Carryover vs “Far Transfer”

It used to be thought that studying certain subjects ( like Latin)  made you better at learning others, or smarter generally – “They supple the mind, sir; they render it pliant and receptive.” This doesn’t appear to be the case, certainly not for Latin – although it seems to me that math can help you understand other subjects?

A different question: to what extent does being (some flavor of) crazy, or crazy about one subject, or being really painfully wrong about some subject, predict how likely you are to be wrong on other things? We know that someone can be strange, downright crazy, or utterly unsound on some topic and still do good mathematics…  but that is not the same as saying that there is no statistical tendency for people on crazy-train A to be more likely to be wrong about subject B.  What do the data suggest?

I’m mostly talking about cases where A and B have no obvious relationship – we know that a dedicated Marxist is more likely to have wrong notions about genetics, since heritability offends him ( probably gravity and levity do as well).   Probably also worth considering whether the individual in question achieved craziness on his own or was immersed in it from birth.

Lastly, sometimes that correlation must be negative: certain flavors of crazy likely make you less  likely to be wrong about certain other things.





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108 Responses to Carryover vs “Far Transfer”

  1. R. says:

    There’s this English academic, Edward Dutton, who moved to Northern Finland, who goes around giving talks on how the insanity of modern politics is due to an accumulation of harmful mutations after the cessation of high child mortality.

    Something about sanity being somehow tied to health, and lack of selection on infants on health making people more left wing.

    • shadow on the wall says:

      This theory predicts that countries that lived in dire poverty in living memory should have less mutants and more “sane” politics today.
      This means Spain, Italy, Balkans, Eastern Europe and Russia.

      • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

        Finland has experienced trauma that killed at least a third of its population at least twice in the last thousand years, and many other widespread traumas in that time period that were, for example, worse than the impact of the Spanish flu on the U.S.

    • LOADED says:

      Isn’t that the point of basic genetics? Any trait being selected for or failed to being selected against will accumulate in the population. Also, one guy I can name is probably John Forbes Nash Jr., an excellent mathematical intellect yet a very misunderstood schizophrenic.

      • gcochran9 says:

        People with schiz have low fitness.

        • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

          Maybe selective fitness (i.e. maximizing your impact on the future gene pool), but that isn’t the only worthwhile thing in life. Closely related bipolar disorder has produced a huge share of history’s most lauded poets, and also contributed mightily to other creative pursuits.

        • LOADED says:

          First two sentences have nothing to do with the first so please don’t read it as one paragraph, I guess?

          • LOADED says:

            “With the last” is what I meant to say, not first.

            Anyways, digit ratio is probably a far more powerful predictor of schizophrenia than genes from what I’ve read and noticed.

          • LOADED says:

            At least in people who have no family members with schiz.

            • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

              That’s a huge limitation. Schizophrenia has very close to the highest genetic component of any mental health condition. Genetic factors are estimated to account for 80 percent of the total risk of getting schizophrenia on average and the vast majority of those cases involve some family history of psychosis. Also, like most DSM conditions, it is a syndrome (i.e. a set of similar symptoms not necessarily sharing the same cause) with sub-clusters of conditions with them. Schizophrenia, in general, is about 80% heritable, but some genetic clusters predict that someone has a 95%-100% chance of having that particular subtype of schizophrenia, while other clusters predict that there is as little as a 70% chance of having schizophrenia and generally clarifies what type of schizophrenia that person will develop if they develop it at all. Some of the association once thought to be environmental due to an urban and rural area distinction is mostly explained by people with the condition moving to urban areas.

        • Jim O'Sullivan says:

          Schizophrenia usually hits at roughly age twenty, and is highly heritable.
          Since the opposite sex rarely finds these nuts attractive, it’s a mystery (to me at least) why it persists at about 1% of the population, generation after generation. But I’m willing to learn.

          • LOADED says:

            Do you know how many schizophrenia genes there are? They’re all probably recessive as well. Plus, I think mental health HAS improved over the last 500 years for sure, though I don’t know if I’d be able to cite any credible sources to verify.

          • Daniel Ham says:

            Schizophrenia is one of multiple expressions of an underlying mental illness that includes, for instance, major depression (which, confusingly, is different from depression). We knows from twin and adoption studies, and now from GWAS, this cluster of conditions is heritable, but schizophrenia is not always the expression seen. Plomin’s recent book discusses this.

          • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

            Actually, there is evidence of positive sexual selection impacts related to the condition.

          • TWS says:

            I’ve seen plenty of schizophrenic folks men mostly with children. They were in normal relationships then went wonky. It was the res where teen parents are more common and none of them raised their own kids.

          • BB753 says:

            You’d be surprised at how many men stick their dicks in the crazy. Also, there’s plenty of time for a schizophrenic woman to have 2 or 3 children between ages 15 and 20. Personally, I know one such schizophrenic woman. She has three small children and is about 27 years. In between severe episodes and suicide attempts, and when she’s on her meds she’s attractive and manipulative or desperate enough to seek out men who’ll put up with anything for a nice piece of ass. Most of the time, the poor idiots are naive or ignorant about the true nature of schizophrenia. I’m afraid she’ll end up working for a pimp and her poor children institutionalized or worse. But there’s no way to help a non-functioning schizophrenic unless you’re family.

        • teageegeepea says:

          You speculated before that a pathogen may explain its prevalence, particularly among people born during certain months. Is that still your view?

          • gcochran9 says:

            At this point, looks mostly genetic, to me.

            • Eponymous says:

              Mostly load, or is there something else going on?

              I remember that the IQ/EA PGS studies found a strong negative association of the PGS with schiz (maybe the strongest result?); but that suggests it’s driven by fairly common variants, which seems strange to me, especially if they’re also +IQ variants.

              Come to think of it, could these +schiz/-IQ hits just be errors that became common due to LD with favorable mutations?

              • Jacob says:

                I’m pretty sure now that load will explain most variance in anything that is

                A) Highly heritable, and

                B) Awful for fitness.

                There’s good evidence on this for stuff like low-functioning autism, by now. Can’t be bothered to dig it up at the moment but look up Brian O’Roak on Google Scholar if you want to dig around yourself.

            • teageegeepea says:

              How does it persist, given its fitness costs?

          • gcochran9 says:

            Well it is airtight, actually.

    • Steven E. Sailer says:

      The late William D. Hamilton was very concerned about a build-up of unfavorable mutations. Interestingly, although Hamilton had many very good ideas, he died due to a trip to the Congo to check into what turned out to be a bad idea about the origin of AIDS.

    • Анисимов Дмитрий says:

      Stronger sexual selection makes up for a part of lesser mortality.

    • L says:

      How does he explain the insanity of premodern politics?

  2. Burning_Village_Particulate_Albedo says:

    Inasmuch as certain flavors of incorrect thinking act as a filter. Old-school Marxism is dangerous and wrong, certainly, but it’s also a baroque tangle of arbitrary concepts. Below a certain level of innate intelligence a comrade has no hope of even articulating it, much less keeping up with the fashion cycles of whether Leninism-Marxism, or Maoism or Fully Automated Gay Space Trotskyite Comet Mining is in (and thereby avoiding gulag). I’m sure the comparison to the medieval debates on the finer distinctions between Monophysitism and Dyophysitism within the Chalcedonian Definition have been made.

    That’s one possibility.

    Here’s another; Newtonian physics is slightly wrong. You wouldn’t ever notice unless you were really probing around the edges, of course. It’s right enough that it acted as a conceptual scaffold for plenty of other ideas that were correct. How wrong can a system of thought be and still act as a useful nucleation point for other, correct ideas? Certainly one or two useful things came out of the experiments of alchemists.

    • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

      Conventional wisdom and conduct often reaches the right conclusions, but does so for the wrong reasons. Is that “incorrect thinking?”

      For example, while conventional wisdom is correct that college educated couples are likely to stay married and tend to express egalitarian values regarding their relationships with their spouses, so many people think that stable marriages are related to economic equality in those couples, but college educated couples, on average, have men who earn much more relative to their wives than men in working class couples do.

      Incorrect reasoning that reaches the right conclusions isn’t a problem when it is only applied to circumstances where the conclusion is correct. But, it can cause serious harm when the incorrect reasoning is applied to new circumstances where it doesn’t reach the right conclusion.

      Another example: Lots of economic beliefs about the relationship between inflation and interest rates and economic growth work well when inflation is predominantly a function of the money supply growing too fast, but don’t continue to hold true when inflation is to a great extent a function of the money supply staying more or less constant while the aggregate amount of goods and services in the economy is contracting leading to bad monetary policy making in oil price shocks and deep depressions.

      • Burning_Village_Particulate_Albedo says:

        I think we may have strayed from the original topic. It sounds like what you are describing are essentially rules of thumb or heuristics that taken beyond the envelope where they work.

        In essence, we can imagine the actual laws governing some phenomenon as being a complex equation or an unknown equation, or possibly both, that we can imagine as drawing some sort of complex squiggly graph line. The rule of thumb is a known and comparatively simple equation that draws a different line, possibly far less squiggly, but over some relevant domain, the lines are close enough for government work.

        We could (loosely) define “wrongness” as the difference between the actual law and the approximation. Getting a coefficient slightly off would count as a much shallower sort of wrongness while getting the term of the equation wrong would be a more profound sort of wrongness. In general, the amount of wrongness will inform how off the rails the heuristic goes when it is applied outside of its relevant domain.

        So, in order to get a flavor of crazy that makes you less likely to be crazy about other things, I guess we would need an approximation of reality that is wildly inaccurate within its originally intended domain… but somehow re-converges somewhere outside of that.

    • Steven C. says:

      Well, we discovered Newtonian physics is slightly wrong; at the level of the very small, and the very massive, and the very fast-moving. That’s why we have Einsteinian field theory and quantum mechanics. It’s still good enough for artillery trajectories, moonshots and billiards.

  3. Cloudswrest says:

    Don’t get me started on this. It’s a sore point. I used to work at a startup with another engineer who was a blithering idiot (engineering wise). Nobody could stand working with him because he was a moron. But he did very well in the stock market. He sold most or all of his company stock options and made a mint. He kept giving me advice to sell mine, but since he was a blithering idiot (engineering wise) I discounted his advice and held on to most of mine …

  4. shadow on the wall says:

    Lastly, sometimes that correlation must be negative: certain flavors of crazy likely make you less likely to be wrong about certain other things.

    One nonsense refuting another nonsense? Happens all the time.
    If you are Biblical fundamentalist, you will reject astrology, shamanism, idol worship and all other new age (better to say very old age) stuff that Bible forbids.
    If you happen to be hard core Neo-Nazi, you will reject Marxism, psychoanalysis and orgone therapy as “Jew lies” without second thought. Etc, etc.

    • LOADED says:

      That’s a brilliant point in that many people can be very intelligent can be misguided and find themselves either believing in or living within a life that causes misjudgements or failures to adapt properly to new information.

      It depends, science is a frame of thought, so is the humanities. If we think artistically, thinking scientifically can be rendered difficult to do.

  5. lhtness says:

    I hear that learning Latin makes it easier to learn Romance languages. The effect with math is probably similar.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Latin -> Italian is “near transfer”, not “far transfer”.

      • Bobby the Yam says:

        Learning anything that teaches you that you can start out not understanding a thing about it, plug away at it for years, not seeming to make daily progress, and come out the other end knowing the subject, helps in motivating you to learn anything else. In addition,i it can crossover from the intellectual sphere to the physical. I took up piano as an adult and I used my experience struggling through math courses in college as encouragement to struggle in getting my fingers to do what I wanted.

        But in general you’re smart or you’re not, and IQ is not a muscle to be exercised or pumped with steroids.

      • Zimriel says:

        Thanks for that. I didn’t understand the “far transfer” reference in the title.

    • ravery says:

      My English lessons helped me with Latin vocabulary.

    • dearieme says:

      Long ago my wife and I went to an evening class in Italian. When the teacher made a particular point one of us, perhaps both of us, drew an analogy with Latin grammar.

      “I don’t know any Latin” he said, and before we could reply, added “And I don’t know any Italian grammar either”.

      That was our first experience of the generation that had come through British state schools with no instruction at all in grammar. It was part of the takeover of the schools by the Forces of Progress.

      To return to the topic: I don’t think I got anything like enough benefit from my Latin lessons to justify the time devoted to them. And I was good at Latin: God knows what it was like for those who weren’t.

      • Jim says:

        Unless one is going into an historical or linguistic field for which one needs to know Latin the main benefit would be the ability to read Latin poetry. But there is so much English poetry that hardly anyone reads now why expect that more than a tiny percentage of say the US population would spend any of their spare time reading say Virgil.

        • stephen Cooper says:

          my main benefits from knowing Latin very well :
          (to put this in context, I am way above average with language facility, and have spent probably 3 or 4 thousand hours reading, studying, memorizing, speaking, and otherwise working or playing with Latin) ….
          – first, as you said, the poetry. If you read lots of Virgil and Ovid in the original Latin a poet like Shakespeare is much easier to understand – you see what he lacks, and you appreciate more what he does not lack. And reading Virgil and Ovid as poets, for their poetry, is sort of like reading Newton for the physics and Gauss for the math, and knowing what they are talking about – you are experiencing human thought at close to its best.

          second, Latin vocabulary tracks the natural world in a slightly different way than English vocabulary. Linnaeus had one way of looking at things, close to our diminished computerized way of seeing it, but if we ignore the botanical Latin of Linnaeus, and if we go back to, say, the great Romantic-era dictionaries of ancient Latin which show that the people who lived in places where Latin was spoken had a different way of naming plants, animals, stars, geological features, colors, styles, sounds, and so on. This may not seem like a big deal, but it sort of is – you can read Twitter all day long for insights on plants, cute animals, faked pictures of stars, geological features, and so on, but all that will tell you is what people with access to today’s technology find interesting – really exploring Latin vocabulary gives you an insight that is at once ancient, lost, and still relevant.

          -third – almost everything every Latin writer wrote is lost. Reflecting on what remains, and why it remains, is a way to develop insight into the technology of knowledge – why some kinds of knowledge remain, and some disappear.

          fourth – Latin words, in and of themselves, are a lot closer to the original words of original humans than 21st century English words. Sure most remaining Latin literature is stained with the near-totalitarian mediocrity of ancient Rome but every once in a while a way of saying something, a turn of phrase, or some lexicological surprise is like a reflection of what it was like to see this world when it was a lot younger.

          fifth – Oscan, Umbrian, and several other languages which are, believe it or not, attributed enough in the ancient sources to be languages that someone who cares can learn a lot about, are beautiful in and of themselves, and are much more accessible to someone who knows Latin than they would be to someone who does not know Latin,
          I could go on.

          Maybe I am deceiving myself – maybe if I had spent all those hours I spent on Latin in a different way – maybe memorizing the primes up to 60,000, and working on kludges and sweet little finesses for distinguishing one type of prime and a corresponding number of non-primes from each other, in a way that would certainly be cool in a “recreational mathematics” world and might even make me into a real mathematician, with tenure at a juco or at a small state school, I would have gotten just as much benefit.

          • Jim says:

            I’m not in any way saying that Latin poetry is without merit but since there is an enormous amount of English poetry that only a tiny percentage of the US population reads today what are the chances of getting very many high school Latin students to the point that they will read and enjoy Latin poetry or literature on their own?

            • stephen Cooper says:

              Jim – well, none of my high school teachers, as highly as they thought of me, had any idea that I would, in the following decades, be able to enchant thousands and thousands of people, one at a time, with my extremely well syncophated – and always anonymous, because I like it that way – explanations of just about everything worth explaining to just about every sort of person.

              They took a chance on me and if I live another ten years or so I will write a wonderful novel with amazing cameos from every high school teacher who took a chance on me.

              Or not, it is in God’s hands. In the eyes of God it makes no difference if we are successful all that matters is whether we have enough love in our hearts to try or not.

              Here is an example – you will have to do a little intellectual work to see what I am doing here in the next few paragraphs, but I trust you, you will get it, unless I completely failed at saying what I wanted to say –

              “look, I like Robert Frost and all those poets like him who were born into wealth. But do you know he was born basically to a family who owned a farm that today would cost a few million to buy? And that, just by selling a few tens of thousands books of poems, something dozens and dozens of bloggers of today could have done, he bought several farms that would cost about ten million to buy today? When people complain about the contemporary neglect of the verses of Robert Frost and other ancient poets do they really understand that he was more or less a multi-millionaire, measured in today’s terms? and that he would not care about the neglect into which his reputation has fallen, because he knew that he had said what he wanted to say, and had in his day been more than recompensed for it (shades of De Niro before he went crazy telling his son that Mickey Mantle did not care about him ….) This is not a criticism of Robert Frost, please continue to read on …..

              This is 2019 my friend and Words, unlike real estate in places that people want to live, are still cheap (as is real estate in lots of places, but that is another story, but I repeat myself, as the Latin poets used to say) – land is expensive, and the reason it is really expensive is because it is hard to make a place for your children in this world where they could have one hundredth (if they are lucky) of the easier opportunities in life that the average “Latin student” of, say, 1910 had. sure everyone today is a lot tougher than our ancestors and better able to succeed in difficult circumstances …. but that is not central to what I am trying to say, although it is very important ….. anyway, … Moving along …..

              It is extremely unlikely that the great poets of tomorrow will be, like Robert Frost, people who had basically inherited a golden pass to the vintage days of prosperity, to ownership of beautiful farms, to the golden days of direct access to what is good in life because their ancestors, starting with their parents, but of course including the parents of the parents and the parents of the parents of the parents of the parents (and who today knows what it means to know that) were successful at making this world easy to their children in all the ways this world was easy to, say, Robert Frost. despite the difficulties back then,influenza, incorrect weather reports, unhealthy poverty in a healthy world ….. but still a world where a Robert Frost could be born on a farm that now would cost a few million, and could consider himself one of God’s beloved rural poor …. think about it.

              I am just going out there and saying, look, maybe it is not too difficult for you, if you live in some sad little co-op village, which was, from your parents’ point of view, an acceptable place to live, or if you live with your attractive young companion (or better yet, your spouse) in some vigorous suburban up-to-date woke town, which you have to know in your heart of hearts is just another place where people who are not the golden winners of our day live, and if you have a God-given gift for languages, to learn Latin as well or better than I did … maybe it is not too difficult for you to think that Latin, which is just another language, from one point of view, but from another point of view was the native language of the 2 or 3 best known poets whom Shakespeare considered his equals …. I am just saying, this world is a big place, and there is a place in it for the sort of person who can look at the world as Vergil did, or Ovid did, and understand – as Vergil or Ovid never did – that God loves us all.

              I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of poetry, because that is a better use of my time than lots of other uses for my time – and God loves us all is the constant refrain that I hear, the longer i reflect on the future of

              what we tell each other when we really care”

              • James Falero says:

                Stephen, I saw your post and thought you would like this. Heres a poem just for you

                The patterns of our days
                make ripples in the pond
                That is the stillness
                of our heartbeat in the end

                Time is just a picture frame
                The perception of a change
                Gives breath to motion, life to breath
                But that is all it is.

                We break, we build, we burn
                we wind, through each minute, each season
                So that mayhaps the patterns
                of our days, may not be forgotten
                and the ripples and the waves
                in this great big pond
                may undulate in, ever widening circles
                to lives, ponds, not our own.

                In hopes that we are remembered.

                But I a ripple, a ghost
                go hither, go wither, swift, from my source
                a stream all my own,
                till the ripples become invisible, like motes
                and reach toward some unnamed infinity
                So I go, so I go, So I go.

                And make my peace with nature,
                and nature’s many-colored gods.

          • Steven E. Sailer says:


  6. TWS says:

    Used to work with a guy who insisted climate change would make his prime real estate on the beach worthless.

    Sold his home at a huge loss expecting the climate apocalypse any day now. Needless to say the house is still there and doing fine twenty years later

    • Hugh Mann says:

      Note that Obama, while making ritual obeisance to Greta Thunberg the other day, just spent 15 million dollars on a beachfront estate. None of the people telling us there’s a climate emergency actually seem to be behaving as though they believe it e.g. stopping travel by plane.

  7. Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

    Multiple examples in physics. Murray Gell-Mann’s adventures into other disciplines such as linguistics were pretty much a fail. Lubos Motl (a living conservative physicist who taught at Harvard for a while, who is also a prominent blogger and climate change denier) is undeniably talented and competent in high energy physics (albeit a bit vitriolic in his arguments and dogmatic), but verges into loony toons in some other disciplines. Newton spent half of his life developing mediocre unitarian Christian theology. While he has a “rocket engineer” instead of a physicist, John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons, who was also a prominent occultist who helped inspire L. Ron Hubbard to create Scientology, also comes to mind.

    On the other hand, some people who were not academically trained physicists have made important contributions to the discipline, most notably Oliver Heaviside (who was important in developing classical electromagnetism theory) and Albert Ghiorso (the person who discovered more elements in the periodic table than any other individual and also made key advances in instrumentation).

    I would also agree that mathematics has a high level of transferability – there are math and X scholars in almost every discipline from biology to linguistics to history to economics to anthropology to psychology to beer production (the context in which a surprisingly large share of modern probability and statistics was developed), and many of these scholars have done some of the most respected work in their fields.

    • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

      “he was a “rocket engineer” instead of”

    • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

      In contrast to math that plays well with other fields, leading entertainment and sports industry professionals are notorious for getting into crazy stuff outside their areas of expertise.

  8. Pincher Martin says:

    Some subjects and experiences do make you smarter – not in IQ points, of course, but in the ability to make important connections that you would otherwise not make.

    It’s nearly impossible to conceive of the field of comparative linguistics getting started when it did without many educated Europeans at the time having a solid knowledge of classical Greek and Latin. A high-IQ monoglot English speaker, who took up the study of Sanskrit, most likely wouldn’t have seen the relationship between it and the other Indo-European languages.

    Indeed, would the Scientific Revolution have gotten started at all without intelligent Europeans being fascinated by the Greek heritage? I doubt it. Or if those same Western Europeans had earlier given up Latin for some religious reason, thus preventing them from later sharing a common language in which to discuss scientific ideas? I don’t think so. It’s hard to imagine how any nationality or proto-nationality in Western Europe would’ve built up the critical mass in which a scientific revolution could flourish if they could not exchange ideas beyond their vernaculars.

    Similarly, it’s hard to conceive of the idea of evolution by natural selection getting its start in the mid-19th century without naturalists spending a lot of time studying animals on islands and archipelagos. Had Wallace and Darwin only spent time in Brazil (as both of them did), their arguments for natural selection would’ve been far less convincing, if they had come up with them at all.

    This cross-fertilization of the mind, in which various subjects and experiences are brought together in often unanticipated ways, requires the receptiveness of high-IQ individuals for its most fertile soil, but still needs the manure of learnedness in which to grow best. High-IQ individuals who have little interest in the world beyond making their way through it – and I’ve met more than a few of them in the form of engineers and computer scientists – are not the people who will generate the most interesting ideas of the future. You need more than high IQ or a lot of knowledge is wasted.

    • david says:

      Peter Thiel discussed this in a recent interview. The intelligent are too specialized today

    • dearieme says:

      “A high-IQ monoglot English speaker, who took up the study of Sanskrit, most likely wouldn’t have seen the relationship between it and the other Indo-European languages.”

      The chap who made the connection best, Sir William Jones, spoke Welsh too. Must we all learn Welsh?

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Jones was not the first European to make the connection, although he is best known for it. Other Europeans noticed it before him, and for the same reason: They knew Greek and Latin.

        Must we all learn Welsh?

        I didn’t say you had to learn Latin. But an educated person ought to know, to some moderate level of competency, a language other than the one(s) he grew up speaking.

      • Aksavavit says:

        Actually, Sir William Jones most probably did not discover himself the connection between Indo-European languages, but may have taken it over from a French missionary, Père André-Gaston Cœurdoux (, who wrote about it some 20 years (1767) before Jones’ famous address to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta (1786).

        • Aksavavit says:

          Indeed, Jones only alluded to this relationship in his address, without even citing one concrete example of correspondence between Indo-European languages, as if it was somehow already known to his audience. In contrast, Cœurdoux had made a substantial demonstration of the IE languages relatedness, which might have transpired to the European public in India at the time of Jones’ speech.

          • Jim says:

            The relationship between say Sanskrit and Latin is so obvious that discovering it is like discovering that the Moon is round.

            • Anonymous says:

              Just like seing the relationship between say a tiger and a lion, or a human being and a chimpanzee. But it took to Homo sapiens 100,000 years and a Charles Darwin to make a sensible hypothesis about their common descent.
              Before Darwin and, well, Cœurdoux, it was believed that our common descent, both biological and linguistic, was the consequence of divine interventions.
              Pretty much everything you might deem “obvious” and taking a really stupid dude not to know it was once discovered by a genius.

            • Aksavavit says:

              Just as obvious as the relationship between say a tiger and a lion, or a human being and a chimpanzee. But it took to Homo sapiens 100,000 years and a Charles Darwin to make a sensible hypothesis about their common descent.
              Before Darwin and, well, Cœurdoux, these relationships were of course noticed but instead of common descent their resemblances was attributed to divine interventions.
              Pretty much everything you might deem “obvious” and taking a really stupid dude not to know it was once discovered by a genius sitting on the shoulders of previous geniuses.

            • J says:

              Actually, Jim, the Moon is an oblate spheroid.

  9. Leonard says:

    Probably also worth considering whether the individual in question achieved craziness on his own or was immersed in it from birth.

    Yes. The big confounder here is the meta-level rationality of believing whatever the high-status memes of your society are. If they are crazy, then inevitably you are a little crazy too. And for super-smart people, they tend to be especially dangerous since they don’t get the joke and tend to attempt to rationalize the irrational. If Newton had been born today, he might win a Fields metal or might not. But certainly he wouldn’t be spending his spare time dabbling in heretical Christianity and alchemy. Today he’d be arguing that we can obtain the most utils per dollar invested by banning factory farming.

  10. This will be fun. Those with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are more likely to have unusual ideas about unrelated subjects, such as nutrition, politics, popular history (especially rock history), weather, or chemistry, so one would have to suspect there is some sort of general slippage. However, the professionals who work with them are also more likely to have strange ideas (though not as much as the patients). I think there is a different pattern, though. The patients often have truly different ideas – that a particular vitamin has a benefit that you can’t find reference for on a search engine, even on crazy sites, while the staff are more likely to believe things that are fashionably nonstandard, such as Reiki, or yoga not only being sorta good for you but significantly improving your immune system. They believe a lot of political conspiracy theories (all in one direction), but this is more intense cynicism than psychosis.

    • J says:

      Talking about crazy ideas, my family believes that meat causes coronary disease and even cancer. I say to them: chimps and humans hunt animals and eat them, meat cannot be harmful since evolution allowed us carnivores to multiply. Reason has no power against superstition, and here stand today hungry like a dog.

  11. Eugine_Nier says:

    Why not Latin. Considering what happened to the academies after they stopped teaching Latin, it appears learning Latin was useful for at least keeping academics sane.

    I suspect the the chain runs something like: Latin -> History and Intellectual History -> the Historical perspective not to fall for Intellectual fads

    • Pincher Martin says:

      Learning a foreign (or dead) language requires discipline and consecutiveness. You can’t skip a lot of steps to achieve mastery. Most college degrees require far less.

      If a college degree required learning at least one non-native language to a high level of competence, I’m convinced we would see the graduation rate at our colleges drop by more than 50 percent. Most college grads today just couldn’t handle the task.

      Our schools would be far better at sorting if they forced students to actually learn difficult things – math, the harder sciences, engineering, languages, musical instruments, etc.. If the subject doesn’t require discipline and consecutiveness, it’s probably either not worth learning or, more likely, not worth learning about in school. Most professors end up killing the joy of learning about subjects like literature and history in every one of their students who isn’t already committed to joining the hicks and hacks of Academe.

      H.L. Mencken, as he so often did, said it best when talking about why English teachers seemed so stupid:

      “…I suppose that the inferiority of the teachers of [English] is largely due to the fact that they are recruited from the lower moiety of pedagogical aspirants. The more ambitious fellows tackle something that seems more recondite, and hence better worth knowing. A prospective teacher of biology, say, or mathematics, or physics, cannot outfit himself for his career by reading a few plays of Shakespeare, memorizing the rules of grammar laid down by idiots, and learning to pronounce either as if it were spelled eyether; he must apply himself to a vast mass of strange and difficult facts, and mastering them requires a kind of capacity that is not common. The stupider fellow turns to something that is easier and more obvious, which is to say, to the language that every “educated” man is presumed to know, and the books he is presumed to have read…”

      Sounds about right.

      • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

        Language learning that actually results in fluency, even of a dead language, is pretty clearly beneficial. But, the vast majority of K-12 and college students in the U.S. who study foreign or dead languages never attain anything approaching that fluency, because the regular class attendance for years with homework model and periodic interruptions for breaks just doesn’t work. First, the U.S. starts way too late when inherent language learning capacity is waning. A month of immersion is worth at least a couple of years of classroom instruction in high school, and the younger you start the more valuable a few months of immersion are. (People with boyfriend/girlfriends who speak a foreign language.) I think that the case that language study that results in significantly sub-fluent level of master of the language has any meaningful benefit is pretty weak, let alone the case that the effort is more valuable than alternative uses that could have been made of that time and effort.

        • Pincher Martin says:

          Fluency encompasses a broad range, and any language which is not used degrades quickly. So even an education system that provides the language-learner with the opportunity to gain a competency that, say, allows him to read a newspaper article by age 18 is unlikely to be sustained after graduation if he doesn’t continue to use it. The education is still potentially useful. After all, we currently school children, year after year, on mathematics that the vasty majority of them never use. So why worry about teaching them languages they will never use, either? Most school is a waste. I still prefer an educational system which sorts children out by challenging them with difficult subjects that, if they bother with the challenge at all, will provide them with substantive knowledge.

          As to your other points, yes, you’d have to rejigger the educational system in order to teach languages effectively. Even extremely bright kids in the current setup are going to forget over the summer most of the language skills they learned the previous year. Do I think such a rejiggering will happen? No, I don’t. But one can dream.

    • arelo says:

      Historians are not especially good at predicting the future.
      The decision-makers that dragged Europe into WW1 knew a lot of classics, and so some neocons like Kagan.

      More likely, requiring Latin grammar led to a higher IQ threshold than today, when colleges will even accept applicants with IQs below 85.

  12. As already observed, Maths transfers well to all fields. Physics is also generally useful, and would prevent some silly ideas, or at least place some bounds on their silliness. A good statistics course would also have considerable far transfer. Scientific method generally would transfer well.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      A good statistics course would also have considerable far transfer.

      Doesn’t seem to have helped Taleb in the slightest.

    • adreadline says:

      Physics, specially. I have heard it is/would be possible, with enough knowledge, to start from quantum mechanics and end up at neuroscience, smoothly passing through solid-state physics, quantum chemistry, solid-state chemistry, physical chemistry, physical organic chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular cell biology. I don’t know it that has been actually done or tried.

      • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

        Theoretically it should be possible. In practice, we can’t even work out the structure of protons and neutrons and more exotic particles made of quarks to any great precision (ca. 1% is the best we can do) from first principles. Nuclear physics uses theories inspired by but not directly derived via first principles. Chemistry pretty much relies on only one subset of quantum physics called quantum electrodynamics (aka QED) but it still too messy to treat that way except in isolated and stylized cases. The relationship is even more hypothetical in molecular cell biology and neuroscience which involve path dependent evolution that had many possible outcomes only one of which happened.

    • Samedi says:

      I would propose logic as the most transferable because it is equally useful in the engineering, science, and the humanities.

  13. Eponymous says:

    I’ve wondered whether studying a healthy field of science, and maybe the history of science, would help in the more screwed up fields. If you know what a healthy field looks like, and know what bad vs. good science looked like historically, you might be able to see how to improve your own field. Or at least recognize how screwed up it is, which is a start.

    So maybe sociologists should have to study physics for a few years. Though it might be hard to distinguish the transfer from the screening effect.

  14. adreadline says:

    What about the fact that, before the 20th century, mathematicians, physicists, men of the hard sciences in general were, more often than not, men of God? The most exceptional they were, with the exception of Abel, the more they believed in the divine. Gauss, Maxwell, Ramanujan made their creeds well known. This might be seen as a kind of craziness. Since the mid 20th century, though, they mostly went agnostic. What’s up with that?

    • dearieme says:

      “What’s up with that?” Success! Scientists showed again and again that heretofore mysterious phenomena can have rational explanations. You don’t need gods and miracles to explain things.

      • Rory says:

        You can’t have a very high opinion of the intellectual giants of yesteryear if you think their faith was primarily contingent upon the most feeble and naive argument in support of God’s existence (feeble given that it’s something only a very credulous fool or child might be convinced by). Naturalistic explanations for things like lightning were postulated to exist since at least the ancient greeks, and I doubt whether any other phenomenon you could name which has since been rendered “mundane” was exempt from this idea. The substance of the argument really hasn’t changed at all in three centuries and is just a less convincing derivative of the argument from contingency which still holds just as well today. You’re projecting a huge naivety and foolishness onto them if you think showing them that milk isn’t spoiled by faeries would disabuse them of “primitive superstitions” like faith and tradition. Although I guess this childish argument made a sufficient impact on you that you attribute the dominance of the current atheistic academic meme to it, rather than entryism and subversion, the actual explanations.

        You genuinely think Newton was convinced of God’s existence because he thought when it rains God’s crying and thunder is the Angels bowling? Be serious.

    • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

      After Newton but before Darwinism, the clockwork God of deism was very popular. Hard core atheism was quite rare until Darwin.

    • NumberOneCustomer says:

      Hello…Godel and Cantor?

    • Philip Neal says:

      There is an interesting little set of people who were essentially theologians but had one big idea of very general importance. Examples are William of Occam, Thomas Bayes, Johannes Trithemius (steganography), Luca Pacioli (perfected double-entry bookkeeping), Charles de l’Epee (codified deaf sign language). I should like to think that theology transfers well, but no doubt it was the combination of intelligence and rationality.

    • wagering says:

      What about the fact that, before the 20th century, mathematicians, physicists, men of the hard sciences in general were, more often than not, men of God?

      Atheism was almost nonexistent before the 19th century, and only gained a majority among educated scientists in recent decades. Why would you except pre-20th century scientists to have beliefs in complete defiance to the social conventions of their day?

      Consider Pascal. Very smart, but came up with Pascal’s wager because he just couldn’t conceive of any options besides being an orthodox Christian and atheism.

  15. NumberOneCustomer says:

    Huh, according to Wiki: “Leopold Kronecker’s public opposition and personal attacks included describing Cantor as a “scientific charlatan”, a “renegade” and a “corrupter of youth””

    Corrupter of youth!! LOL

  16. Anon says:

    I taught myself to speak German when I was 16 using free resources on the web. I did learn grammar as a side effect, which has been useful. Many educated people don’t understand when to use whom or who, for example. As someone who understands the concept of grammatical case, it’s trivial.

    • Jim says:

      The who\whom thing is just nonsense which has nothing to do with speaking English. Old English had a very complex morphological system but English today is not Old English nor is it Latin.

  17. Math and physics may reveal intelligence more than improve ability in other fields. It would be hard to tease that out if you were trying to measure it. If you were only allowed one piece of data to choose your incoming freshman class, the Math SAT score would be it.

    @Pincher Martin – you are quite correct that it would improve sorting. However, that’s not their goal. They want more customers, not fewer.

    • w_zhang says:

      If you were only allowed one piece of data to choose your incoming freshman class, the Math SAT score would be it.

      Thank you my friend are mathematic ability venerate. Chinese are not waste time mastery language must practice laplace transform age 7 year.

  18. Ledford Ledford says:

    The Mayans did both human sacrifice and astronomy. The Stonehenge people may have, too.
    Far transfer?

    • shadow on the wall says:

      Probably also worth considering whether the individual in question achieved craziness on his own or was immersed in it from birth.

      As Mr. Cochran said.
      “Craziness” is something that can be judged only in the perspective of the subject’s culture.
      The Mayans, using their standards, would as easily see us as crazy.

      “You are killing millions of people in your great wars, and then leave the meat just to rot? This is insane.”

      (yes, cultural relativism is fun!)

  19. LOADED says:

    I have an alternative hypothesis that DNA codes for life experiences rather than just physical or mental attributes. This would mean that DNA is basically the thing that codes for all life itself.

    In other words, the Universe also has DNA to it. That would be a billion dollar endeavor, finding the coding to the Universe and hacking it. I mean, the Universe has a physical component and may have a mental component to it as well, just like humans.

    Math is probably the easiest subject because it’s intuitive to the person attempting to attain an answer.

  20. another fred says:

    Moral certainty pretty much guarantees that you are dealing with a nut who will be wrong about most things, but the morally certain seem to be necessary for humanity to cut the various Gordian knots with which we are bound.

  21. shadow on the wall says:

    A different question: to what extent does being (some flavor of) crazy, or crazy about one subject, or being really painfully wrong about some subject, predict how likely you are to be wrong on other things?

    This is well known in conspiracy circles – once you go down the rabbit hole, you will continue all the way to the bottom – except there is no bottom.

    Start asking questions about melting point of steel or marksmanship skills of Lee Harvey Oswald, and you will soon end believing in flat earth and hollow earth.

    Or both at once – Donut Earth is the truth (((they))) are hiding from us. Wake up, sheeple!

    • dearieme says:

      “Start asking questions about melting point of steel” and you’ve proven yourself to be an idiot.

      • shadow on the wall says:

        Laugh if you want to, but the effect is real.

        There is big split in the Holocaust denial movement about the shape of the earth.
        Are (((they))) hiding from the goyim that Earth is flat?
        Did (((they))) created the Flat Earth theory to distract the goyim from seeking the truth?

        One of prominent Holocaust deniers recently left the movement, and one of the reasons he cited was rise of Flat Earth belief in the movement.

        The final straw appears to have been the resurgence of flat-earthism and its crossover with ‘Revisionism’. The prime mover in the current flat earth revival, Eric Dubay, is also a Holocaust denier, while a number of prominent social media white nationalists have decided to embrace flat-earthism:
        Recently, some involved with the production of Revisionist material have promoted the concept of a literal “flat earth.” Yes, really. That the earth is not round, but is actually flat. Deborah Lipstadt must love that. In particular, Sinead McCarthy, chosen as a narrator by Germar Rudolf for a video for his Holocaust Handbooks series believes the earth is flat. McCarthy was involved with the creation of a series of videos, articles, and internet radio shows promoting the concept of a literal flat earth. Since then, McCarthy has appeared in videos and filmed supposed “earth curvature experiments” affirming her belief that the earth is literally flat.

    • Steven E. Sailer says:

      When he was in the U.S. Senate in the 1820s, America’s Greatest Vice President, Dick “Richard” Johnson, sponsored a bill to fund an American expedition to explore and conquer the inside of the Hollow Earth.

  22. helenahankart says:

    I hate to break it to you, big guy, but being good at physics or maths doesnt make you immune to crazy.
    On the contrary, there are oodles of examples of people being arrogant in their idiocy in ways that seem intimately connected to their being mathematicians and physicists.
    Some examples (because the plural of annecdote IS evidence….)
    Uri Geller fooled loads of physicists, but no magicians. Because uyou cant kid a kidder.
    Robert Auman’s pioneering applications of Bayes theorems to human rationality doesnt prevent his believing in utter crap about bible codes. Because the maths tells him to.
    And I’ve had discussions with prominent phsyciists turned geneticists whov’e dismissed entire swathes of stuff they’ve never read Greg. Maybe you recall?
    It’s such a thing that people from other disciplines sometimes make jokes about it…
    Just sayin’

  23. Rockedads says:

    Maybe the Arctic tern and a few species of whales are the only true far gene pools,

  24. Anonymous says:

    I have nothing to add here, except that I like the Patrick O’Brian quote.

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