Notes from the class struggle

Suppose that 90% of people are farmers, and 10% are in other occupations, occupations that on the whole have greater prestige and remuneration. Like being a tailor, or a banker, or a king.

There is reason to think that those upper classes , in most societies have somewhat higher intelligence – and somewhat higher genetic potential for intelligence. More complex jobs.

If we were examining the family background of people of unusual intelligence – say prominent mathematicians – we might notice that the upper 10% was over-represented among their parents. Partly, this would be because those more prosperous people were able to pay for books, higher education, etc.  But  their average higher genetic potential for intelligence also mattered.

Since the fraction of individuals that exceed a high standard drops off rapidly as the cutoff increases, it is even possible for the upper class to produce more people exceeding the cutoff than than the bottom 90% of the population, if the cutoff is high enough.  So, the typical world-class European mathematician was likely to have a pretty bourgeois background, even though those bourgeois were a small fraction of the population. It was partly educational advantage from  more money, but it wasn’t just that.

Consider running ability: a small population with higher average running ability may produce runners better than the best from a very large population ( one village in Ethiopia vs all of China).

Gauss was anomalous – about as anomalous as  a kid two feet taller than his parents.




This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

143 Responses to Notes from the class struggle

  1. Jerome says:

    I think you go too far in assuming that his parents’ lack of substantial known achievement is proof of their lack of genetic potential. How many of the people in that Ethiopian village will ever run in a marathon? Do they all lack potential?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Look, people knew them and no one ever said that they were anything special.

      You’re making no sense: we know that Gauss had vast potential, we know such things are highly heritable: where did it come from? Either from a fantastically unlikely genetic reshuffling – or a smart mailman ( and a significantly less unlikely reshuffling).

      Downweight the mailman hypothesis by a factor of 100 for the rarity of cuckoldry and it may be still be more probable.

      • Jerome says:

        I guess it depends upon how detailed the available info on his parents is. If they were known to be boxarox stupid, I see your point. Hell, maybe she wasn’t really his mother, either. But my point is that there may well be lots of people who have a great deal of mathematical “potential”, but never encounter the mathematical ideas that cause the potential to become actual. It is my view that thinking strengthens the mind in much the way that exercise strengthens a muscle. Some people certainly have more potential for strength than others, but very few people attain their full potential at anything.

        • Rosenmops says:

          His mother may have been quite intelligent but never had the opportunity to go to school or own books.

          • gothamette says:

            Right. My grandmother was illiterate. (Not that any of her grands were Gauss, but we all scored OK & got college educations and did the usual Ashkenazi Jewish bullshit jobs.)

          • Frau Katze says:

            It’s certainly true that in the past, women had very few opportunities to do much.

            So his mother’s intelligence is unknown. One could go by her male relatives, I would think.

            • Garr says:

              Women have always had an almost unlimited opportunity to converse with their neighbors, husbands, CHILDREN, siblings, grandchildren, and other relatives. The whole point of being an intelligent woman is that your intelligence makes life more interesting for your husband and children (especially for your sons). Men want to have intelligent wives (or girlfriends, now that marriage is dead) because it’s more fun to spend time with intelligent women than with stupid ones.

              • Zimriel says:

                Is it though? For the kids, sure. For the 103-IQ husband it can be exhausting, especially if the spouse thinks she could have done better than that dolt.

              • Ursiform says:

                Many, many men don’t think that way. Especially if the wife is viewed as a servant rather than as a companion.

              • Rosenmops says:

                Maybe Gauss’s mom was an introvert with low self esteem.

              • Frau Katze says:

                I don’t see any connection between your comment and mine: that pre-20th century, women had few options to do anything that would enable a modern reader any way to evaluate any particular woman’s intelligence. So Gauss’ mother is a cipher.

              • BB753 says:

                Men tend to dislike women who talk too much.

              • Frau Katze says:

                @BB753 And the relevance of your comment to the subject at hand is?

              • Sean Fielding says:

                Exactly. All this feminist nonsense about wasted female intelligence. Besides, as we all know, the – heh – Gaussian distribution of female intelligence is significantly narrower, which becomes increasingly signficant as one moves out the right tail. When it comes to assortative mating 130 is, say, 140 in woman IQ.

                It’s the God of Biomechanics’ way of ensuring that enough smart people have a good shot at an intellectually healthy marriage: one where husband is about half an SD smarter than wife.

            • Rosenmops says:

              Men from poor families didn’t have much opportunity either. Not until after WW2.

              • dearieme says:

                Cardinal Wolsey. Thomas Cromwell. They lived some time before WWII.
                Captain Cook. Sir Wullie Robertson. Michael Faraday. So did they.

              • Frau Katze says:

                @dearieme Poor but intelligent men without family connections did not have the same opportunities until returning veterans of WW II were all offered the chance of a subsidized university. She’s saying it did not become widespread until very recently.

      • Rosenmops says:

        Maybe the people who knew his parents didn’t have the ability or incination to notice they were smart. Maybe it was just luck that Gauss’s teacher encouraged him for finding a clever way to add up 1+2+3…+100 instead of beating him for being a smartass.

        • Jim says:

          With Gauss it wouldn’t have made any difference whether he was encouraged or not. Short of killing him nothing would have stopped him from becoming a great mathematician.

          • Rosenmops says:

            If cruel relatives had made him work in coal mine for 10 hours a day instead of going to school it would have stopped him.

          • Jerome says:

            Hmmmm….. Being born in 3000 BC would certainly have prevented his developing any of the theorems for which he is known. Newton knew well and described accurately whereon he stood.

      • DRA says:

        A relative had hypothyroidism. She was rather dull and married a man who was dyslexic and not the sharpest pencil in the drawer. Their children were nothing to write home about academically, due in part to the mothers uncontrolled hypothyroidism during pregnancy.

        One if her sons was unable to complete high school due to not being able to pass language related coursework, even after staying in school a couple of years beyond the usual span.

        He married a young lady that by her appearance may have had fetal alcohol syndrome, and they produced two perfectly normal children, although they don’t appear to be geniuses.

        Childhood disease, or a negative prenatal environment can certainly have significant effects on people that they don’t pass down to latter generations. Don’t know if either, or both, of Gauss’ parents had any circumstances that obscured their genetic potential, but a mailman may not have been required.

      • Jerome says:

        You might also want to consider, Gauss or Genghis? I would argue that Gauss, or indeed any highly unusual individual, cannot exhibit the selected trait or, more likely, traits. Gauss is what you might call the opposite of collateral damage. Collateral genius. If the point of those genes was to produce Gauss, then they are astonishingly unproductive genes, and it is hard to see how they got selected when they had never been expressed in that fashion before. Evolution “knew” that if it waited long enough, those genes would produce some really interesting theorems? More likely, he was the result of a convergence of multiple sets of genes that had been selected for other reasons.

        Genghis, on the other hand, is the exception that proves the rule. He seems to have selected for his own genes in advance. It is not at all difficult to understand how they became so widespread. What was selected was not being “like” Genghis. It was being Genghis. Or one of his close male relatives.

      • GAGCAT says:

        Height/IQ are polygenic, and you’re right it’s astronomically unlikely you’ll get a massive boost by reshuffling very small positive alleles. We haven’t found any heavy IQ booster genes (as say, Marfan syndrome does for height) but there are large negative alleles, a single SNP can make you mentally disabled.

        Avoiding these negative alleles could make a big jump in a generation – it is possible for a child to be 2 feet taller than their parents when their parents are dominant-inheritance Dwarves and the kid doesn’t inherit them.

        So, is it possible Mr & Mrs Gauss had very high polygenic IQ + a few dominant negative IQ alleles, which Gauss dodged? Sounds unlikely but there have been billions of people and Gauss is a super-outlier.

      • et.cetera says:

        people knew them and no one ever said that they were anything special.
        People are very poor judges of that to begin with.

      • Thiago Ribeiro says:

        But was it a famous mailman?

      • Someone has sketched out “The future according to Greg”

  2. Warren Notes says:

    I think it has to be true. In 1840, 69 percent of the labor force was in farming. Keep in mind – of the remaining 31 percent, some fraction was in occupations lower than farming – itinerant labor, for example. The opportunity for upward mobility was better than it was for Gauss, but still not very good. Still, we see some – John Deere (bankrupt blacksmith), McCormick (another blacksmith) who beat the odds. Entrepreneurship and inventiveness (fueled by IQ) allowed them to do that. And supposedly – Philo Farnsworth conceived the grid system of the original television system while walking behind a plow. Too bad that bastard Sarnoff and WWII relegated him to the trash bin of history. As far as the motivation argument goes – I’m thinking Gauss’ parents would have been pretty damn restless with his level of intellect buzzing in their noggins as they slogged through their mundane, provincial lives.

    • Exactly. Newton’s father was a farmer too (and tried to make him into one) and Newton didn’t turn out too badly. If Greg could stop talking like a human stock breeder for five seconds (yes, Greg, we get it–most psychologists can’t manage the breeder equation, big whoop to you) then he might not think this as big a mystery as he does. Or rather, its only a mystery if you take his very very narrow view.

  3. Was Gauss really such an anomaly? Didn’t Michael Faraday, for example, also come from undistinguished parents and poverty?

    • Jim says:

      Riemann’s family was pretty poor but his father was a Lutheran minister and so I assume well-educated by the standards of the times. Schlaefli like George Green was born poor and self-taught. Without credentials he had at first a difficult time getting recognition for his work. Finally he wrote a letter to Jacobi describing his situation. Jacobi was a close friend of Dirichlet who was very influential in mathematics. Jacobi arranged a lunch meeting of Schlaefli, Dirichlet and himself, after which Dirichlet used his influence to secure an academic position for Schlaefli.

    • Zimriel says:

      Galton was an interesting case. From what I read in Zimmer (I know, I know) the man had learning disabilities. But (reading between Zimmer’s lying lines) Galton was smart enough to be a century ahead of his time in genetics and perhaps a generation ahead in statistics.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Rough, back of the envelope calculations support your claim about Gauss’ parentage…

  5. pyrrhus says:

    Gauss is the perfect exemplar for St. Exupery’s story about “L’enfant Mozart”, which is pretty much Blank Slate propaganda….We don’t have many other examples, because no doubt it is extremely unlikely.

  6. If we looked at the parental occupations of Field’s Medallists…..we could calculate the rarity of Gauss.

    • Jim says:

      In general most eminent American born mathematicians came from fairly well-off circumstances. Hassler Whitney came from a distinguished family. I think Mt. Whitney was named after one of his ancestors. Alexander inherited sufficient wealth that he didn’t have to work for a living. Stone was a relative of the Supreme Court justice Harlan Stone.

    • et.cetera says:

      Caucher Birkar, one of this year’s Fields Medalists, comes to mind.

  7. Rosenmops says:

    Newton’s parents were farmers. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity back then. It may just be luck the Gauss’s and Newton’s genius was recognized.

    The man who invented the first steam engine was a blacksmith in Cornwall.

    • Jay Ritchie says:

      Newtons education indicates some significant family money. Farmer tended to mean farm owner a opposed to farm worker.

    • gcochran9 says:

      blacksmith: Newcomen was born in Dartmouth, Devon, England, to a merchant family. His ironmonger’s business specialised in designing, manufacturing and selling tools for the mining industry.

      • gothamette says:

        Yeah but what about that Newton guy? Greatest. Mind. Ever.

        Oh wait, Leonardo. Father noble but mother a peasant. (I happen to think boys get most of their smarts from the X chromosome, i.e., mom.)

        • Garr says:

          My mother’s smarter than my father, but my father’s more thoughtful and disciplined about working out his thoughts. Her thoughts tumble out non-stop on top of each other and she’s forgets she’s ever had a given thought five minutes after spewing it out. She says things straight of Augustine and weird French critical theory without knowing it. Sentences that hyper-cool New School Grad students would pride themselves on formulating come out of the sides of her mouth between bites of yogurt. My father never says anything, just shuffles off to his “study” to work on his latest unpublished book when not shuffling off to take a nap. Well, my father would probably do better on standardized math-tests, which is all that the illiterate snots of the Smartosphere really care about. Or maybe the reason that we only ever hear about IQ is that it’s Measurable.

          • gothamette says:

            “My mother’s smarter than my father, but my father’s more thoughtful and disciplined about working out his thoughts. ”

            That was true of my parents as well, although my father’s intellect was .
            directed solely towards analyzing the turning points of baseball games. I’m told he was good at it.

            Your mom unfortunately suffers from “Double X” syndrome, a situation in which a person constantly ricochets between two duelling (I almost wrote “dualing” LOL) mentalities. Your Dad, having one puny X chromosome, could goddamn focus. Of course he got this X chromosome from his mother, as did my father. His mother was a very grounded, steady lady. They do exist, although they are few & far between. They are not unicorns.

            Anyway, behind every great male genius there is a great woman – his mom.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Contributions from mother and father are close to the same. Just looking at he chromosomes, I’d bet on a slightly larger influence from the mother ( for boys): say 52%.

          • gothamette says:

            Quality, not quantity.


          • Jerome says:

            I assume you mean, on the basis of which chromosomes carry various genes. But consider, say, the much greater height of males. Presumably, this is because height is useful to males in a way and to a degree that it is not to females. Pass it by X, or the other 22, both get it. Pass it by Y, only the males get it. So, traits that are especially useful (adaptive) for males have greater evolutionary fitness on the Y chromosome. Males and females are two disparate species that must cooperate in order to reproduce.

            • gcochran9 says:

              There are very few genes on the Y chromosome: mainly it acts as a switch.

              • Jerome says:

                Exactly. Testosterone. But that means that the “impact” of a given gene anywhere in the genome can differ depending on the sex chromosome. That, in turn, means that the son can inherit the gene from mother, but it is expressed differently in him. His mother has the gene he inherits, but not the trait he inherits.

            • They are not different species, because the genes are the same and there a lot of genes advantageous in one sex and disadvantageous in another.

              • Jerome says:

                Well, of course, I was speaking figuratively. The definition of “species” is inherently vague. A “good” definition of species would precisely divide every conceivable viable set of genes into disjoint sets. Good luck with that.

          • Eric Raymond says:

            Your bet on slightly larger influence from mothers is reasonable, but…not in the one case I have direct knowledge about, which is myself and four siblings. And I have a tentative theory about why.

            My mother was upper-middle-class, daughter of a Hollywood set painter who was a tremendous autodidact – bootstrapped himself out of rural Nebraska in the 1920s, studied General Semantics, probably socialized with Robert Heinlein (the indirect evidence for that didn’t come to light until after he was dead and I couldn’t ask). Her IQ is around 135 I think; his was probably higher. Maybe much higher; I didn’t get to spend enough time with him to be sure. Mom had a career as a specialty nurse before marrying; when housework got boring she made a second successful career as a real estate agent/broker.

            Father didn’t have Mom’s advantages; he grew up poor in a PA coal mining town and clawed his way up and out via a basketball scholarship and a double major in math and chemistry to become of the earliest computer programmers in the 1950s – pretty classic case of a man bettering himself through sheer brains and drive. He restored sportscars for fun and played chess regularly with a grandmaster. His co-workers thought he was a genius and I don’t think his IQ can have been anywhere south of 155.

            So you’d expect the offspring to be a bright bunch and you wouldn’t be wrong – one architect, two artists (until the second one decided being an electrician was lower stress), a moderately successful entrepreneur, and a software engineer. Not an IQ below 125 in the whole set, maybe not below 130.

            Here’s the thing though. There is an IQ gradient in the sibs and it is very obviously higher in the two of us that most closely resemble father in multiple other respects. I’m the one who rolled boxcars and got an IQ north of 160 and theorized open source and got famous; I’m also the one everyone in the family thinks resembles dad to a marked and even uncanny degree more than the other sibs. Next in paternal resemblance is my brother the architect and he is not far behind me in the IQ sweepstakes. And so on down the other sibs.

            My mother is a bright woman and I’m sure I got my musical ability from her, but it is obvious to my relatives (including my mother) that all his kids got “genius”, to the extent they have it, straight out of Dad’s genes. It’s not just level of general intelligence but style; the paternal thing is a ferocious version of engineer brain, even the artists have obvious dollops of it. Relatedly, mathematical intelligence varies much more among the sibs than verbal does.

            I will now speculate…

            I think this is what it looks like when you get lots of little IQ-positive alleles from the maternal side and one or a few “spike” genes that heavily boost specific talents like spatial visualization from the paternal side.

            Does that make sense, or am I just babbling?

            Possibly related: one of dad’s odder traits was that he had weirdly high muscle efficiency; he looked more lanky than muscular but on the rare occasions when he lost his temper he was known to do things like putting a fist through sheetrock. My brothers and I inherited this. My sisters didn’t.

    • Frau Katze says:

      See my comment below on Newton. His background wasn’t as bad as you say.

      Also, Greg says being a blacksmith (would require as much skill as a tailor) is relatively skilled compared to subsistence farming. The word “farmer” can mean anything from landowner to a bare bones peasant, eking out a living on rented land.

      Greg should have said that 90% of people in earlier eras were peasants, not landowners. Farther east, they were serfs.

      • Jim says:

        I think Elie Cartan’s father was a blacksmith.

      • Return of Shawn says:

        Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson were farmers. Owning a farm isn’t bad if you don’t actually have to do grunt work. Today, it is pretty much all mechanized.

        • Frau Katze says:

          That’s what I intended to convey, that owning land is relatively high status. Newton’s father did own land.

          Didn’t know that about Jackson but Jefferson must have owned land since he had slaves. I’m not an American and I’m not very familiar with the details. But Jefferson and slaves have been in the news lately.

  8. pyrrhus says:

    My favorite theory, however, for individuals who are a quantum level better than their peers, like Gauss and Babe Ruth, is that there was an alien in the woodshed….I would throw Archimedes and Newton in there too…

  9. arch1 says:

    Agree that Karl was much likelier than average to have been the product of cuckoldry.

    However it’s also true that the expected IQs of his parents is greater than their expected IQs based only on the available information concerning them directly (i.e. from the fact that they raised Karl, we can conclude that they were probably smarter than their personal reputations seem to indicate; intelligence is less obvious than height, and much more so in 18th century Germany than in affluent 21st century societies).

  10. Eponymous says:

    It shouldn’t be too difficult to calculate the Bayesian update here. Just treat uncertainty about Gauss’ father’s IQ as normal, his mother chooses partners at random from the population (also normal), and use the base rate of cuckoldry as the prior.

    I’d do it, but I’m busy.

  11. Phille says:

    Why stop with him being illegitimate? That solves only half of the puzzle. He must have been a foundling, probably Ashkenazim. Case in point: He was the only child of his mother, so not inconceivable (no pun intended) that she couldn’t have children.

    Just reading up on Gauss’s family, not many farmers there …
    A quote: >>[Gauss’s maternal uncle] … as a whole revealed an extraordinarily intelligent, shrewd mind. Gauss as a small boy thought a great deal of him, and later this feeling increased as he guided him in conversation on stimulating matters and thereby recognized his unusual talents and capacities. He alway bewailed the uncle’s untime death Decembter 2. 1809, with the declaration: “A born genius was lost in him.”<<

    So maybe not a foundling.

    • Eponymous says:

      Would be more convincing if it were his paternal uncle.

      • Zimriel says:

        Either way, a piece of the puzzle appears. Mrs Gauss had a gene for smarts. She MIGHT have had the wit to keep her piece-on-the-side a secret from ‘Dad’.
        But if she stepped out, as is being suspected here, why seek out a nerd? Women who cheat in a one night stand are typically not looking for someone like Newton (the near-autist). They are looking for Paolo.
        If Mrs Gauss had left hubby and had a long term affair, that is different. But then we would have heard about it.
        I would look for Mr Gauss’ relatives.

  12. Phille says:

    “Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science”: Another quote: >>because [Gauss’s father] wrote and calculated very well, he was placed in charge of the accounts and receipt of money in a large burial insurance company.<<

    • Frau Katze says:

      There you go. Why is everyone jumping to conclusions without knowing the facts? I’d say more research is needed before accusing his mother of having affairs.

      Men tend to be a bit obsessed with that notion. I doubt that it’s all that common. Especially in the 19th century.

      • Zimriel says:

        That’s the second piece of the puzzle. Case closed.
        When the average peasant or villager thought that so-and-so wasn’t special, they were thinking of wealth. Bartleby The Scrivener might have a 130 IQ but if he is stuck in a garret somewhere, nobody is going to consider him any better than his boss the merchant who basically knows how to delegate and not much more.

    • Michel Rouzic says:

      Who knew that a bit of research could trump speculation. So we’ve established that his father was known for being good at math and his mother was described as smart and therefore not merely average.

  13. Leonard says:

    Many sources (including wikipedia) contain a story of how Gauss corrected his father on a simple arithmetical error at the age of 3. His father, “a stonemason, was paying his workmen at the end of the day”. (Another biography has him as a “bricklayer”.) So: not a farmer. Not sure where stonemasons ranked in the 10%.

    In “Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science”, we find that Gauss’s father “bore the title of master of waterworks, but carried on various occupations and had assisted his father. During the last fifteen years of his life his only occupation was gardening. He also assisted a merchant in the Brunswick and Leipzig fairs. Because he wrote and calculated very well, he was placed in charge of the accounts and receipt of money in a large burial insurance company.” This makes his sound distinctly above-average in intelligence.

    Gauss’s uncle on his mother’s side, Friedrich Benze, was a weaver (again not a farmer), and is depicted as having tinkered with the weaving process to make damask on his own. Gauss thought highly of this uncle: “a born genius was lost in him”.

  14. Baruch says:

    Meh, many such cases. Off the top of my head-Lomonosov’s father was a peasant fisherman-Lomonosov came to Moscow from Arkhangel in a herring cart. Borlaug came from a family of Norwegian farmers. Mendel came from a farming family.

    Many others came from non-distinguished middle class roots-James Watson, Kurt Godel, Charles Dickens, etc.

    On the other hand, most geniuses don’t have very distinguished children and grandchildren (regression towards the mean, etc.) Sometimes you get dynasties (Darwin-Wedgewood-Galton, Bernoullis, Huxleys, Chandrasekhars,) but not usually.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “His father, Vasily Dorofeyevich Lomonosov, was a prosperous peasant fisherman turned ship owner, who amassed a small fortune transporting goods from Arkhangelsk to Pustozyorsk, Solovki, Kola, and Lapland.[2] Lomonosov’s mother was Vasily’s first wife, a deacon’s daughter, Elena Ivanovna Sivkova.[3]”

  15. Frau Katze says:

    Wasn’t Isaac Newton’s father an illiterate farmer? He was, but he owned the land, which definitely put him in a higher class than a serf or peasant.

    He died before Newton was born. His mother dumped him on her parents to marry another man (pretty callous, likely where Newton got his unsociable personality. He remained bitter about it.)

    But his mother’s brother was an Anglican minister so he definitely was educated and it was him who was responsible for sending him to Cambridge.

    So he would fit the theory of the parents being a cut above the masses. In those days, only the intervention of his uncle gave him the break.

    • Jethro Cao says:

      Newton was unsociable, probably because he had a strong case of Asperger’s, and not due to some callous parental action, which has little longterm effects on the personalities of their offspring.

  16. Lior says:

    Besides non paternity, this also raises the probability his father got hit on the head when he was young. Since his dad worked as a bricklayer we can guess what happened.

  17. savantissimo says:

    How often do very bright people have mentally retarded offspring? Sure, there’s some skewness in the distribution, but it should be a somewhat similar rate, for a similar five or six standard deviation gap. Certainly having a child as smart as Gauss was a low probability event, but low probability events happen, otherwise they’re zero probability events.

    Regression to the mean works both ways, one’s parents are more likely to be closer to the mean as well as one’s children. It’s almost unheard of for any genius’ parents to be smarter than he was, and for a super-genius like Gauss, we should expect the gap to be bigger.

    • gcochran9 says:

      The comparison with having a retarded kid is wrong. We know that parents can be carriers of something horrible: we don’t know of examples of them being carriers for something wonderful.

      • savantissimo says:

        Sure, injuries and gross genetic defects cause nearly all such cases. There’s still a residuum. On the other side, sometimes a lucky shuffle does happen. Then there’s the miscellaneous, “unshared environment” possibilities for luck – a randomly good “primary repertoire” for neuronal group selection to act upon, and a lucky selection from that repertoire as Edelman’s Neural Darwinism might explain it. There’s not enough information in the genome to explain the details of brain micro-anatomy, it starts off mostly random, so luck plays a role for better or worse.

  18. Gilberto Dorneles says:

    For someone with an IQ of 150, everyone with an IQ of 130 sounds dumb.

    Did Gauss parents sounded dumb for him? Probably.

    • syonredux says:

      Edward Teller on John von Neumann: “von Neumann would carry on a conversation with my 3-year-old son, and the two of them would talk as equals, and I sometimes wondered if he used the same principle when he talked to the rest of us.”

    • Eponymous says:

      “For someone with an IQ of 150, everyone with an IQ of 130 sounds dumb.”

      Not true.

      • Calvin X Hobbes says:

        I have an IQ around 150.
        One of my kids has an IQ around 180.
        I’m sure he thinks I’m a dolt, but he’s too nice to show that he thinks I’m stupid.

      • Eric Raymond says:

        Indeed not true. IQ130 people sound to me a bit limited, but not actually stupid. The biggest difference I notice is that they don’t grasp second-and-third-order consequences of a proposition rapidly.

        • View from Below says:

          Having an IQ of 130 is like being stuck forever in Limbo and can be a latent source of existential depression throughout your life. You realise early on that you’re smarter than most, but there’s always someone who’s one step ahead of you.

          You can grasp virtually every concept and master any scientific discipline, but you’ll need more time than your betters to do so, so you’ll never be able to make a breakthrough first; you’ll always be trailing them. Like being a fast runner, but never making it to the 100m dash finals in any major event.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Untrue. Consider an Edisonian approach, way underused. Just try shit.

            • anon says:

              His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor.

              Tesla’s opinion on Edison. All true or there’s a touch of bitterness?

  19. Umberto says:

    The Fields Medal just went to this scion of Kurdish farmers

    • Edward says:

      I suspect that his parents and grandparents would have hardly found the time to reach their genetic potential, given that everyone else in the region attempted to murder the Kurds whenever they got the chance.

      We also know that heritability of IQ is lower in developing countries than it is in developed countries, due to these kinds of environmental constraints preventing people from reaching their genetic potential.

  20. Rosenmops says:

    Why didn’t Gauss and Newton and other geniuses come along until they did? There is probably about the same number of geniuses in every generation. Perhaps in earlier centuries very few common people had the opportunity to learn to read or learn any basic mathematics at all. After the Protestant Reformation they started trying to teach everyone to read so they could read the Bible.

    Are there any famous geniuses that come from the aristocracy? The royal family in the UK seem rather stupid.

    • Hallie Scott Kline says:


      “Why didn’t Gauss and Newton and other geniuses come along until they did? There is probably about the same number of geniuses in every generation.”

      I would say there have been far more in recent generations, because of the population explosion. (The 10,000-Year, right?)

    • dearieme says:

      Comte de Broglie
      Lord Rayleigh
      Baron Napier

      Those are off the top of my head – there were doubtless plenty more.

    • says:

      Are there any famous geniuses that come from the aristocracy?

      “””Louis de Broglie was born to a noble family in Dieppe, Seine-Maritime, younger son of Victor, 5th duc de Broglie. He became the 7th duc de Broglie in 1960 upon the death without heir of his older brother, Maurice, 6th duc de Broglie, also a physicist. In his 1924 PhD thesis he postulated the wave nature of electrons and suggested that all matter has wave properties. This concept is known as the de Broglie hypothesis, an example of wave–particle duality, and forms a central part of the theory of quantum mechanics. De Broglie won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1929, after the wave-like behaviour of matter was first experimentally demonstrated in 1927.”””

    • Frau Katze says:

      It was a long chain of events. First you needed written language. Then you needed something other than Roman numerals. The new ones borrowed from India and transmitted via the Arabs did not start to catch on until the printing press was invented and large anounts of information was in print form. We’re up to the 1500s for just that.

      Newton was born in the 1600s.

    • savantissimo says:

      Some others that don’t count because they were raised to the aristocracy:
      Lord Bacon, usually called Sir Francis (official family quite aristocratic, though not titled, titles being very rare in England of the time, and there is evidence (e.g. eye color) that his actual family was different, and has been long speculation on the basis of his early and continued royal favor that he was a royal bastard)
      Lord Brain, the neurologist
      Lord Lister, who invented antiseptic surgery
      (the latter two both Quakers)

      It is possible that there is some connection between Henry Oldenburg, the secretary of the Royal Society for its first 17 years and the Danish House of Oldenburg (also the Norwegian royal house, and others in the past). The present British Royals would all have the surname Oldenburg through Prince Philip if they followed the usual rules.

      • Henry Oldenburg was not likely related to the royal Oldenburgs of Denmark, whose last representative died childless in 1863, and who were never kings in any other country but Denmark, except Norway from 1448-1814. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, descends from Christian IX of Denmark of the House of Glücksburg, and he was a direct descendant in the male line, but from a younger son, of Christian III of Denmark of the House of Oldenburg. When the last Oldenburg died in 1863, the name of the dynasty changed, even though the new king was a very distant cousin of the deceased. It’s like in France in 1589: the last Valois king, Henri III, falls to an assassin’s dagger, and his replacement is Henri IV of Bourbon. Thereafter the dynasty is known as the Bourbons, even though Henri IV was descended in unbroken male line from a younger son of Philippe III of the House of Valois, who died in 1285. Valois – Bourbon = Oldenburg – Glücksburg.

  21. Peter North says:

    Back in the day, only two classes of citizens were really ‘educated’, the clergy and the legal profession.
    In fact, all universities began life as institutions to instruct the clergy. It’s no coincidence that the words ‘clergy’ and ‘clerk’ are etymologically related.
    Even up to the 1700s there was no requirement for doctors to have medical degrees.

    The great cathedrals of Europe were built by ‘uneducated’ men – as were the wagons, ships, windmills etc.
    Perhaps the more prosperous sent their sons to school – look at Shakespeare – but the profession of the schoolmaster was generally derided, and not well paid, being said to be performed by those who ‘could do nothing else’.
    Basically, the nation was the ‘yeoman farmer’, and everyone else was an after thought.

    • savantissimo says:

      Make that the early 20th century for M.D.s. Arguably even now, since D.O.s (osteopaths) have full privileges to practice medicine.

    • Josh says:

      What about Shakespeare’s parents? Would it make more sense if they were aristocrats?

      • dearieme says:

        Or Rembrandt’s. I suspect that many great geniuses have skills of which there is little or no sign in their parents. Even Mozart – his father was a musician but didn’t hold a candle to his towering son.

        • Frau Katze says:

          That’s really common with the great composers. There is generally family involvement in music one way or the other.

          Mozart’s sons didn’t accomplish much.

          • Eric Raymond says:

            Our host has already noted that great mathematicians come in family clusters. Gifted computer programmers don’t seem to fall far from the tree, either; the discipline is just old enough that we’re starting to see this now.

            • Frau Katze says:

              Computer programming (my career) seems a bit low status to me. Well, maybe middling. Status goes to the managers, but that struck me as incredibly boring.

              But the children don’t have to stay in that profession. There are other jobs that require the same type of intelligence. My daughter is making a lot more than I ever did as MD. But one of her friends, an anesthestist, said she had trouble with calculus. That surprised me, with med school so hard to get into.

  22. Curlt Topplek says:

    Does this new math technique suggest that heritablity estimates have been too high, for intelligence and other things?

    “Relatedness disequilibrium regression explained”

  23. Could any of of his parents/grandparents been (ex)Jewish? It would be a tidy explanation for higher IQ coupled with lack of opportunity. The local people tended to remember such things for a generation or three.

    I get your point about “extremely unlikely” scenarios. It is extremely unlikely that his father and mother had +2SD IQ’s which did not show in any noticeable way. Yet as we are discussing an extremely unlikely event, those have to be considered. “It’s no use sayin’ pigs conner fly when ‘ee see ’em sproutin’ wings.” Illnesses could have prevented proper development, or personality characteristics could have rendered either unable to flourish.

    If mother was clever in her own way then yes, hypergamy might have been her game, especially as dad was hot-tempered and difficult. A 1% nonpaternity chance is better than the others we are discussing. Yet precisely because we are discussing small chances, the possibilities of fine SNPs obscured by circumstances can’t be ruled out either.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I’m saying it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at his genetics. Which is true anyhow, of course.

    • West Anon says:

      tidy explanation for higher IQ coupled with lack of opportunity.

      If you assume that “lack of opportunity” is a high probability state for a Jew, why would he have high IQ?

  24. Eponymous says:

    Possibly related puzzle: where were all the 18th century Jewish geniuses? The scientific revolution and enlightenment seem to have occurred with little contribution from them. Isn’t that astronomically unlikely?

    • gcochran9 says:

      They weren’t interested, at the time. The rabbis explicitly forbade reading science.

    • Phille says:

      There was an Ashkenazim population explosion in the 19th century as far as I know. So their percentage must have been much lower in earlier centuries.

      As per wikipedia:
      “… according to a census at the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the Jews of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth numbered 308,500. As these formed the larger part of the European Jews, it is doubtful whether the total number was more than 400,000 at the middle of the 18th century;”

      For comparison: Right before the holocaust the number of European Jews exceeded 9 million. That would be a twenty-fold increase in less than 200 years. The general European population probably only increased approximately three-fold in that time.

      There are other estimates were the relative increase would be smaller, but it was probably a factor. Maybe a big one.

    • Zenit says:

      They were not wasting their lives on some useless “science”, but dedicated themselves to thing that really matters, Talmud study. People like Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, considered by Orthodox Jews as the greatest genius that ever lived.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      inbreeding depression? (fixed later with railroads etc)

  25. Aaron Esq. says:

    Off Topic but wondering your thoughts:

    “But initial conditions could have – in theory – been different. But initial conditions could have – in theory – been different. Had women been naturally more aggressive, they would have become the warring sex and we would now live in a world of Amazon-like female-only wars.”

    How likely is this? I mean egg being more valuable than sperm seems like it would be a bad idea. Also, there is evidence that intra-sex competition is larger for males than females. I just don’t see a game-theoretic equilibrium where eggs are sacrificed.

    [Google quotes for a link.]

    • says:

      Mr. Frank explained that the spotted hyena ”has achieved the ultimate in role reversal and has lived this way for millions of years. The hyena is a natural model to study such questions as the brain differences between males and females and the role that testosterone plays in aggression.” So complete is female dominance among spotted hyenas that even an adult high-ranking male is nervous around a pubescent female, Mr. Frank has observed. He has also seen an adult male retreat when approached by the tiny cub of a dominant female. He has also discovered that dominance seems to be inherited – passed on from the dominant mother to her daughters and granddaughters. Apparently no fighting is needed to establish rank, he said. Working with Julian Davidson, a physiologist at Stanford, Mr. Frank has found that testosterone levels and dominance are closely related; the most dominant female has a testosterone level as high as some males. It is six times that of the average female and five times that of the female next in line.

      • info says:

        However one male lion is a match for several of those female hyenas up to a point. And more than a match one-on-one with a strong female hyena.

  26. Halvorson says:

    Michael Jordan’s father stood 5’6″ and did not play basketball in high school. He produced three sons who stood 5’7″, 5’8″ and 6′ 6″, the last the greatest guard in the history of the sport. But Michael’s paternity is obvious: he looks just his short father and his tiny brothers have also inherited his inhuman leaping ability:

    Likewise, Larry Bird’s (who is really even more of an outlier than Jordan) father was an average sized man who came from a family of phenomenal baseball players, while his mother was 6 foot even and originated in a family that had never been prominent in any kind of sport. Bird too looks exactly like both his parents and it’s also not difficult to see how he could have inherited useful fragments of basketball alleles from two parents who had no special talent in the sport themselves.

    I.e. I’d bet you a million bucks that Gauss’s father is really his father,just as Feynman’s father really was a just a peddler/salesman.

    I’ve heard the structure of intelligence compared to two lawyers working at the same firm and relying on the same secretary to prepare their paperwork. The lawyers, Verbal and Non-Verbal are completely independent in their Judicial Quotient, a 1-10 rating of how many cases they can win in a year’s time. But their speed and success is dependent on their secretary, g, who has her own JQ and acts as a bottleneck to the pace of the other two. This model does a good job of explaining why you see large verbal-nonverbal divide at higher IQs and identical sub scores at very low levels. And it would help to explain anomalies like Gauss, one of whose parents may have possessed superlative Performance IQ that he was held in check by mediocre g, just as the tremendous latent athleticism of the Jordan boys was held back by their short stature.

  27. Harold says:

    Angus MacAskill?

  28. Cpluskx says:

    He was the s

  29. J says:

    Galton noticed that eminent individuals tend to cluster in families but we also know that fortune and intellectual achievements never last more than three generations. What we have here is that the “good” genes are widely distributed in the population, and once in while appears an individual with an exceptionally favorable combination of “good” genes and absence of “bad” genes, and he grows up to be Karl Gauss. West European population must carry much “good” genes, while Hottentots don’t. I fail to see anything miraculous in this.

  30. Greying Wanderer says:

    “More complex jobs.”

    also, in an environment where there was an excess of smart people for a limited number of complex jobs there would be competition for the least unpleasant simple jobs so in a “farewell to alms” type scenario you might end up with a lot of smart people in the layers just below the complex e.g. weavers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, yeoman farmers etc.

    so the Gauss example (like Newtons a couple of centuries before) might have been the result of a long term eugenic marriage pattern creating a large over spill of brains below the 10% – making the odds less astronomical?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s