Brain Wave

The standard view is that all human populations have the same average cognitive capabilities.  The world sure doesn’t look as if that’s the case, and that’s part of the reason that people insist that everyone do public obeisance to the notion: if it was obviously true, or even looked plausible,  you wouldn’t need to.

But if it were true? What if it became true at midnight tonight?  To be more specific, what if the IQ of every natural human population was bumped up enough to make their average IQ 100? In a group with an average IQ of 85, every individual would pick up 15 points.

I think the world would change in many ways.  I don’t think that billions of people would wake up tomorrow and immediately say to themselves “I’ve been stupid.”, as people do after eating their fill of tree-of-life root and turning Pak. Inpaktification gives you a lot more than 15 points, enough to be painfully obvious.  That, and your dick drops off.

I do think that a lot of people would feel that something funny was going on, even on the first day.  The crossword puzzle and the Sudoku would be easier.  A question or two that had bugged you for a long time would suddenly become clear – and that would continue to happen.

Kids from groups with low average IQ today would suddenly start doing better in school.  They wouldn’t know any more tomorrow morning than they do today,  but they would be able to do more with what they did know, and pick up new information more easily.  I think they’d immediately begin to catch up academically with kids from groups that already had average IQs of 100: not that it would happen instantly, but there would be lots of convergence in just a year or two. In the US,  the papers would give credit to whatever  useless educational panacea was currently fashionable – quite possibly if it hadn’t even been implemented yet! But some would begin to wonder,  even some of those who were formerly famously clueless. Malcolm Gladwell would suddenly find “igon values” easy to understand. He might even wonder why they hadn’t been before.

A few years after the change, the Ivy League would be utterly saturated with the currently preferred low-achieving minorities, because for a while, they’d get big advantages in admissions without getting low scores.  They’d be in like Flynn!  Probably this would not go on for too long, though:  true liberals would soon find these people unsatisfying.  Clearly, they would no longer be keeping it real.

It doesn’t mean that governments would instantly fall,  or institutions crumble in a moment (although some might).  If you lived in a kakistocracy, there’s no guarantee that government would instantly straighten out. Remember, the jerks at the top would have gotten smarter too.  Execution would improve, though: simple things would get done more efficiently, and you wouldn’t have the feeling that life was one long visit to the DMV.   Sheer friction would decrease. Planes in Africa would, after a few years, crash at rates closer to what we see in developed countries.

People would still hate each other and there would be still be wars, but they would be fought more cleverly.  Fewer machetes, more Enigma decoding. Deterrence might work better..

Violent crime would decline.  Birth rates would plunge, and more people would worry about low birth rates.

Right now, H1Bs work because there are some parts of the world where there are a fair number of people with high human capital and limited local opportunities. That pool would expand greatly, I think.  You’d be getting lots of H1B engineers from Indian scheduled castes –  from Bolivia, and Gabon.  From Egypt and Indonesia.  Even from PNG! For that matter, all sorts of countries that are not very competitive for factory labor today would become so, although that would also depend on the decisions of the local elites – elites that had become somewhat more prone to consider the long run.

In other words, it would in some ways be like the end of Communism in China, when a billion people stopped whopping themselves on the head with ball-peen hammers and sickles.  They ended artificial stupidity, which is easier than inventing artificial intelligence.

To an extent, smart populations today make money by having something that’s not over common.  As smarts became more common, the premium would go down.  On the other hand, if these newly-average populations produce a proportionate number of inventions and discoveries, technological progress would be faster, benefiting everyone.   Being an average country in a highly competent, rapidly advancing world might not be so bad.

Some countries that have historically been spear carriers, or used as footballs, might actually become players.  Nobody thinks much about Indonesia, but if they had German levels of human potential, maybe we would.  Maybe we’d have to.

Little wars against formerly dipshit countries would sometimes turn very unpleasant.  I’m not saying Iraq unpleasant, more like Winter War unpleasant. Embarrassing.

The US would gain relative to Iceland, since the Icelanders don’t even have minorities with low IQs (other than trolls) , but Mozambique would gain relative to both.

Science and technology would go like blazes, but it would be harder to make a living as a scientist.

The number of people capable of coming up with plausible or attractive bullshit would increase as much as eightfold.  More ideas, almost all of them wrong, would be flying around the net.

We’d live in interesting times.









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102 Responses to Brain Wave

  1. Peter Connor says:

    Poul Anderson’s novel Brainwave, which I assume you are referencing, is quite a lot more dramatic but not as plausible…..

    • cloudswrest says:

      Pak protectors are from Niven.

    • engleberg says:

      In Brainwave animals get smarter too. Pigs of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but a ham sandwich future! Even if some pigs are more equal than others. . .

      If I was putting my border collie in a competition, would I be smart to give it choline? Was Mike Tyson smart to take cocaine before his fights? The Undisputed Truth was about a much smarter guy than I thought I was watching on TV.

  2. dearieme says:

    Flowers for Algernon: what if it were like that?

  3. cloudswrest says:

    “I don’t think that billions of people would wake up tomorrow and immediately say to themselves “I’ve been stupid.”, as people do after eating their fill of tree-of-life root and turning Pak.”

    People may denigrate it, but I’ve noticed certain mild nootropics like Choline and Acetyl-L-Carnitine supplements seem to have made an obvious difference in my mental clarity. Things like the Hopf Fibration became obvious with “aha moments”! I also had to move taking them to the morning instead of bed time because the latter was disturbing my sleep with too many dreams.

  4. Fascinating. Religion would begin to falter, saving rates would go up, Hollywood would find it harder to find audiences, and everyone would log into West Hunter and make sensible comments.

    • JayMan says:

      Everyone? I think that’s just a tad too optimistic… 😉

    • PatrickH says:

      Religion would change, not falter. Comments to West Hunter would get smarter, not more sensible. No, definitely not that.

      • corvinus says:

        I suspect that mainstream Catholicism would experience an explosion of sedevacantism, which right now is confined almost entirely to white Europeans, in the Third World. The current church run by Marxist “pope” Francis relies on the vast majority of its members being too dumb to realize that Catholicism was changed at Vatican II into some laughable Modernist counterfeit of its former self.

      • dearieme says:

        Nah, more likely people would recognise that the Roman Catholic church, as formed by the flounce-out from catholicism in 1054, is a footling farrago of follies, and would either return to orthodoxy, or join the reformed churches, or give up the whole fandango.

  5. Fxkv says:

    Or all possible answers to your questions (except for the occasional mathematical ones) would seem so questionable that you’d never be able to finish anything, and have to work as an adjunct for the rest of your life, and never have a non-fat non-crazy girlfriend.

  6. gwern says:

    > The US would gain relative to Iceland, since the Icelanders don’t even have minorities with low IQs (other than trolls) , but Mozambique would gain relative to both.

    And India. This would represent a massive shift in relative power/wealth to populous but below-average countries; since East Asia is generally above-average, this means a huge shift to India, the biggest countries in Africa like Nigeria, all of South America… Right now, population size is neutered in many countries by the lower human capital of them, but if we postulate that was removed, now country power will be pretty much defined by population size. It’d be the biggest realignment since the Industrial Revolution.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Lots of countries are essentially too dumb to make their own nukes, but that would change.

      • gwern says:

        Are they? Pakistan managed to make nukes, and given they have problems with *iodization* no less, it’s hard to imagine they’re high up on the rankings.

        • gcochran9 says:

          The Pakis stole the designs for the Zippe-type centrifuge and bought the warhead design from China. It’s been said that the Saudis ponied up most of the money, although that’s unclear.

          Pakistan doesn’t score very high – but here are places that score a lot lower. Making it a lot easier would matter, even if it is feasible for a given country today.

      • g.yunker says:

        Well, Pakistan is pretty dumb, on average, but they not only have primitive nukes, they seem to have them for sale.

      • ursiform says:

        Pakistan also has a lot of people, so there are going to be a few who are pretty smart technically. And not a lot of competing demand for them in the economy there …

      • Ambacti says:

        Pakistan’s caste system is only slightly less pronounced than India’s. Pakistan is run by endogamous high-IQ Kshatriya clans that converted to Islam, this must be taken into account when calculating the size of Pakistan’s smart fraction.

        The dearth of data about clan/caste IQ in South Asia presents a low hanging fruit for psychometricians. Without more data it is impossible to have a clear picture of the human capital of South Asian.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Form of government matters too and would not automatically change, I think. At least not in the short run.

      • Anthony says:

        Most of the really bad ideas about governing were created and implemented by pretty smart people. Also, most seekers and holders of power are not in it for national-scale altruistic reasons. So the newly smarter dictators would not be very likely to give up much power. But when change did come, it will be more likely to be an improvement.

  7. ziel says:

    One immediate impact might be a large drop in the overall sense of well being. Imagine a fellow living in Lagos today with a 90 IQ waking up tomorrow with a 107 IQ. He’d look around him and suddenly think “Whoa- what the hell am I doing in this hell-hole! I’ve gotta get out of here! Pronto!!!”

  8. Whyvert says:

    This scenario is more pleasant to contemplate than if the magic spirit level caused average IQ of all populations to equalize at 85.

  9. Peter Connor says:

    If an interstellar cloud lowered everyone’s IQ to about 60, we would probably be thrown back to the Eemian, more or less San people today.

  10. Yudi says:

    “A few years after the change, the Ivy League would be utterly saturated with the currently preferred low-achieving minorities, because for a while, they’d get big advantages in admissions without getting low scores. They’d be in like Flynn! Probably this would not go on for too long, though: true liberals would soon find these people unsatisfying. Clearly, they would no longer be keeping it real.”

    I suspect some white liberal types would become more ethnocentric, since “POC” would now be actual competition instead of pity-fodder.

    • Lars Grobian says:

      The same number of NAMs would be admitted. They’d just be a lot less likely to change their majors or drop out. Admissions committees would be delighted to fill up their NAM quota with qualified candidates in an afternoon with very little effort. They’d have much more time then to pick and choose among the kids they really care about.

      Admissions committees aren’t a mindless algorithm. What Derb called IWSBs are a luxury good for the benefit of the upper-caste kids whose daddies have always donated the big bucks, or who may donate their own big bucks in 30 years. There is zero chance of admissions committees suddenly abandoning both their friends’ kids and their institution’s historical revenue stream overnight, all for the sake of an ideology they only pay lip service to anyhow.

      In 30 years, if ensmartened NAMs have a track record of abnormal generosity, you’ll see changes.

  11. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Individual Pak wake up and start thinking about how to protect their lineage from all those other breeders and Pak …

    I think it would get very bad very fast. I suspect that having lots of manipulable dumbasses around is not such a bad idea.

    • Lars Grobian says:

      I’d love to hear Greg’s thoughts about the evolutionary plausibility of the Pak, granting for the sake of argument all of Niven’s physical handwaves.

      After all, The Ringworld Was Unstable.

      • gcochran9 says:

        It would be impossible for something like the Pak to evolve. Obviously, the Pak were the product of genetic engineering. I mentioned this to Jim Baen a long time ago.

      • albatross says:

        What, you don’t think it’s plausible to have evolution *select* for making your dick fall off just as you’ve become super strong and super smart?

  12. Greying Wanderer says:

    “The number of people capable of coming up with plausible or attractive bullshit would increase as much as eightfold. More ideas, almost all of them wrong, would be flying around the net.”

    To do my bit for this, couple of random thoughts

    1) Street gangs are effectively a reproductive conspiracy by the most violent males in an area to get first crack at the girls coming up in their area. One aspect of that is (anecdotal) the generation length is different for males and females i.e. the female generation length is c. 16 and a gang member’s average generation length might be say c. 24 i.e. someone who becomes a gang member early might stick around long enough to get two bites of the cherry so on average there might be 2 male generations per 3 female generations.

    I was wondering if something like that in the past – mismatch of male and female generation lengths – could effect things like molecular clock calculations etc.

    2) Are skull shapes the function of skull genes or (at least partly) womb hormone genes i.e. could one skull differentiated hominid turn into an (assumed) other hominid due to mutations in womb hormone genes?

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  14. Sophisticated Gentleman says:

    IQ is more of a correlate with the virtues that were concomitantly produced through civilization. Would they be reserved like Anglo-Saxons, with introverted and restraint capable of effective leadership? Or, the bitter Celtic? Paranoid Russian? Would they be the manic high IQ Askinazi jews of the 19th-20th centuries that could outproduce any group by orders of magnitude, but were prone to radicalism? Would they be Asian schizoid? Are you sure you want Africa to become intelligent? Highly intelligent Africans may be like Ceasar in Planet of the Apes (or Obama’s father)? Their intelligence only lets them better grasp their own existential problems. Such a change would be a recipe for global conflict and brings to mind the virtues of Wolfowitz’s foreign policy. Are we really better off in a multi-polar world? The issue is not IQ, but the flavor of this newly granted intelligence.

    Would you prefer a decrease in psychoticism? Should we all be Norwegians now?

  15. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    Violence and intelligence are negatively correlated, but it isn’t perfect. We would see some societies that are more violent than Western societies become just as smart as Western societies while at the same time remaining more violent. This would be bad.

  16. CharlesK says:

    Look. These coincidences have to stop. I read this as a kid then found it last week in a second hand bookshop across from Girouard Park on Montréal. I was there selling my 80s collection of Stephen Jay Gould essays.

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      I think you were wise to sell.

      • CharlesK says:

        I have written many private hateful posts about Gould. I had my doubts after I read Mismeasure, but I had no idea what had happened to Harvard’s non-hard-science departments. The scales fell from my eyes after Rushton, but I had to find myself short of bookshelf space to think to bring them to Montréal to sell.

        You won’t be glad to know that a bookstore in a Bohemian student ghetto of a third-tier university snapped them up. They sell quite well apparently – especially my hardcovers.

        I took the money. I heat with a cast iron wood stove, and I could use the paper to start fires next winter, but I can’t bring myself to burn a book.

      • Flinders Petrie says:

        Don’t feel guilty about supplying Gouldian literature…those impressionable young college students would eventually find their way to his musings on their own. They start with gray pop literature such as Blink. But this is only a gateway to more devastating philosophies such as Gould and Lewontin. Some may even find themselves in the real slums: attending Tim Wise conventions, volunteering for the SPLC.

        But you didn’t distribute, then others would step in and fill the void.

        Just be mindful of territory…the Columbia (University) cartel ultimately controls the market, and they can get real nasty when threatened.

      • Jim says:

        I generally enjoyed Gould’s “Wonderful Life” when I read it long ago. The one thing about it that bothered me a little was Gould’s incessant harping on Wolcott being an idiot. Gould seemed to be somewhat obessed with this theme.

        When I read something else ( I can’t remember what ) by Gould about brain size and all that I remember thinking to myself that Gould must believe that if an individual’s brain were surgically removed no difference in behavior would be observed.

  17. Matt says:

    – Incipient Amishisation / Hasidisation might begin in most currently high religious, low IQ nations, as a rural subset more distinctive in personality than IQ splits off.

    – India would rule the world if it is treated as one population and all castes get a proportionate boost; whereas it *should* end caste fairly quickly if all the groups were boosted to the same mean (unless caste is more to do with the disease avoidance etc models, seems doubtful).

    – Countries which are crazier than the West but lower IQ would suddenly become the world’s creative powerhouses. Craziness often seems to give you a little more creative accomplishment for the same IQ (as in, a subset produce much more, even if most perhaps produce less).

    – High resource nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran would begin acting more like more authoritarian and tribal versions of Norway than they currently do. Their sovereign wealth wouldn’t necessarily get much more effective (as these currently rely on international talent) but they would invest in home grown infrastructure, less New York buildings.

    So global wealth would move (even more) to resource and trade hubs and away from nations with large stores of human capital, but no particular advantages in resource or on a trade crossroads – sucks to be Japan, and eventually young Japanese would migrate with it.

    – Immigration restriction and anti-gypsy sentiment in Europe and America goes into relative freefall and they quickly start to look more like Brazil with White North American IQs than the cultures they’ve traditionally been like. Unsure if any particular M-F mating patterns would become more common – they’d probably all just increase but not to the same level.

    – Even non-violent ways to exert pressure against small, lower IQ nations would begin to fail. The pressures the US uses on Latin American nations as part of the War on Drugs would cease to function?

    A more interesting world perhaps. One that can’t happen though.

  18. Ian says:

    I think the real point is: could you make yourself smarter by swallowing a pill? When I was even dumber than today, I used to believe that mixing a little piracetam, some choline and acetyl-n-carnitine, and a yet undiscovered magical noocetic would make your brain going turbo. Now, I’m not so optimist: you can still enhance your brain that way a little, but what keeps you away from understanding loop gravity is the wiring of your brain. Am I wrong?

    • cloudswrest says:

      It’s acetyl-“L”-carnitine. I doubt any of these will make any changes to (adult) brain architecture, but they will “lubricate the gears” of what you have. Choline is the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It’s also critical for fat transport (your brain is majority fat).
      L-Carnitine boosts cellular energy levels and the acetylated version crosses the blood brain barrier. As an aside, it also boosts sperm motility. From here:
      Combined treatment with l-carnitine and l-acetyl-carnitine in a controlled study of efficacy was effective in increasing sperm motility, especially in groups with lower baseline levels.”

      • Ian says:

        Yes, I’m sorry: mental contamination with “n-acetylcisteine”.

      • Ian says:

        Have you tried piracetam? I’ve tried a couple of times and it seemed to work. Nothing spectacular, as said in this post: I just solved a couple of nasty algorithmic problems I was struggling with, but that could be just a coincidence or placebo effect. On the caution side, the GetSmart formula may boost your blood pressure, if you’re sensitive to some of the ingredients.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      drink more milk

    • Julian says:

      I am thinking about trying some of those, but came across this. Not sure how serious the risk is.

    • Ian says:

      Julian, AFAIK, you need to have the wrong bacteria in the guts for this risk to happen.

      • cloudswrest says:

        Indeed. This is like those people who have gut yeast infections that ferment ingested carbs into alcohol. They get drunk without drinking and die of alcohol related pathologies unless treated.

    • cloudswrest says:

      By the way, choline deficiency is implicated in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFL) and elevated liver enzymes (ALT). In my case supplementing with choline cleared these up almost immediately.

  19. Cplusk says:

    Click to access embryo.pdf

    According to this paper, embryo selection could increase iq by 300 points. I really wonder how would a person with this level of iq look like. Paranormal abilities emerge?

    • Natural History says:

      That says “less than” three hundred.

      • Natural History says:

        That would be twenty standard deviations. The corresponding increase for height would leave people at 11 feet, human giraffes. They say there would be diminishing returns, and probably there would be terrible health problems for a human giraffe without a lot of other adaptations.

    • says:

      Increasing IQ by 300 points is one of those things that, once someone says it, you pretty much know they’ve got no idea what they’re talking about.

    • cloudswrest says:

      These speculations on “embryo selection” or even “iterated embryo selection” seem pretty crude and provincial to me because pretty soon you will be able to go in with CRISPR or whatever and edit a zygote to be anything you want it to be.

  20. Maciano says:

    “Malcolm Gladwell would suddenly find “igon values” easy to understand. He might even wonder why they hadn’t been before.”

    I remember that one, “Igon values”. So deeply stupid.

  21. j3morecharacters says:

    There are several “Islands” of very high IQ persons. Harvard, Yale, Beijing University, etc. comes to my mind. MENSA is another. Some kibutzim and elite yeshivot in Israel. Google campus. Generally they seem to organize themselves in and autoritarian Guru/Disciplines model. Not a pleasant world, believe me.

    • William Newman says:

      “Generally they seem to organize themselves in and autoritarian Guru/Disciplines model. Not a pleasant world, believe me.”

      Groups of bright people are of course not perfect, but no, I don’t believe you. At all. The characteristic faults of groups of bright people are nothing like the unpleasant authoritarian guru/disciple model that you claim.

      I have a BS in biology from Caltech, and I have attended two IETF meetings. Both Caltech and IETF were unusually well stocked with clever people, and both were mostly pleasant and not particularly authoritarian as human groupings go. (Caltech does have the usual grant-funded-professor power structure of US academia, but that’s not a smartest-people pattern, it’s a funding pattern, no less visible in colleges where people are less clever.) I am also reasonably familiar with MIT (where two family members attended, and I visited) and your pattern was not particularly visible there, either.

      To keep my claim from being completely my generalization against your generalization, consider a specific anecdote. A moderately famous Caltech grad has observed that in the world in general, power structures tend to make it risky to point out errors of the powerful. ( “My advice to you is to learn sometimes to keep your light under a bushel.”) At Caltech I personally had the experience of badly tripping up a professor with a (good but subtle and) awkward question in quantum mechanics class. (It was of the form “ok…but then how can we reconcile such-and-such well-known day-to-day observation with the equation you just wrote down,” the kind of easy-to-pose question that can sometimes have a subtle answer.) The professor was led first to confusion, then to promising to answer the question in the next class, then to giving an incorrect answer in that next class (by which time I knew the correct answer courtesy of a grad student in a discussion in the cafeteria:-), then to giving a curiously theatrical but basically positive I-wuz-so-wrong acknowledgement in the class after that. (Generally perceived as positive: more students were motivated to ask questions in the weeks that followed.) That professor was en route to getting the Nobel prize in physics (for research already performed before I took the class), and though I didn’t know that, he and his colleagues likely did. The graciousness with which the eminent professor acknowledged being tripped up by the hapless newbie contrasted very well with the more usual behavior I have seen in the world (which more usually tends to support Munger’s point), and that seems particularly inconsistent with the claim that “authoritarian guru/disciple” relationships are the rule in such environments.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        We are in disagreement. Your impression of the academy is superficial; the informal. smiling, first-name social environment you notices is the surface. Under it hides a strongly layered hierarchy with powerful leaders (gurus) with assorted assistant professors, graduate students and miscellaneous underlings (disciplines). And ferocious battles for prestige and position. Every human group organizes itself in a leader/followers pattern, the process is more spectacular in the maffia but basically is the same, although with virtual and not actual corpses, in those ivory towers.

    • DB says:

      While that pattern exists, it’s more likely to emerge when one guy is clearly smarter than the rest on an important dimension, rather than when everyone is good. See e.g. this recent discussion of Apple vs. Google developer relations: ; William’s comments about Caltech/IETF also ring true to me.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Disagree. The leader that emerges is never the person with the highest IQ. Generally it is a bit higher than the average, but not by much. Personality, like self-confidence and agressivity, also play a role.

  22. Reblogged this on lankytwoswaywardangel and commented:
    An interesting ‘What If” IQ scenario from G. Cochran…

  23. Jim says:

    The relative casualty figures given in Wikipedia for the Winter War are astonishing.

    The Winter War was clearly not a good idea.

  24. Peter Connor says:

    Actually, the whole scenario depends on whether the IQ boost was a permanent genetic change or a one-off. If the latter, it would probably makes things much worse with a temporary population increase, while not slowing the pace of mutation load and the inevitable onset of Idiocracy.

  25. BB753 says:

    I´d be more interested to see everybody get an IQ boost of say 15 points. What would happen? Some would say wealth is a zero sum game and that if everybody got smarter, relative differences would remain.
    But from a cognitive point of view, let´s say Japan raises its average IQ to 120, and Indonesia to 100… Disregarding distribution, would a population with a 120 IQ be qualitatively different from a population with an average IQ (such as 100)? Is there an IQ threshold which would give an absolute advantage?

    • albatross says:

      Is there any good data on what happens when you have something like the normal US (or Mexican, or German, or Nigerian) population, but with (say) everyone with IQ below 100 filtered out? I would expect less crime and fewer problems in general, but I really don’t know.

      If you boosted everyone’s IQ in the US by one standard deviation, would we still have an underclass? I mean, in competitive terms, the dumbest people would still be dumber than everyone else–to what extent is underclass life a consequence of being dumber than everyone around you, and to what extent is it a consequence of just not being very bright or disciplined, so that you consistently make really awful decisions. (“This tatooed drunken unemployed guy is so hot, and those birth control pills are so hard to remember to take…I think I’ll have this man’s baby in nine months!”)

  26. Andrew says:

    Since intelligence is not the only heritable trait in humans, we could expect unintended consequences as a natural advantage of the West is neutralized. There are some who suggest the idea of intelligence enhancement in order to promote investment into intelligence research.

    At least he doesn’t mention epigenetics.

  27. Patrick L. Boyle says:

    Actually this isn’t a Science Fiction fantasy – it’s reality. It happens everyday all over the world. People wake up with huge overnight changes to their IQs.

    It’s just that the direction is down not up.

    It’s called a stroke. I have to take a lot of pills and get periodic blood tests to safeguard against that being me. I’m probably not as smart as I once was, but it’s been a slow gradual process. But get just a tiny blood clot in your brain and you become a different person fast.

    I once had a guy who worked for me who had had a stroke. He told me one day that he had lost a lot of his former IQ but he was still smarter than anyone else on the staff. Except me. It was true. He reminded me a little of me.

    I was brought in to a government agency to deal with their lousy computer systems. The very large IT staff were pretty stupid. Years of selection by the Human Resources people for stupidity will do that. The man who had lost his smarts was comfortable there, but he quit shortly after I arrived. I guess I reminded him of what he had lost.

    Anyway an increase in IQ for everyone is coming – but it won’t be biological. Nowadays people check the calendar on their smart phone for conflicts. Quite soon, people will be checking for permission. Kurzweil thinks machines reach human IQ ranges by 2050.

  28. albatross says:

    The part of the Flynn effect driven by nutrition and sanitation and vaccines is a version of what Greg’s describing here, right?

  29. cloudswrest says:

    Off topic, but blog topical. A new Nature article on passenger pigeon DNA variation shows DNA diversity inconsistent with a steady mutli-billion early 19th century population, suggesting the species experienced past bottlenecks. Authors speculate the bird may have been a breakout species, like locust, with a balloon and then bust cycle.

  30. Portlander says:

    I don’t know, it could be profound awakening.

    The change I enjoyed going from a predominately white, suburban high school (ie. average IQ 100) to small mid-western engineering school (ie. IQ 120) was glorious.

    Of course, like anything there will be winners and losers. Pretenders with disproportionately high verbal IQ’s that are accustomed to manipulating rubes for their own personal benefit (Congressional Black Caucus I’m lookin’ at you) would find a much tougher go at life.

    • Cloudswrest says:

      I had the exact same experience, going from undergraduate at Rutgers to graduate school at Stanford. My off campus roommates during my Stanford days were from Harvard, Brown, Wellesley, Berkeley and Wesleyan, and intellectually wise it was like I was living among a new superior breed of people, and I also found it glorious! As to Stanford Engineering itself, it was pretty much the same stuff offered at Rutgers, just harder to get good grades.

  31. Jim says:

    On the other hand if demographic changes reduce the average IQ of a country by 5 points over 50 years then what happens?

    • j3morecharacters says:

      Then that country will resemble the nearest neighbor with the lower average IQ. If it is Hungary, it will resemble Romania; if it is the USA, it will resemble the better parts of Mexico. Nothing dramatic.

      • Jim says:

        I read of an incident in Mexico where traffic on a highway had to stop for a while while bodies of recently executed individuals were unloaded from a truck and dumped onto the highway while guys with automatic weapons stood around. The traffic stopped and waited. Nobody seems to have attempted to contact the police or make any inquiries. It would have been a little dramatic for me if I had been there given my generally sheltered life.

    • Peter Connor says:

      You are looking at it in the US–that’s about how much SAT/ACT scores have dropped in the last 50 years. Not pretty..

    • syon says:

      j3morecharacters:”Then that country will resemble the nearest neighbor with the lower average IQ. If it is Hungary, it will resemble Romania; if it is the USA, it will resemble the better parts of Mexico. Nothing dramatic.”

      Reducing the USA to the level of northern Mexico would be a very dramatic.

  32. j3morecharacters says:

    I tend to think that the fact that IQ in humans follows a gaussian distribution means that is the optimal situation for our species. Evolution “has decided” that it be so. If this equilibrium is artifically modified, a dysfunctional society will result and after a few generations the old (very old) balance will be restored.

    • Anthony says:

      That depends. Higher IQ might be (is?) correlated with larger head size, and thus more difficult births, which would limit the selective pressure to increase IQ until safe C-sections become available, about two generations ago.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        Alternatively you could have babies born with small brains and soft skulls then pump their brain size up to adult size as fast as possible so their skulls could be closed and hardened as soon as possible.

        This might require more nurturing and non-violent mothers for those scary soft-skulled years and you’d need some form of nutrition that acted as wonder-food for growing baby brains.

        Hmm, I wonder what that wonder food would be?

    • Anonymous says:

      I tend to think that the fact that IQ in humans follows a gaussian distribution means that is the optimal situation for our species. Evolution “has decided” that it be so.

      You are aware, I take it, that a Binomial distribution approximates a Gaussian distribution when N is large?

    • Richard Sharpe says:

      I tend to think that the fact that IQ in humans follows a gaussian distribution means that is the optimal situation for our species. Evolution “has decided” that it be so.

      You are aware, I assume, that a Binomial distribution approximates a Gaussian distribution when N is large?

    • Jim says:

      Presumably it means that IQ is due to a large number of causes which are fairly independent of each other or at least not highly correlated and no one of which is greatly dominant compared to the others.

    • ursiform says:

      If IQ is dependent on a large number of genes then, by the central limit theorem, IQ will follow a near Gaussian distribution.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        No doubt it is so, ursiform. What I said is that evolution “decided” that the average will be 100 and not 95 nor 105 means that 100 is – for a given environment – optimal. But as the success of Hong Kong, Singapur, etc. suggest, it is possible that in a modern high tech environment, a higher average IQ is even better. On the other hand, high IQ in a high tech society goes with low, negative fertility, so I am afraid it is neither optimal nor sustainable.

      • ursiform says:

        No, what you said was: “I tend to think that the fact that IQ in humans follows a gaussian distribution means that is the optimal situation for our species.”

        What you are saying now is something different.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        I see. We are anticipating the future, where according to Greg’s scenario, “The number of people capable of coming up with plausible or attractive bullshit would increase as much as eightfold.”

  33. Clarissa says:

    We already live in interesting times…

  34. Erik Sieven says:

    What would happen if every population in the world would gain some points in aggressivenes, bone density, physical strength, manliness to reach the average of say Westafricans. Westafrica would of course stay the same, but Tokyo and Beijing would be very different places overnight.
    Suddenly chinese men would be a real alternative for white western women, millions of mixed races kids with east asian fathers and white mothers would be born in the next years. The NFL would start to look for takents in rural China…

  35. JP Straley says:

    I’ve given thought to this with regard to writing SF stories . IMHO, intrusive technology to raise IQ is not going to stop at 100. I’d be surprised if given the choice people didn’t pick 140, roughly, as a bottom figure for their children. (I don’t think intrusive tech will be so effective on existing people, or mammals generally.) And at the same time, greatly increased phenotypic fitness will be a more important goal than IQ — if for no other reason that a certain level of fitness is the baseline for average cognitive performance.

    Existing cultures reward smart and fit people with money and recognition. It is an important selection factor for good jobs. Now, when everyone is smart and fit, what are the selection factors for jobs? Trust, reliability, commitment to the group enterprise, communication. etc. I think we will be looking at extended family and tribe for our most important cooperators. Hey, where ya gonna spread the love?

    Large multi-cultural countries like the US will be unstable. Competent tribes will have more to gain by defecting than by staying, and that’s a classic destabilizing force.

    GC speculates on war, but tribes of smart people large enough to have territories worth fighting over will have powerful and accurate weapons that make hot war a losing prop for all parties. No, we will see fierce economic competition, as well as complex & long-lasting PR campaigns. Don’t conquer the land. Just buy it and move in your people. Control markets and money supply, and small tribes can have great success. Just can’t be too successful, or you are too visible & then maybe a target.

    Oh, yeah. No more Special Olympics. No more Regular Olympics either, there are just too many damned good athletes. Saturday softball games will be more interesting, though.

    JP Straley

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