Why You Can’t Fly on The Concorde
Have you ever wondered why you can’t fly from New York to London on the supersonic Concorde? Why didn’t we go back to the moon or colonize Mars?
This book makes the case that it’s because we’ve hit peak intelligence as a civilization, we’re losing our wits and lack the smarts to accomplish anything really noteworthy.
The authors write…
Why? Why is it that we used to be able to fly from the USA to London in less than 4 hours but now we can’t? Why is it that we used to be able to put people on the Moon but now, it seems, we can’t? The answer is surprisingly simple. We are no longer intelligent enough to be able to do these things. We have become too stupid to keep Concorde in flight; let alone go back to the Moon.
Here I illustrate how over time everybody crucially involved with a supersonic Concorde flight has gotten less intelligent…
Please Note: When I discuss a touchy topic like intelligence, I feel the need to make it clear that I’m not a part of an elite club and speaking down to my audience. Last time I was IQ tested I had a perfectly average IQ of 100. I’m flattered that people assume with some regularity that I have a high IQ when I don’t. I’m just well read and have devoted a lot of time to sharpening my communication skills.
This book delves deeply into the premise that society is getting less intelligent and explains some of the uncomfortable reasons for this, unsurprisingly this is the sort of thing that some people find offensive. Please remember…
the aim of science is to understand the nature of the world and to present the simplest explanation, based on the evidence, for what is going on. Science is not there to be reassuring, to make people feel good, or to help bond society together.
Those who call for suppression are, in effect, arguing that scientific pursuit is fine until it forces them to question the worldview that they hold to for emotional reasons. Once it does this it is ‘bad science’ or ‘a higher standard of proof should be demanded’ or ‘it is immoral’. Or it is ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’. Or it is one of numerous other vague, indefinite, emotive terms that are deployed to associate the research with deviance and thus intimidate researchers into ideological conformity.
Please resist the urge to make a lot of moral judgments about people and about science. I’m a big fan of making moral judgments of people, I’m not non-judgemental but I make moral judgments of people who I know and have to deal with. I resist making moral judgments or assumptions about people I don’t know or don’t have to deal with.
What is intelligence?
‘Intelligence’ is, basically, the ability to solve complex problems and do so quickly.
IQ test scores in childhood will predict many important things in adulthood — higher intelligence predicts higher education level, higher socio-economic status, higher salary, better health, greater civic participation, lower impulsivity, and longer lifespan. Lower intelligence predicts higher criminality, and shorter-term future-orientation. In other words, people who are more intelligent tend to live for the future whereas people who are less intelligent tend to live for the now.
intelligence is driven in part by the ability to notice subtle differences among sensory inputs (pitch, colour, etc.) — so intelligent brains have more ‘bandwidth’ as they can take in more information, which can in turn be used for solving problems more effectively.
Intelligence predicts things which are important across cultures, and intelligence is relevant to all cultures. It is negatively associated with criminality, for example, and, surely, no culture would want people to actively break its rules.
Is IQ testing valid?
We know that IQ testing is valid and robust, because culture-fair IQ tests have similar predictive power across cultures. This is exactly the opposite of what we would predict if the tests were poor-quality instruments that were highly subject to cultural bias. Also, IQ test results correlate positively with something objective — that is, with differences in reaction times. It is widely accepted among leading psychometricians such as Arthur Jensen, Hans Eysenck, and Ian Deary that IQ tests correlate with this objective neurological measure.
Lynn and Vanhanen have shown that the average IQ of a country strongly predicts how highly it will score on pretty much every measure of civilisation that you can think of: educational attainment, average earnings, democracy, lack of corruption, nutrition, life expectancy, low infant mortality rate, access to clean water and sanitary conditions, low levels of crime, liberal attitudes, rational attitudes, and even happiness.
Around the internet, you can find a lot of IQ denial, mostly this just comes from political correctness and people not wanting to admit that some people are more intelligent than others because we erroneously assign a moral characteristic to intelligence, somehow the more intelligent are better than the less intelligent. While intelligence is important, it’s a human characteristic like any other, are tall people better than short people? Maybe if you’re picking a basketball team, but there’s nothing inherently or morally superior about being tall or short.
Interestingly, there’s a very strong connection between intelligence and reaction times.
This correlation with reaction times means that a significant part of being intelligent is simply having a high functioning nervous system.
Reaction times are such a reliable proxy for general intelligence that eminent intelligence researchers such as Arthur Jensen, Hans Eysenck, and Ian Deary have promoted them as alternatives to pencil-and-paper IQ tests.
So you could test the intelligence of a potential hire with a reaction time measuring tool like quantified-mind.com.
G = General Intelligence
In discussions of intelligence, you hear G thrown around a lot, this one letter stands for general intelligence. It’s best to think of intelligence as a landscape of cognitive capacities and abilities. Some of these cognitive strengths are closer in proximity than others to each other. General intelligence is a measure representing the average topography of this landscape.
Another good proxy for g is working memory, or the capacity to manipulate information committed to memory for the purposes of solving problems. More intelligent people tend to be better at this. This makes sense because if you have a good working memory the amount of information that you can handle will be greater, allowing for more complex problems to be solved.
One thing that has made me really believe in intelligence and IQ is that my life has steadily gotten better since I started training my working memory with Dual N-Back, a software app that is demonstrated to have transfer effects to general intelligence.
Dual N-Back Pro
I've done brain training for 3 years now and this app is significantly more challenging than anything I've tried…
What about emotional intelligence?
In self-help books, you may have heard of emotional intelligence or other types of intelligence. Mostly these alternative forms of intelligence were cooked up to sell feel-good self-help books if you aren’t book smart enough to get a good job you can feel better about yourself because you’re really good at relating to animals (or whatever…)
If everyone’s ‘intelligent’ then it’s akin to everyone being ‘tall’ — the concept simply becomes meaningless.
Everyone is NOT intelligent in their own way.
Intelligence is Heritable
We know from studies of identical twins — who share roughly 100% of their genes in common — that intelligence is strongly heritable.
Intelligence is seemingly 80% heritable — meaning that 80% of the variation among individuals is due to genetic factors and overwhelmingly, therefore, people resemble their parents in terms of intelligence.
“I always thought that intelligence was environmental…”
Most of us have been indoctrinated with this liberal dogma that everything is “environmental”. If a person isn’t very intelligent and makes bad life decisions it must be because they just didn’t have access to “education” and grew up in an uninspiring place with lots of crime.
At any rate, this objection holds considerably less water now that advances in genomics have in fact substantially increased our understanding of the genetics of intelligence, with recent studies having even managed to track down a number of specific alleles (these are simply alternate forms of the same gene) which predict individual differences in intelligence. We have now reached the point where we can actually predict (albeit with low accuracy) a person’s intelligence based on their genome alone.
More and more it’s becoming clear that this is false, who your parents are is a much greater factor than your environment, especially when it comes to your intelligence. I think I’m a great counterexample to the environment determinant view of intelligence, in retrospect, growing up I had an almost ideal environment to cultivate my intelligence…
- For the first 12 years of my childhood, we had no television. My mom and dad would read to us. We would discuss the books we read together.
- My parents really encouraged us in a wide range of hobbies and pursuits.
- My mother, in particular, was a very intellectually rigorous religious woman. We would constantly have very deep discussions about practicing our religion, abstract theology, personal growth, human nature and the state of the world.
- My parents while not exactly health nuts, fed us a not awful diet. They prepared family meals at home daily and we rarely had junk food.
- From early adolescence, I worked very hard at developing myself. Practicing social skills and building a social circle. Doing martial arts, going to the gym. Reading books along with drawing and creating art.
- I grew up in a decent neighborhood and got plenty of stimulation and inspiration from my locale; we would spend time in nature often and travel around the State of Colorado.
“Environmentally” I had almost everything going for me! While my upbringing has certainly imbued me with a strong work ethic and intellectual curiosity about the world, I ended having a totally average IQ of 100. If the environment was the sole determining factor in one’s intelligence, you would think that someone like me would end up a real genius not average. Again, I’m not judging a lack of higher intelligence as bad, I now have a pretty great life, so I have a lot to be thankful to my parents for.
Historically, the driving force of increasing intelligence was that in the past rich people had A LOT of children.
A richer man married for twenty or more years fathered 9.2 children while a poorer man would have only 6.4, an advantage to the rich of over 40%.’
High status surnames are those which are Norman (such as those that end in ‘ville’) or those which are ‘locative’ — the names of places. People with these surnames are descended from Normans who took the name of their feudal manor. Surnames which refer to a profession — Bailey, Cooper, Thatcher — are middle ranking, while low ranking surnames tend to end in ‘son’, be the name of the father, refer to physical appearance (e.g. ‘Brown’), or relate to the part of the village a person lived in, such as ‘Hill’.
Execution = Civilization
By the Early Modern Era, all felonies carried the death penalty and this meant that up to 1% of the male population of Europe was executed each generation, with roughly another 1% dying at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial. Most of these felons were young men.
Contrast this with the pathological sympathy that society now shows to criminals, once upon a time, I spent 48 hours in jail. You spend a lot of time just sitting around talking with the other guys who are in your “pod”, I noted two things about the inmates that surrounded me, most were habitual, repeat offenders and most were fathers.
What about the Flynn Effect?
The Flynn Effect is the phenomenon whereby average IQ scores have increased throughout the 20th century.
You’ve probably heard people speaking optimistically about the Flynn Effect, saying Look! Everyone is gradually getting smarter, the world is getting better. Utopia is inevitable! Unfortunately, the Flynn Effect is not really evidence of the evolution and transcendence of humanity, it’s reflective of greater specialization of intellectual capacities.
Therefore, if they were sufficiently strong in this ability (or a small set of abilities) then it could be more than enough to lead to them achieving a very high IQ score despite the fact that there had been no increase in their general intelligence. Indeed, their general intelligence might have decreased, but the massive increase in specific abilities could be enough to not only hide this decrease but show, overall, a huge increase. This would be entirely in line with the fact that the increases are only on certain specific parts of the IQ test and that these are typically the least g-loaded parts of the test.
It has been shown that as people become more intelligent — as IQ goes up — the relationship between the different cognitive abilities becomes weaker. This is termed Spearman’s Law of Diminishing Returns, after Charles Spearman (whom we encountered previously), who first described this effect in 1927. In other words, as people become more intelligent, they become more specialised in the nature of their intelligence.
‘the academics of the year 2000 were the school teachers of 1900, the school teachers of the year 2000 would have been the factory workers (the average people) of 1900, the office workers and policemen of the year 2000 were the farm labourers of 1900, those who were around 10 to 15 IQ points below average at that time. The low-level security guards and shop assistants of the year 2000 were probably in the workhouse, on the streets, or dead in 1900. The substantial long-term unemployed or unemployable, the dependent ‘underclass’ of the year 2000, simply didn’t exist in 1900.
The Creativity Crisis
since 1990 creativity scores had significantly decreased — in other words people are becoming less creative. This is what might be expected to happen if people were becoming less intelligent. Declining creativity should have real life implications, especially in terms of the quality of the arts and entertainment.
Contrasting the art of the past to the present…
Art had, heretofore, focused on religion. It now begins to focus on simply portraying ordinary life and then portraying feelings, subjective perception, and a sense of confusion and, perhaps, hopelessness,
In an iconic passage from Atlas Shrugged, John Gault announces that he’s going to turn off the motor of the world. If you’re scratching your head saying I think I’ve heard of Atlas Shrugged, who is John Gault? Well, that’s just more evidence of the decline of intelligence, please cancel your Netflix subscription and consider ingesting smart drugs!
g underpins civilisation and is the motor for the development of civilisation. Therefore, it is neither doom-mongering nor speculation to assert that the decline of g will lead to the reversal of civilisation. We have ‘firm evidence’ with which to make this assertion. And we have seen that g is indeed declining and there is a substantial amount of evidence for this, all of it pointing in the same direction. It logically follows, therefore, that civilisation will decline.
It is, perhaps, difficult for us to get our heads around the pace of the change during the Industrial Revolution because it would have been so dramatic. Someone born in 1770 would have grown up in a world little different from 1470. Transport would be via horse and almost everything had to be done by hand. Production was already beginning to mechanise, because James Hargreaves had invented the Spinning Jenny in 1764. An early steam engine had already been forged, but it hadn’t yet caught on. However, if that person had lived until just 1804, they would have seen the invention of the electric telegraph, the steam ship, the submarine, the circular saw, the steam roller, a reliable clock, the bicycle, the battery, and the steam-powered locomotive. The world of 1804 would have been dramatically different from that of 1770 or 1470.
What do we get now? Microinnovations, slightly better smartphones and ever more addictive photosharing apps. I was born in 1985 and the only macroinnovation I’ve seen arise in my life and transform society is the internet and a lot of times it seems like a very questionable transformation.
You don't need to read this book because the title says it all - your suspicions are correct, the Internet is NOT…
Why is this happening?
One of the effects of civilization is to diminish the rigour of the application of the law of Natural Selection. It preserves weakly lives that would have perished in barbarous lands. The sickly children of a wealthy family have a better chance of living and rearing offspring than the stalwart children of a poor one.’
Charles Darwin (1809–1882) discussed the reversal of selection with respect to ‘socially valued’ traits in his second major book, The Descent of Man. In essence, Darwin argued that as societies become more advanced they become more compassionate towards their weaker members.
Darwin expressed extreme pessimism about the future of humanity, telling Wallace, ‘It is notorious that our population is more largely renewed in each generation from the lower than from the middle and upper classes.’ Darwin also spoke of the large number of children of what he called ‘the scum’ and the inevitable deterioration, as a consequence, of the qualities that were needed to build up civilisation.
Fertility vs Intelligence
If you don’t have the time or inclination to read this book, just go watch the first few minutes of the movie Idiocracy, it really captures why intelligence is decreasing…
Fisher’s ‘law’ was that civilisations collapse due to a negative relationship between intelligence and fertility,
Here we reach the crucial question. Why is intelligence negatively associated with fertility in industrialised societies?
Especially as in resource-rich civilization, the more intelligent half of the bell curve are less inclined to have children.
in a society with no welfare state, children would be an insurance policy in old age. They would take care of you once you were too elderly to work, assuming you lived long enough to become too elderly to work.
I’ve often thought it was really a bad idea to have all the government programs taking care of old people and paying them pensions. I’ve always thought that having NO social safety net for the old would encourage better parenting. I know that my plan is to be such a good parent that one day my adult children will be happy to take care of me.
You probably think that education in general and empowerment of women is good for society, I would love to think so myself, but the author makes a very strong case for how these two things are drivers of the intelligence decline…
Education is therefore one key factor that creates selection against the genes responsible for cognitive ability, which indicates that intelligence will decline over time.
Another important contributory factor to the negative association between intelligence and fertility in industrial societies has been the rise of feminism and, in particular, the opening up of the professions to women…
All the feel-good indoctrination that we get about the primacy of education and empowerment of women ignores the reality that when you really encourage young people in their 20’s to focus on personal and career growth the more intelligent will pour enormous amounts of time and energy into finding themselves instead of having children and forming families.
I certainly observed this in the large circle of friends and acquaintances I had in my late teens and 20’s. I had a very “diverse” group of friends. Some were very ambitious and sharp, they studied very hard to get a real education in university, they worked hard in challenging jobs to get their careers started or devoted themselves to entrepreneurship. Then there were my friends who were loveable losers that were just fun to party with; they would often be in a little legal trouble, they lived in kind of crappy neighborhoods, they would use illegal drugs recreationally, they wouldn’t hold down serious jobs for long and they were always up to go out drinking on a Wednesday night! I’m 34 years old now and here’s the consistent trend; the loveable losers would be casually dating someone and there would be an unintentional pregnancy, sometimes they would stay together with their baby’s daddy or baby’s momma, but more often than not there would be a lot of drama and they would end up a single parent. Of my ambitious friends, after about a decade and a half almost none are parents. In their mid 20’s parenthood was the furthest thing from their domain of concerns, many even shunned dating as a waste of time. To them having children was like a manned mission to Mars, it was something that they wanted eventually, but it was a long way off and they really weren’t planning for it. Occasionally, I get dinner or have a long Skype conversation with my old ambitious friends, they are all engrossed in very exciting careers or entrepreneurial projects but very few have children and few got married. They share their dating woes with me and shrug their shoulders in exasperation with how damn complicated dating is in the current year.
In my own life, I can really see how the less intelligent are genetically outcompeting the more intelligent.
The Welfare State
Unsurprisingly, socialism is bad for intelligence.
We have already seen that unplanned pregnancy — and, by extension, pregnancy by single mothers, which is generally unplanned — is associated with lower intelligence. Richard Lynn has argued that the welfare state itself also aids the process of reducing the average intelligence of the population.
So, they are intelligent enough to deliberately have a large number of (neglected) children, in order to play the system, meaning that the welfare state encourages their fertility and contributes to declining intelligence. However, they are not intelligent enough to realise — or have the foresight to care about the fact — that their behaviour may lead to the collapse of the very system they rely upon if too widely adopted, and means that the system is potentially unsustainable in the long term.
Helping the poor can be understood, to some extent, to mean helping those who have relatively low g to survive and procreate.
A few years ago when I was in Bucharest, Romania, Vlad the Impaler’s home town, I heard the story of how Vlad dealt with unemployment. In Bucharest there were a bunch of layabout Romanian men not contributing to society, Vlad went to them and offered them jobs. Just one of the men the next day went to knock on the gates of Vlad’s castle and started his new job, the rest of the men were sitting around drinking Rakia and catcalling Romanian women I assume. Vlad then had the rest of the unemployed men slaughtered because they weren’t contributing and they might accept silver from the Turks to spy and undermine Romania. Today in Bucharest, Vlad is regarded as a hero because he held back the conquest of Europe and Christendom by the Ottoman empire.
I’m not saying that we should deal with unemployment in our society the way Vlad did but we need some balance between rationality and unbridled womanly compassion and altruism in dealing with those who can’t really take care of themselves.
Cycles of Civilization
Societies rise when they are religious, have a deep reverence for the past and for older generations, are prepared to engage in noble acts of self-sacrifice, and follow clear moral rules. These qualities ensure that they have a sense of superiority, a sense of their own destiny, that they are a cohesive community, and that they can be motivated to defend their society, even unto death. When they lose these qualities — which they inevitably do — then they fall. People become too rich and when this happens they lose their ‘fear of the gods’ and with it their selflessness and community spirit, their sense of eternal destiny, their reverence for older generations, and the strict moral rules which bind them together.
Religion is a phenomenon of group selection
religion can be understood as a matter of group selection. When two roughly similar groups are in conflict, because they are expanding, there will be group selection for religiousness. The more religious group under these conditions will triumph.
The most successful religions strongly encourage baby-making, they don’t exhort you to focus on your career while distracting yourself with consumerism until you are 36 years old and fucking lonely, this is no coincidence. Religion cultivates civilization. But a lot of times there’s a bug in the theological code, like the Catholic prohibition of the most intelligent and most educated in the priest class from having families.
In the book, he details how a number of great historical civilizations (Rome, China, Islamic “golden age”, etc) went through very similar cycles of declining intelligence. Polybius a 2nd century B.C historian wrote about the waning classical Greek civilization…
For men have fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them or at most, as a rule, have one or two of them.’
The author quotes from the Bible
‘What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes, 1:9).
“Love” a Dysgenic Agent?
Something I had hoped the book would comment on is how “love” is making us less intelligent, increasingly we are making our reproductive choices based upon “love” and it is my contention that it’s making us dumber. I put “love” in quotation marks because modern “love” is really selfish, impetuous, impatient lust and infatuation. I think that in the past when resources were a lot more scarce, young men and young women probably were a bit more rational and pragmatic about their reproductive choices whereas in the current year most of us are slaves to our most hedonistic of urges.
The 20th century has been insightfully called the century of the self, and it certainly looks like the 21st century will be a similarly narcissistic 100 years. When Hollywood movies, pop music, and pop psychology have convinced almost all of us that the most important thing is to follow our heart and do what feels good, we are going to, more often than not, make personally disastrous and societally dysgenic reproductive choices.
Recently I was reading an engrossing WW2 spy novel, in it, the protagonist makes a deal with this extravagant Greek millionaire. The Greek millionaire has an extraordinarily beautiful wife who flirts with him and he decides to risk everything to have her. She eventually succumbs and leaves her provider for an exciting new lover, the protagonist. The Nazis are about to invade Greece and the millionaire has prepared a very comfortable and safe yacht to escape whereas the protagonist’s plan is to hide in the Greek countryside, join the resistance, and fight the Nazis in the ensuing asymmetrical guerilla war. Who does the beautiful woman choose to go with? The roguish protagonist of course! It makes for good fiction but it’s also a perfect illustration of our short-sighted, selfish, emotional decision making (AKA “love”) steering us into personal and civilizational catastrophe.
Conclusion and a Silver Lining…
After all, we saw in Chapter One that we used to be able to get from London to New York in three-and-a-half hours, but now we can’t. We’re too ‘old’ as a civilisation, and therefore our level of g is not as high as once it was, so it would be too dangerous to re-launch Concorde. When we were ‘younger’, and brighter, we could go to the Moon. We can talk wistfully about this, much as the elderly reminisce on what they could do when they were younger. But we don’t have the skill to do it anymore. It would be far too dangerous for us.
It’s easy to dismiss a book like this as a black pill, a pessimistic inevitability that we can’t do much to avoid, which is perhaps best ignored for the sake of our sanity. Well, for those with the mental fortitude to persist, beyond every red pill or black pill is a white pill; something to be optimistic about.
If you’re reading this you are probably on the right side of the intelligence bell curve. If you’re a young person with an IQ over 100, the major takeaway for you should be to redirect some of that time and energy that you are pouring into your career or passion projects into having children. You’re going to be alive for 70, 80 or 90 years (or even longer, if you’re a biohacker!) you have a lot of time to work on your career and personal development but you really only have about a 20-year window when you are fit to make babies and raise them. If you’re a woman you really should be ending your baby making career before age 40, if you’re a man you can make babies a lot longer but 45 (or 55) year-old-you is not going to have the youthful energy to chase toddlers around at the playground and really enjoy fatherhood.
The silver lining that the author offers is…
it is possible that a genius will come up with ideas regarding how to break the cycle of civilisation, just as they once came up with a way for pretty much breaking the Malthusian cycle.
Throughout history, geniuses have figured out how to fix really big civilization-threatening problems. If we encourage geniuses to do their thing; give them space and the resources they need to work, they will figure out a solution to this bloody mess.
You might be saying…
But wait, won’t transhumanism save us from this? With technology like CRISPR, we should eventually be able to gene edit babies for intelligence?
That’s a potential application of gene editing technology and it might reverse the trend of declining intelligence but GMO babies are going to have all their own issues and totally unpredictable downstream effects on civilization. The book, The Revolutionary Phenotype, makes a very strong case the gene editing will result in a dystopian replacement and dumbing down of humans in the far future. I debated with the author that this might not be worse than the alternative.
But ultimately, we don’t need transhumanism to save us from Idiocracy, this problem of declining intelligence could be fixed culturally.
We understand the current intelligence collapse so well, that we probably won’t face a thousand year dark age like after the fall of the Roman empire. Things happen very fast now. You may have the opportunity to play a part in shaping a new cultural order that cultivates intelligence. If we had a culture that permanently banished the dysgenic welfare state and strongly encouraged young people to…
- Get educated.
- Be healthy and moral.
- Have children early and often, forming a family with a virtuous partner in their 20's.
It would not be very many generations before geniuses solved some of the most intractable problems our species currently faces and we began to turn our collective gaze towards impregnating the other planets in our solar system with human brilliance.