Tuesday 29 July 2014

Through the ages... the difference between real understanding, and examinations or tests


Real understanding: to have mastered and be able to use the relevant knowledge and concepts.

Four generations ago: to be able to use recalled facts and phrases to construct a rationally coherent and relevant extended essay.

Two generations ago: to be able to recall relevant facts and phrases.

Currently: to be able to recognize the correct fact or phrase from among a list of distractors.


Wednesday 23 July 2014

What signs should we look for in monitoring mutation accumulation? Signs of de-differentiation/ loss of adaptations - especially in social and sexual functioning

I have been thinking about the expected effect of mutation accumulation - and I think there would be de-differentiation/ loss of specialized adaptations.

These would affect general intelligence 'g' (because g is a fitness measure), and adaptive social functions (because these are subtle/ advanced adaptations which are damaged by even slight illness, intoxication or any functional brain impairment).

I think evidence consistent with both lowered intelligence and also impaired adaptive social functioning can be observed in the report of Mouse Utopia. 

The reduced fertility in Mouse Utopia is perhaps also related to impaired drive/ motivation - as well as ineffective drive/ motivation (due to loss of functional adaptations). 


I general, I think loss of adaptive functionality is what should be looked-for with mutation accumulation (i.e. adaptive behaviours knocked-out or damaged or distorted), rather than weird new behaviours - and particularly loss of functionality in:

1. The social domain - first subtle, then gross impairments of adaptive social interactions
2. The sexual domain - first subtle, then gross impairments of adaptive sexual interactions

...bearing in mind that 'adaptive' means tending to enhance reproductive success.

I suggest social and sexual functioning, since these are the areas which I think are the most sensitive to brain impairments; at least that seems to be the situation in neurological and psychiatric disease. 

My observation has been that when there is almost any significant degree of neurological or psychiatric disease, even the slightest; social and sexual domain functioning can usually be detected as having been impaired, by those who best knew the patient before he suffered illness.


Modern England as Mouse Utopia?


If we look at the Mouse Utopia experiment and try to fit the history of modern England into it

There could be an inflection point in 1921 when English population growth suddenly slowed - somewhat like the transition from phase B to C in the mouse utopia graph at the top of page 83


Then the plateau phase D - where births just replace deaths - was reached in the 1970s 

Which perhaps (?) means the next phase would be the terminal death phase (among the native population - disregarding immigrants) with fewer births than deaths dwindling to zero live births and escalating median age until eventually all women are aged beyond the menopause. 


Well, this isn't really comparing like with like! - and the whole picture is muddied by increasing medical capability and cossetting, which has radically reduced deaths from infectious disease (the main cause of mortality); and keeps infants and the elderly alive in circumstances which would previously have been fatal - but maybe gives us clues of what to look-out-for; assuming that the demise of Mouse Utopia was indeed substantially due to mutation accumulation ...


Review of Dancing with a Ghost by Robert Ross


Friday 18 July 2014

The demise of 'Mouse Utopia' reinterpreted as mutation accumulation by Michael A Woodley


The so-called Mouse Utopia experiment was conducted from 1968 by John B Calhoun


The idea was that four breeding pairs of mice were allowed to reproduce freely in a 'utopian' environment with ample food and water; no predators; no disease; comfortable temperature, conditions and space. What happened is described by the author:


Phase A - 104 days - establishment of the mice in their new environment, then the first litters were born.

Phase B - up to day 315 - exponential population growth doubling every 55 days.

Phase C - from day 315-560 population growth abruptly slowed to a doubling time of 145 days.

Phase D - days 560-920; population stagnant with births just matching deaths. Emergence of many pathological behaviours.

Terminal Phase - population declining to zero. The last conception was about day 920, after which there were no more births, all females were menopausal, the colony aged and all of them died.


The Mouse Utopia experiment is usually interpreted in terms of social stresses related to 'over-population' crowding - generating pathological behaviours and a loss of the will to live.

But Michael A Woodley suggests that what might be going on is mutation accumulation, and deleterious genes generating a wide range of maladaptive pathologies, incrementally accumulating with each generation; and rapidly overwhelming and destroying the population before any beneficial mutations could emerge to 'save; the colony from extinction. 

So the bizarre behaviours seen especially in Phase D - such as the male 'beautiful ones' who appeared to be healthy and spent all their time self grooming, but were actually inert, unresponsive, unintelligent, uninterested in reproduction - are not adaptations to crowding, but maladaptive outcomes of a population sinking under the weight of mutations.


The reason why mouse utopia might produce so rapid and extreme a mutation accumulation is that wild mice naturally suffer very high mortality rates from predation.

Therefore, because wild mice are so short-lived, mice are not 'built to last' and have the reputation of being unusually-prone to produce new deleterious mutations (and are therefore extremely prone to cancer, and susceptible to carcinogens - which is why mice are used to test for carcinogens).

Thus mutation selection balance is in operation among wild mice, with very high mortality rates continually weeding-out the new mutations (especially among males) - with typically only a small and relatively mutation-free proportion of the (large numbers of) offspring surviving to reproduce; and a minority of the most active and healthy (mutation free) males siring the bulk of each generation.

However, in Mouse Utopia, there is no predation and all the other causes of mortality are reduced to a minimum - so the frequent mutations just accumulate, generation upon generation - randomly producing all sorts of pathological (maladaptive) behaviours.


To test whether mutation accumulation is the real explanation for the demise of Mouse Utopia, the original experiment should be repeated but with genetic controls. Woodley is hoping to do this himself.

Also, a variant experiment could perhaps be conducted, which maintained utopian conditions but without allowing overcrowding (e.g. by continually splitting-up the growing community, and creating more and more small colonies - or (see comment below) by random culling).

In other words, the social conditions of Utopian mice would be held constant, while mortality rates would be kept low for multiple generations. 

My prediction would be that the Mouse Utopians would go through phases A, B, C, D and terminal to become extinct even without increased population density/ overcrowding, and due purely to cumulative genetic damage.


Thursday 17 July 2014

Convergent evidence on child mortality rates in hunter gatherer and historical societies - consistent with mutation accumulation being a mechanism of the decline in intelligence since the industrial revolution


I previously estimated that something like 2/3 to 3/4 of offspring failed to survive in historical times - and that this was the principal mechanism for elimination of deleterious mutations.


Modern child mortality rates are, by contrast, so low that it is inevitable that mutations will accumulate - and reducing intelligence is an inevitable consequence (since 'g' is a proxy measure of fitness).

Evidence for this comes from various sources including A Farewell to Alms: a brief economic history of the world, by Gregory Clark. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Also theoretical considerations:


And, further evidence on this matter is available from a pair of review/ meta-analysis papers:

A Volk and J Atkinson. Is child death the crucible of human evolution. Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology. 2008; 2: 247-260.

A Volk, J Atkinson. Infant and child death in the human environment of evolutionary adaptation. Evolution and Human Behaviour. 2013; 34: 182-192.

In the 2013 paper, a review of hunter gatherer mortality found an average 48.8% child mortality rate - noting that child mortality rates are an underestimate, as not all deaths are recorded.

Historical data showed an average of 46.2% with a minimum of 35%, until modern times in developed countries, when it drops to 1% .

(However, among individuals, some will have a probability of lower, and others of higher mortality rates among their offspring, according to their health, status, child rearing abilities etc.)



So about a half of children are known to have died before adult maturity in most times and most places, and the real percentage must have been higher.

In the 2008 paper, the authors note that most women who reach adulthood will have children, but about 5% may be infertile; by contrast about 10% of men fail to find a mate and about 5% are infertile. To this can be added the fertility-reducing effect of later marriage among low status men - often to older women with less reproductive potential.

This fits the idea that selection against deleterious mutations is stronger among men than women - with the variance of reproductive success larger among men; a smallish proportion of the fittest men differentially producing most of the viable offspring selection.

This also fits the anatomical picture of sexual dimorphism, with men as considerably more massive and strong than women, as consistent with some significant degree of de facto polygyny.



So, among men at least 65% or two thirds will fail to reproduce according to direct measures from anthropological and historical data. 

Rates of failure to reproduce will differ between the sexes, with mortality differentially concentrated among men (and indeed male fetuses, babies and children - who suffer greater mortality than females - http://www.huli.group.shef.ac.uk/lummaaproceeding2001.pdf)

Given that 45-50 % directly-measured child mortality rates represents a minimum level; this evidence is reasonably consistent with my previous estimate; and emphasizes the massive change in selection pressure, and presumably mutation elimination, represented by a fifty-fold decline in child mortality rates from historical to modern times.


Note: I should add that it is the number of surviving (and reproductively viable) children which is the key factor; not the proportion of children that survive. i.e. Reproductive success is about both fertility and mortality.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The lop-sided genius summarized


The typical genius is of:

1. Very high intelligence, and

2. This very high intelligence is channelled into a specific ability, and

3. Motivation is also channelled into that specific ability.


Genius is rare because this situation is unusual. These three things must occur together.

High ability - but not all-round ability but instead that ability channelled narrowly, and motivation also channelled into that ability - rather than being spread across a range of activities.

In particular, most humans' interests for most of the time are social and reproductive - but this is not the case for geniuses


Most humans - in ancestral conditions - aim to be esteemed by other humans; to have status and power; in other words to optimise their reproductive potential - typically this is achieved indirectly and implicitly via sexual instincts, and so on.

But geniuses generally do not behave in ways that optimise their reproductive potential, and they do not want to. Geniuses want to do what they excel-at-doing even when this is low status and leads to problems. In fact, geniuses will do what they excel at doing, unless they are actively prevented.

Consequently the average reproductive success of a genius is very low.

In other words, considered at the level of the specific person: genius is pathological, an illness, an impairment. 


More exactly, what makes geniuses work so hard and for so long at that thing in which they excel is that they have relatively impaired social and reproductive motivations.

The channelling of abilities and motivations away from reproduction and into a specific ability is a result of genetic impairment caused by mutations which weaken or close-off the usual social and reproductive lines of development.

Because genius is reliant upon mutations, there is no specific pattern to genius - it is extremely varied what a specific genius is good-at and interested-in. Rather the specificity comes from what the genius is not good-at, and not interested-in.


So, genius is a pathology which occurs occurs in a person of very high intelligence. (Anything which damages average reproductive success is a pathology.)

Yet the occurrence of geniuses seems non-random in the sense that the rate of occurrence of geniuses varies widely between places and at different times. 

Furthermore, although genius is a pathology at the level of the individual; geniuses are sometimes massively adaptive in terms of enhancing the reproductive of their group.

Even a single genius can change the world. For example, a genius who invents a new tool or weapon may allow his 'tribe' of relatives to expand greatly. If that tool or weapon spreads widely, it can change the world. This probably happened many times in history - although usually the inventor's name is forgotten as with the stone axe, the spade, the wheel, the arch, the stirrup, and many other breakthrough innovations.


Therefore, it is possible that some populations may be selected (by their specific circumstances) to facilitate genius by allowing the kind of genetic pathology which leads to an increased frequency of geniuses.

(Mutations will happen spontaneously, this is merely a matter of passively allowing them to happen - it is a matter of mutations removing or impairing some of the mechanisms that regulate and repair certain genes or types of genes.)

Of course, most individuals who experience mutations in the genes which support abilities or motivations in the social and reproductive domains will not be geniuses; they will just be pathological, ill, impaired. These will die or leave behind no offspring.

(Most historical human populations were under very strong selection against mutations by extremely high child mortality rates - so the wrong kind of pathology or pathologies of excessive severity would be filtered out by this mechanism.) 

Only among some of the most highly intelligent individuals will the pathology have the desired effect of channelling developmental resources into useful but non-reproductive abilities and motivations.


How intelligent does a genius need to be? Relatively and absolutely


The main point is that - in order to make the creative breakthroughs which define genius - a genius needs to be much more relatively intelligent than the average for his population.

Early geniuses will have done things like invented the spear, the spear thrower, or later the bow and arrow.

It is important to recognize what a huge step it was to go from a sharpened stick, to a stick with something like bone or stone to make a harder point. The inventor would not need to have a particularly high absolute intelligence, in terms of - say - the intelligence of the UK or US population of today. But the inventor would surely have had a much higher relative intelligence than was average for his population.

The invention of a spear thrower required a higher absolute intelligence than inventing a spear - because it requires more prior knowledge, is more abstract and technologically complex; and inventing the bow and arrow was a step higher in absolute intelligence.

But probably the inventor of the spear, spear thrower and bow and arrow were all approximately similar in terms of being relatively considerably above the population average - and therefore the technological advance from inventing spear to bow and arrow required a rise in the average intelligence of populations.

However, once these had been invented, once some person had made the creative breakthrough - the discoveries were all very easy to understand, copy and use - and could all be adopted by almost any human society of whatever intelligence.

That is why geniuses are so significant in human history.  


Monday 14 July 2014

The highly intelligent Normans?


Like JRR Tolkien I have a kind of prejudice against the Normans for their near complete obliteration of high Anglo Saxon culture, in particular the Old English mythology and folklore.

However, I am forced to acknowledge that, over a period of roughly 900-1300; the Normans were a very small but stunningly successful people from Normandy in France; astonishingly effective in military and political terms.


The Normans probably comprised some mixture of ex-Scandinavian 'Vikings' with French natives - and despite tiny numbers they conquered (and nearly conquered) lands as wide spread as the British Isles, Southern Italy, Cyprus, and challenged the great capital of Constantinople.

For example, maybe ten thousand or so Normans utterly subdued an English population of maybe one or more than two million! And imposed themselves on the natives as a ruling elite which was almost-wholly unassimilated for about ten or dozen generation.


How did they do this? My impression is that the method seems to have been by  superior organization supported by superior technology - especially technology in relation to what might be termed engineering or architecture.

It seems, as a rule, a small minority can only successfully dominate a majority by superior technology; and superior technology implies superior intelligence. 


My understanding is that once the Normans had defeated the Anglo-Saxons natives in one locality, they would force the natives to build a castle; from which the minority of Normans could then dominate the surrounding population from a position of safety; then the military force would move on to subdue the next region, and force these new natives to build the castles which would then become the instruments of their own suppression. 

Thereby, local and piecemeal superiority was swiftly converted to national and overall superiority. Once a network of castles were dotted over the whole of England, then the Normans could not be defeated.


In a nutshell, it looks to me as if the Normans were simply more intelligent than the Anglo Saxons - and not a little, but a lot more intelligent.

Presumably at least one standard deviation more intelligent than the Native English (i.e. if the native IQ was called 100, the Normans must have had an IQ of 115 or more).

(One SD seems to be the usual (minimum) difference which allows one group to rule another - whether the difference is between classes, castes or races.)


And I am not sure, but I think that Norman cultural achievements are also at least consistent with higher intelligence than the native Anglo-Saxons.

A comparison of literacy rates might be enlightening - however, the extreme differential in social conditions (and the treatment of Anglo Saxons as an inferior and excluded caste) make such measures difficult to interpret.

Probably a 'matched' comparison of the pre-Norman English ruling class (in terms of literacy, technology etc) with the post Norman ruling class, might be the most enlightening line of enquiry. 


Why would Normans have had a higher intelligence (assuming that they did)? Perhaps because of the Scandinavian roots - since the harsh conditions and long winters of Scandinavia seem to select for higher intelligence, presumably because low intelligence people cannot survive.

This higher Norse intelligence was not revealed under the harsh Scandinavian conditions (except in terms of sheer survival); but was immediately evident when new and more temperate colonies are founded (as happened in the Northern parts of England - the 'Danelaw', as well as in Normandy); and under more favourable conditions forms of higher cultural expressions begin to develop very rapidly.

Once these intelligent Vikings had conquered a portion of France, they apparently married local women and recruited local men. If we assume that the marriages were 'assortative matings', in which IQs were (somewhat) matched; and if recruitment was of the smarter men (and/ or excluded the least intelligent) - then the high original and Viking-derived intelligence might have been sustained or even amplified as The Normans were formed by a fusion of conquerors and locals.


Maybe, as genetic technologies advance and g may become measurable in terms of comparing large numbers of g-related genes, and if there is availability of suitable DNA from both Norman and Anglo Saxon skeletons; this theory of Normans having very high intelligence relative to Anglo Saxons may become directly testable.


(Note: Some of these ideas were developed in discussion over a prolonged lunch with my friend Peter Andras, now of Keele University - http://www.keele.ac.uk/scm/staff/professors/peterandras/.)

Thursday 3 July 2014

Conceptual notes on brain size and intelligence


1. There is a broad correlation between brain size and intelligence - as a brain must be of a certain size to have a certain complexity.

But the correlation is crude. Some big animals need big brains to control their bodies - some relatively small animals seem relatively very intelligent - I am thinking of some parrots.

This is because the brain is a multi-functional organ - most of it is concerned with non-'g' matters; and intelligence differences are probably only underpinned by a part, probably a small part, of this organ.

2. My understanding is that intelligence is mostly about efficiency - and efficiency specifically, flexible and multi-functional efficiency) requires complexity; and complexity of the brain is constrained by size and also developmental speed - on the whole a more efficient brain will tend to be larger and take longer to develop (construct) than a less efficient brain.

(I do not think it would be biologically possible for an organism to develop and mature an extra intelligent (therefore more complex) brain  and also to do it more rapidly than usual - therefore high intelligence pretty much requires a longer, and either slower or not-faster, period of brain development and maturation during childhood. Therefore, measuring brain size during childhood is not likely to be a good guide to intelligence - a small and simpler brain may develop and mature quicker than what will eventually turn-out to be a larger and more complex and more efficient brain.)

However, part of making a more efficient brain is probably developing a denser connectivity of brain circuits, rather than simply larger numbers of circuits. The 'g' advantage of men over women is (I would guess) probably related to greater density of connectivity, more than to a physically (and proportionately) larger brain.

3. Brains can be made smaller, and intelligence reduced, by a range of pathologies - illnesses, genetic and chromosomal problems. This is trivially true. But it means that in correlation studies there will be some small brained people with low IQ simply due to damage and destruction of various types (and there is an unconstrainedly large number of causes of brain and intelligence damage).

4. What about larger than average brains? Well, brain size might also be increased by some pathologies - but there may be other, non-g causes for brains to evolve or develop extra--large specialized circuits, to serve specialized functions - perhaps in vision or memory (eg. the suggestion that some specific brain regions are expanded in Australian Aborigines to enhance specific visual memory functions).

But IF (and it is a big IF) these specialized regions could be controlled for and excluded from the analysis - and analysis focused only on 'g' relevant brain regions (currently unknown); and if the brain substance was as densely connected as normal - then increased intelligence would be constrained by brain size: in other words, I think the only plausible way that intelligence could be increased by evolutionary pressures would be to increase the complexity of connectivity, which would probably entail an increase in the size of the (currently unknown) relevant parts of the brain.

5. I have been talking about brain size - head size is only loosely correlated to brain size, and subject to further pathologies. And hat size is only loosely correlated with head size - the shape of the head can make a difference here (so big headed people may only fit a small hat!). I don't think that measures of head or hat size can contribute much or at all to unravelling the difficult aspects of intelligence - except in a negative way:

Shrinking heads (and hats) over time (declining adult head circumference) would probably be strong evidence of declining intelligence - but the opposite would not be true for the reasons outlined above.


Tuesday 1 July 2014

The relationship between Intelligence (IQ) and Personality traits: Intelligence is Primary - Personality is Secondary


Historically, Intelligence was the first and most powerfully predictive variable of individual differences.
Personality came later - and was formalized by the work of H.J Eysenck as a separate explanatory variable which can be seen after Intelligence is controlled-for.


Personality evaluations are not 'tests' in the way that IQ is measured by tests. Usually Personality is evaluated from self-rating questionnaires - sometimes from ratings by other people (e.g. teachers or parents). Sometimes Personality is measured indirectly in terms of behaviours - for example Conscientiousness might be measured by how many hours a person spends studying, or by their record of employment attendance.


What is the formal relationship between Intelligence and Personality?

The answer is that Intelligence is hierarchically superior to Personality.

Because intelligence very obviously affects personality - but personality does not affect intelligence.

Intelligence is primary as an explanation of behaviour - primary both historically, and formally, analytically.


Thus, Personality is Secondary to Intelligence.

How can this be understood? Intelligence is a measure of brain efficiency - something like speed of cognitive processing. therefore it affects pretty much all cognitive attributes in a quantitative manner.

Personality is disposition, related to the set-up and balance of attributes. Personality could be conceptualized as a different kind (or balance) of cognitive processing (not a different speed).

So that when exposed to the same stimulus - different Personalities (of the same Intelligence) will process the stimulus differently, to lead to different behavours.

But to establish a difference in Personality, the Intelligence must be controlled - because the same personalities exposed to the same stimuli will generate different behaviours if they have different intelligences - because differences in processing speed will suffice to produce different behaviours.


This has not been well understood - indeed I did not properly understand it until a few hours ago! Until then I thought of Intelligence and Personality as independent ways of predicting human behaviour. But I now see this is wrong - Intelligence is Primary and hierarchically above Personality - and only after Intelligence has been sufficiently controlled-for should Personality be evaluated.


In other words, as a matter of routine - when measuring Personality, one should also do an IQ test.

And before looking at the effect of personality on behaviour, one ought to remove the effect of intelligence (by stratified analysis, preferably - i.e. creating narrow strata of IQ and only looking a personality effects within these strata - or else by some kind of regression).


To put it differently, it is legitimate to measure IQ without Personality - but not legitimate to measure Personality without IQ.


What this means is that:

1. Two people (or groups) with the same IQ but different measured-Personalities traits (as evaluated using self-rating scales, or whatever), nonetheless have the same IQ.

2. Two people (or groups) with the same measured-Personality traits but different IQs, in reality have different Personalities.


However, in practice, much personality research is done on an already-intelligence-stratified sample - such as Psychology Students at Mudsville State University - in these situations the researcher can usually get-away-with missing out IQ testing and just evaluating Personality.


(However, this does not apply to the Big Five pseudo-trait of Openness - which is often so sensitive to IQ differences that it varies even within strata such as the same class of the same college. If Intelligence is controlled-for, then the effect of Openness disappears - because Openness is merely 'the personality type of intelligent people in Western-type societies'  - but rather badly conceptualized.)


The best conceptualized Personality traits, which derive essentially from HJ Eysenck, are Introversion versus Extraversion and Neuroticism versus Emotional Stability - and these are relatively robust to IQ differences (especially in college populations which provide most of the subjects).

(However, it seems likely that high levels of trait Neuroticism are contaminated by pathology; and likewise extremes of both Extraversion and Introversion. in other words, some personality differences are the result of diseases in specific people.)

The other major Eysenck trait is Psychoticism - which the Big Five splits into the inverse of Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness (which is the same entity as Simon Baron Cohen's Empathizing) - to which could be added Schizotypy to capture the 'psychotic' element of Psychoticism.

Ultimately, Personality needs to be related to some underlying biological, and adaptive, mechanism - and the most likely of these underlying explanatory models seems to be Life History; which is another topic for another time.