Monday, July 31, 2017

Evolutionary biology:  Three theories

Evolutionary biology is an inherently speculative field and new fossil finds seem regularly to upset such theories. So I am going to concentrate on theories for which we have some solid data -- in the form of IQ scores.  I am going to look at just 3 populations for which average IQ has now been fairly securely assessed: East Asians, Europeans and Australian Aborigines. Why do the scores decline so markedly across those three groups? I think the main key is warfare or the lack of it.

Europeans are an interesting example of balance.  They have had frequent and ferocious wars with one-another but have also had substantial periods of peace. And they seem to have benefited from both.  Wars are often won by guile rather than by numbers  but that is never easy and requires ever-changing tactics.  So a general problem solving ability was selected for.  Europeans developed their IQs to help them win their many wars. A smarter tribe tended to win and therefore prosper, with more children being born for that tribe.

But the periods of peace were long enough for the pursuits of peace to thrive from time to time also.  And one of the most interesting peaceful pursuit is enquiry, scholarship, finding things out.  And because of that scholarship tends to be highly regarded.  Even in ancient Sumeria there is a record of a father bringing a fleece to give to a teacher. Which is something of an advance on an apple but we can see the same motive and the same respect.

So scholarly people tended to be well supported and hence were an economically successful group.  Sadly, many of the European scholars were celibate monks so the effect was probably much less than it might have been. The monks did however help to make scholarship prestigious so that was a useful function.

An interesting special case is the Germans.  For most of history, there was no German nation.  Germany was a geographical concept only.  It was a place where many large and small independent nations lived who all spoke a form of German.  And, ever since the Roman republic and probably before, Germans have always been warlike. And they as often made war on one-another as they did on others.  So they were heavily selected for martial ability.  Only good warriors survived.  And that selectivity did result not only in a healthy IQ but also in other advantageous attributes.  Their average IQ did not become outstanding compared with their neighbors because it was supplemented by other advantages, one of which is extreme: innovativeness.

It was probably the desirability of military flexibility that made Germans into master innovators, something I have written at length about previously. Leftist psychologists go to great lengths to isolate important intellectual abilities that are not captured by IQ tests but their suggested alternatives mostly reduce to absurdity.  So it is amusing that one of the few genuine alternatives is innovativeness.  That Germans are the masters in that attribute must grind a few gears, however.

Hollywood war movies portray German troops as rigid and robotic bunglers so my characterization of them as flexible will no doubt be a surprise to non-historians.  In fact however, flexibility in tactics was preached in Vom Kriege,  that great Prussian bible of military doctrine by Clausewitz, written early in the 19th century.  The big bunglers of WWII were allied troops.

Particularly in the case of the Prussians (North-Eastern Germans), their martial tendencies were channeled in another direction as well:  into a military personality, with self-discipline being a major part of that. For instance, punctuality requires self discipline and Germans are famous for that.

Speaking more generally, it once used to be said that you just had to drop any German into a military uniform and he immediately became the perfect soldier.  And the exploits of the Wehrmacht in WWII were amazing.  Although heavily outnumbered they very nearly won, despite the large handicap of Corporal Hitler's overall inept leadership.

Just to give you the flavor of that, the British air ace with the highest number of enemy aircraft shot down was "Johnnie" Johnson, with 38 "kills". By comparison, Erich Hartmann of the Luftwaffe had 352 "kills". A similar ratio was not unknown in WWII tank battles.

But Germany did have periods of peace so the arts of peace thrived there as well.  It might be noted that the contributions to the arts made by Germans as a group were however very unevenly distributed, with Austria being by far the greatest contributor -- particularly in music -- and Prussia the least. To this day, about two thirds of the classical repertoire in music was composed in Austria (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert etc.).

So what is distinctive about Austria?  It was a large empire that got big not by war but by intermarriage of its royal family with other royal families.  They did have wars -- particularly with invading Prussians -- but life in the empire was mostly peaceful.  So "useless" but beguiling things like music and literature could thrive.

And up to WWII, Vienna, the capital of Austria, was THE great city.  It was the intellectual capital of the world.  Most of the eminent philosophers (e.g. Schlick, Wittgenstein), psychologists (e.g. Freud, Jung), Economists (e.g. Boehm von Bawerk, Mises) and artists (e.g. Klimt, Klee) were there. And Vienna was also prominent in new music. It was the home of a great new musical artform, the operetta -- with operettas by composers such as Strauss and Kalman generating many perennially popular songs.  Dutch musical entrepreneur Andre Rieu is a great user of songs from operetta.


Compared with Europe, China had long periods of peace under the various dynasties.  So peaceful pursuits could flourish.  And one of those pursuits was scholarship, a much respected pursuit. So China developed its famous civil service examinations, which gave you access to the Chinese elite.  You reached the top in China not by the sword but by the ink brush. And that made scholarship universally respected and aspired to.

And a major factor in scholarly achievement is IQ. So it was the high IQ section of the Chinese population who got all the gravy. They flourished economically and thus tended to have more children.  So IQ was heavily selected for in China over many generations. And so we have the finding today that the Chinese are roughly half a standard deviation higher in average IQ than are Westerners.

And Chinese civilization was much admired in Korea and Japan.  Confucian thinking was adopted there. Chinese bureaucracy, culture, religion, and philosophy were closely studied.  Japan had a particular advantage there.  The Tokugawa shogunate gave Japan over 200 years of peace, an unprecedented achievement. So peaceful pursuits were of particular interest there as well. The Chinese model was largely adopted, with similar results.  So China, South Korea and Japan are closely similar in IQ.

Which leads to an interesting contrast:  Other East Asians, such as the Chinese and Vietnamese do quite poorly on average IQ.  How come?  They all look the same to us!  The Philippines is an easy answer. They are separated from China by rather a lot of ocean.  China did have some influence but the Filipinos mostly went on with their own ways.

And for Vietnam, the problem was the neighborhood bully:  China.  Vietnam was a minor issue in China but China was a big issue in Vietnam.  Little Vietnam kept being invaded from next-door China.  And because China could muster far more troops than Vietnam, Vietnamese had to develop as warriors if they wanted to keep China at bay. And they did.  Like Germans, the Vietnamese became a warrior race -- as both France and the USA found out in the 20th century.  So there was much less scope for peaceful pursuits in Vietnam. Keeping out foreigners became the Vietnamese specialty. And they are still good at that.


And so on to Australian Aborigines, who register one of the lowest average IQs that have been found.  And their unusual situation was very clear: isolation. They had virtually no contact with the outside world for as much as 60,000 years. So they developed with reference to the Australian environment only. And Australia as it was before white settlement tended to be an unforgiving place.  It was hard to make a living there.  For a primitive people the food supply was always precarious.  So the environment was the big challenge and the big shaping influence.  And shape them it did.

Aborigines are not inferior to others intellectually.  They have just deveoloped different intellectual skills.  The skills they have are a very poor at dealing with IQ tests or modern life generally but are superbly adapted to their lives before the white men came along.  Each tribe usually had a fairly wide geographic range that they wandered over.  They had to.  They were hunter/gatherers, not farmers.  So food was scarce everywhere, particularly in the large dry areas of Australia.  So detecting from afar and creeping up on juicy herbivores was the big requirement for life.

So Aborigines developed a quite eerie ability to "read" and remember the landscape. If a few leaves on the ground had moved in the last day or two, an Aborigine would notice that as a message that there was an animal nearby.  He could probably even say which sort of animal. You have to see it to believe it.  They just have enormous visual abilities and a vast visual memory.

That extraordinary skill was in fact very useful to the white man in earlier days. It was useful in tracking down fugitives and criminals.  So the phenomenon of the "black tracker" arose.  Aborigines were hired by police to find people who would otherwise be unfindable.  An evildoer might think that he had made good his escape and he would be right in thinking that -- UNTIL the police put a black tracker on his trail.  The black tracker would see a clear trail that was invisible to whites.  Just a slightly turned leaf would be enough. So crooks who thought they were safe were often surprised to find police knocking on their door.

I could go on.  The way the environment often underlies human differences is fascinating.  I will forbear from mentioning Africans however.


Another set of findings showing that IQ scores are firmly grounded in DNA

Note that a particular DNA profile correlated .78 with educational attainment and .86 with IQ. That is about as high as you get in explaining human variation

A genome-wide association study for extremely high intelligence

D Zabaneh et al.


We used a case–control genome-wide association (GWA) design with cases consisting of 1238 individuals from the top 0.0003 (~170 mean IQ) of the population distribution of intelligence and 8172 unselected population-based controls. The single-nucleotide polymorphism heritability for the extreme IQ trait was 0.33 (0.02), which is the highest so far for a cognitive phenotype, and significant genome-wide genetic correlations of 0.78 were observed with educational attainment and 0.86 with population IQ. Three variants in locus ADAM12 achieved genome-wide significance, although they did not replicate with published GWA analyses of normal-range IQ or educational attainment. A genome-wide polygenic score constructed from the GWA results accounted for 1.6% of the variance of intelligence in the normal range in an unselected sample of 3414 individuals, which is comparable to the variance explained by GWA studies of intelligence with substantially larger sample sizes. The gene family plexins, members of which are mutated in several monogenic neurodevelopmental disorders, was significantly enriched for associations with high IQ. This study shows the utility of extreme trait selection for genetic study of intelligence and suggests that extremely high intelligence is continuous genetically with normal-range intelligence in the population.

Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication 4 July 2017; doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.121


A real man holds his own umbrella

Donald Trump speaks with reporters on Friday


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Anonymous said...

re - Article on I.Q.

Looks to me by their behavior that Germans had their I.Q. scrubbed to near zero last century.

And don't get me started on their obsession with windmills.

David Drake said...

Love the compare/contrast of photos of "real men hold their own umbrellas." Nice touch!