They might be giants

We now know that although genetic influences on height are very strong, no single allele accounts for much of the variance.  We can say the same about intelligence: no single allele accounts for much of the variance.  In fact, researchers are having to look at really large samples to find anything.

If you understood the effect of every allele, and if you could casually edit the entire genome, you could make smarter people – far smarter, probably, than anyone who has ever lived.  But that would be hard. Personally, I prefer to find easy ways of doing things.  Call me eccentric.

You see, there are single-gene changes that will make you considerably taller. Marfan syndrome makes you 5 or 6 inches taller than you would otherwise be.  Pituitary  tumors have stronger effects – giants can be over 8 feet tall.

Such mutations certainly have  a large effect on height, but they don’t account for much of the variance, because they’re rare.  And they stay rare because they’re bad for you.

There may well be mutations that have a large positive effect on IQ – but they must also be bad for you, else they would already be fairly common.  ” Bad for you” means that on the whole this condition reduced fitness.  Notice the past tense – reduced fitness in past conditions.  People with Marfan syndrome used to have their aortas pop when they were about 45 – you can maybe see how that would reduce fitness. While giants were highly subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – especially the slings.

If you looked at people with truly extreme heights, all of them are due to rare, large-effect, deleterious mutations.

At least some of the people with the most extreme mathematical talent might have similar causes.   A surprisingly large fraction of such mathletes seem quite odd.  To those mathematicians who are about to claim that people in general are just as odd – you guys are really supposed to be able to count.

You could also look at an extreme population, ones that appears to have experienced strong selection for intelligence.    Deleterious is relative:  if we gave volleyball stars harems, Marfan syndrome would eventually become common.

And if we identify a mutation that significantly boosts intelligence [torsion dystonia?] ,  we may be able to make use of it – possibly by understanding the mechanism and mimicking it with some drug.  Maybe we could deal with the negative side effects nowadays, or maybe we’d only use it on weekdays.  I’d never do more than I really need.

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101 Responses to They might be giants

  1. dearieme says:

    It’s only recently that I realised that David-and-Goliath may be about the Philistines – speakers of an Indo-European language and recently arrived by sea – being bigger than the Jews – whom I picture as slightly-built shepherds living in the hill country.

    • Patrick Boyle says:

      Oddly enough the Nazis’ smallest tank was named the Goliath. It was remote controlled and filled with explosives. It was only about two feet wide and five feet long. It was deployed in many theaters of war but proved too vulnerable to having its control wire cut.

      I don’t know why they chose such a name. Maybe they didn’t understand the Bible all that well.

  2. neilfutureboy says:

    Extra intelligent on weekdays. I suspect that would lead to chronic depression either at weekends or on weekdays. Don’t know which.

    If we want to increase intelligence developing brain/computer linkages would probably work better. Moore’s law works faster than evolution.

  3. TWS says:

    My brother was one of those who are extra intelligent. Taught himself to read at adult level before three. Played several instruments before five etc. We have an uncle who is similar. Anyway, my uncle always had odd tics as long as I’ve known him.

    My brother became very ill after getting dengue and malaria in his late thirties. After that he had a series of strokes, comas, and brain problems until he died before he was fifty.

    We have a ton of lefty, red haired, geniuses in my family I’ve always wondered how closely those traits were linked. Now that I look at the tics, odd personalities, and various impulse behaviors, I am starting to wonder if there’s some ‘over clocking’ going on.

  4. feministx says:

    ” A surprisingly large fraction of such mathletes seem quite odd”

    I once read something about the rate of marriage for great mathematians of the 19th century. (I don’t recall how they defined great- winners of a certain honor or award perhaps). Something like 1 in 8 of them got married, which was very low for the 19th century.

    Mathletes do seem odd, but Mathletes also generally seem harmless. Except for when they help to create some weapon that could destroy all of humanity- a thing that the violent jocks can’t do no matter how much they wish they could.

    I’d like to know if Mathletes tend to have higher aspergery dispositions, which lessens their ability to empathize and may increase the impulse for mass violence. If this the case, then their trait of genius is indeed associated with something deletrious. However, perhaps mathletes are no worse at empathizing than others in an abstract sense and have no particular propensity for inducing mass violence even if said mathletes were the majority of a population. If this is the case, then I don’t actually think there is anything much “deletrious” about mathletes. They are just awkward. Their “deletrious” trait is that women are not attracted to them or that they are not driven enough to copulate with women.

    Then all we have to do when we find the mechanism to create mathlete type extreme intelligence is to find a corresponding mechanism in women that makes them fall desperately in love with math nerds just because they are math nerds. Then the “oddness” factor of mathletes will cease to have meaning. Soon enough, they won’t seem odd at all. Proofs will equal swagger.

    • “I’d like to know if Mathletes tend to have higher aspergery dispositions, which lessens their ability to empathize and may increase the impulse for mass violence. If this the case, then their trait of genius is indeed associated with something deletrious”

      A tendency for mass violence is only bad under some circumstances, such as: being on the losing side.

      I’m not being flippant. Evolution doesn’t care about 21st century white middle class morals.

      • spergus maxiums says:

        “I’d like to know if Mathletes tend to have higher aspergery dispositions, which lessens their ability to empathize and may increase the impulse for mass violence. If this the case, then their trait of genius is indeed associated with something deletrious”:

        Au contraire. Aspergery types tend to be exceptionally law abiding and rule following. They tend to be extremely NONviolent…. untl bullied beyond endurance, then they scientifically take up weightlifting and logically start hitting back. I seriously doubt that Aspies are at greater risk for mass violence. They’re too sane, too calculating, too forethoughtful. On the other hand, they do seem to be very good hunters.

        A more likely selective factor against high IQ, with or without Aspergeriness, is the fact that we are social beings who need to communicate in order to mate. It your IQ is in the 95th percentile, without any intent of insult or arrogance the plain fact is that nearly everyone seems “stupid” by comparison. Add a dose of Aspie, and your social skills are impaired as well. As a result, you’ll real trouble finding someone you can relate to, someone you can happily marry.

        Thank God for nerdosexual chicks….

    • Toad says:

      “lessens their ability to empathize and may increase the impulse for mass violence.”

      How is that deleterious?

    • TWS says:

      My brother who was phenomenal at math had terrible skills with women. Even when they were understanding he made relationships difficult. My uncle is kind of the same but managed to have two children.

    • Anonymous says:

      > Mathletes do seem odd, but Mathletes also generally seem harmless. Except for when they help to create some weapon that could destroy all of humanity- a thing that the violent jocks can’t do no matter how much they wish they could.

      The violent jocks supply the men who fund building the weapon and then push the red button.

    • Khan says:

      Then all we have to do when we find the mechanism to create mathlete type extreme intelligence is to find a corresponding mechanism in women that makes them fall desperately in love with math nerds just because they are math nerds. Then the “oddness” factor of mathletes will cease to have meaning. Soon enough, they won’t seem odd at all. Proofs will equal swagger.

      It would be much easier to genetically modify the nerds than the women. Women are by nature driven to certain personality types. But the simplest way would be to modify the society to make it much more conservative, as well as giving mathletes higher status in the society. Women would still be disgusted with them, but they wouldn’t have much of a choice.

  5. georgesdelatour says:

    The composer John Tavener has Marfan syndrome.

  6. not_my_subject says:

    Do you think that human progress is limited by our IQ at some level, that we could not have achieved what we have in science without the Jews for example? Or that we need to boost our intelligence through evolution or other means before we may advance past a certain technological level in the future?

    • Toad says:

      We make AI and computers that advance us technologically for us while we degenerate.

    • The blank slate ideology has greatly retarded human progress – possibly fatally – so i don’t think the net effect (so far) has been positive.

      As to the math aspect I’d imagine if you had a large enough population of high enough average IQ then there ought to be enough outliers to do the trick – it might take a bit longer but then again, you have to look at the net effect.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Jews started to contribute to science and human culture in general around the 19th century, and mostly just in the second half of it, when both industrial civilisation and science were firmly in place. Moreover, one of their early contributions was aggressively pushing for the blank slate ideology, so the net effect might not have been positive at all.

  7. Patrick Boyle says:

    I understand that there are 217 known genes that effect height. At least one of them also effects IQ. I’ll have to look it up. Those damn gene names are hard to remember. This one seems to have a very simple action – it make your bones grow longer. In doing so it also make you skull bigger making more room for your brain to expand. If I’m right about this, it would seem to be an early candidate for human improvement.

    It may be that this gene would help blacks have bigger skulls which would then – without any further intervention – simply fill with larger brains (brain size being limited by skull size). If that is so it would solve a lot of social problems here in America. This would be a nearly ideal path to better brains. The Ashkenazi seem to have better brains because of extra dendritic branching. That path has a lot of dangers but simply bulking up the brain by enlarging the brain case seems safe and simple. It might make childbirth harder but today that wouldn’t be the problem it once was.

    Of course it may not work this way at all, but I’m trying to be optimistic.

    I’ll search for the name of this gene and post it later today as a comment to this comment.

    • Orthodox says:

      It might make childbirth harder but today that wouldn’t be the problem it once was.

      It’s not a problem until an asteroid/super volcano/nuclear war sets humanity back and all the genetically modified big brains can no longer safely reproduce.

      • reiner Tor says:

        I thought that we should try to preserve the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies, as well as the gardener and primitive agriculturalist societies. I would protect Bushmen, some Amazonian Indian tribes, or Pygmies like endangered species (which they are), and protect their habitats, while at the same time prohibiting them from entering society. So that if an asteroid hit us, we would have a few genuine hunter-gatherers around, just in case we are no longer capable of surviving under the more primitive circumstances.

    • Matt says:

      This one seems to have a very simple action – it make your bones grow longer. In doing so it also make you skull bigger making more room for your brain to expand. If I’m right about this, it would seem to be an early candidate for human improvement.

      The general model of neurocranium-brain relationships from the anatomy I’ve read involves the neurocranium basically responding to brain size growth – e.g. it’s “brain rules” and essentially sets neurocranium size, not “neurocranium rules” and inhibits or causes brain growth. The point in favor of this is that when macrocephaly disorders develop, these tend to relate to abnormalities in excessive cerebrospinal fluid and brain growth, and the bone of the neurocranium responds by expanding. If there is any, I’m pretty sure that any bone growth related gene which increases brain size would affect by increasing global body growth rates or globally retarding the termination of growth, rather than any braincase specific additional bone growth.

      It might make childbirth harder but today that wouldn’t be the problem it once was.
      Variation in brain size does not necessarily have to be present from birth. Head circumference doesn’t consistently tend to be particularly low at birth in Africans or high in East Asians. – seems the typical result “Data from the UK, Finland, India, Sri Lanka, China, DR Congo, Nigeria, and Jamaica (n=22,067) were used to characterize geographical differences in phenotype in singleton, live-born newborns.” “Neonates in Europe were the largest, followed by Jamaica, East Asia (China), then Africa and South Asia. Birth weight varied widely (mean values 2,730-3,570 g), but in contrast, head circumference was similar in all except China (markedly smaller). The main difference in body proportions between populations was the head to length ratio, with small heads relative to length in China and large heads relative to length in South Asia and Africa.” 40 weeks, infants of European descent (“European” infants) weighed 225.5 g more on average than infants of Chinese descent (“Chinese” infants) (p < 0.001) and 254.6 g more than infants of South Asian descent (“South Asian” infants) (p < 0.001). The mean difference in birth weight between Chinese and South Asian infants (19.1 g) was not statistically significant. The mean length of European infants at 40 weeks of gestation was 0.89 cm greater than that of Chinese infants (p < 0.001). Differences in mean length between European and South Asian babies or between Chinese and South Asian babies was not statistically significant. The mean head circumferance of European babies was 0.50 cm larger than that of Chinese babies at 40 weeks (p < 0.001) but did not differ significantly from that of South Asian babies. South Asian and Chinese babies had similar mean head circumferences at 40 weeks. – measured by MRI, TBV is about 1% larger in Chinese than Indian newborns. Africans present greater (neurocranium centroid) size than Europeans at age 0, but it is probably because most of European individuals belong to the first trimester of postnatal life [24]. When individuals of age 0 were removed, slopes do not differ (Table 2).

    • Patrick Boyle says:

      I can’t find it. I looked through Promethease. There were 132 genes associated with intelligence but not the one I had read about. Maybe I was hallucinating.

  8. Richard Sharpe says:

    Is it possible that some of those who are extremely good at math are so because of mutations that have recruited neurons from the social intelligence part(s0 of their brains to the math intelligence part of their brains.

    Such things would have reduced reproductive success as well, I imagine.

    • Glossy says:

      For whatever reason, some people’s thought tends to be quick, shallow, multitasking and intuitive, while others’ tends to be slow, consciously verbalized, single-tasking and deep. Women and men, “sun people” and “ice people”, popular kids and nerds cluster at different parts of that continuum.

      Social clues have to be processed on the fly, in real time, while other things (walking, forming sentences, ambient distractions) are going on. Nerds are good at concentrating on a single complex problem for long periods of time in total silence and isolation. Nerds don’t multitask well and are relatively slow to respond to stimuli. I’m going to guess that there have never been any nerdy fighter pilots.

      If there are trade-offs, they’re probably in multi vs. singletasking and in quickness vs. depth. Yes, lots of people are neither quick nor deep, and some seem to be both quick and deep, but on average there seems to be a trade-off.

      • reiner Tor says:

        One of my friends is doing Kart racing as a hobby. (I’m not sure about the category, I think maximum speed is around 150 kph or 100 mph. He’s in his mid-thirties, and only took up this hobby a few years ago.) He is nerdy, but he enjoys Kart racing. Which includes things like “in this curve, I could have hit the brake probably a bit later, like when I reach this point” or “I think for this circuit we need to change the settings in this way”. When training, he is making notes for his map (when to brake in which curve, etc.), and seems to be concentrating on the single task.

        There were some news about Lionel Messi suspected of being an Asperger. While Asperger-syndrome inhibits performance in team sports (like association football a.k.a. soccer), if he really enjoys it, the motivation to focus on this single task more than makes up for the disadvantage. Messi really seems to be focused on his sport only, and nothing else, so there might be something about him having Asperger’s.

  9. Jim says:

    Gauss had 6 dhildren, Poincare had 4. I couldn’t find the child count for Cauchy and Dirichlet but both were married with children. Riemann was married but I don’t know if he had children. Abel and Galois had no children but both died young. Cayley was married but I don’t know if he had children.
    The claim that only one out of eight of the great 19th century mathematicians were married seems bizaare to me.
    Daniel Quillin had I think two children before he finished his PhD. I think he had six all together.
    Lagrange was never married but Euler I know had children and one of his sons was a pretty good mathematician.
    Elie Cartan had of course Henri Cartan as a son.
    I admit that Perelman is a little strange. His life seems to revolve around hunting for mushrooms in the forest.
    Lord Cavendish was probably weirder than almost any famous mathematician.

    • feministx says:

      You might be right. I actually didn’t read the study. I recall someone linking to it in a comment section many years ago. Wish I could find it now.
      I believe the information we have now is that intelligence in men does not correlate with that many fewer children. The dysgenic effect of high IQ tends to come from high IQ women, who are less maternally inclined. I don’t know if there is any specific study that notes the differing fertility of different types of intelligence (visuo spatial, verbal etc) rather than just overall IQ.

      I never met a great mathematician, so I certainly can’t say if they seem unattractive from personal experience. Maybe they’re just the same as other dudes. But Greg seems to suggest that they are odd.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Oh they are odd alright. My nephew recently got his PHD in mathematics from UCLA. He is extremely normal and I was joking with him that he wasn’t weird enough to be a mathematician. He told me it wasn’t a joke, it was real. He has spent a lot of time with a lot of topnotch mathematicians and he breaks them down like this. One third you can immediately tell are “off socially”, if you spend a day with them then another third prove themselves to also be “off socially” only not so obviously. That leaves one third of the mathematicians as normal acting people. He took a class from Terence Tao, Fields Medalist, and in the discussion as the greatest mathematician alive. The man tucks his shirt into his underwear and throws things at you when you don’t understand his very bad English. If he wasn’t Terence Tao you would call him nuts.

      • I don’t know of a correlation between paranoid schizophrenia and creative genius. Admittedly I only know those people with schizophrenia who are also dangerous, but I have known lots of those. I have known some very bright ones, and more who said they were geniuses, or had written all of Nirvana’s songs or whatever. But no actual creative geniuses are coming to mind.

        People with BPAD, on the other hand, do include disproportionate numbers of the creative. Not half so much as they think, but still pretty high.

      • feministx says:


        I can see that this oddness may once have been compromising to survival, hence deletrious. However, I am not sure that it is the case any longer. If we were all mathematician odd, would we have serious social disfunction problems as a group? Would people be able to go to work and do the range of jobs we would need to have a functioning society (assuming the range or labor required would be different if we are all mathematician types)?

        Maybe it would be ok. We’d stuff our shirts into our underwear and obsess about mushrooms and rarely speak to each other, but we’d have an elevator to mars, underwater colonies and could do agriculture off skyscraper walls.

      • Patrick Boyle says:

        Maybe the Kzin had it right. That species as imagined by Niven and Pournelle were intelligent tigers who had non intelligent females. A race of humans with smart males but females more like domestic pets might do OK in today’s world.

        Someone soon will start looking into making women more attractive though genetics. You know – straighter noses, bigger breasts, more facial symmetry. These super women need not be intelligent. Submissive and loyal like my King Charles spaniel would probably be more appealing to most men.

        I’ve known a couple great minds – William Shockley (the father of the transistor) and Jeff Raskin (the father of the Macintosh). Both had rather odd and unattractive personalities.

      • feministx says:

        “These super women need not be intelligent. Submissive and loyal like my King Charles spaniel would probably be more appealing to most men.”

        You think some country will start doing this once the technology seems more in reach? What do you think will happen to real women (or future generations of real women) once such submissive loyal genetically engineered creations are available?

      • feministx says:

        “Someone soon will start looking into making women more attractive though genetics. ”

        Speaking of pretty women, I have never seen the slightest evidence to suggest that extremely pretty women are even partially caused by mutations that may have a large positive effect on prettiness but are somehow deletrious in another way. Extreme prettiness is nothing like giantism. Ain’t nothing wrong with being Claudia Schiffer. So regarding IQ:

        “There may well be mutations that have a large positive effect on IQ – but they must also be bad for you, else they would already be fairly common. ”

        Maybe not. Maybe extreme IQ is like extreme prettiness. It is in no way caused by an otherwise pernicious excess of something.

      • Cain says:

        Feminist, it would only work if we were ALL that odd. A group of normals would ruin the society by taking the women.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Some of the ones I consider odd (includes some mathematical physicists):


      • That Guy says:

        If you read, “Turing Cathedral” – which I reccommend

        Godel is basically a paranoid schizophrenic, who can do Math at a very high level.

        Supposedly Nash was a schizophrenic as well.

        Which brings to mind the theory that schizophrenia and autism are related. Certainly both seem to feature an unusual Corpus Callosum and less connection between hemispheres. People with Autism tend to have a distinct delay in switching mental tasks, which on the one hand is very useful for tasks involving lots of working memory and focus – like Math – but bad for tasks involving quick response times, like chit-chatting.

      • feministx says:

        Even if there is a correlation between schizophrenia and being a great mathematician, that doesn’t necessarily imply that they share a common factor. As it is, it seems that creative genius in general has a positive correlation with schizophrenia, so it may be that great mathematicians with schizophrenia are people with very high math IQs who also are benefitting from the added creativity they get in part from their schizophrenic tendancies.

        Some people are saying that great mathematicians they know suffer from serious physical problems like strokes and cancer. This sort of thing would indicate that indeed, mathematical super genius is like giantism- a deleterious trait that causes an extreme form of growth.

        However, some others indicate that the main “deleterious” factor is oddness, which to me doesn’t really indicate that this is operating like giantism. I would think the potential pitfall of oddness is reduced attractiveness and reproductive fitness. If this is the case, there isn’t necessarily any good reason for why this trait should be considered deleterious outside of the unattractiveness/relationship problems.

        It is also possible that there is not a damned thing wrong with extreme math geniuses, not even reduced attractiveness. The fact that their minds have not been selected for more often can be owed to arbitrary cultural artifice. Right now, people on welfare in the ghetto are incentivized to reproduce, and they do, often at a rate above replacement. This is stupid. This is humans making collective policy decisions that impact reproduction based on stupid ideas. People in the ghetto are now “fitter” for reproduction because the right side of the bell curve refuses act on information that they should have. It’s possible that people of the past were no better at creating policies that favored reproduction for those with high potential for intellectual creativity even when they ought to have known better too.

      • Matt says:

        That Guy: Which brings to mind the theory that schizophrenia and autism are related.

        Interestingly, this analysis of autism and schizotypy questionnaire responses, where student subjects were given both, found that mental rotation related spatial ability (a predictor of math and science success) was associated with a dimension related to poor social functioning and problems with attention switching that did not distinguish between the disorders, wheras the dimension that distinguished “autism” from “schiotypy” (mainly “lack of imagination” vs “unusual perceptions”) did not have this connection to rotation ability.

        This pattern could just be one of “Well, if you are a bit crazy, then you need better g to get by as a student, thus better mental rotations”. Still seems interesting to me given its contrast to the common idea that “autism” is an attribute of an extreme male brain and is associated with superior spatial functioning.

    • Did they pursue those marriages themselves or were they arranged by their families?

    • Glossy says:

      Everyone in Russia occasionally goes out into the woods to picks mushrooms. It’s a very popular pastime.

      Erdos was weird in the stereotypically nerdy way. Ted Kaczynski is supposed to be a math genius. Newton developed integral calculus and died a virgin. I’ve seen a great documentary on Andrew Wiles – married, but very, very nerdy.

  10. Jim says:

    I have of course enormous respect for Cavendish.

  11. melendwyr says:

    I’ve had a long suspicion that the relatively inbred human population was founded by a small group of social geniuses, and the resulting offspring were able to cooperate efficiently due to having essentially the same mental architecture. (The ‘theory of mind’ of normal human beings is actually pretty terrible when it comes to coping with anyone out of the ordinary.)

    A lot of social interactions are extremely complex recursions that are extremely difficult to rationally parse, but we do so ‘intuitively’ and ‘effortlessly’ – causing me to think that hardwired skills may be involved, as is the case with our ability to calculate projectile arcs from only a glimpse.

    If ‘normal’ humans are thought of as specialized geniuses in a limited domain, it makes sense that any developmental change reverting back to a more even balance, or a specialization in a different direction, would result in relative social impairment.

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Have you ever seen a group of crows co-operating to attack a hawk? After the hawk is gone they then squabble over the morsels of food to be found.

      Have you not heard of the attacks on white women by gangs of vibrants?

      The Zulu co-operated at Islandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, but the British co-operated better.

      Further, you have it bass ackward. Social genius came about because increases in future-time orientation among certain groups allowed such large groups of humans to live close together that social genius was selected for.

  12. Anonymous says:

    “…..Anyhow who has ever lived” ??? Grammar check shoulda picked that right up.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Actually this question occurred to me the other day as I was rereading “The 10,000 Years Explosion”. If I got the last chapter right, high Ashkenazim intelligence is due to specific IQ-boosting alleles, not reduced load. Now if carrying such alleles was otherwise for free, everybody should have them. Does that not mean that among the Ashkenazim (and perhaps among other populations that have undergone recent selection for intelligence?) there should be a smaller correlation between IQ and other fitness indicators?

    • gcochran9 says:

      I think that actually most of it is due to frequency changes in the many alleles that each make a small contribution to IQ. A little is probably due to specific alleles like torsion dystonia or Tay-Sachs.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        TS is being bred out of Jewish populations. One more step towards Idiocracy?

      • Anonymous says:

        So perhaps load-removing selection in this population was more biased, relatively to other populations, against loady alleles that had a relatively more negative effect on intelligence than elsewhere? wouldn’t one still expect a smaller than usual correlation between IQ and things such as health, longevity, and height?

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      I once saw someone suggest that different racial groups could be characterized by having different sets of IQ-influencing alleles fixed on low IQ causing variants or the high IQ causing variants …

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Anonymous 6.26
        I think so. A very small interbreeding population exposed to severe selective pressure: we Jews are the result. Almost resistant to TBC and most epidemic diseases, long lived, high IQ and so on.

    • Dipitty Do says:

      Highly intelligent Jews I have known have not seemed particularly physically “fit”. Some have quite a few physical issues. I suspect inbreeding is at least partially to blame.

  14. dave chamberlin says:

    We are all guessing as to what the future will bring but it seems damned likely to me that the ultimate Rosetta stone for science is understanding why there is such a large variation in human intelligence and then manipulating it without negative side effects. I’ve grown weary of people reaching into complete speculation as to when this will happen, how it will happen, or most annoying to me, that it shouldn’t happen. It goes on from there that manipulating our genes is God’s domain, ect. ect. I think it rather elementary that better brains got us to this point and better brains will get us to where we are going. It will happen, when, where, how, I have no idea. Could people imagine the revolutionary changes brought on by the industrial revolution before it happened? No one had any idea, some flights of fancy seem in hindsight to be predictive, but no one circa 1800 could imagine the changes made to our lives by 2013. Genetic engineering for height, blond hair, good looks, athleticism, better health till old age takes it’s toll, to me these make little difference. But genetic engineering of higher intelligence, now we are headed to whole new worlds we can’t imagine because once it starts where does it stop.

    Like they used to say before the commercial break, stay tuned, stay tuned to blogs like this one where we have an imaginative scientist who will update all of us squirmers in short attention span theater to what is happening out there on the fringes of science in this most crucial and interesting area.

  15. Paul Conroy says:

    My mother was very good at Math, her uncle was considered a Math Genius – won a Gold Medal for finished first place in the British Empire in Math on some test – my father’s sister was considered a Math Genius – self-taught Calculus in primary school – as well as a second cousin, my brother is exceptional at Math and my daughter is very good at Math (both received 100% on all Math tests). I myself am good at Math, but exceptional at Visual-Spatial Reasoning. There are also many people on both sides of the family with Autistic like symptoms. When I look at my Minor Allele Frequencies (MAF’s) for homozygous alleles, that may be significant for cognitive and/or Math development, here are 2 possible candidates:

    RSID Chr Position (B36) Genotype %Occurrence Gene Matching Origins
    rs10487840 7 107558524 CC 2.57708 NRCAM
    rs17822894 16 60469996 TT 2.82664 CDH8

    NRCAM – neuronal cell adhesion molecule
    This ankyrin-binding protein is involved in neuron-neuron adhesion and promotes directional signaling during axonal cone growth. This gene is also expressed in non-neural tissues and may play a general role in cell-cell communication via signaling from its intracellular domain to the actin cytoskeleton during directional cell migration. Allelic variants of this gene have been associated with autism and addiction vulnerability.
    It’s also associated with Math ability, Autism and Colon Cancer – 4 of my father’s 7 siblings died of Colon cancer on or around 50 yo, including the Math one.

    This particular cadherin is expressed in the brain and is putatively involved in synaptic adhesion, axon outgrowth and guidance.
    It’s also linked to Autism and Cystic Fibrosis

    I’m also Heterozygous for a very rare Torsion Dystonia allele, which I share with some Jews from Belarus.

  16. melendwyr says:

    IIRC Ashkenazi IQ scores are notably about 15 points higher than normal, but not evenly – their verbal scores are roughly 30 points above normal. I don’t think that such a specific performance can plausibly be the result of simple global changes to the brain. Something as straightforward as increased dendritic density ought to have effects on all kinds of mental processing if it were the agent responsible, but that’s not what we observe.

    Ashkenazi aren’t models for an increase in intelligence across the board. They’ve been selected for the development of specific talents and attributes. They’re a ‘type’ of smarter, not just smarter generally.

    • Matt says:

      Something simple like an increase in dendritic density *could* have outsize effects on verbal processing. I doubt it, but…

      As for Ashkenazis and verbal abilities, the main pathway to high math ability appears to be spatial ability plus g, while specific language skills don’t contribute (there’s quite a lot of work on this). So relatively normal g and high specific verbal abilities certainly wouldn’t really fit with their pattern.

      I would expect Ashkenazis to model better as high g selected with some relatively relaxed selection on certain specific visual-spatial abilities, probably the ventral stream associated abilities that don’t contribute to math or science success but do contribute to various visual object abilities like the visual arts (where Ashkenazis are not particularly represented).

  17. Anonymous says:

    Ashkenazic superbrain Einstein (had a tryst with Marilyn Monroe according to her roommate Shelley Winters) seems to have been quite a bit less odd than Kurt Gödel.

    I think an effective brainpower drug would alter the type of thinking that is done. Consider, the effect of steroids growth hormone ect on boxing and tennis has been to make them into sports where certain physiques gain far more of a relative advantage. Natural power (Sonny Liston or Mike Tyson) is far less important than it was previously. It is the large framed boxers who have gained in relative advantage. I’m not really sure what that would translate into in intellectual terms. But might creativity be disproportionately unleashed in the non Ashkenazim?

  18. Old Pete says:

    I’m glad to see someone suggest that extreme intelligence might be associated with mental pathology and that the pathology might have a biological basis. I’ve been thinking along these lines for years. The tendency for those of extremely high intelligence to be odd has long been noted. An example of the attention this phenomenon has received is the essay The Outsiders. The author, Grady Towers, resorts to sociological explanations which seem pretty lame to me.

    While I agree that there is a biological basis for the disproportionate incidence of social dysfunctionality in the highly intelligent, I would like to suggest a different causal mechanism. A hint that something strange is going on at the far right side of the IQ distribution is the nature of the distribution itself. The original ratio IQ a an anomalously fat right tail. The anomaly grows progressively more pronounced the further out one goes. This leptokurtosis could not be explained and was inconvenient, so ratio IQ was replaced with distribution IQ. Problem solved. The fact that anomalies often indicate something important seems to have been lost on the psychometricians involved in redefining IQ.

    The significance of the leptokurtosis of the ratio IQ distribution is that it suggests that something beyond the normal random reassortment genes was operating in a big way at the far right of the bell curve. What might that something be?

    The oddness or extreme nerdiness in question seems to be some flavor of the autism spectrum and perhaps schizophrenia in some cases. Interestingly, autism and schizophrenia have both been linked to copy number variants (CNV). This has me wondering if CNVs might be the cause of both the leptokurtosis of the ratio IQ distribution and the disproportionate incidence of social dysfuntionallity among the intellectually gifted. It’s not too hard to imagine how the over or under expression of key genes might result in an overclocked and dysfunctional brain.

    • I remember when Grady first published The Outsiders in the Prometheus Society’s “Gift of Fire” in the 1980’s. Members loved it or hated it, I think. He relied on some sketchy data. In particular, he took William Sidis’s (the supposed highest IQ ever 250-300) parents’ accounts of Billy’s childhood accomplishments at face value – how early he had read, the languages he had mastered. Don’t get me wrong, Sidis was very, very smart. Norbert Wiener thought so, which is a pretty fair recommendation standing alone. But he wasn’t the almost-a-new-species smart his parents and lone biographer claimed.

      If anyone is interested, I did a series on Sidis and prodigies in general about 2 years ago. Easiest method is to come over to the site and put “Sidis” in the search box.

      Grady was rather a misfit prodigy himself, and died tragically around 2000.

  19. Jim says:

    Goedel I agree was not very sociable but he was married. I heard a story once that when Cohen wrote his dissertation establishing the existence of models of set theory in which the Continuum Hypothesis did not hold the people at Princeton said that nobody there could evaluate it except Goedel. Goedel was pretty old and in poor health at that time and rarely came into his office. So they gave Cohen Goedel’s address and a time to go there and give his dissertation to Goedel. So Cohen drives out there and rings the doorbell holding his dissertation. After a while the door opens a tiny crack, a little hand reaches out, grapes Cohen’s dissertation and shuts the door in his face.
    So Cohen goes home and comes into the university the next day when he is immediately greeted with the astonishing news that Goedel has called in and says that he wants to have lunch with Cohen that day.
    Incidentally Goedel had actually himself proven the existence of models of models of set theory in which the Continuum Hypothesis is false but had never published this or apparently communicated it to anyone.

    • That Guy says:

      Godel’s wife was his former nurse – when he was admitted to a psych ward for a “mental breakdown” – and when they married she was able to escape World War II in Europe – so maybe his social skills didn’t feature highly in her decision to marry him?!

  20. Jim says:

    Quine says that when he attended meetings of the Vienna Circle and Goedel was there he doesn’t remember Goedel ever saying anything. So Goedel’s shyness went back to his youth.

  21. Jim says:

    Goedel was a weird duck. Another story I heard was that when it came time for Goedel to become a US citizen somebody at Princeton gave him a copy of the US Constitution and told him that he would be asked questions about it when he went to apply the next day. When that person picked up Goedel the next day to take him to his citizenship exam (Goedel did not drive) he found Goedel to be quite agitated. Goedel explained that he had determined 42 ways for the president to constitutionally assume absolute power. The guy driving him begged Goedel not to mention this at his exam. I’m sure that Goedel could have recited the entire US Constitution word for word at his exam if he had been asked to do so. When Goedel agreed to study something he studied it.

  22. Absent-minded eccentric professors who can’t tie their own shoelaces – the cliche goes back a long way.

    • j mct says:

      Thales falling into the well. I guess that would mean ‘absent minded eccentric professor’ goes back as far as ‘professor’ itself.

      • Paul Conroy says:

        I hate to admit it, but I have the same “absent-mindedness”, especially when I travel on the subway. My trip is about 45 mins, with one change-over of train, and I tend to go into deep thought mode, and probably once a week and often many times more, I will forget to get off at my stop, or get off and board the wrong train for the second leg… it’s quite a nuisance trait.

  23. namae nanka says:

    not 8ft tall and before steroids’ age.

  24. Jim says:

    But there are certainly some mathematicians who seem to be pretty fit both physically and psychologically. Leopold Vietoris died in 2002 a few months short of his 112 birthday. He was president of Salzburg University for a long time so he must have had decent people skills. He published his last paper on mathematics at the age of 97. Maybe he had been spell-checked.
    I think Hadamard, Frechet, De La Vallee Poussin, & Henri Cartan all died at age 100.
    Dirac definitely broke the mold.

  25. Patrick Boyle says:

    Schizophrenia is not, as far as I know, associated with genius – quite the contrary. The single factor that is most closely associated with Schizophrenia is being black.

    Blacks are diagnosed with schizophrenia at about seven times the rate of white people. See:

    The black association with schizophrenia is not well known to the general public but the psychiatric community is well aware of its reality. It would be very interesting to know about any association with East Asians. Rushton’s theory would predict that Asians should have less.

    I think the pseudo association of brains with schizophrenia come about because it often hits boys in their late teens when they are just about to take their place in the world. My best friend in college John was brilliant, athletic and handsome. He seemed to have the brightest of futures. But he was schizophrenic and his life turned into a nightmare. Had he been a marginal loser working in a gas station and sleeping in his mother’s basement, his fall and ruin would have not been so dramatic.

    • gcochran9 says:

      It’s more like a factor of three higher among blacks in the US. I’ve posted about this.

      • Patrick Boyle says:

        I read a couple books to prepare for that little video essay. The leftist psychiatrist I excerpted claimed seven times but I would have been happy to have reported your figure if I had known it. My real point was that the greater predilection of blacks to become schizophrenic is never mentioned in the mass media.

        I worked briefly in a mental hospital. I’ve met plenty of schizophrenics but I never noticed a black slant. Everyone I ever met was white. I was surprised myself by the greater frequency of blacks – be it seven times or three times.

    • That Guy says:

      If you read,Julian Jaynes book, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, which deals with consciousness, schizophrenia and religion – and which I’ll predict will be seen as a seminal work, up alongside Darwin’s, “On The Origin of Species”, at some future date…
      One of the questions he poses, towards the end of the book, is “What good is Schizophrenia?”, and he answers it by saying that schizophrenics are remarkably good at doing tedious and monotonous work, stuff that is highly repetitive. He says that if an ordinary person were asked to hold a pencil at arms length for 20 minutes, they find it difficult to do, yet schizophrenics have no problem with this task at all. The reason is that the schizophrenic mind is sort of unconscious, and all actions are kind of remotely controlled as it were, and they perceive hearing voices or receiving commands to do stuff, largely emanating from their own Right-Hemisphere’s Temporal Lobe – for right-handers – and then act accordingly, without their ego/free-will distracting them from the task.
      It may be that due to the anomalous Corpus Callosum, and the delay in switching between hemispheres, that one part of brain which is semi-conscious – in the Left-Hemisphere – interprets the delay of input from the Right-hemisphere as being like a disembodied external signal, rather than being processed in tandem with the Left-hemisphere. Jaynes’s theory is that pre-modern man’s actions were largely unconsciousness and hearing voices and people “being commanded by God” and prophets were all the product of a non-integrated Right-hemisphere.
      In any case, it may be that Autistics who focus all their available attention for long periods on a specific task, behave like schizophrenics in this regard. Many Autistics exhibit repetitive or stereotypical behaviors and have symptoms of OCD, all these traits may help them focus continuously, repetitively and compulsively on a task.

      As regards African-Americans and especially the descendants of Afro-Caribbean slaves having high rates of schizophrenia, I think this would be a function of their being selected as highly desirable breeding stock, by their slave owners, and thus man-made selection in those slave population for schizophrenia – as who wouldn’t want a schizophrenic plantation slave, cutting sugar cane, tirelessly and repetitively all day long with little or no complaint, or experience of fatigue.

      • “…schizophrenics are remarkably good at doing tedious and monotonous work, stuff that is highly repetitive.”

        No, they aren’t. I’ve known about a thousand, and they are, if anything, worse than average at this. They end up with such jobs because they can’t do others.

        Julian Jaynes’s kite is on a remarkably long string. He makes claim after claim for which there is scant evidence. Then he lets out more string and theorises some more. His ideas are the sort of things that would be So Cool to think about if they were true. A great field to play in. Unfortunately, there isn’t any evidence that they are true, and good evidence that they are bizarrely false. Psychiatrists and psychologists pride themselves on being able to consider some pretty far-fetched ideas and wonder if they are true, and see if there is anything useful in them. But when they read Jaynes they ask “Has this man actually ever met any schizophrenics? Who is he talking about?”

        Whether his theories about the switch from vertical to horizontal, and right-left to left-right expression have any value I can’t say. But he is so far afield on schizophrenics that I have to doubt he has anything solid elsewhere.

  26. Paul Conroy says:


    I’ts possible that John Ponsonby Conroy, descended of the famous Roscommon bardic Conroy family, was the father of Queen Victoria. I’ve explored this and it doesn’t seem like it’s true, or at least my Conroy family is not related to the Roscommon Conroy family.

    However my father is related to the Colley and Bowes-Lyon families, and a number of members of the British Peerage, and seems to be a descendant or relative of:
    Richard Colley Wellesley

    Richard was the brother of Arthur Wellesley, the “Duke of Wellington”, who defeated Napoleon., and was an ancestor of the Queen Elizabeth II on her mother’s side. He was also Governor of India and this may explain my Ango-Indian and Anglo-Bengali relatives…

  27. TWS says:

    Speaking of giants anyone know what Wilt Chamberlin’s condition was? Even if it killed you at 63, a lifetime of physical and social dominance might be worth it…

    Combine that with a zero error genome and you’d have a mental and physical giant on your hands.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps a tendency towards schizophrenia or creativity is a Zahavian handicap, which those of better fitness tend to be able to bear as creativity, enhancing their attractiveness (at least when going into art rather than math), while those less fit tend to go insane, as if part of the attractiveness of the creative is their credible demonstration of fitness through their showing that they can have an open mind without it falling out. And methinks that part of the weirdness attributed to the smart is self-serving propaganda by the dumb.

    • Lesser Bull says:

      I think its mostly selection bias. You don’t notice the smart, socially adept people because, being both smart and socially adept, they don’t call attention to it.

  29. Ian says:

    Very low hanging fruit: why do very smart people are systematically considered weird? Most of the reasons reduce to a single fact: they enjoy thinking.

    They are a lot of factors that make intelligence possible, but one of them must be a link between exploration and the brain’s reward system. A simple trick such as Ritalin seems to work (

  30. Anon – schizotypy is a different waterfowl. An association between schizophrenia and idiosyncratic – possibly “creative” – expression in their near relatives has been noted, but is hard to measure. And sometimes it doesn’t show up after all. The study you link to quite explicit states that it shows no schizophrenia-creativity connection.

    It’s an odd narrative that has persisted since the 60’s if not before, that madness and genius/creativty are just a few ticks apart, and so highly dependent on the surrounding culture and whether people “understand” them to see which basket they end up in. Lots of movies and bad songs about this, and as I noted above, with BPAD there’s something to it. One can find anecdotes to support this theory, certainly, But one can find anecdotes to support just about anything. Schizophrenics actually say the same things and have the same delusions a lot. There is individual variation on themes, but when I see something new, it is worthy of comment to the other clinicians.

  31. JP Straley says:

    It’s my understanding that above average IQ or “g” is linked to myopia. The cartoon figure of a nerd with thick glasses may have a nugget of truth in it.

  32. Ilya says:

    @gcochran: this is related to what you posted earlier (in “Low-hanging poop”): that some things, while only eventually being recognized by mainstream science, can be quite helpful. Thought you might consider something kind of along the same lines, but for mental performance:

  33. Steve Sailer says:

    It shouldn’t be hard to take a reasonable list of the greatest mathematicians of all time, such as the one in Murray’s “Human Accomplishment,” and use Wikipedia to count up their known children, and then compare that to the average number of children for European men during the weighted average period. (You can just leave out ancient figures like Archimedes for whom we may not have complete information.)

    To get you started, Wikipedia says Gauss had six children.

  34. melendwyr says:

    Didn’t a lot of men we now consider homosexual have multiple children, back in the day?
    I think a better procedure would be to look at more modern mathematicians, those living in a time when deviance is more tolerated. I suspect past mathematicians would have felt a greater need to conform?

  35. norkuat says:

    I have a link to a photo book of top mathematicians from the well-known mathematician Paul Halmos. :
    At least visually, being a mathematician seems not to “decrease” fitness. (the young ones seem physically fitter than the average, mentally the difference is obvious)

  36. Jim says:

    As for physical fitness Harold Bohr was in his youth the leading soccer player in Denmark. At his dissertation defense all of his teanmates attended to provide moral support. I believe J.H.C. Whitehead was pretty athletic also.

  37. Pingback: linkfest – 11/06/13 | human superbiodiversity chick

  38. Dipitty Do says:

    Having hung around MIT a fair bit, though not the math department per se, the vast majority of folks I’ve met with high math abilities have no problems socializing with each other. Most of them even date. I personally know two math professors (one male and one female,) and they are both married and they each have 2 children. A society composed of these people would be be perfectly functional, though it would not look much like our current society.

    The idea that smart people are “weird” or bad at socializing is, IMO, basically a perception error. To a smart person, being interested in handbags or the Kardashians is really weird. To a dumb person, being interested in math is really weird.

    I admit, there are some weird and anti-social people in math (and other departments), even by MIT standards. Ted Kaczynski comes to mind, though he was not at MIT. And intelligent folks are often rather unconcerned with incidental things, like making sure they eat or sleep at specific times, wear matching clothes, wash their dishes or themselves. But these quirks aren’t traits that kill you. Einstein and Dirac were married and had children. Feynman was quite sociable. People upthread have mentioned many married mathematicians with children. So I am skeptical of the idea that mathematicians are really less functional, on average than most folks.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I think that there are lots of smart people that are not socially awkward. But a disproportionate fraction of high-achieving mathematicians are.

      Dirac’s a bad example. He was the sort of guy who can manage to attract a girl and have some kids – once he’d won the Nobel Prize. If and only if.

      One would think that someone who’d hung around MIT a lot would understand the difference between a couple of anecdotes and an average.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you meet mathematicians through people not in the department, you are selecting mathematicians that are sociable, which is a biased sample.

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