Someone on the internet was saying that  “genetically engineering babies for intelligence etc. probably wouldn’t work. All of our associations are inextricably and unknowably culture-bound (both wrt to time & place)”  If I have this right, just because certain genetic variants were associated with higher intelligence in a  given place and time (say Budapest, 1900), that doesn’t mean that those associations would hold the day after tomorrow.  An equivalent statement:  just because John Von Neumann was smart, that doesn’t mean that his clone, conceived in 2019, would be a sharp cookie  on maturity.  Perhaps the current shortage of Gemütlichkeit, or missing out on the stimulating effect of the Bela Kun regime,  would derail the clone’s proper development.

One can imagine ways in which something like this could come about. Suppose that some existing population averaged high scores on mental rotation, but that, 20 years from now, everyone has a little doodad that plugs directly into your brain and makes you far better at spatial visualization  (in N dimensions!) than anyone alive today. Those alleles would go from advantageous today to useless tomorrow.  Or, if there’s an outbreak of the zombie virus, everybody becomes a zombie.  Zombies are known to be deficient in spatial visualization.

So the claim is logically possible.  Do I think there’s much chance that it’s true: that increasing the number of plus variants ( as determined by GWAS) by genetic engineering or genetically informed selection would fail, because you can never step into the same environment twice?  The same reason that hybrid corn strains only work in the field where they were developed?

No. I think it’s total bullshit.




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60 Responses to Context-dependent

  1. Eugine Nier says:

    So where are the contemporary Martians? Or did the genes for making them inexplicably come together in early 20th century Hungary and then subsequently disperse?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Most suffer from the problem of having had their parents killed before they were conceived.

      • Jacob says:

        That did one third, low birthrates will do another third, and high intermarriage rates will get them down to zero.

        It’s sad, but it’s also morbidly fascinating. Ask any of your bachelor sons what Jewish girls are like on Tinder.

        I found one of the ones who exhibit lower aposematism and took her to get coffee. She explained to me that she didn’t believe in objective reality and that she wanted to be an economist. Gold, absolute gold. She bragged about being the only math double major in her economics classes, and being a much better quant in general than her economics peers.

        She was dismayed to learn that my scores were all higher than hers. But y’see, Doc, she was only half Martian; that’s why she’s dumber than me.

        • gcochran9 says:

          3/4ths of the Hungarian Jews were killed. Fairly late in the war, since the Hungarian government strongly opposed it. Happened after the Horthy government was overthrown by the Germans.

          I had some personal experience of this topic, but not enough for a reasonable statistical sample.

          • István Nagy says:

            As a Hungarian goy I must admit that the recent ill-condition of our ecology caused by the fact that we changed 600 thousand jews for 600 thousand gypsies in the last 70 years. And it had the most serious effect on smart fraction, not the avereage intelligence of Hungary.

            • R. says:

              I heard a most amusing kind of nonsense recently.

              My great-uncle is a Soviet agent[1] and an teaches economy at a university. His knowledge of English is somewhat limited, so he follows German and Russian media, I guess.

              Anyways, he related that some Russian political pundit claimed that Israel, in the belief that it’s long-term survival in its place is impossible is implementing long-term relocation plans, that is, laying groundwork for resettling Israeli population in eastern Europe. I mean, given that Jews are going to lose the culture war in the US, and that eastern Europe is the only place that hates and fears Muslims, plus culturally somewhat close and cheaper land, it’d make some sense.

              Made me guffaw and I said something like “Something that good could never happen”. Looked it up later and the guy he named as a source ( ) is a complete kook, who has said stuff along the lines of Ukraine in 2014 was selected to be a place where the ‘Final Holocaust’ was supposed to kick off.

              [1]: it’s a joke, but who knows. I’d not bet a lot of money against it, his mathematics degree is of Soviet origin. Also deliberately styles his beard after Karl Marx.

          • Nemo says:

            “Happened after the Horthy government was overthrown”
            – Technically, it was not the “Horthy government”, just Horthy’s preferred government. He remained governor even under the German occupation and the German puppet government. It’s still often debated in Hungary, even among Hungarian Jews, if he should be blamed for this or not: one side argues that he legitimized the German puppet government by not resigning, and that since he could protect the Jews of Budapest from deportation, then he could have done the same for the rest of the Hungarian Jews too if he really wanted to. The other side argues that if he resigned, then the remaining 1/4 of the Hungarian Jews would have been exterminated too, and protecting them was in itself a superhuman feat.

        • R. says:

          On the positive side, apparently Jews in Israel are having an average of 3.1 kids. Secular ones too.

    • Boswald Bollocksworth says:

      They’re in Silicon Valley and other places were useless “apps” are made. Some work in finance.

      Most of the best minds I contend are being used to code “dick pic apps”, manipulate people’s online behavior, and do various marginally useful things in finance. This is why we need greater state direction of the economy, 5% of GDP on space exploration plus glory for the men involved.

      • Thiago Ribeiro says:

        Thanks but no thanks.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        This is why we need greater state direction of the economy, 5% of GDP on space exploration plus glory for the men involved>

        Are you out of your mind? Do you realize that 5 percent of the GDP is more than one-fifth of the current, already-bloated federal budget? That’s more than 150 percent of what we spend on the entire defense budget. It’s even greater than our outlays for Social Security.

        NASA’s budget for 2019 is $21.5 billion. Your proposal would raise spending on space exploration to somewhere between $800 billion and a trillion U.S. dollars – or somewhere around 40 times what we spend on NASA.

      • Rhetocrates says:

        This is why we need greater state direction of the economy

        This is caused by greater State direction of the economy. The State simply disagrees with your priorities.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “So where are the contemporary Martians?”

      i don’t know about Hungary but more generally for years now the banks have been sucking in Math brains from all over the world to help maximize the banks’ parasitism.

      (This will end badly.)

    • akarlin says:

      There’s a theory amongst some Hungarian nationalists that the Hungarians are descended came to Earth from the star system Sirius. But maybe they were slightly mistaken and it actually referred to their Jews, who have since packed up their bags and left.

    • bomag says:

      where are the contemporaries

      I’d think we could replicate a little better.

      Hellenistic Greeks were pretty good. Eighteenth/nineteenth century northern Europe uncorked some exceptional minds: Gauss did the prime number theorem at age 15. WTF? Galois was on top of field theory at age 19. Cauchy; Dirichlet; Abel were floating around, plus others: rather remarkable for the population size of the time.

      • Alex says:

        Maybe we have an issue of progressively higher hanging fruit to be able to advance some field. Not to mention the cost inherent in certain fields and the increasingly social nature of scientific work.

        Also, the big difference between then and now is credentialism and the long stretches of basic apprenticeship before you end up in a position to sow your own wild oats.

        There is also a much higher division of labor, I would think. People back then could be scientist, MP and some other liberal profession like doctor. Nowadays, career tracks are narrower and more numerous. Gauss, today, would be making money for some bank in a zero sum game.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t Borlaug spend most of his career designing grains in Mexico and became famous overnight by simply shipping it to India?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Apparently Borlaug was using two different sites in Mexico to allow two harvests a year, speeding his breeding program, but that also selected for wheat that could tolerate a fairly wide range of conditions.

      The important grain crops – maize, wheat, rice – don’t prosper in all possible environments. But they work in a pretty wide range of environments, or they wouldn’t be major crops.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Your demolition job is apposite, but unfortunately for wishful thinkers the environment remains a wild card, the ultimate “perhaps” play in which, without specifying what it might be, a hypothetical mystery toxin gets into the soil, and no plant prospers and genes are put in their distant place.

  4. Good demolition job. Wishful thinkers regard the environment as a joker card, which allows them to claim all unknowns as their property.

  5. István Nagy says:

    “Perhaps the current shortage of Gemütlichkeit, or missing out on the stimulating effect of the Bela Kun regime, would derail the clone’s proper development.”
    By the way a few years ago I met with the great-grandchild of Kun Béla at a prestigious German MPI institute, where he done some programming stuff as a PhD student…

  6. Greying Wanderer says:

    ““genetically engineering babies for intelligence etc. probably wouldn’t work. All of our associations are inextricably and unknowably culture-bound (both wrt to time & place)”

    so are they saying we couldn’t use selective breeding to turn the descendants of 100 random Pit Bulls into sheep dogs?

    i think you could selectively breed any environment you wanted.

  7. We should thank the gentleman. He has explained to us why all those immigrants, especially Jews and Northeast Asians, have done so poorly in America.

    • Abraham Lincoln says:

      Low-trust minorities let loose in a high-trust civilization often end up on top.

      We’re witnessing it right this very moment with the Muslims, and they’re not even smart.

  8. Surely it depends somewhat on how those alleles boost intelligence? It’s possible that they make up for some deficiency in the environment that would otherwise reduce it.

    Consider C4 and C3 type plants. If the CO2 level is raised enough, the advantage that the C4 plants have in photosynthesis disappears. But under current conditions, there is a difference, and it is strongly heritable.

  9. Space Ghost says:

    Perhaps the current shortage of Gemütlichkeit, or missing out on the stimulating effect of the Bela Kun regime, would derail the clone’s proper development.

    No, it’s because this guy: isn’t around to teach them. But if we can clone him too, we might have a chance.

  10. dearieme says:

    “I think it’s total bullshit.” There’s a lot of it about. Goebbels Warming; cholesterol as the cause of CVD and statins as the cure; wind power and sun power imminently to replace fossil fuels; useful fusion power being only ten years away. Is String Theory bullshit too?

    Are these any bullshittier than the anti-vaccine people; the Kennedy assassination obsessives; the people who believe that the moon landing, and even the twin towers, were all an illusion; the Washington Russkiphobes?

    Chesterton opined that when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. But then believing in God is bullshit too. Or turtleshit, depending on which religion you adopt.

    • David Chamberlin says:

      “May you live in interesting times.” is a Chinese curse, but for us easily bored westerners it is what we wish we had more of. And very likely in this century we shall live in very interesting times. The popular belief that intelligence is a product of hard work rather than inheritance is going to cease this century exactly at the time when the new improved babies with brain glasses, genetically engineered higher intelligence, hit adulthood.

      The stupid are hopping mad already, just wait until their dreams of the better life are completely crushed by some ultra bright foreigners who cheated to gain another 20 points on their IQ scores. World War number 3?, holocaust number 2?. Waaaaay too interesting for me.

      • gkai says:

        Would it make a big difference wrt social unrest? I don’t see why: the popular belief is that children of rich families succeed because they have (unfair) educational advantage, and education is everything. Post-brainglasses, it will be “they succeed because they have (unfair) access to “brain therapy”, and a well-functionning brain is everything. Not much changed, except that the new paradigm happens to be closer to reality so social predictions may turn out right more often.
        Also, I am not sure which conditions can cause real unrest, I see maybe 2 cases:
        – base needs (food, shelter) are no longer met for a significant percentage, especially if this percentage can self-identify
        – large scale social status shuffling (for example large confiscation), again especially if the loosers can easily self-identify
        Access to gene editing (targeting brain function or anything else) does not seems like it could trigger one of those…It’s more being a possible scapegoat marker (hence putting edited people at risk) than any real cause of unrest

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “But then believing in God is bullshit too.”

      true or not was believing in God adaptive?

    • Edward says:

      “Cholesterol as the cause of CVD and statins as the cure”

      Perhaps learning a bit of epistemic humility would do you some good. There are many bullshitters in the Diet Wars, none more so than the cholesterol-denying, low-carb fruitcakes.

      • dearieme says:

        Surely a fruitcake can’t possibly be low carb?

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “the cholesterol-denying, low-carb fruitcakes”

        the argument isn’t over the association between cholesterol and heart disease – the argument is over whether high cholesterol is the ultimate cause of the problem or only the proximate cause i.e. is cholesterol being used by the body to patch up arterial leaks (like an internal version of a scab on your knee) in which case the real problem is whatever is causing the arteries to leak?

        the low carb thing exists in that context

        (and may not be carbs per se but simply large chunks of the population having minor allergies to non-ancestral diets one example of which being high carbs).

  11. Leonard says:

    All of our associations are inextricably and unknowably culture-bound (both wrt to time & place)

    I don’t think you’re doing justice to how stupid this statement is. “Associations” are based on reality, which is exterior to us and our culture. So yeah, they can change reality changes — i.e., if we plugged every human into a giant matrix-type simulation and then simmed something super insane. But if we continue to live in the reality we currently live in, then most of our associations will remain what they currently are and thus the so-called scarequote “intelligence” that currently works on them will continue to work.

  12. Abraham Lincoln says:

    You’re not wrong, obviously, but how many times are you going to write the same thing in different words?

  13. Realist says:

    Hungary’s Prime Minister is more intelligent than the other European leaders.

  14. sinij says:

    I think “total bullshit” claim is too strong. I see it a plausible bullshit.

    Take always connected computers and Google. It makes recall less important and ability to synthesize facts from multiple sources more important. This is just over last 30 years or so. Unless you view modern computers as one-time and unique development.

    • gcochran9 says:

      One might think so, but one would be wrong. In practice, the info has to be in your head [recalled] before you can connect it with anything.

      • sinij says:

        Perhaps my inability to comprehend what it is like to be unable to recall and synthesize data gets in the way of understanding the issue. Still, in light of this discussion I was thinking what kind of talents and abilities would make one optimal ‘genius’ during historical times. Modern history remains largely consistent – ability to synthesize data, see patterns and understand them, and be curious enough to go looking for them. However, if we deep-dive into history I don’t think this holds. What would qualify one to be a genius in a hunter-gatherer society? What about Ancient Greek world?

        If we speculate about future, what would a genius look like in a society that invented direct machine-human neural interface?

        • gabriel alberton says:

          I might not know how a genius would look like in said society, and would not risk speculating much about it; but I bet he would not, on average of course, look like a present-day Papuan.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The genetic engineering of children for the insertion of genes related to intelligence will probably result in short term disaster since those genes are ultimately going to have physical repercussions, i.e. they will correspond to an increase in brain size. If genes for increased brain size are added without accompanying genes for increased skull size then these children will most likely die in early childhood. Then you have a problem of genetically engineering the rest of the human body to accommodate insertion of all these intelligence genes, which may or may not be detrimental to the initial purpose of the insertion. It would be a simpler problem to remove the rest of the human body altogether and genetically a better brain/central nervous system that operate without the rest of the human body in an artificial environment, i.e. larger and larger living brains in jars, probably very similar to the Guild Navigator from David Lynch’s 1985 Dune adaptation. In a thousand years I could see human societies becoming much more like ants, ruled by a “Queen Bee” immortal super intelligence maintained by more primitive humanoids. Just my 2 cents.

    • Sinij says:

      You are assuming that bigger brains are always better. Instead, I propose that more complex brains are better and this doesn’t necessary correspond to size. Recently I read a study into neural transmission, maybe even linked from this blog, that suggested direct neural connections between neuron cluster are sub-optimal, and instead central neurological pathway, similar to a computer data bus, is what allowed breakthrough in animal intelligence that eventually led to humans.

      It follows that further optimizations are the way to go. We can look into CPU architecture and design for inspiration. For example, predictive computing and specialized clusters like ALU (arithmetic logic unit) is a better way to get smarter.

    • Size of the Brain and Cranial Vault says:

      Skull size does not really have an independent genetic component from brain size; if it did then you’d have cases where the set of genes that a child has for skull size is on a mismatch with brain size with bad consequences (if a child ended up with a set of mismatched genes from sampling their two parents).

      Skulls have evolved to be plastic and remodel and respond to the brain, the organ and the skeleton do not operate independently; they grow as an integrated unit.

      (On a tangent this is the sort of nonsense the likes of Rushton used to spread around; that larger brain size required extensive cranial skeletal changes to proceed them, which of course he believed for his own reasons to have taken place in East Asians. Total pseudoscience; nothing about the East Asian cranial or facial form is required for larger brains.).

      There’s also plenty of scope to increase performance without increasing size.

    • Joseph says:

      More likely is that it results in a disaster when they accidentally make all of these high intelligence genetically engineered children into bipolars, schizophrenics, or worse yet, psychopaths. We know there are links between intelligence and mental/personality disorders, but we don’t understand them. Extremely irresponsible to fuck around with them, you have no way of knowing you’ve created a generation of monsters until its too late to terminate the results of the experiment.

  16. Warren Notes says:

    Okay, so let’s say the environment isn’t what it used to be, and a clone of a known genius (we must assume identical in any way for the exercise) from the past has just reached maturity and is confronting the new world. IQ has often been defined broadly as an “adaptive” characteristic. Neuroplasticity is the characteristic that allows the brain to adapt. Wouldn’t that continue to give a past scientific innovator a big edge in a totally different and new environment?

  17. Michel Rouzic says:

    As far as practical applications go the argument is moot since your +15 IQ GMO babies would probably end up with a TFR below 0.4, so their presumably already smart but low-fertility parents would only achieve ending their lineage even harder. The best thing you could do would be to give that artificial boost to the babies of lower IQ parents so that you’d raise the lower end and yet the GMO babies wouldn’t be so smart that they’d rather adopt poodles and pursue PhDs in Monomotapan literature than reproduce. But then you’d have to wonder what would become of that boost with regression to the mean.

    Maybe instead of giving a genetic IQ boost we could give a genetic boost to the desire to reproduce to the babies of smart parents. Or we could live in a theocracy and ban contraception, fornication and divorce, which is my favoured option, but I live in Poland so I don’t have to worry about any minority demographic explosion this might cause.

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