jep.jpg (13389 bytes)

Chaos Manor Special Reports


Gregory Cochran

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Email Jerry


Chaos Manor Home

View From Chaos Manor

Reader Mail



Special Reports

Book &; Movie Reviews

Picture Gallery


Table of Contents

What's New

The BYTE Fiasco



Gregory Cochran is well known for taking evolution seriously: that is, for questioning how disorders that carry a heavy genetic burden (make having and raising children greatly more difficult) can possibly be "hereditary" in the usual sense. Schizophrenia is one example.

His hypothesis is that absent special reasons for selection for otherwise burdensome tendencies or afflictions, these are more likely to be contagious diseases rather than genetically transmitted.

In the following essay he looks at overclocking the human system and possible consequences. Everyone knows that Ashkenazi have the highest IQ scores on average of any of the breeds of man. There are many reasons postulated for this including "breeding" for smart in the same way that Jersey cattle are bred for milk production.

Might we learn how to get smarter without waiting generations? And can there be undesired side effects?




Gregory Cochran


There is a good chance that an odd cluster of hereditary neurological diseases among the Ashkenazi Jews is a side-effect of strong selection for increased intelligence. The idea is not really new, but the evidence has gotten stronger with time, and I have recently found some intriguing supporting data.. Four of these syndromes - Tay-Sachs, Niemann-Pick, Gaucher's, and mucolipidosis type IV - are recessive lysosomal storage diseases. The first three of these are caused by deficient variants of enzymes that break down sphingolipids, which play a role in neuron membrane structure and also as signaling molecules. Homozygotes, who have no working copy of the breakdown enzymes, become ill. Tay-Sachs and Niemann-Pick cause retardation and death in childhood, but Gaucher's disease is milder and more variable. The form common in Ashkenazi Jews does not cause brain damage, although there can be other problems with the spleen and bones. . Mucolipidosis type IV probably involves a defect in endocytosis. It causes retardation and death in early life.

Canavan disease is caused by mutations in the aspartoacylase gene. It is the only known genetic disorder caused by a defect in the metabolism of a small metabolite, N-acetyl-L-aspartic acid, synthesized exclusively in the brain in a cell-specific manner. It too is fatal in early life.

Familial dysautonomia is a recessive disease that results in abnormalities of the sensory and autonomic nervous systems. It does not cause retardation, but greatly shortens life.

Torsion dystonia is caused by a dominant gene with low penetrance.. The symptoms involve inappropriate contractions of muscles. In a mild case, that might mean a tendency to writer's cramp: in a severe case, it means uncontrollable contractions that leave your limbs twisted and useless. About 30% of the individuals with this gene have some noticeable symptoms, about 10% have very serious symptoms that can leave them in a wheel chair. The problem is not in the muscles, but in areas of the brain that control muscles. Torsion dystonia does not cause retardation... not hardly.

Each of these hereditary neurological diseases is more common among the Ashkenazi than in any other group, and in several of these syndromes, the great majority of all cases are found among the Ashkenazi, who make up less than 0.2% of the human race. ~4% of the Ashkenazi are carriers for Tay-Sachs, about 1% are carriers for Niemann-Pick, ~5% carry a Gaucher mutation, ~1% carry a mutation for mucolipidosis type IV, ~2% carry a Canavan mutation, ~3% carry the familial dysautonomia gene, and about 0.03% have the dominant torsion dystonia mutation. Altogether about 16% of Ashkenazi Jews carry one of these mutations.

Rare genetic diseases can become common in a group by chance, especially if that group does not mix much with others and if it has recently expanded from a small founding population.. Both of those conditions existed among the Ashkenazi, but that explanation probably does not work in this case, because for most of these diseases, more than one mutation of the same gene has become common in this population. That is the case for Tay-Sachs, Niemann-Pick, Gaucher's disease, mucolipidosis type IV, and Canavan disease. Only torsion dystonia and familial dysautonomia are caused by lone mutations. It would be incredibly unlikely for chance to greatly elevate the frequency of two or more mutations of the same gene. It would be even less likely to do this repeatedly in genes involved in closely related metabolic pathways. So somehow, natural selection, rather than chance, must have favored these mutations. If mutations that affect a particular organ or function give a reproductive edge in some environment, they can become common, even if they cause disease in double dose. The most famous example of this is the sickle cell mutation, which gives heterozygotes good protection against falciparum malaria and causes very serious problems in homozygotes. We know of a number of other malaria-protective mutations besides sickle-cell affecting red cells; Hemoglobin C, Hemoglobin E, G6PD deficiency, alpha- and beta- thalassemia, and Melanesian ovalocytosis. The malaria resistance mutations involve multiple common mutations of the same gene, and multiple mutations of closely related genes that affect the same physiological system - in this case the red cell. Among the Ashkenazi we find the same pattern, only the system affected is the central nervous system. Jared Diamond and others have suggested that these Ashkenazi hereditary neurological diseases might have given protection against tuberculosis, but this seems unlikely. These mutations are not common in other adjacent ethnic groups, and they modify molecules whose primary function is in the central nervous system. In some cases, such as Canavan disease, they are only found in the brain.

So a change in brain function, as the source of the fitness advantage in heterozygotes carrying these mutations, is the way to bet. That notion is not just based on this genetic and biochemical evidence: we start out already knowing that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher average IQ than any other group, something like 110-115. What, other than natural selection, could cause this? We also know that for a long time they lived under very unusual conditions, conditions very favorable to this kind of evolutionary change. They had a very different job mix from their neighbors: none of them were farmers ('Scribe, banker, jeweler, shopkeeper'), and they almost never intermarried.

Some new evidence - new to me, anyhow - strengthens the case. It turns out that GM2-ganglioside, which accumulates in Tay-Sachs and Niemann-Pick patients, is a signal for dendrite growth. In homozygotes it causes inappropriate dendrite growth neurons. In heterozygotes, GM2-ganglioside levels would only be slightly elevated and might favor moderately increased dendrite growth - which might increase IQ. The build-up product in Gaucher's disease seems to caused increased axonal growth.

The story in torsion dystonia is more obvious Unlike most genetic diseases, it is dominant. You only need one copy of the mutant gene to have problems. That also means that any benefit must be large. When a recessive mutation is rare, there are many more carriers than homozygotes, and even a small advantage among heterozygotes can balance serious bad effects in the rare homozygtes. A dominant has to give a hefty advantage, even more so if it has any costs, which the torsion dystonia gene surely does. So if torsion dystonia is part of this Ashkenazi pattern of hereditary neurological disease and pays off in IQ, it must make a big difference, and that difference will probably show up in patients. ( Note that in diseases like Tay-Sachs, nobody even studies carriers. Doctors are not geneticists.) Apparently it does. I found several reports of materially increased IQ among Ashkenazi torsion dystonia patients. . The difference is apparently so striking that it is mentioned in the very first scientific article on the disease, by Flatau back in 1911. Many other physicians made the same observation. And if you think that plenty that being crippled makes you smarter, think again: nobody every said that about polio victims. Roswell Eldridge, in a small group of patients, found that the average IQ was 122, 10 points higher than their controls matched for age, sex, ethnic background, and school. . The same mutation has been seen elsewhere, but is very rare. In this group the payoff outweighed the trouble, while in every other human group it did not. We have found the gene (in 1997), which codes for an ATP-binding protein, but as yet I don't believe that we know exactly how it causes trouble or what it does normally. But I'll hazard a guess: the change accelerates some brain system tied to cognitive functioning - nearly redlines it, leaves it vulnerable to common insults in a way that can cause spectacular trouble. You might compare to overclocking a chip. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't.

More generally, if this is what I think it is, all these Ashkenazi neurological diseases are hints of ways in which one could supercharge intelligence. One, by increasing dendrite growth: two, by fooling with myelin: three, something else, whatever is happening in torsion dystonia. In some cases the difference is probably an aspect of development, not something you can turn on and off. In other cases, the effect might exist when the chemical influence is acting and disappear when the influence does. In either case, it seems likely that we could - if we wanted to - developed pharmaceutical agents that had similar effects. The first kind, those affecting development, would be something that might have to be administered early in life, maybe before birth. while the second kind would be 'smart pills' that one could pop as desired or as needed. Of course, we have to hope that we can find ways of improving safety. Would you take a pill that increased your IQ by 10 or 15 points that also had a 10% chance of putting you in a wheel chair?

Gregory Cochran

I sent this reply to Greg Cochran: "I have posted this; I confess I don’t know what to say. I find it fascinating. And compelling."

His comment:

Well, if I were a science fiction writer, I'd wonder where an application of this would lead. I can think of a number of possibilities - for some of them, the book or short story has already been written.

Let us assume that we really could make drugs that increased intelligence. I'm pretty sure it's actuallly possible, and the approach that makes it easy is looking to see what the results of natural selection for increased intelligence are, rather than trying to understand everything about human bioneurochemistry from the ground up. We didn't need to know everything about the biochemistry of lactation to get Jersey cows - indeed we didn't know anything.


A. The drugs could be too expensive for universal use.

A1. I doubt if they would be in the millionaire-only club - I don't think any other drug is, really, not if there are a lot of customers to spread the fixed costs over.

A2. But it would be easy for them to be too expensive for general use in non-first-world countries. Them that has, gets. Even if too expensive for general use in a poor country, the kakistocrats could probably afford them, making revolution harder. Dictators would, as a perk, get smarts as well as power. The gap between us and , say, Guinea Bissau would become awesome.

A3. There might be a medium-sized but significant time lapse between elite use and general use. Would our government disintegrate in the interim?.

A4. A cabal keeps the drugs secret and strives for world domination. Sounds like fun. See E.

B. There might be side effects.

B1. You die after a while. _Flowers for Algernon_.

B2. You are physically messed up but don't die, something like the kids with torsion dystonia. I doubt this though, because these mutations are very recent and have not been refined by natural selection. And most people with that torsion dystonia mutation never get sick. Since that is the case, it is probably easy to improve them, reduce side effects, etc. They are non-optimized and so can be optimized. If nothing else, take a break now and then from the drugs. Carriers can't do that. Hmm.. if there is a risk of physical problems, would people use them anyhow? Most would-be Olympians would take a drug that killed them in five years if it gave them a gold medal: are wannabe Nobelists that tough? Would we use it in a desperate situation, a war? Should we _force_ it on our researchers, for the greater good?

B3. The drugs change your personality in interesting and/or undesirable ways. This side effect too could probably be ameliorated, but it might be tricky.

C. They only work if taken in early life.. Then us geezers might be pushed aside by the rising generation in a new and spectacular way. In fact, the country might not even be run by middle-aged people at all.

C1. They work some, not as well, if you start late.

D. They increase intelligence a _lot_. Might be possible: if we're talking the Ashkenazi mutations, hardly anyone has more than one, just about nobody more than two. One in two thousand Ashkenazi, at most, carry a Tay-Sachs mutation and a Gaucher mutation, the two most common. But using drugs, we could in principle give you the torsion dystonia effect _and_ the Gaucher-carrier effect _and_ the Tay-Sachs - carrier effect _and the Canavan-carrier effect. _ and the familial dysautonomia carrier effect. As a rough guess, might give you considerably more than 20 pts - torsion dystonia gives about ten all by itself.

D1. Add even one standard deviation and society is transformed. Somehow I think that Poul Anderson''s _Brainwave_ missed the point.

D2. Real smart people become so much smarter as to be un-understandable by usuns. This is a lot like Vinge's Singularity, or his old short story _Bookworm, Run !_ .

D2a. They stop having children altogether. if you extrapolate, that is certainly the trend, at least among women. The higher the IQ, the lower the fertility.

D2b. The incomprehensibly smart all convert to Catholicism. Or to something else. To them it is obvious.

D2c. The incomprehensibly smart figure out ways to get even smarter. This story can't be told.

D3. We run similar genetic analysis on famously smart people, looking for strong IQ genes. Before we're done we dig up Newton, Gauss, Clerk Maxwell, and steal Einstein's brain

D4. We test it on chimps and overshoot. That could be bad.

E. The government bans it - the powers that be want to stay the powers that be. It'll only work if the powers that be have their own trump - say, real machine intelligence, or maybe people souped-up with a computer connection, as in _Starswarm_. Or, hydrogen bombs, coupled with a world technological inquisiton, especially biotechnology. See Niven's ARM stories, Poul Anderson's _Shield_, your CoDominium, Vinge's _The Peace War_. .

E1. Some countries ban it, while other countries, or other sub-national groups, try it. _Beyond This Horizon_, many others.

E2. Groups that currently have such genetic advantages wish to keep their edge and support the ban. Up to now, people could kill or oppress you but they couldn't _be_ you, couldn't steal your essence. That was then.

E3. The government bans it for everyone other than themselves, for good national-security reasons. We wouldn't want super-smart terrorists, would we? Shortly thereafter, hereditary rule is imposed. it now works because regression to the mean doesn't make the nephew stupid; intelligence is a perk of office.

E4. The government only allows use on the slow: only for leveling. Never work of course.


Just possibilities.. but I hope to make some them real.

Gregory Cochran

I am still digesting all that.

One additional subpoint to the other Greg's excellent list.

C2. Us geezers might be pushed aside by a smarter, but not wiser, upcoming generation. (Logan's Run - book version).

G. Goss


And Harry Erwin says

I've similarly speculated on an association between variant (less effective) GABA receptors in the cortex and high creativity, pointing at the prevalence of depression and bipolar illness among authors and writers. The problem is "how do you prove it?" We don't even understand the mechanisms underlying obligate homosexuality, which has an even greater fitness cost--how much is genetic, how much the womb environment, and how much is post-birth environmental--so we've got a long way to go before we will have some testable hypotheses about intelligence (and common sense and creativity).

Of course, bats and other mammals might be able to teach us something about common sense; and bower birds about creativity.

Cheers, -- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>

I haven't thought about this for a long time. What would it mean to have real smart pills? Especially if there were a price? It's important enough to give some real thought to.

Dear Mr. Pournelle,

I am writing in regard to the article by Gregory Cochran which you recently posted. I have issues with some of Mr. Cochran's basic assumptions, and I hope you will take the time to consider them.

First and foremost, Mr. Cochran seems to be saying that various types of genetic damage suffered by the Ashkenazi might be, in effect, worth it since they go hand in hand with increased intelligence. Right there is my first objection. I do not consider a statistically slight increase in intelligence alone, in and of itself, to necessarily be an advantage.

Intelligence is like any other personal characteristic. As the old saying goes, "It ain't what you got, it's what you can do with it". I will use the analogy of physical strength. A relatively weak man, who is trained and experienced, can often outperform a stronger rival when the rival has no clue about how to effectively apply his advantage. I am sure you and all of your readers have seen this in everything from schoolyard fights to manual labor. Knowing how to use what you have is what matters. The same thing holds true for intelligence. Intelligence alone is not the critical part. Please note that a very smart savage is still a savage.

With all due respect to Mr. Cochran, he states that:

So a change in brain function, as the source of the FITNESS ADVANTAGE (emphasis added) in heterozygotes carrying these mutations, is the way to bet.

He goes on to mention that the Ashkenazi spent much of their history genetically isolated and performing tasks that seem to favor high intelligence. I mean no disrespect, and I certainly have no wish to denigrate any ethnic group, but a population that has spent much of its history...

-Genetically isolated (i.e. Inbred) -Socially & politically quarantined from surrounding groups, and -Subject to periodic bouts of persecution

...does not seem (to me at least) to be pursuing the optimum strategy for survival. Mr. Cochran sounds like he believes that the Ashkenazi historical experience gave a survival advantage to the more intelligent members, and that this advantage outweighed the risks of being crippled, etc. I personally think it is more likely that steady inbreeding led to mutations, some of which might have favored intelligence but which overall caused a major genetic disadvantage.

I admit that people of any ethnicity who operate under hostile conditions tend to be smarter than average. This is because the stupid ones get killed off. But I fail to see any evidence offered that the (presumed) higher intelligence of the Ashkenazi has provided them with a significant edge in group survival. Mr. Cochran's article also does not address the inherent difficulty of accurately measuring intelligence. He states that:

"That notion is not just based on this genetic and biochemical evidence: we start out already knowing that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher average IQ than any other group, something like 110-115. What, other than natural selection, could cause this?"

I can offer at least one possible explanation. Perceived higher IQ might be the result of cultural effects. If, as Mr. Cochran states, the Ashkenazi have traditionally followed the intellectual trades, it stands to reason that their culture would place a premium on study and mental training.

Which emphasizes my key point. Without education, without training, without mental discipline, high intelligence is either irrelevant or, in some cases, an actual hindrance. Most of us are acquainted with at least one person who is educated beyond their intelligence. Many academics of my acquaintance seem to be afflicted with this problem. Those poor souls are so deeply indoctrinated that they are unable to think past the fog of their conditioning. I know several people who possess high intelligence. In some cases, extremely high intelligence. But they cannot use it effectively for anything outside of their particular specialty. One of my old professors was intimidatingly intelligent in the matter of Organic Chemistry. But the poor guy had trouble balancing a checkbook, and he could not have changed a flat tire, literally, to save his life. Do characteristics such as these promote survival? The tired old cliché about common sense versus book smarts comes to mind.

If the Ashkenazi exhibit higher than average IQ, then the first place to look for an explanation would most properly be in their cultural heritage. Do they encourage their children to study? Do they require youngsters to use disciplined application of information to the solution of real world problems? Do they hammer their offspring about doing their homework? These things are the way to train someone into performing well on an IQ test. An illiterate genius would perform very poorly on most IQ tests. Even someone with the raw intelligence of Einstein would not look very bright if they had never received training.

Mr. Cochran finishes up with:

"More generally, if this is what I think it is, all these Ashkenazi neurological diseases are hints of ways in which one could supercharge intelligence.....In either case, it seems likely that we could - if we wanted to - developed pharmaceutical agents that had similar effects. The first kind, those affecting development, would be something that might have to be administered early in life, maybe before birth. while the second kind would be 'smart pills' that one could pop as desired or as needed. Of course, we have to hope that we can find ways of improving safety. Would you take a pill that increased your IQ by 10 or 15 points that also had a 10% chance of putting you in a wheel chair?"

In a word, NO. Steroids are not worth the price for the strength the give. I cannot imagine any sensible reason for mucking about with brain chemistry in order to (possibly) achieve a (potential) increase in the undeveloped IQ of a child. Most especially when very few people bother to work on expanding the potential that they already have naturally. Do you know anyone who spends TOO MUCH TIME working on improving their mind? I don't.

We know far to little about the human body, particularly the human mind, to go tinkering with it at this stage in the game. First, maybe we should consider cultural and economic adjustments that allow and encourage individuals to actually use, and maybe even maximize, the physical and mental potential that they are born with. Then, sometime in the next few million years, it might be time to start trying to jumpstart our natural abilities. But tinkering with Mother Nature is a matter to be approached with fear and trembling. And you had better know exactly what you are doing before you even start.


Barry Smith

There Are Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. 

I have posted this because it is the expected commentary, and we may as well get some of the questions settled. First, regarding IQ: there is no real controversy among people familiar with the subject matter. IQ isn't a perfect measure or anything like it but it is still the best single predictor of success we have: and that means any kind of success.

Take a group of plumbers, or preachers, or mathematicians, or MacDonalds' employees; get a team of experts to rank order them on the variable "success" at what they do; now try to predict that rank order. You will find that IQ is the best single predictor. Moreover, it's the same if you gave the test before they chose their professions.

Now there is no question that skills count: a high IQ child never taught to read will have problems a lower IQ child taught to read at age 4 (as the English upper classes always did teach their children until recently) will not have. Those taught to read at an early age will have a very genuine Head Start, which is probably why the Head Start program forbids the use of Head Start money to teach reading: that would be far too effective a Head Start. But the fact is that Head Start and many other such programs have no demonstrated effectiveness. Their effects vanish after a few years. That might not be the case if they taught reading, but they are forbidden to DO that. Meanwhile, there are no programs that consistently raise IQ; and IQ remains the best single predictor of success we have. Many people wish that weren't so, but wishing doesn't change the matter.

The charge that IQ is cultural is often raised, but there is no good evidence for it, and a lot against it. This is disturbing to many, and for good reasons. Of course a culture that "breeds for intelligence" and rewards such success by encouraging bright people to have more children will produce a population quite different from a culture that punishes people for appearing to be bright; at least that's certain if you accept the premise that intelligence has any hereditary component at all. It's pretty clear that it does. How much nature and how much nurture isn't known, but it's at least 40% nature, and it now looks like about 60%. That leaves considerable room for skill, but over generations breeding counts.

"What you do with what you got" is certainly a matter of character as well as IQ; but once again, every study we have shows that those with the higher IQ tend to do more with their talents. Not always, which is why the parable of the talents remains relevant after 2,000 years; but more often than not. And while there are a lot of anecdotes about street smarts vs. book smarts, they are usually told in the context of the book smarts person being more successful than the street smart commonsense character in the story who is usually a bumpkin. The fact is that book smart people generally write the books about how much better off the common sense street smart people are. 

In other words, kicking against the pricks is usual when discussing these matters, but not terribly relevant. All the real evidence shows that raising IQ is the real goal, and as Cochran says, raising an entire population by a full sigma or more will have a profound difference. Whether to some individuals the price will be too high is worth discussing; of course we also need to know what price is.

I fear make little out of the last paragraph other than a profound wish that the world were different from the way it is.

A different comment:

Cochran says the Ashkenazi "had a very different job mix from their neighbors: none of them were farmers ('Scribe, banker, jeweler, shopkeeper'), and they almost never intermarried." 

I suppose he means "they were almost never exogamous" (sometimes it's easy to get words turned around), but is the statement true for more than the last few centuries? 

For example, I believe the Jewish tendency to avoid evangelizing their neighbors was not as strict, earlier -- how many generations does it take for breeding to make an appreciable difference? I also wonder if it takes many more brains to be a banker, shopkeeper or peddlar, than it does to be a herdsman, hunter, fisherman or sailor -- or farmer, for that matter. Of course if I remember correctly, Arthur Koestler suggested that many of the Ashkenazi were descended from Central Asian horse tribes, in which case they would have much of their genetic background from there.

Koestler and others have been fascinated with the story of the Khazars, who were converted en masse to Judaism after a contest between Muslim, Christian, and Jewish spokespersons as to which religion was best. The story is often told, but it is told in so many different ways, and with so many different outcomes, that I never found it useful: whatever the origins of the Ashkenazim, they certainly formed a distinct genetic group.

As to the IQ requirements of various professions in medieval, renaissance, and modern times, I will leave that to others: the offhand impression is that the "intellectual" professions tend to attract smarter people.

Continuing the discussion of overclocking Greg Cochran replies:

Yes, the statement is true for more than the last few centuries. The estimates of exogamy, per-generation, are well under 1%. There have been important exceptions - the Yemeni Jews are probably mostly converts. In order to see interesting evolutionary change, per-generation admixture must be less than the fitness edge of the gene in questiom - otherwise dilution keeps it from increasing.

How many generations does it take for breeding to make an appreciable difference? If a given gene variant gave a 12% fitness edge, its freqeuncy would increase by about a factor of 100 in 40 generations, roughly a thousand years. A 6% edge would cause a hundredfold increase in 2000 years.

Today, considering the heritability of IQ and the distribution of fertility, IQ could drop by, say, half a point a generation. Easy to get a one-standard-deviation change , 15 pts - (up or down) in historical time, right?

Not much Ashkenazi ancestry is Khazar. People have looked at the genetics. Koestler was wrong. But on the maternal side, a fair amount look to be general European. On the paternal side, mostly Middle Eastern. Close to Palestinians.

As for how IQ influences success in the professions.. two points. First, a smart banker does better than a non-smart banker, and by a larger factor than a smart peasant outdoes a dumb peasant. A banker's wealth can go all the way to up. In the late middle ages, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, we know that rich Jews had much larger number of surviving children than poor Jews. Probably all population growth occurred among the prosperous. That is the genetic payoff. Second, in a lot of those jobs, it really, really pays to be smarter than your customers.

Gregory Cochran

Getting the Gini out of the Test Tube


Quoting Mr Cochran: 'In the late middle ages, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, we know that rich Jews had much larger number of surviving children than poor Jews. Probably all population growth occurred among the prosperous. That is the genetic payoff.'

I have often wondered whether a rising Gini coefficient (another) was partially linked with lower fertility among hi-IQ couples compared to the general population. For hundreds of thousands of years high-IQ has had a significant genetic payoff, but in recent times - perhaps we have witnessed something of a reversal. High IQ is no longer a significant determinant in surviving in the modern world.

I believe that there is a rising Gini Coefficient in most industrialized societies, which is worrying to anyone who's visited societies with very high differences in income distribution - like South Africa for example.

High Gini makes for a very unstable society, and democracy is no help; if the majority increasingly falls behind then it may indeed be a destabilizing factor - leading to the 'democratization' of assets - with catastrophic consequences - arguably Zimbabwe is such a case.

Of course this trend has been explored extensively in Science Fiction, and the projections are worrying. Which makes the prospect of overclocking all that much more interesting. The British writer Peter F. Hamilton has been exploring the issue of raising population IQ in his most recent book "Fallen Dragon".

I think it worth making the point that Mr Smith seems to have misunderstood - which is that IQ is not the same as intelligence, but it is the most reliable *indicator* of intelligence. What we actually want to do is raise intelligence not IQ, but of course we say 'raise IQ' as if it were the same thing. And as you point out - IQ is the best predictor of success, precisely because it is the best predictor of intelligence - in whatever field is chosen.

There is another measure which is less precise but also works - conversation. As you have said previously - it's pretty clear when you meet someone who's really bright, after talking to them for 30 minutes you just know. I don't know if you get the BBC Parkinson interviews - but the thing that strikes me again and again about these famous people, the ones who have been successful over many years, is how intelligent they are. This transcends their profession - be it actor, musician or whatever.

What would raising intelligence be worth in terms of the reduced cost to society? All the indicators suggest that crime, divorce, drug addiction, etc. would all fall very significantly if we could boost the whole population's IQ by one standard deviation. Not to mention the scientific breakthroughs that might occur if we could boost the top 1%'s intelligence by a similar amount.

The two most exciting prospects that will emerge from genomics are solving the ageing process and boosting intelligence, with some interesting consequences as the two interact. Consider Gregory Cochran's points in combination with a 500 year lifespan.


Craig Arnold

P.S. Your site this week must surely be the most one of the most interesting places on the internet. Tremendous stuff.

I do not know about the Parkinson interviews. I know that the late C. Northcote Parkinson did a book of biographies of outstanding but overlooked men once. Parkinson was one of those I knew was bright within five minutes of meeting him.

I have added a couple of links explaining the Gini Coefficient for those not familiar with the concept.

It is very much worth making the point that IQ is what is measured by IQ tests; it is not intelligence, but a measure of intelligence. It correlates highly with judgmental reaction times and other measures, some of which cannot possibly be "cultural" (press the left button if one light goes on, the right button if two lights go on; do this as quickly as you can, but make no mistakes). IQ is an imperfect measure of intelligence, but the best one we have for statistical purposes.

The really interesting questions are, if we have IQ boosters -- overclocking -- with significant cost, what happens to those who don't get the overclocking treatment? And what if it is very expensive?

Back in the 1950's Kornbluth wrote two stories, The Marching Morons, and The Little Black Bag, about a future in which the stupid had children and the intelligent didn't; and after a while there were not many intelligent people.

Since that time things have changed: there's even more negative incentive for the intelligent to have children, while we haven't much decreased the incentives for for anyone else. It is an interesting experiment, but political correctness forbids anyone to talk about it. Kornbluth thought we would have PhD's in card filing as degrees were worth less, but we had to pretend that everyone who got a degree was smart. Again it would be politically incorrect to continue that discussion.

Perhaps overclocking would solve some of those problems?

I once heard Walt Freeman suggest that the only three substances known to increase IQ are caffeine, thiophylline, and thiobromine. I have a PhD student who has developed some experimental evidence that Walt might be onto something.

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>