Thursday 13 December 2007

We Are All Smarter Now

I read an article in the New Yorker lately which showed how much smarter we are now than a couple of generations ago. Essentially a social scientist in New Zealand called James Flynn studied IQ test results from all over the world and discovered that IQs are rising by about 0.3 points per year. The rate may seem insignificant but the cumulative change over a few generations is striking. It means for example that the average 20 year old today is way smarter than his grandfather was when he was 20. Perhaps this seems obvious, but it challenges the entire concept of IQ and of how intelligence is measured. It was believed until recently that IQ measured an innate intelligence level, but this cannot be true: obviously humans cannot evolve a higher mental capacity over two generations. So what does IQ measure?

The authors of the piece cited the American biologist James Watson who landed himself in deep trouble recently for saying that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" as "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really." Even if tests show that Africans have lower IQ than Europeans, that doesn’t mean very much. It all comes back to the question, what does IQ measure?

The answer given in the New Yorker articles seems emminently sensible. How we process information depends on how we relate to the various parts of the information in our everyday life. For urban, educated people today, the relationship between dog and rabbit is ‘both are mammals’. For a 19th century farmer the relationship was ‘dogs are used to hunt rabbits’. IQ therefore, measures not so much how intelligent we are, but how modern we are. Innate intelligence is just one variable among many of which IQ results are a function. To conclude the piece drives home the point by saying “I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person’s mind but the quality of the world that person lives in”. It applies as much to the difference between the wealthy and the deprived in Dublin as it does to the difference between America and Africa.

4 comments:

Vince said...

Have you lost the plot, should you nip over to the lads and spend another while on the banks of the Corrib. And this time visit the Hardiman once in a while. How in the hell anyone who ever spent time at NUI,Galway and not see through that sort of eugenic tripe, is just beyond the beyond.
Did it occur, that like Japan and the post war height jump, the diet may explain one hell of a lot. And then housing, and then education......
The very idea of giving a chink of an opening to this shit. Dear God, it contains flashes of the ubermensch. Stupid idiotic New Zeelander.

Vince said...

The above may have been OTT.

The logical basis of all these positions, all of them, including those of Jimmy Flynn. Should be smashed as a matter of urgency.

Tomaltach said...

Vince,
I do not subscribe to the view that any one race is more intelligent than others. In fact, the whole thrust of my post was to argue that, where IQ tests show discrepencies between the races, it is down to other factors - such as the stage of development of their country, their class, and so on. I fully accept the Flynn effect, however. Which is to say that the ability of the present generation in developed countries to think in terms of abstact ideas and concepts has increased over the past couple of generations. This is down to the vastly increased levels of education among the population at large and the fact that we now live in a radically different world from those of our forebears. Every day I meet colleagues who are not specialists in any of the following areas but who, nevertheless, understand many of the key concepts and currents involved in them: economics, genetic theory, astronomy, linguistics, law, medicine, and so on. You get the picture. While in the age of my great grandfather, the ordinary man had simply no idea of any of this.

Vince said...

'where IQ tests show discrepencies between the races, it is down to other factors - such as the stage of development of their country, their class, and so on'.
Explain why the monks in some areas of Japan spend much of their days pulling sand. Noo. Is identity or ambition the major force within Medea. Or why were the Irish painted as being idiots, where their History was measured as being less than.
Anything, absolutely anything, designed as I/Q are designed are dangerous. And hold danger in all their parts.
Concepts my-arse.
As to your G-Grandfather, he would have no problem with the hound and rabbit, nor I suspect getting a horse ready for the cart.