Interview: Mostly Sealing Wax

Part II of my recent interview with James Miller is now up.

Posted in Uncategorized | 26 Comments

Nothing else matters

Average IQ scores have gone up a lot over the years, although they seem to be plateauing.

Do I think that people really got smarter over that period? Based on real-world accomplishments? Not one bit. Probably they’ve gotten a bit dumber, from selection, and more than a bit dumber, from demographic change.

Most importantly, math subscores haven’t changed much. “There is a subtest of the Wechsler called Arithmetic. A typical question: If a widget costs 18 cents, and if you buy 3 widgets and give the clerk 1 dollar, how much change should you get back? This is one of the subtests showing the smallest Flynn effect. Over 50 years it showed 0.23-SD increase in adults, whereas Raven’s Matrices showed a 2.39-SD increase. ”

Posted in Uncategorized | 185 Comments

Bell beakers – or, the birth of Britain

The Beaker culture is an archaeological culture that existed in the late Copper Age and early Bronze age in western Europe, characterized by a particular style of pottery drinking vessels, but also by developments in copper metallurgy, archery, etc.

It looks as if the culture – a set of ideas and techniques – originated in Spain and spread widely – but then, some of its spread happened by groups that had adopted that culture expanding.

It looks as if people in western Germany picked up these ideas – of course we have a radically imperfect idea of what those ideas were – and then settled Britain. Before all this Britain was populated by a kindof-Sardinian population (with some hunter-gatherer mixed in) that had probably came from Spain. Afterwards they were almost indistinguishable from people of that era living in the Netherlands, who had a lot of steppe ancestry. 93% replacement, minimum. Some Anglo-Saxon ancestry was added about 1400 years ago but A. they’re not very different from the Brits B. most British ancestry today still goes back to the Bell Beaker conquest.

This probably happened through war and massacre. If you think otherwise, you reject the historical record – have a fundamentally false notion of human nature. Disease is not too plausible as a causal factor, since the proto-Brits were not a long-isolated population like the Amerindians or Polynesians, while for that matter some of the most potent crowd diseases, smallpox for example, weren’t even around yet.

Pastoralists are usually warlike and they have often supplanted farmers, even when greatly outnumbered.

I’m wondering if this population replacement was preceded by a long period of piracy and raids, something like Europe in 900 AD.

For a long time archaeologists, not least British ones, have for some reason been viscerally uncomfortable with explanations of prehistory leaning heavily on war & volkerwanderungs. They were wrong: and they were, are, the sort of people that want to be wrong, will be wrong unless someone holds a gun to their head. They need to be replaced, by hook or by crook.
Assuming that we want information.

Posted in Uncategorized | 52 Comments

Differences, within and without

Suppose that the narrow-sense heritability of IQ is 0.7 [ in typical western circumstances: no ball-peen hammers), and the non-genetic variation is almost all caused by mysterious unshared-environment effects – not the school you go to or the books in the house, but something essentially random, like somatic mutation, or randomness in development.

Then while a big fraction of variance in IQ is caused by genetic differences, quite a bit is not.

But now look at the difference between two groups. It’s entirely possible that those random forces – somatic mutation, noise in development, etc – are close to the same in both groups.

If so, the difference in the averages of the two groups would be almost entirely genetic, since the non-genetic factors would average out.

Posted in Uncategorized | 54 Comments

Chinese innovations

I’m interested in hearing about significant innovations out of contemporary China. Good ones. Ideas, inventions, devices, dreams. Throw in Outer China (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore).

Posted in Uncategorized | 103 Comments

Positively wrong

Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true – but sometimes, desperately wanting something to be true pays off. Sometimes because you’re actually right (by luck), and that passion helps you put in the work required to establish it, sometimes because your deluded quest ends up finding something else of actual value – sometimes far more valuable than what you were looking for.

Columbus wanted to sail to the Indies. Since the earth was 25,000 miles around, that was impractical – the trip would be around 10,000 miles one-way. Too far. So Columbus believed whatever he had to believe in order to make the voyage practical. He shopped around for a smaller estimate of the size of the Earth: the one he picked, about 18,000 miles, appears to have been the lowest ever made. Only the Spanish monarchs were rubes enough to support him. All wrong, but it led to the biggest success in the last millenium,

Kepler conceived the delightfully loony notion that the orbits of the planets could be explained by nesting the Platonic solids, each encased in a sphere, within one another. Five Platonic solids, six planets: obvious! Hard to fit Uranus into this, but it wasn’t definitively discovered until after Kepler’s death. Anyhow, his loony idea somehow led to his discovery of Kepler’s three laws – quite a haul.

On the other hand, in the social sciences, this seems to be the dominant theme: most of their tenets are what the practitioners wish were true. So far, no New World, no three laws as byproducts.

Posted in Uncategorized | 126 Comments

Dysgenics – General

Genetic trends can decrease IQ, and as long as we want the fruit of technological civilization, we have to care about that. There are three main ways in which IQ could decrease:

I. Selection could favor lower IQ within a group. How fast?

II. Demographic changes- groups with lower IQ could be immigrating, or differences in birth rates could mean that smarter groups are declining relative to other groups.

III. Relaxed selection. It looks as if a lot of the variance in IQ is due to rare deleterious variants generated by mutation. Over the long run, selection has eliminated those deleterious mutations as fast as they were generated (mutation-selection balance). Over the last few generations, selection has weakened: a smaller fraction of babies are dying. Even though most of those babies in the past were dying of disease or starvation, not directly connected to baby IQ, babies in better genetic shape were more likely to survive. Smarter people seem to live longer because they’re in better genetic shape – ultimately because a huge fraction of the genome is expressed in the brain and influences intelligence. Being smarter means that on average you’re in better genetic shape, while being in better genetic shape – having lower genetic load – means that on average you’ll be smarter.

Weaker selection -> increasing genetic load -> lower IQ. But how fast?

All three of these processes must be happening today in the United States. I and III are probably happening everywhere.

Posted in Uncategorized | 132 Comments