March 21, 2013

It’s tough because there are a lot of genes involved. Earwax texture is determined by only one gene, eye color by a dozen or so, and height by hundreds. Each one of those hundreds contributes a teeny bit to shaping the trait, but the most powerful one we know affects no more than three or four millimeters of height. Intelligence is probably like this, but more so: The more genes involved, the less effect per gene.

If you are either kind of creationist, or if your specialty is some pseudoscience such as economics”€”James Heckman gets unhorsed by Steve at 1h27m32s”€”you will scoff at all this. (For pity’s sake, don’t send me creationist email, I beg you.) But if you respect empirical inquiry and don’t mind a bit of math, this genes ‘n’ smarts project is worth your attention.

And even if you’re not interested in it, it’s interested in you”€”and in your kids, your grandkids, and your civilization. Answering a question at 1h19m35s, Steve goes into the Idiocracy zone.

And now modern life has probably flipped the sign, so…everybody can reproduce now, and the smartest people seem to have the most trouble. I’m 46 and I have 7-year-old kids, and I only have two….Anybody, if they wanted to, could have five kids nowadays….

Thence (1h20m15s) to what I am going to christen Neo-Social Darwinism, AKA “survival of the richest”:

In economic history there’s good data on wills and family records in China, medieval Germany and medieval England. You can see that in those days economic success was incredibly correlated with reproductive success…so there was very strong selective pressure even in recent history. But that’s all gone now.

Ron Unz turned his plow into this field over at The American Conservative a few days ago. Ron’s piece is titled “How Social Darwinism Made Modern China: A thousand years of meritocracy shaped the Middle Kingdom.” Well, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t (I had things to say in a follow-up piece); just be sure you’ll be seeing a lot more on these themes over the next few years. As a primer in the underlying science, an hour and a half with Steve Hsu will be time well spent.


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