November 27, 2005

Quote of the Day

Now there was a time when we believed that what a human mind could accomplish was determined by genetic factors. Piffle, of course, but it looked convincing for many years, because distinctions between tribes were so evident. Now we understand that itís all cultural. That, after all, is what a culture is Ė a group of people who share in common certain acquired traits.

Information technology has freed cultures from the necessity of owning particular bits of land in order to propagate; now we can live anywhere. Ö

Some cultures are prosperous; some are not. Some value rational discourse and the scientific method; some do not. Some encourage freedom of expression, and some discourage it. The only thing they have in common is that if they do not propagate, they will be swallowed up by others. All they have built will be torn down; all they have accomplished will be forgotten; all they have learned and written will be scattered to the wind. In the old days it was easy to remember this because of the constant necessity of border defense. Nowadays, it is all too easily forgotten.

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age, or A Young Ladyís Illustrated Primer

Posted by Lexington Green at November 27, 2005 12:36 AM

Excellent, excellent book. I need to read it again.

I want a bumber sticker: Don't be Ozymandias.

Posted by: Brock at November 27, 2005 09:56 AM

Data's still coming in on the genetic question. Two articles in a recent issue of Science point to genetically-driven differences in brain size across human populations. The story got some play in the New York Times.

Here's a low-tech summary....

As Charles Murray often notes, it's mostly immaterial whether differences in human populations are driven by genetics or culture--both are tough to change, in practice.

And who knows---genetic differences (if they exist) may turn out to be easier to change than cultural ones. We may be only a few (hundred) laboratory breakthroughs away from pulling hundreds of millions of people up to the better regions of the Bell Curve. Here's hoping....

Posted by: Garett at November 27, 2005 06:27 PM

I bet that some pundits will dredge up the old excuse that since culture is genetics; it's impossible to change than they're hopelessly stuck. I don't buy it
That culture are hard to change shouldn't come as a surprise- Burke reflected a lot on the subject. The challenge is how do we encourage change without the fear. Some culture resist change or pick and chose what suits them and reject the rest. What we need to study is why and can that resistence can still be positive.
I'm more leery about tampering with genetics in a lab, I prefer the old fashioned way myself :)


Posted by: xavier at November 27, 2005 08:55 PM

The problem I fear with genetic engineering of IQ and behavioral traits is that various totalitarians might choose to drive the bulk of their populations down the bell curve, to make them more docile and easily indoctrinated. Or somebody will try to make the New Communist Man by breeding out individuality.

After all, Stalin liked Lysenko precisely because his theory sugested that such could be done by manipulating the external environment in ways that were accessible at that time.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at November 27, 2005 09:13 PM

I have my own pet theory. While two people of high IQ will generally produce offspring of high IQ, and its inverse; I believe genius, that is way above average IQ is an emergent phenomenom and occurse everywhere.
It makes sense as a biological defense factor. Since external stresses can affect group IQs (lowering them or raising them), emergent geni would serve to come and 'save' the group.
Another reason I think they are emergent is (and all this is anecdotal) that geniuses of often self-important jerks and not always likely to reproduce; yet geni still occur.

Posted by: ElamBend at November 28, 2005 06:52 AM

I suspecct "genius" isn't a step on the scale of IQ, but rather the existence of a substantial difference in outlook that allows a difference of perspective. Whether this comes from genetic programming of the brain's hard-wiring, early programming, or some other environmental factor, I don't know. Maybe all three are factors.

Most geniuses were "wierd kids" when they were growing up.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at November 28, 2005 02:27 PM

When I say genius I don't have a particular IQ in mind, rather I picture a particular kind of person who is highly productive and clever; for instance, Dean Kaman, the inventor Segway and so many other, more important things.
It's not just his inteligence, but his weird drive that has lead to so many new things.

Posted by: ElamBend at November 28, 2005 07:52 PM

big thank

Posted by: cream lightening skin at September 19, 2006 07:38 PM
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