Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is Intelligence Good?

Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, is at least 50% heritable and positively correlated with better socioeconomic outcomes in education, income, health, and crime. It may seem obvious that you want your kids to be smarter. Satoshi Kanazawa makes an intriguing point in his book The Intelligence Paradox that it is not so simple:

Yes, intelligent people make better physicians, astronauts, better scientists, and better violinists, because all these pursuits are evolutionarily novel.

But these are all the unimportant things in life...They do not make better friends, they do not make better spouses and partners, and they do not make better parents, precisely because these are things our ancestors have done for hundreds of thousands of years on the African savanna.

His basic idea, hotly disputed by other evolutionary psychologists, is that intelligence applies to novel human activities, so simple but very meaningful and important tasks like friendship, social exchange, mating, and parenting are at best orthogonal to such intelligence. He argues that more intelligent people reject the simplistic solutions offered by common sense as applied to these time-tested arenas even though it is usually the correct solution. Intelligent people are tempted to apply analytic reasoning instead of feelings, unnecessarily complex ideas simply because their intelligence allows them to entertain such complex ideas. "Clever sillies" as Bruce Charlton called them.

He notes that more highly intelligent people have no kids at all, surely an evolutionary dead end. He cites a study of a bunch of gifted kids who had IQs higher than 155, and years later found they were clearly more successful as adults in scientific and academic achievement, but were less successful in parenting and marriage. Idiocracy seems to have been one of the more prescient movies every made.

He makes the point with this exchange between talk show host Larry King and Stephen Hawking:

Larry King: What, Professor, puzzles you the most? What do you think about the most?
Stephen Hawking: Women
Larry King: Welcome aboard.

The book is a nice, quick read filled with fun tid-bits like the fact that the frequency of excercise is significantly positively associated with general intelligence, a fact that I will use in Calvinist fashion to motivate me (ie, I must work out because I am more intelligent!).


Anonymous said...

To prevent the future displayed in IDIOCRACY one needs to stop assortative mating and return to arranged marriages.

Dan Kurt

Greg Linster said...

Thanks for sharing -- this sounds like an intriguing book. Why is it, though, that more highly intelligent people have no kids at all? The explanation in the interview with the intelligent couple at the beginning of "Idiocracy" makes sense on one level, but I would think that many highly intelligent couples would want to procreate to make the world a better (or at least more intelligent) place too.

Pat Burns said...

One intelligent reason to have fewer children currently is because humans are already several times over-subscribed to the planet.

But probably the answer to why is because more intelligent people think of other things to do with their time.

sykes.1 said...

Good and bad are the wrong categories for judging intelligence. Any discussion of intelligence has to be done in a Darwinian context. The mere fact that intelligence is largely hereditary indicates that there must some reproductive benefit to it. However, since highly intelligent people fail to reproduce (A couple must have 3 or more children to guarantee the germ line.), there is a severe anti-reproductive impediment to high intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Evolution works slowly and the factors behind the Flynn Effect work at amazing speeds. So for the time being and quite a while into the future I think that even if the right tail of the intelligence distribution removed itself completely from the mating pool, we'd still see a sustained and substantial increase in average intelligence.

Mat Stroller said...


"The mere fact that intelligence is largely hereditary indicates that there must some reproductive benefit to it."

This is exactly backwards. If IQ were to give a significant fitness increase that is stable through generations, its variance would have been long exhausted.

JWO said...

Makes Bryan Caplan's book "Selfish reasons to have more Kids" all the more important.

Anonymous said...

"I would think that many highly intelligent couples would want to procreate to make the world a better (or at least more intelligent) place too."

Simple economics. Typically the full cost of chilbearing is borne by "highly intelligent" couples, whereas the cost is socialized for those of other cohorts, via various government transfer schemes. High cost == low consumption, and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

If intelligence is measured primarily by the IQ test you have limited your pool of potential intelligence. Having worked with these scientists and intellectuals it was often the case of being extremely book smart but what clearly was missing was common sense. Which I feel the truly intelligent possess! Evolution takes care of the stupid over time.

Anonymous said...

It's possible that more people intelligent realize that child rearing isn't as satisfying as other endeavors and is mainly a distraction. More intelligent people are also less likely to need children to flesh out their identity.

Most science types are men and are not being chosen as mates by the most desirable women. Their deficiencies in social/emotional/empathy areas make them unpalatable mates so have very limited choices.

Anonymous said...

Kanazawa is basically just full of shit. He tries to portray it as people attacking him to silence his politically incorrect views, but really people attack him since he is full of shit.

Gelman in particular has demolished his research pretty thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing particularly 'good' about the evolutionary process. It has produced both roaches and humans in abundance.

I don't know why so many conservatives ascribe to it a religious or divine significance. Except as a way of proving poor people are bad.

Stef said...

The least you know, the happier you are. IQ means a lot of thinking, brain work, stress. It's relaxation that puts one in the mood for sex. Intelligence can act as a sexual inhibitor, unless it's an imagination-driven intelligence. People with a rich imagination are more sexually oriented than anyone else.

Also, intelligent people are more likely to know how things really go between a man and a woman in a relationship, about trust and cheating. They are more likely to observe future details on that issue. That means that a relationship between two intelligent people is more likely to fail or become a convention.

Furthermore, I'd say it's for the better that highly intelligent people don't form couples, or, if they do, they don't make too many children. Because I get the feeling it's how nature should work for the sake of the species. It's not ALL about intelligence, but also about good healthy genes. That means the ideal couple should bring together brain power with at least average looks, and beauty with at least average IQ.

One more thing. In my opinion, since the planet is overpopulated anyways, low-IQ people and/or very ugly people should be forbidden to have kids. I know how that sounds, it's anti-human-rights... blah-blah, but let's see what human rights will be left to respect in about 100 / 200 years if we get to 15 / 20 billions and be left out of resources.

Tel said...

I dunno how people reach to ZeroHedge articles round here, and normally I take them with a big grain of salt (worth a skim because he is quick with the news). Anyhow, this quote seems relevant to the survival of intelligent people:

Libertarians, who tend to be more intelligent, better informed and very definitely more independent than average, are going to be in a touchy situation as the crisis deepens. Most aren't going to buy into the groupthink that inevitably accompanies war and other major crises. As such, they'll be seen as unreliable, even traitors. As Bush said, "If you're not with us, you're against us." And, he might have added, "the Constitution be damned." But of course that document is no longer even given lip service; it's now a completely dead letter.

It's very hard for an individualist to keep his mouth shut when he sees these things going on. But he'd better keep quiet, as even HL Mencken wisely did during both world wars. In today's world, just keeping quiet won't be enough; the national security state has an extensive, and growing, file on everybody. They believe they know exactly what your beliefs, desires, fears and associations are, or may be. What we're now facing is likely to be more dangerous than past crises.

As per usual, a touch over the top, but putting comfort zones aside for the moment, mass murder of the ethnic and cultural cleansing variety was not uncommon from a historical perspective. Maybe this has put a ceiling on how far any individual can get ahead of the norm?

California Nationalist said...

these are things our ancestors have done for hundreds of thousands of years on the African savanna.

"African savanna"?!

Speak for yourself.