)


The basic 'intelligence' is still constrained by the number of ideas which can be held in mind 'simultaneously' (i.e. over a 5 second timespan) and by the speed of manipulation which constrains the number of manipulations possible in 5 seconds.

In other words, intelligence remains constrained by the fixed values of WM size and 'g'/ processing speed.

But after the manipulations are finished, after the thinking has been done; each 3D shape (or the resulting combinations of shapes) can (in effect) be decoded (and the products of decoding themselves be decoded, perhaps many times) to yield potentially a very large amount of information.


So, this model explains how people may suppose that 'intelligence' (in a lay sense) is increased by education, training, knowledge, experience etc - while the real underlying intelligence (consisting of 'g' reducible to processing speed, and Working memory) may be innate, fixed, mostly inherited.

And the cyclical, iterative chunking produced by education and experience, may disguise declining intelligence - either in ageing individuals whose processing speed is slowing, or in a society subject to dysgenic decline of 'g' with a generation upon generation slowing of processing speed.


What this means is that an increasingly specialized and prolonged education can result in exactly this kind of multi-cycle iterative chunking, so that within a specialized field the use of more complex chunks can disguise the decline in processing speed.

In other words, declining 'g'/ processing speed, means that less processing can occur in the constraint of the 5 second time window - but the ideas being processed (within the specialist domain of a specialized education and experience) may be more-complexly encoded. And this may superficially disguise the decline in processing speed.

BUT if an average modern person (with slower processing speed) had the same education and training as the average person of 150 years ago - and was thinking at the same level of generality - then there the average modern would display a very clear inferiority in terms of the maximum complexity of function. 

AND THIS IS WHAT WE FIND - modern intellectual life is characterized by what I have termed microspecialization

(See the chapter "No such thing as ‘Science’ anymore" in http://corruption-of-science.blogspot.co.uk )

So, a human geneticist may function intellectually at a high levels within his microspecialism - but will be utterly incompetent at thinking in terms of genetics as a whole, or natural selection, or biology generally; so intellectual life is necessarily fragmented into 'autonomous' micro-units - when when the average intellectually sluggish modern person tries to think in general terms about general issues, they reveal an often embarrassing degree of simple-minded incompetence. 

Because processing speed has declined, the average modern person simply cannot do much manipulation of ideas within the '5 second' temporal constraint of working memory - when compared with what was normal 150 years ago.  

Except on familiar territory, modern people therefore cannot follow complex (several step) explanations which were comprehensible to previous generations - in effect because the beginning of the explanation has long since faded and gone before they can get to the end of it! 


(More exactly, when the 3D space of WM has been filled with ideas, not much in the way of manipulation can be done with these many ideas in the brief time available before these ideas fade and are lost, and need to be re-loaded afresh.)


Friday 4 April 2014

The Natural Selection of European Genius - a speculation


Speculation time...

Creative Genius is a combination of high general intelligence (g) and (moderately) high Psychoticism (see elsewhere on this blog for the evidence) plus some other things, including luck.

But these are the necessary attributes - intelligence gives metal quickness, quick learning and general knowledge - and psychoticism provides the creativity plus the personal autonomy required to focus on something due to its intrinsic interest and in despite of social pressure to stop doing it and do something else.


1. In the beginning, hunter gatherers were low in intelligence and high in Psychoticism - they were creative back lacked cognitive ability, and seldom made discoveries.

HG = Low IQ & High P


2. In stable and large scale agricultural societies there was selection for higher intelligence and higher 'General Factor Personality' GFP - GFP is what J Phillipe Rushton termed a putative underlying unitary 'pro-social' personality trait which can be assumed to underpin the Costa and McCrae Big Five (i.e. High GFP =  high Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Openness and low Neuroticism) or Eysenck's Big Three (i.e. High GFP = high Extraversion and low Neuroticism and Psychoticism).

(GFP statistically-underpins the various specific personality traits in just the same way as g underpins the various cognitive abilities.)


Such populations became high in intelligence but uncreative, since individuals would be focused on social expectations (for stable emotions, sociability, hard work and empathy) and would be most rewarded hence motivated by conforming to social expectations.

Their whole mental set up would be outward looking at other people - as contrasted with the inward looking self-evaluating set-up which seems to be required for creativity.

Agriculturalists = High IQ & High GFP (i.e. Low P)


3. Specifically in European societies (of the Middle Ages) there was a further selection for economic specialization in men.

This selection worked because the most reproductively successful men were cognitive specialists - merchants, skilled tradesmen, doctors, lawyers, clerks... indeed these were the ONLY men who actually managed to raise on average more than two children per family.

In order to do such work, these men were Naturally Selected to be motivated not by 'other people' but by the innate rewards of their, often solitary, cognitive and physical skills. This was in fact selection for high Psychoticism - for creativity.

Despite not being very sociable nor very 'charming', such men got good wives via arranged marriages - since parents of a young and healthy girls would prefer their grandchildren not to starve to death.

The result was a population that was both intelligence and creative - due to having high P.

Europeans = High IQ & (relatively) High P

But the High P of the Europeans is NOT the same as the High P of the Hunter Gatherers - it is a High P which is not 'natural and spontaneous' but a High P which has secondarily evolved-from a High GFP.


So we get three types of world population in terms of what I regard as the primary variables of general intelligence (g) and Psychoticism

H-G - High Primary P and Low g

Agric - High GFP and High g

European - High Secondary P and High g.


This is my explanation for why a high incident rate of Creative genius was confined to European populations.

As I said - this is speculation!