Friday, February 02, 2007

genes, IQ and stuff

Whenever I discuss IQ with Tracy she says something like, "of course some people are brighter than others, but what's the point of measuring it? Why tell people that they're superior?" Well, here's why. Being able to determine a persons intelligence or other attributes should work to the advantage of the stupidest and laziest. Imagine in the future it will be possible to directly test for intelligence, laziness or susceptibility to alcoholism via a brain scan or something (and to predict the probability of your future child suffering from them). Parents could then insure their kids against stupidity. I'm not talking about the kind of stupidity and laziness that I suffer from, I mean the more serious kind. This blog post suggests that homeless people in America often have an extreme lack of conscientiousness rather than victims of gross injustice.

This insurance would only work if these qualities have a large genetic part otherwise it would be too easy to game the system. So if genes are very important it is easier for the unlucky people to cash in.

There are other ways it is better. It's nice to be tall, beautiful and clever, but being tall is not an achievement and is nothing to be proud of. The same thing goes for intelligence, it's just luck. We all figure out pretty quickly who's good at what at school and by overemphasizing the role of hard work in success we encourage talented people to feel morally superior in a way they're not.

The nurture side encourages us to look for bad parents or lazy students where there aren't any. Sometimes there isn't anybody to blame.

Also, making it more expensive for parents to insure high risk kids would be like a non-coercive eugenics as people on the margin chose not to have those kids. This could have big long term effects by (slightly) counteracting the evolutionary effects of people with genetic defects (things like poor eyesight) being able successfully reproduce for the first time ever.


cristi said...

hahaha, i would love to measure your laziness against an american homeless person's. then we can discuss whether your laziness falls under the serious kind. luckily for you, your intelligence counteracts most of the effects of your laziness.

Tracy Leigh said...

Firstly, I must correct you, I never said anything about anybody being "superior" because of intelligence. Being more talented at a particular thing does not make you superior to another human being. It simply means you are more naturally talented at that particular skill.

And another thing that worries me about all this talk of intelligence, is that intelligence is not simply a measurement of one or two characteristics, e.g. maths talent. A person has a whole suite of talents and intelligences that hopefully allows him/her to fit into a niche.

Nevertheless, I get your point that some people are more unlucky than others in the gene pool and therefore might suffer more in our society. But unluckiness can take many, many forms, like bad parents, death of parents, poverty, disease, etc. Shouldn't all unlucky people be compensated for?

Perhaps intelligence is only a major factor as one approaches the extremes. Otherwise, I believe that hard work and a good attitude are the key to success for the most of us.

There's no cure for laziness of course. If you born lazy then I suppose getting a "good attitude" is near impossible.

p.s. Seems to me that most people rather downplay their hard work, feeling more morally superior by implying that they were simply born extremely gifted. It seems we have a streek to prove that we have a royal blood line that intrinsically "elevates" us above the rest.

Andrea said...

Stu! Hi! Are you back yet? Cool post man-found it pretty funny. Don't really know what that says about my intelligence, but hey! Check you soon.

cristi said...

laziness is definitely reversible. I'm a prime example. stuart can vouch for me. I was the laziest person i knew when i was at school. but you would never guess that if you studied with me last year. getting over one's lazy tendencies is part of growing up.

stuart said...

Of course people have many different talents so there is a limit to how useful talk of general intelligence is, but there is a correlation between IQ and income, and I bet the odds of a good income for people with an IQ below 90 are very small.

I agree about hard work an attitude, but my claim is that these things may be genetic.

People may downplay their hard work and enjoy thinking about their superiority; I think culture should emphasize the luckiness of this rather than attempt to deny the differences.

There are plenty of ways to be unlucky. Genetic bad luck is easier to compensate than many other forms because you cant get more money by changing your behavior; we all have “issues” from childhood that could explain why things didn’t work out how we wanted, doesn’t mean we should get money for that.

Your kind of laziness may be reversible (and mine might be too), but that doesn’t mean everybody’s is. In fact that’s the view this post was intended to counter.