What Feynman says in this video is false.

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138 Responses to Feynman

  1. A Fan says:

    Greg, when will you go back to blogging about genetics and prehistory. ;_;


    Write a post about this new find!

  2. rashaadt says:

    It is obviously false.

    The mystery is why he said it. (This and similar comments about brazil in his book)

    Someone that intelligent cant be this susceptible to basic cognitive biases.

    So he obviously thinks its just a positive message to have out there.

    • dearieme says:

      There’s a story – can it be true? – that Darwin assumed that all people are about equally intelligent. He was persuaded that he was wrong by Galton.

      Whereas Feynman was feigning, presumably. To what end?

    • Pincher Martin says:

      Is it really so obvious? Or is it only obvious now with the benefit of reading and study of material that proves otherwise?

      I know that many bright people believe in the value of education as an uplifter of just about any kind of person. Even bright people who agree that talents differ, sometimes radically so, still think and act as if it’s true that schooling and other early interventions matter to the quality of how their children will ultimately turn out.

      And when those parents sometimes fail, and even the brightest people occasionally have disappointments among their children, they will often blame their own parenting, even when their other children did not suffer from what was largely the same upbringing.

      So, no, I don’t think it’s “obviously false.” I would bet that even among top-flight minds, Greg’s hardcore hereditarianism is a minority position, despite its truth.

      • savage says:

        And when those parents sometimes fail, and even the brightest people occasionally have disappointments among their children, they will often blame their own parenting, even when their other children did not suffer from what was largely the same upbringing.

        From my experience, it is more common that the parents are in utter denial that the their child could not be as good as them. They might then ascribe the child’s inexplicable lack of success to its moral failings, or perhaps lash out at some third party. But in any case, it never occurs to them that their parenting efforts which they expected to pay off are mostly irrelevant to life outcomes.

        • Pincher Martin says:

          From my experience, it is more common that the parents are in utter denial that the their child could not be as good as them. They might then ascribe the child’s inexplicable lack of success to its moral failings, or perhaps lash out at some third party.

          I know a couple of cases that might be like that. But I also know of two high-achieving couples who each have a wayward adult son with serious drug problems, and those couples seem to blame themselves, even though they have no substance abuse problems at all – at least that I can tell.

          • Frau Katze says:

            There could be recessive genes involved with addiction.

            You also see cases where a child of an addict is NOT an addict. These second cases – screwed up parents produce normal children – don’t receive much publicity. The normal child lives a quiet life.

            • Of course. But isn’t the important point here that the couples seem to blame their parenting skills rather than their genes? To my knowledge, one doesn’t say to the other, “Hey, remember how your mom always liked to drink pretty heavy starting early in the day. Maybe those genes were passed on to Johnny. It’s not our fault. This has nothing to do with how we raised him. It was just an unlucky roll of the dice.”

    • The mystery is why he said it.
      Feynman is salty about an IQ test in highschool that gave him a “bad” score of 124 (not the SAT, which I assume he got a great score on if he took it). He talks about this test a lot in his writings. For him it must have been demotivating to be told that he was merely in the 95th percentile when he knew the cutoff for top colleges was probably above 99th percentile. So he doesn’t want other talented young scientists to feel demotivated the same way.
      It’s really rather petty, but then again, most people are rather petty, and the average physicist spends very little time contemplating the validity of psychometrics beyond his own and popular biases.

  3. magusjanus says:

    Is he lying, or does he earnestly believe that to be true? Or is it sorta in-between, he knows it’s not exactly true, but thinks it’s rude to point out and would hurt his fame and reputation as proselytizer etc. and anyways “what’s the harm in a white lie” and well effort and interest do matter etc.?

    • Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

      The quote repeats statements he made with more detail and context in some of his other published non-technical scientific publications.

      I think he doesn’t believe that it is literally true in the extreme (e.g. he doesn’t really think that severely mentally retarded people can do that), but I think that he does believe that it is true for the lion’s share of the subset of people who are the audience for his lectures and educated layman oriented writings are directed (i,.e. people interested enough in physics to care and smart enough to understand his layman oriented presentations).

      I think that there is also an implication that learning the math and physics involves a great deal of work that poses a huge barrier to understanding this in terms of sweat of the brow and sustained interest, even if for many people, mere raw brainpower isn’t the true barrier.

      I don’t think it is accurate, but there is a fair amount of educational psychology research out there supporting the clam that a belief of the student and teacher that hard work matters more than inborn talent produces better educational outcomes than a more accurate understanding of the reality shown by educational psychology research. So there may be something of a white lie/placebo effect benefit to saying this even if it isn’t true.

      • Yes I remember reading that. He said the army was always anxious to sign up as many people as they could, but they found that people with IQ below about 82 (or watever the cut off was) were incapable of doing anything useful at all. There must be quite a lot of people below that level, and if the army couldn’t find any work they could do, then likely no other organization could either. Maybe some of these people are the ones who stand around on street corners and get involved with crime and shooting each other. (Peterson didn’t say this it is my idea).

        And Peterson said there seemed to be no way to raise their IQ. He said preschool programs temporarily helped, but by the time they grew up any gains were lost. He said it was really a tragic problem. But he didn’t mention race at all. Guess he didn’t want to be run out of town on a rail.

  4. William O. B'Livion says:

    Some people believe in nature.
    Some believe in nurture.
    Some believe a mix of both. I am in this camp.

    But here’s the thing–nature, nurture or both, you get MUCH further if you study more and work harder than if you sit around doing bong hits and watching TV.

  5. I was in a band in the 1970s with an enormously talented musician. I could keep up with him in harmonising and picking up complex melodies for singing, but i could not do a few things he just did naturally. He picked up the banjo and could play a decent background for some folk songs within an hour. My fingers would not move that fast, it took me a month. He could hear chord structures and subtleties I could not, even though he had never taken lessons and only seriously started in playing in 10th grade. (I had started in 4th grade.) He is a pianist on Beal Street in Memphis now and gets very annoyed at people who tell him that he has such musical talent. “It’s all about practice!” he insists. Yet he himself is the disproof of this, though I agree he does practice a lot. LeBron James practices a lot, too.’

    People have some psychological need to tell themselves that they worked hard to get what they did. Most of them did also work hard. But that’s not the point. A lot of people practice just as much and never got near top abilities. I consider it a deeper insult to say “You could have had this too if only you had tried harder.” Bullshit. I have things I could do without much trying from earliest years, and other things I can barely fathom as others perform them with little training.

    • jamesbellinger says:

      I’m told that he wasn’t always a nice guy.

      • Patrick L Boyle says:

        Of course. If you read the books you learn that he was at one point the victim of a tragic love relationship where he couldn’t touch his wife and she died young. Then he went through a period where he was purposely cruel to women to gain power over them, almost as a form of revenge. He is very candid about his darker impulses. So he was as they used to say – a man of parts. In this short video he is displaying his boundless charm to the public. He benefitted from that too.

        I don’t really know any physics but he seems to have cultivated a persona like Einstein before him, as the slightly goofy mad genius. This made others, who also like me really know no physics, think he was the greatest mind alive. Actually, as I understand it, his office mate Murry Gel-Man was probably more important to science than he was, but a far less flashy public figure.

    • mtkennedy21 says:

      I had a fraternity brother like that. He could play any instrument. He found an old cornet in the fraternity house attic one day. In a couple of hours he was playing it well. His father was a successful songwriter. Genetics

      • dearieme says:

        I had piano lessons when I was little. I was no good. “Ah, you should have practised harder” people might say. But why on earth should I have? I was good at many things in a way that felt effortless, so why work hard at something for which I had no talent?

        “Ah”, people might say, “it may have felt effortless but you clearly spent many hours on these things.” One answer to that is if you’re good at something and enjoy it then study or practice does, largely, feel effortless.

        A second answer is that I found some things came easily with no effort at all required. I liked cricket though I was only just good enough as a batsman and bowler. There I should have practised more. But I still got picked for many teams because I was an unusually good catcher. “He’s got good hands” is the expression in cricket.

        Did I ever practise catching? I can remember only one time: my brother was a golfer and we had a session when he would chip the ball and I’d dive and leap about catching it. Great fun. But the sequence was clearly that I had a skill and enjoyed using it. The practice didn’t lead to the skill, the skill led to the practice.

    • random observer says:

      I find people’s reaction to praise interesting in this area, or criticism.

      We have been so educated for a few generations to value effort over native talent, that to praise someone in the latter terms is an insult. While I can understand appreciating praise for one’s efforts, I would think being praised in terms of native talent should also be well-received. Either might actually be wrong to one’s actual memory of one’s experience, but both are praise and should feel good. To be praised for one’s innate capacity ought to feel great.

      It’s comparable to the idea that one should never praise physical beauty, or want to be praised for it, or fitness, or health, except in terms of work put it. Why? I will never get it.

      Or to sum up, the innate should be as praiseworthy as the applied, and feel just as good to the party praised. One should be able to glory in what one is, as well as what one does.

      Or for that matter, one should feel accountable for and ashamed of the innate, as of the applied. That’s the dark side, and one can use application to counteract native flaws, but still. One is what one is.

      If I had been born with enormous musical talent, shown from early on, I might still want recognition for my efforts to develop and use it, but I can’t understand why I would not be pleased to think of myself as gifted, too.

      This problem has only really appeared in recent times, but I can’t help wondering if it’s another long term consequence of the Reformation…

      • dearieme says:

        I don’t mind a bit of proportionate praise, it’s gush I can’t stand.

        “You are a veritable Renaissance man” I met with “you mean I carry a knife and stab people with it?” You may say that’s rather curmudgeonly. So be it.

  6. Zusha says:

    I’m puzzled by the comments questioning his sincerity. Being highly intelligent means that you’re very smart. It doesn’t mean you’re not also crazy. Anyone who’s spent a good amount of time among dedicated leftists (mostly outside of “critical race theory” circles), or even just read about historical figures on the left, shouldn’t be too surprised to find smart – even very, unusually smart – people who are also crazy (“Stalin is absolutely wonderful” level crazy).

  7. ROSENMOPSS says:

    Can someone summarize what he says? I am camping in a place that has cell service, but I don’t want to waste the battery on my phone listening to a video. I watch a bit about people diving in a pool. He doesn’t get to the point very quickly.

    • Frau Katze says:

      It’s a very short video, less than a minute long. Feynman was a famous physicist. He says that anyone can do what he did if they work hard. We know that’s just not true.

      Strange how people worldwide train for the Olympic marathon. However it’s always won by someone from a particular group, who live mostly in Kenya or Ethiopia.

  8. NumberOneCustomer says:

    Phew, Either i double clicked through this link, or it was earlier referencing a different part of the talk; namely, a 5 minute spiel about waves. And i had no idea what you were thinking was false.

    • ROSENMOPS says:

      I landed on the 5 min spiel about waves too, the first time. Began by talking about people jumping in a pool.

      • NumberOneCustomer says:

        The thing that i thought might be false … he said that you could look at the local wave activity and deduce who had jumped in where and when and my first thought was whether the local wave activity could be decomposed into well-defined constitutent parts (in like a Fourier kind of way), or if the mapping from distant to local was 1-to-1 and invertable. But then he started talking about the distinct, seperable EM waves and guessed maybe the analogy with the water wavew was just wrong. The current link/video is definitely much easier to suss out.

  9. Jim says:

    But character traits like perseverance,
    diligence, ambitiousness, etc. are all influenced
    by one’s genotype. So even if someone’s
    success is due primarily to “hard work” and
    not so much to sheer intellectual brilliance it
    doesn’t follow that the average person could
    duplicate it. The average person might not be
    genetically capable of working that hard.

    When people like Gauss or Grothendieck work
    very hard that may be as much a matter of nature as their very high intelligence.

    Saying that an “ordinary person” could be a great scientist if only they worked sufficiently
    hard is like saying an “ordinary person” could
    be a great scientist if only they were an “extraordinary person”.

  10. James Anthony Thompson says:

    What he said was false, but he had a let-out: he was from Brooklyn. He was an ordinary person in the class sense.
    He also made a comparable error when he discussed the teaching methods he used with his son Carl, saying he then found that they did not work with his adopted daughter Michelle, but not saying why. That, in my view, was him signalling that he understood exactly what was happening, but didn’t want to say it out loud.

  11. ziel says:

    This kind of lying has been going on for a long time. My recollection from 50 some years ago is that the motivation was to not discourage kids from trying to do well in school and not become juvenile delinquents. Pointing out how super-smarts are basically innate sort of implies that all smarts are innate and could be rather demoralizing.

    So I think the lie back then when Feynman said this was indeed a noble one – it was intended to improve society by encouraging every child to become the best they could be. Nowadays there’s still that aspect to it, but the lie seems to be actively making our society weaker and more fragile – e.g. United’s new diversity pilot training initiative.

    • savage says:

      The US can’t have sensible education policies because no one will admit the true nature of the achievement gap, i.e. the 85 IQ and personality traits of the average African American.

      A shocking discovery out of a Baltimore City high school, where Project Baltimore has found hundreds of students are failing. It’s a school where a student who passed three classes in four years, ranks near the top half of his class with a 0.13 grade point average.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Another person that does mention IQ a lot is Jordan Peterson. Apparently his doctorate was in that field. He has not spoken of races but I suspect he thinks about it.

        He says that if your IQ is than 80 (or maybe 85, can’t recall) the US Army won’t take you.

    • saintonge235 says:

      There is no such thing as a noble lie. All lies harm the person lied to, and should only be used with those you have decided are enemies.

  12. jb says:

    Einstein said we only use 10% of our brains, but he was wrong.

    Actually this is a myth. As far as I know Einstein never said any such thing. It’s interesting though that so many people are both willing to believe that he said it, and that if he said it it must be true. The logic seems to be that Einstein was a great genius, and if a man like that makes a statement it must be because his brilliant genius mind has penetrated further into reality than anyone else’s mind, and has directly perceived the truth. But in fact Einstein never studied the brain, and anything he knew about it would have to have come from casual reading of books written by his contemporaries. He was simply not in a position to have any original insights about the brain, no matter how smart he was.

    Feynman was a great genius, but as far as I know he never studied the nature of intelligence, and therefore was not in a position to have any real insight into it. His statement was I think sincere, but purely intuitive and based on his own personal experience. Some brilliant people are very proud of their intelligence, and enjoy feeling that they are better than other people, but for whatever reason I think Feynman felt himself to be an ordinary person who had simply found the world interesting and worked hard to understand it, and that therefore other ordinary people could follow his path if they tried hard enough. This was an idea that was floating around at the time anyway, and Feynman had never put in the work to know that it was nonsense.

    Additionally, Scott Alexander had some interesting things to say about inborn ability.

    • Passerby says:

      I took the bait and read Scott Alexander’s article. I didn’t learn anything new, except for two things:
      1. He likes to write.
      2. He’s wracked with guilt.

      Are all his posts like this? Writing 6000 words to cough up a couple of simple truths isn’t very cost-effective for any party involved. Could these people expend their energy in a more productive way or is this just what they do?

    • James Shearer says:

      “… Some brilliant people are very proud of their intelligence, and enjoy feeling that they are better than other people, ..”

      I once took a course from Feynman and he came across as that type of person. Students were reluctant to ask questions because he was prone to taking the opportunity to demonstrate how much smarter he was than they were. Feynman was actually aware that he did this but was apparently unable to stop.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Reminds me of a Cindy Crawford quote back in the nineteen-nineties when she was still a thing. When asked how she was so beautiful she replied that she thought it was just a reflection of her inner beauty and character.

        Imagine how an unattractive woman might read that quote. “Great, not only am I ugly on the outside, but I’m ugly on the inside, too.”

      • Dmon says:

        Back in the day, he would occasionally come down to Huge Aircrash Co. and give a noontime talk. Maybe talking to engineers he didn’t feel compelled to show off, but he was pretty entertaining – didn’t overly complicate stuff. One time, he was talking about microwave transmission (using a piece of waveguide as a visual aide), and somebody asked him (paraphrasing) “how can you tell if a structure is high pass or low pass?”. Feynman held the waveguide up to his eye, squinted down it and answered, “Well, I can see through it, so I guess it’s high pass”.

      • morris39 says:

        On the other hand his textbook Lectures in Physics is remarkably different from the usual. He seems genuinely interested in communicating the subject to the student unlike most texts which are basically dull plagiarisms and inferior in an attempt to not seem obviously so.
        I recall how second hand engineering textbooks were valued relative to the official course book written and promoted by the department head. His message during the welcoming lecture (the only one) was buy my book and 25% of you (freshmen) will fail.
        Not many sincere textbooks out there but Gerald Pollack has written some worth considering.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Because his posts were too long I never read Alexander (aka Slate Star Codex). This is not directly related to Feynman but it does show that Scott Alexander, a psychiatrist (or maybe psychologist) was none too bright in certain areas.

      He agreed to an interview with the New York Times (!). He was shocked when NYT said they were going to publish his real name (I’m surprised it wasn’t already known).

      He panicked and closed down his blog. He did a bit on a different site but he gave that too and there is no sign of him.

      Doesn’t he know how crazy NYT is?

      The NYT article:

      • James Shearer says:

        “… there is no sign of him.”

        I believe Scott Alexander is now on substack as “Astral Codex Ten”.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Actually I went to quite some effort to find him. There’s a note on the last post of Slate Star Codex. I went to the site he indicates. There were a few posts, then nothing.

          I think the second site directed me to a third, but nothing.

          How do you know Astral Codex Ten is him?

          • James Shearer says:

            “How do you know Astral Codex Ten is him?”

            I take it you don’t read Sailer. I believe he covered the move. In a March 31 post (mostly about substack) Alexander is mentioned in passing:

            “2 Astral Codex Ten

            ▲▼by Scott Alexander · Thousands of subscribers · $10/month
            P(A|B) = [P(A)*P(B|A)]/P(B), all the rest is commentary.”

            If the given numbers are correct Alexander is making tens of thousands of dollars a month on substack so he seems to have landed on his feet.

            • Frau Katze says:

              I came around on it and I’m even going to check him out for a month or two. I won’t pay money right away. But it appears you can read it without paying anything. See my further comments.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I am guessing it’s him. He mentions Slate Star Codex but anyone could do that.

          However, under “About” he says the new blog is about “ṛta” – a Sanskrit word. This is the type of thing he would do.

          Guess what: this site, named as “Greg Cochran” is on his fairly short blogroll.

          • jb says:

            It’s definitely him. The February edit of the the final Slate Star Codex post links to the new Astral Codex Ten blog on Substack here:

            You can read my full statement defending against the Times’ allegations here.

            (That isn’t actually the final Slate Star Codex post though. Scott eventually wrote one more after that, explaining the situation further and discussing his future plans, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get to that post, probably because Scott wanted anyone going to slatestarcodex.com to see the “I Am Deleting The Blog” post rather than the followup. It’s a pity, because the followup was interesting).

        • Frau Katze says:

          It’s actually not a bad site. He has a monthly set of links, and the posts aren’t as long. I will follow it for a month or two and see how it goes.

      • morris39 says:

        If you lack charity you could say he was prolix. Not often a chance to exercise that word. He did not seem very numerate. He wrote a post on how it more logical to accept some reasoning based on a single reason rather than on 28.
        He did seem to try to be objective in general.

  13. Wes Fulton says:

    To be fair, I felt pretty much the same way until I got to college and, for the first time, encountered people who were way, way smarter than I was, and were clearly operating on some completely different level. I doubt Feynman ever had a similar experience.

    I’ve always found it amusing that smart people often have a hard time imagining what it’s like to be dumb.

  14. Darwin, even though he had painstakingly demonstrated that there is heritable variation in all sorts of traits (as required by his theory of natural selection), shared Feynman’s view – until he read Galton’s “Hereditary Genius.” This is from a letter he wrote to Galton when he was halfway through the book: “You have made a convert of an opponent in one sense, for I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work.”

  15. Coagulopath says:

    What do you think about Feynman’s 124 IQ? Legit or not?

    • dearieme says:

      If he was as good a mathematical physicist as everyone says he was, the 124 is balls.

      • dearieme says:

        Numbers. At my secondary school to get into the second-top stream, the B stream, you had to have an IQ of 118. The A stream and B stream contained about the same number of pupils. So I estimate that to get into the A stream you’d have an IQ of something like 123 or 124.

        Would Feynman really have failed to get into the A stream? I doubt it. The top dog in Physics was always me. In my last year at school the Physics teacher did ask me for help. Modestly impressive, but a far cry form bispora’s tale (below) about Feynman’s teacher’s assessment of him. I conclude that he’d have been top dog at Physics by a country mile. So he’d have been in the A stream and his IQ would have far exceeded 124.

        • bispora says:

          Te late Harvard Prof. Sidney Coleman, once gave Feynman useful advice, which he ignored at cost to his own work at times: “Not everyone else is a bozo!”

    • Steve Hsu’s guess is that he was likely lopsided, topping out on math but not being anywhere near as good on verbal.

      • Part of Hsu’s explanation is that not only was Feynman’s intelligence “lopsided” toward math, but that the IQ test Feynman took was probably also lopsided toward the verbal because a more balanced test would’ve obviously shown a score much higher than 125.

      • Glengarry says:

        Do Feynman’s memoirs count as ‘verbal’?

    • savage says:

      Gwern thinks that he took a particularly bad IQ test:

      Feynman was younger than 15 when he took it, and very near this factoid in Gleick’s bio, he recounts Feynman asking about very basic algebra (2^x=4) and wondering why anything found it hard – the IQ is mentioned immediately before the section on ‘grammar school’, or middle school, implying that the ‘school IQ test’ was done well before he entered high school, putting him at much younger than 15. (15 is important because Feynman had mastered calculus by age 15, Gleick says, so he wouldn’t be asking his father why algebra is useful at age >15.) – Given that Feynman was born in 1918, this implies the IQ test was done around 1930 or earlier. Given that it was done by the New York City school district, this implies also that it was one of the ‘ratio’ based IQ tests – utterly outdated and incorrect by modern standards. – Finally, it’s well known that IQ tests are very unreliable in childhood; kids can easily bounce around compared to their stable adult scores.

      So, it was a bad test, which even under ideal circumstances is unreliable & prone to error, and administered in a mass fashion and likely not by a genuine psychometrician.

      As the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data, and this isn’t even a very good anecdote. (I charitably assume that Feynman isn’t joking here about the score; Gleick gives no source.)


  16. bispora says:

    I don’t know whether it is true, but I found this comment under the video:
    “My uncle was Abe Bader, Feynman’s high school physics teacher. I remember him telling my father, when I was probably about 11, that he once had a student who could learn more physics in a weekend than he could learn if he studied all summer. He also said he had given this student some very advanced books to study I was amazed by the idea that someone could be that smart, that’s probably why I have remembered that conversation all these years. I didn’t know that my uncle meant Feynman until decades later, after Feynman, and my uncle, had died. I think to reach the level of accomplish Feynman reached, it takes talent plus work. I have seen this in the arts as well.”

  17. Jacob says:

    I knew that talent was innate when I was a kid, but I also knew that ordinary people become hypervigilant arrogance detectors whenever the subject of intelligence comes up. If a gifted person refuses to save face for everyone else, it paints a target on his back. I had a camp counselor ask me how I “got to be so smart.”

    I told him, “I go to a good school, I study hard, and I do a little reading on the side.”

    My dad was very proud of this response, but I wasn’t. It was a shit-out-the-mouth lie, and I only said it so that people would leave me alone.

    Feynman said this because we would’ve punished him for saying anything else. We bully smart people into validating our intellects even though a good chunk of us believe in astrology and anti-vax.

  18. dearieme says:

    When I was about fourteen I was walking alone across the school playground – presumably I’d been sent to run an errand for a teacher. Coming the other way was the chap who’d taught me Science the year before. “Hello” says he “still find everything comes easy?” “Aye, sir” says I. “Lucky bugger” says he, and walks on.

    He knew. And I knew.

    There’s no damned nonsense about moral merit involved. You did nothing to deserve it. It’s just how it is. If you are that way inclined you could say that God wills it.

  19. Philip Neal says:

    So far as I could make it out, he says this:

    You have asked me if an ordinary person by studying hard will generally be able to imagine these things like I have imagined them.

    Of course!

    I was an ordinary person who studied hard. There’s no miracle people. It just happens they got interested in this thing and they learned all this stuff. They’re just people. There’s no talent – a special miracle ability to understand quantum mechanics, or a miracle ability to imagine electromagnetics fields – that comes without practice in reading and learning and study. So, if you say take an ordinary person who’s willing to take a great deal of time and study and work and thinking and mathematics and timing (?) that he’s become a scientist.

    I interpret him to mean that he is a genius but not a Martian, that he cannot see in ultraviolet or visualise ten dimensions. On the long ladder from the multiplication table to linear algebra and on and on upwards, his level is just a higher rung, more of the same. He does not mean that everyone has got what it takes, but that those who think they may have it should not give up because they are not Ramanujan.

    Is this false?

  20. Feynman, like most successful authors and popular scientists, ends on a happy note. People love happy endings.

  21. rene saenz says:

    He has a point. Most people above a really basic (say 75th percentile) intelligence line could probably get a PhD in theoretical physics. At that point, the jump from that to “doing what Feynman did” is pretty small.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You’re wrong.

      75th percentile of IQ is 110. The average IQ of people in a graduate physics program ( not all make it through) is 130.

      Seriously wrong.

      • Rene Saenz says:

        Ok, smart guy.

      • Rene Saenz says:

        That does not prove that I’m wrong. I am not surprised that people who would have had higher earlier achievement and therefore developed academic self efficacy would enter physics PhDs at a higher rate.

        • Rene Saenz says:


        • gcochran9 says:

          People with IQs under, say, 120, tend to fail out of undergraduate physics.

          “academic self efficacy” is no substitute for brains. So far, there is no substitute.

          Interesting how many people have ridiculous ideas about this.

          • Rene Saenz says:

            Got a source for that, or is this argument so ridiculous that you won’t even consider justifying such a claim?

          • bizz says:

            Are those people actually “failing out” of the physics major, or just not getting 8 or more As in their classes, which is the metric used in Steve Hsu’s chart that you’ve linked?

            Check out the stats on how the number of people graduating with a physics major exploded in the period from around 2005 to 2015, doubling nationwide and increasing by an even larger factor at the more competitive institutions. I think this shows that one can graduate with an undergraduate bachelors in physics, although not necessarily go on to a PhD program, even without exceptionally high raw intelligence.

            • gcochran9 says:

              The fraction becoming physics majors is still small – small compared to the number of students in the top 5% of IQ, for example.

              So it does not show that. But it does show something about you.

            • Pincher Martin says:

              Check out the stats on how the number of people graduating with a physics major exploded in the period from around 2005 to 2015, doubling nationwide and increasing by an even larger factor at the more competitive institutions.

              Did you factor in the growth of foreign students and/or first-generation Asian-Americans studying physics, both of which are populations with an inclination toward the STEM fields and have IQs which are, on average, higher than white Americans?

              The number of foreign students at American universities nearly doubled between 2005 and today, but grew especially fast in the period you named (2005-2015 – there has been some contraction since). Eight percent of those students chose to major in physical and life sciences. That’s approximately 80,000 foreign students using current enrollment figures. So I’m guessing that a large percentage of physics majors in US colleges today are either foreign-born students or first-generation Asian Americans, both of which have seen a large increase in the U.S.-based student population during the 21st century.

              According to a November 2018 Forbes’ article called America is No Longer Attracting the Top Minds in Physics:

              …according to the American Physical Society, the past year has seen an alarming, unprecedented drop in the number of international applications to physics PhD programs in the United States. In an extremely large survey of 49 of the largest physics departments in the country, representing 41% of all enrolled physics graduate students in the United States, an overall decrease of almost 12% in the number of international applicants was observed from 2017 to 2018….

              The drop is something that hasn’t been seen since 2004: the first year that the Council of Graduate Schools first began collecting data on international application and first-time enrollment rates in United States graduate programs. According to the American Institute of Physics, which compiled all available data from the International Graduate Admissions Survey administered by the Council of Graduate schools, international applications and first-time enrollment rates rose every year from 2006 through 2016, inclusive, with a tiny decline (~1%) from 2016 to 2017.

              Cumulatively, that has translated into an 87% increase in international applications from 2005 until last year [2017]. Which is why the unprecedented, across-the-board drop of 12% is so troubling. [My emphasis in bold.]

              Yes, this article is about PhDs, not undergraduate degrees, but I suspect the growth in foreign students applying to undergraduate programs in physics followed a similar track during 2005 to 2015.

    • Frau Katze says:

      If you have little or no education in physics you would not have a good feeling for who will succeed. A lot of people drop out in the first year of undergraduate studies. You’re usually taking math too.

    • James Shearer says:

      “He has a point. Most people above a really basic (say 75th percentile) intelligence line could probably get a PhD in theoretical physics. At that point, the jump from that to “doing what Feynman did” is pretty small.”

      I don’t think so. First there are about 1000 PhDs in Physics granted to US citizens in the US every year out of about 4 million people of the appropriate age. So about 1 in a thousand of the top 25%. Of course there isn’t perfect selection so this won’t represent the 1000 people with the most physics talent but there is a lot competition and weeding out so the top 1000 will be strongly biased towards the top end of the million in natural talent.

      Second most of the thousand PhDs a year will never do anything of note. Perhaps 1 a year will be even close to Feynman. So another 1 in a 1000 filter. And while there is some luck involved most of the 1000 just aren’t good enough to be likely to make a significant advance in Physics (which generally requires solving a problem that has stumped many other very smart people).

      How often is someone at the 75th percentile level in talent going to make significant progress on a problem that many people at the 99.9+ percentile level have worked on? Not very often.

  22. Mostly poolside says:

    I find it impossible Feynman hadn’t noticed growing up that not everyone had the same brain power. But would telling nothing but the truth make sense to a man who actively curated his public image? It would be fun, though, to see a popular photogenic genius blurt out “Most of you are idiots” with a shit-eating-grin.

    I know the fate of most of my high school cohort (public school, ~200 people, graduated ~20 years ago, Southern Europe, homogenous pop, mainly lower-middle to middle class):
    Of the lower performing students, virtually all of them ended up working menial jobs, with a notable exception who went on to have an academic career in an applied science field.
    About a quarter of the students in the 50th-95th percentile ended up in low- (mostly) to mid-level management positions in private companies, with the rest doing worse, and with a notable exception as above.
    Of the top 5% (no Feynmans here), one is a tenured professor in humanities, one has a PhD in pure math, one has a PhD in some applied science field and was a Math Olympiad contestant (runs in their family), a couple are in mid-level management, and the rest got burnt out smoking pot or succumbed to some other vice.

    I’m sure everyone has a similar story to tell that pretty much confirms the correlation between academic performance and g, and their predictive power in life outcomes.

    What keeps bugging me, though, is what made the rest of the smart ones fail. Is it proneness to addiction, lack of conscientiousness, lack of ambition, ADHD etc? And if these components are as hard-wired as g, are they doomed, or is there anything that could help them put their high intelligence to good use? I’m thinking, e.g., different social mores, harsh discipline, medication, PEDs; or maybe it’s just wishful thinking?

    • dearieme says:

      I can think off one very able chap from my school who wandered off-path for a few years by falling in love with Contract Bridge. In fact I noticed at university that it was those studying mathematical physics who were most prone to this particular problem.

      • Blaubleifrei says:

        Nowadays it’s MOBA and RTS video games that keep some young sharp minds enslaved, derailing their studies. Unremarkably, East Asians and Europeans dominate those games’ competitions. I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but I suspect a bigger fraction of bright people waste away their more productive years in trivial pursuits than, say, the ones from 40 years ago.

  23. Howard Holme says:

    In a more serious moment and setting, lecturing to his physics students, Feynman said, unlike relativity, “… I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” https://www.facebook.com/Qmechanics/videos/967586087044967/

  24. David G. Epstein says:

    Really bad parenting can fuck you up big time. Good parenting is a modest influence compared to heredity.

  25. Rob says:

    Greg, you have said before that top rate minds do not go into vaccinology. What are some things a big brain would bring to vaccinology? Insights from evolutionary theory? Would they focus on live-attenuated, nucleic acid, or what?

    • Frau Katze says:

      I’m impressed by how fast certain researchers were to get a vaccine based on messenger RNA. Apparently people had been working on messenger RNA for several years, trying to use it for cancer.

      The BioNTech people are married couple from Turkey working in Germany. As soon as China put the data of the Covid RNA virus online, the man said, we can do a vaccine with mRNA.

      The couple have business smarts too. They approached Pfizer, telling them that this will spread all over the world, and a vaccine was feasible. They convinced Pfizer.

      The Moderna people had also been working on it too. Same idea.

      • Rob says:

        I was pretty impressed by coronavirus vaccines, too. But COVID is the sort of thing we are pretty good at making vaccines for. A large-scale rollout and test of mRNA vaccines was neat.

        But what about classes of microbes we have not been able to to create vaccines for. Pretty much every parasitic disease. Worms. Though their are veterinary vaccines against Protozoa. What are the tools we’d develop if their were smarter people in vaccinology itself or working on adjacent technologies?

        • Frau Katze says:

          I’m not smart enough to answer. Breakthrough discoveries are often like that.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Here’s something that you don’t need be a genius to see: Covid’s rapid travel around the world is greatly aided by flying.

          Given how many variants are showing up, why don’t we stop all flying except for emergencies or use the strict quarantine like New Zealand and (I think) Australia?

          It’s glaringly obvious but politicians are too scared to do it.

          • dearieme says:

            In the case of Britain the answer’s easy. The scientists advised the government not to stop air travel because experience with the flu suggested it would be useless (and therefore all cost and no benefit). Similarly they advised against testing incomers for the virus (which may have been right by accident given the shortcomings of the tests).

            Of course stopping travel into Britain would have been a big deal – proportionately a bigger deal than for Oz and NZ I suspect.

            On the other hand the analogy with the flu may or may not have been relevant. Like many things to do with coronavirus I sometimes find it hard to distinguish between what I don’t know and what everybody doesn’t know.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Covid is more transmissible than the flu, and therefore harder to control. On the other hand it’s more deadly than the typical flu. On the gripping hand, medical tech is far advanced over that of 1918, and society has options that didn’t exist back then.

              One had to consider the whole situation – the threat, and the available tools. You can’t just dust off an existing influenza plan ( although they did) especially it’s stupid even for influenza ( which it was).

              In 2020 we were able to identify the pathogen rapidly and develop a test for it. In 1918, we didn’t identify the pathogen and had no test.

              quarantine, movement controls, lockdown, etc were more feasible in 2020 than in 1918: a lot easier to work from home for many people, with the Internet. Test and trace was feasible in 2020: it worked in south korea, not even tried in most places.

              The time required to develop and produce vaccines was widely misunderstood, by professionals as well as the press. Recently it has often taken years – but the actual doing of it only requires a few months. In 1918 people managed to develop and manufacture a crude but useful vaccine against bacterial pneumonia ( a major complication with the 1918 flu) in a few months. Maurice Hillerman managed to develop and produce an effective vaccine against the 1957/58 flu in a few months and greatly reduced the death toll from what it would otherwise have been. People like Tegnell thought it would take years to make a covid vaccine: they were misinformed ) [presumably that’s why they make the big bucks).
              I knew it didn’t have to.

              Epidemiologists in 2020 seem to have been, on the whole, more stupid/crazy than in 1918. Back then, sharp people found microbe hunting exciting. Less so today, it would seem.

              Epidemiologists had opposed border controls and travel bans for years. Remember these guys explaining how vital it was that we allow free passage from Liberia during the Ebola epidemic in 2014? This seems to have been primarily based upon some emotional aversion to any measure that might interrupt the inflow of people who were useless enough to vote left. It “felt” like Brexit and/or Trump, so it was evil.

              Masks were thought ineffective because influenza transmission is not thru aerosols. Except that it is, mostly, for influenza and also for covid. Part of the appeal of this mistake seems to have been the joy of non-intuitivity – in the same way that when some black dude knocks down an old Asian lady, it’s not really his fault, it’s John Calhoun’s fault. Really, there ought to be a bounty on this kind of fool. All year round, because vermin are always in season.

              People like Ioanndis and Gupta were saying totally loony things and refused to ever admit they were wrong. Should be fired.

              Virologists are apparently dumber now as well. Today we have a well-worked out theory of natural selection (neodarwinism): it predicted that we would soon see strains with increased transmission ( with a virus new to humans). For that matter, that’s also what history shows – consider the deadly second wave of the 1918 flu. But virologists ( who had never learned anything about neodarwinism OR history) thought otherwise, to the point of denying their lying eyes.

              They also can’t even seem to understand that when a new variant rapidly replaces the existing variant in the middle of an epidemic – with hundreds of thousands to millions of cases – it must have greater fitness. This can’t be the consequence of a statistical fluctuation. But they don’t understand this. I doubt if they will understand the next problem of “left as an exercise for the reader’ difficulty.

              Fire them too. But since they do seem to understand how to run tissue cultures, maybe they could just be demoted to techs.

              Although I hear that McDonald’s in Florida will pay you $50 just for showing up to a job interview.

              The epidemiologists managed to be wrong on masks and on aerosol transmission – not just wrong on covid, but pre-existing bugs like influenza. Looking back, Fauci and the CDC were pretty good at being wrong about AIDS, too.

              • Rob says:

                Do you think that getting COVID vaccines so fast will lead researchers, grant makers, companies, and policy folk to focus more on vaccines? Not just for acute infections, but for things like cancer, heart disease, and obesity? Now that most everyone knows that making a vaccine can be done so quickly, much faster than someone can do a new small molecule drug, money and effort will flow towards vaccines?

                I mean, historically, vaccines have given high payoff* for the money spent, so maybe that well has not been pumped dry.

                *I don’t mean payoff for the inventors or companies, I mean total social utility. Though pharma companies seem to want to capture more of the value of treatment. Look at the prices for the hepatitis cures compared to penicillin seventy years ago.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Here’s another thing that is obvious to non-geniuses: with criminal matters, police should send in people to match the ethnicity of the accused.

      When I was blogging a few years ago I learned that in Karachi, Pakistan, this was standard police performance. With Pashtuns, you sent Pashtun cops, etc.

      But we can’t do that because …. something…. I don’t know what.

      • Maybe some of these very bad decisions about air travel and so on are due to politics leaking into science. WHO seems to have been corrupted and is a puppet of China. Obama was president during the Ebola epidemic. He certainly wouldn’t allow travel from Africa to be blocked, I’m sure.

        Scientists won’t get grants if they have problamatic politics. They won’t get jobs.

      • In Canada they have some First Nations police working mainly on reserves, I believe.

        Maybe the problem with getting Black people to be police is that a lot of them have criminal records, and can’t pass the entrance exams. Remember there were a bunch of law suits about this for police and firemen a few years ago. They claimed the exam had a disperate impact, or something like that so it was biased against Black people.

        Likely most Black people who are not criminals and are smart enough to be cops go to college and find greener pastures. Of course there are lots of Black cops, but perhaps not enough to police all those inner cities. Maybe the inner city work is more dangerous .

  26. Carly Bruce says:

    Yet people still believe in that – in a way that’s of course heritable like all psychological traits. But if it isn’t very heritable, it must be a “believe in yourself” germ. Lol, maybe some anti-psychotic is needed.

  27. BOBster says:

    Hey Mr. Cochran, no idea if this is a blog faux pas, but is there any way I could get into contact w/ you for specific questions? If that’s not an option, can I just ask questions(that will be answered) irrelevant to the post topics in these comment sections?

  28. Pincher Martin says:

    Bizz –

    At the bachelors level (not PhD), Asians only make up only around 8% of physics majors in recent years:
    So the growth in physics majors is not attributable in significant part to the growth of the Asian-American population.

    Interesting. Thanks.

    I found it surprising that slightly more Hispanic-Americans major in physics now than do Asian-Americans. But maybe white Hispanics are more of a growing demographic in the U.S. than I ever imagined. Or perhaps there is some other explanation (e.g., whites pretending to be Hispanics for scholarship purposes? Selective immigration by Hispanic elites for their children’s education?). It does appear from the following source that the number of Hispanic-Americans getting PhDs in physics has tripled over the last ten years, which I find very surprising.


    If those numbers were duplicated at the undergraduate level, then they, in combination with the other factors I mentioned before, would help to explain a lot (but not all) of the recent surge of B.S. degrees in physics.

    Your source also says that overseas students represent 9% of physics’ baccalaureate degrees in 2017/18. I bet quite a few of those are Asians and that the percentage has risen significantly in both categories (Asian-Americans and overseas Asian students) over the last decade and a half.

    • Frau Katze says:

      There are lots of Chinese at the University of British Columbia (in Vancouver). There’s a joke that they call it the University of a Billion Chinese.

      I actually have a rough idea of how many. Before I retired I was a computer programmer and an interesting problem came up.

      The government wanted to give a unique number to every student in the province. K-12 was already doing this.

      The universities sent tapes of the data the Ministry of Education giving their names & dates of birth. But the entire name, including the surname and given names were all in one field. The surname was not a separate field.

      This project was about 12 years ago. The problem was getting the given names and surnames. A large number had a two part Chinese name plus an English given name.

      You can imagine how many ways “Wei Ling Elizabeth Wong” could call herself.

      The Chinese names have some spelling restrictions. A name like Elizabeth would be rejected. After pouring over thousands of names I came up with a set of the starting and sounds. That did a large fraction. But you had to be careful: a surname like Young or Lee would be assigned as “possibly Oriental” because it’s also an English name,

      Then there were the Vietnamese. They had some distinctive letters (the French got them right off the typical Oriental characters and got them using the Latin alphabet, including using “ph” for “f”.)

      It took me a while, but it was interesting.

      After it was done I applied it to the university tapes. UBC was about 30% Oriental according to my program. The Vietnamese were mostly at a less prestigious place in eastern Vancouver.

      Around 30-35% was typical of Greater Vancouver. They had not moved to Vancouver Island in large numbers. The University of Victoria was only 4%.

      Thus we were able to separate surname & given names. I had a report of ambiguous cases, but it was surprisingly small. UBC had about 30,000 students with only a few dozen ambiguous cases.

      I wrote it all in Fortran, that I knew the best.

      Of course we didn’t know fraction of the Orientals studying Physics.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        After it was done I applied it to the university tapes. UBC was about 30% Oriental according to my program.

        How long ago was this?

        BTW, Greg is right that the increase in physics majors for undergrads from 2005 to 2015 is still such a small number compared to the total number of students that it doesn’t come close to invalidating his point, but I was curious where the increase took place.

        First, take a look at the general numbers:

        From 2005 to 2015, the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to all students in the U.S. increased by 29%, from approximately 1.5 million to approximately 1.9 million.

        During that same period, the number of physics majors who graduated with bachelor’s degree went up 57%, from approximately 4,700 to approximately 7,300. This incidentally is in line with the increase in four-year degrees awarded for ALL physical sciences. Degrees for chemistry went up over 40%; those for oceanography went up over 90%.; etc.

        I figured the increase must come from the smarter/more serious subpopulations in U.S. colleges – Asian-Americans, overseas students, etc. – and it appears that this did drive some of the increase. But what I didn’t anticipate is the increase in Hispanic-American students of physics. That is interesting.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Less than 20 years ago. But this program obviously only could give how many were attending particular university or college. I had no way of telling what they were majoring in.

          Even before the new waves of immigration there were Chinese in BC. It was the same in the American cities on the west coast. Back in the 1950s, when I was a child, visiting China Town was considered a thing to do, like going to the park.

          • Rosenmop says:

            Almost all the East Asians (my kids freaked out when I say “Oriental” though I think it was polite when we were young) are in hard sciences or business. Almost zero in Arts.

            At the less prestigious place (where I taught) the number of Chinese decreased just before I retired a couple of years ago. But the number of students from India exploded. The Indians didn’t generally do as well as the Chinese.(however I had a number of lazy and not very smart Chinese) I think most of the Indians were there to get Canadian citizenship and then sponsor relatives. A lot were in Business or Computing. A substantial majority of the students in Business and Computing were from India or China–just a handful of white kids. Arts was almost entirely White people. So was Environmental Science, Adventure Tourism, and Animal Health Technology. There were some European international students in Adventure Tourism. Nursing and Respiratory Therapy were a mix of whites, Indians and Chinese, but the Indians and Chinese were Canadian citizens, mostly born in Canada so they had a Canadian accent (they only let a small number of international students in those programs). I taught Stats and some other service Math courses for a lot of these programs.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I should add that BC had never had anything like US affirmative action. So there was no one saying, well we can’t get more than x% Orientals at our university. If you’ve got the marks, you’re in.

          One exception: there is some help for natives, but few of them go to university, despite help.

          My friend’s step daughter married a native man. That he was working as a Walmart stock boy when they met, was fine with her (he was in his thirties).

          Now they have a toddler, and he quit his job at Walmart. They live on the step daughter’s wages. He drinks and his family often visits (none of them have jobs). They just sit around all day, doing nothing. I think his brother actually moved in. And his mother comes, plus his kids from a previous marriage.

          But he’s not violent and is taking care of the toddler. The step daughter had two children from her first marriage who are completely normal. The daughter is old enough to be working full time herself. The son is still at home for the time being. The chaos in the house puts both kids off, the daughter has moved out. The son is still there and checks up on them, making sure the toddler is OK.

          People from such a culture likely quit school as early as possible. You won’t see them, even at a less prestigious college like the ones the Vietnamese like.

          I’m sure some natives aren’t like this, but not that I have met or known through a friend.

          Finally, I made no attempt the separate Chinese and Koreans. I do hear that their culture puts an emphasis on education, with the parents expecting their children to do well.

          • Rosenmop says:

            “He drinks and his family often visits (none of them have jobs). They just sit around all day, doing nothing. I think his brother actually moved in. And his mother comes, plus his kids from a previous marriage.”

            Oh hell that sounds bad. This isn’t at your friend’s house, is it? There are a lot of Natives in that area. When I was teaching I had a few native students. One guy got A+ in 3D Calculus, He didn’t look like a native from these parts, though he didn’t look white at all.

            • Frau Katze says:

              They’re in Duncan, but not my friend’s house. The step daughter has her own place.

              I’m sure there are more successful ones, as you say. Actually my son has a native friend who was adopted by a white family. I think he’s doing OK. He is a friendly guy.

      • dux.ie says:

        a surname like Young or Lee would be assigned as “possibly Oriental” because it’s also an English name,

        US Census has a dataset of surnames and the percentage distribution among the ethnicities, e.g.

        name | pctwhite | pctblack | pcthispanic | PctAsi | pctNonAsi
        Lee | 35.95 | 16.33 | 1.89 | 42.22 | 57.78
        Li | 1.49 | 0.19 | 0.63 | 96.78 | 3.22
        Yang | 1.03 | 0.2 | 0.45 | 96.81 | 3.19
        Young | 66.26 | 24.67 | 2.58 | 3.03 | 96.97

        Surname Lee has a higher probability (0.5778) of being non-Asian in US. Surnames of both White and Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese ≥ 30% in US,

        name | pctwhite | pctblack | pcthispanic | PctAsi | pctNonAsi
        Hau | 49.33 | 11.0 | 6.21 | 31.24 | 68.76
        Kok | 63.38 | 1.66 | 0.0 | 32.31 | 67.69
        Hon | 56.97 | 2.35 | 2.68 | 36.06 | 63.94
        Mang | 51.83 | 2.08 | 1.83 | 41.76 | 58.24
        Lee | 35.95 | 16.33 | 1.89 | 42.22 | 57.78
        Vai | 42.86 | 0.0 | 3.69 | 48.85 | 51.15
        Se | 30.99 | 4.17 | 10.94 | 51.04 | 48.96
        Meng | 30.93 | 0.51 | 10.12 | 57.01 | 42.99
        Chern | 31.18 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 66.47 | 33.53

        • Frau Katze says:

          The database would have helped but my task is long done. (I’m retired now). For sure “Li” is Oriental, whilst “Lee” could be either. I’m in Canada so there is no separate field for ethnicity (except for natives). The American ethnicity categories are not used.

          Once we could separate the given and surnames, the Ministry could begin issuing the Personal Education Numbers. The separated names were sent to the universities, who were then instructed to use that format going forward.

          It was a one-time thing.

          • Rosenmop says:

            I remember you got quite interested in names and different languages when you were working on that. When I was teaching I was hopeless at pronouncing most of the Chinese names. The Indian names are a lot easier to pronounce. Maybe 10 years ago or more the Chinese students would usually adopt an English name to use in their classes, but more recently they stopped doing that entirely. Perhaps it became politically incorrect, or it just went out of style. When I was handing back tests I would often mispronounce their name so badly that they didn’t recognize it. The Indians names are often spelled phonetically and are much easier to pronounce than, not just Chinese, but some Polish or Russian names. Korean names are sometimes easy to pronounce, but not always.

    • Frau Katze says:

      I should add that Hispanic names were a very small percentage at that time. I looked at an enormous number of names. There were thing like “Test Record,”

    • bizz says:

      Yes, there is a lot of interesting information to dive into when considering the increase in undergraduates majoring in physics. Some other tidbits:

      1) As you have noted, the increase traces the increase in majors in the physical sciences generally. This is the least surprising aspect of it, as students and parents are now much more concerned about the career prospects of majors, and the career prospects of humanities majors are famously thought of as Starbucks. The number of history majors, for example, has dropped off a cliff nationwide.

      2) Almost all of the increase in physics bachelors has been at the more competitive undergraduate institutions, so the factor of two nationwide really understates it. Typically the number of physics majors at a directional state U campus will have barely budged in the past 15 years, but the number at the flagship state U campus or an Ivy or Ivy-adjacent university will have tripled, quadrupled, or more. This means that physics is getting proportionally 3x or more of the top performing students that a generation ago would have majored in something else, whether computer science, business, or even humanities.

      3) As you have noted, among physics bachelors the increase in hispanics has been large but for blacks not so much. As with anywhere else in contemporary academia, physics departments are now primarily concerned with “diversity” (with research and teaching a distant second and third, respectively) but for whatever reason this has worked to increase the fraction of hispanic but not black students. Also the fraction of females has gotten much higher, and tops 50% some places.

  29. dux.ie says:

    From ETS (examiner of SAT), undergrad entry qualifications,

    Physics & Astronomy|533|736|1269|133
    Health & Medical Sciences|447|552|999|111

    There are 403 old self reported accepted Physics PhD application results from TheGradCafe, some with old GRE Quant less than the nomial average score of 500 but with high GRE verbal. Those cases could be appccepted for Astronomy PhD. There are many from the ivy leagues but strangely nothing from MIT or CalTech.

  30. BenB says:

    Greg, what are your thoughts on creativity? Also, given that it’s almost certain there are ethnic differences in creativity, do you find it plausible that AJs are more creative per capita than Whites (see below)?

    It seems that Eysenck’s views on creativity being related to a predisposition to psychosis (schizophrenia, bipolar) has been vindicated.

    Click to access Giftedness-and-Genius-Crucial-Differences-1996-by-Arthur-Robert-Jensen.pdf

    There was a large Swedish study in 2011 that showed siblings of schizophrenics and bipolar people were more likely to be in creative professions, and there was a 2015 paper reporting that higher polygenic risk scores for those disorders was associated with increased creativity.

    Eysenck tried to capture the predisposition toward psychosis with his trait psychoticism construct. Feynman always struck me as a good example of a psychotic. He came off as pretty “aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, impulsive, antisocial, unempathic, tough-minded, and creative” (the personality construct definition of psychoticism) minus the antisocial part.

    An interesting thing is that Ashkenazi Jews suffer more from psychotic disorders than do Whites. Einstein’s son was schizophrenic (suggesting a genetic predisposition). Robert Trivers is bipolar. Pretty sure Freud was plain crazy. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples.

    • Anonymous says:

      Another interesting thing to consider is how this relates to the low average creativity of East Asians. Are East Asians less psychotic than Whites? I tried to look into this and can’t seem to find anything on the rates of schizophrenia and bipolar in East Asia other than that they have apparently the lowest rates of mental health disorders in the world.

      The other traits associated with creativity are things like self-confidence, independence and nonconformity. All things Feynman had plenty of. And things that East Asians tend to be lower than Whites on.

    • Rosenmop says:

      Among white people, there seems to be a connection between alcoholism and writers and poets.

      • Frau Katze says:

        There are a lot of articles on it. Many saying that alcohol does not make you more creative. But of course the correct question is that do great writers also inherit a tendency to addiction,

      • BenB says:

        Adding to it, the finding has been replicated for university scientists now:


        The association has been found mostly within White populations as far as these large reliable studies are concerned. We know that AJs have higher rates of psychotic disorders per capita than do Whites, the only question is whether that means anything for their creativity. For Greg, the interesting question might be: was there selection for increased creativity among AJs and does this explain the increased psychotic disorders akin to the selection for IQ increasing some neurological disorders.

        Another interesting question concerns the East Asians. I’ve been unable to find anything on specific rates of schizophrenia and bipolar among East Asians but several online sources are reporting greater mental health in those terms among East Asians.

        We might finally be able to answer the riddle of East Asian under-performance. At least some of the variance in performance differences might be that they’re less prone to psychosis related creativity. Conformity is typically assumed to be another source of the variance but Jensen highlights that nonconformity might actually be related to trait psychoticism.

        All of this seems to be consistent with experience and stereotypes, anyway. East Asians always seemed to be the most mentally stable group from my interactions with them, I’ve never known a loose cannon East Asian. I’ve personally known some really unstable Jews though.

        • dux.ie says:

          Creativity is hard to quantify. So let say it can be proxy by Edu Attainment (EA), Cog Proces (CP), Math Ability (MA) or Higher Math (HM), all from Lee’s EA3 GWAS dataset, of all the more than 9.5K markers in EA3 dataset there is only ONE common marker with those for Schizo, i.e. rs6704768 but with the opposite allele (G for EA3 and A for Schizo). That aggrees with the Danish study.

          Marker | SchizoAllele | EAallele | BetaEA | PvalEA | BetaCP | PvalCP | BetaMA | PvalMA | BetaHM | PvalHM
          rs6704768 | A | G | 0.01165 | 1.84e-16 | 0.00493 | 0.0868 | 0.01805 | 2.08e-21 | 0.02374 | 4.97e-29

          If HM is equiv to IQ then rs6704768G might on average at the pop level contributes delta IQ 2.4 points. rs6704768A appears in many Schizo GWAS studies, e.g. https://markerdb.ca/sequence_variants/14392
          So low Schizo might be good for EA. May be creativity is different.


          Interestingly Ashkenazis seem to have quite high freq of rs6704768A, gnomADg:asj G: 0.379 (110) A: 0.621 (180)
          The SouthAsians seem to have higher than that: SAS G: 0.279 (273) A: 0.721 (705)
          while the Japanese seems to have the lowest freq: JPT G: 0.649 (135) A: 0.351 (73)

          In contrast EA and Anxiety share many common GWAS markers, some +ve correlated and some the reverse. That might explain my very much earlier assertions from the PISA results that showed a pitch fork relationships between anxiety and academic attainment.

  31. Frau Katze says:

    There are a lot of articles on it. Many saying that alcohol does not make you more creative. But of course the correct question is that do great writers also inherit a tendency to addiction,

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