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View Full Version : Are humans geting smarter? Specilization Inevitable?


Starwatcher162536
04-26-2009, 02:03 AM
While I was watching the Science Saturday about The Two Cultures I started thinking about how people are becoming more and more specialized. Fewer and fewer of us can consider ourselves a Renaissance Man, some would say this is an inescapable externality of society's scientific advancement. They would say it is inevitable because the amount of information someone needs to master to become a forerunner in some arbitrary field is exploding.

But I wonder if that is really the case. For one, look at the huge I.Q. gap (30 points I think) between the average African and Average American. Most attribute this to Africa's overall lower level of prenatel care and poor food supplies. Now, if one assumes that Americans of the past did not have access to proper prenatel care (By todays standards) and had a more unstable food supply, both reasonable assumptions, it would not be strange to think that perhaps the average American I.Q. could have raised by as much as 10 or 20 points in the last few centuries. Thats Huge! It is also conceivable that we could perhaps garner another 10 or 15 points in the future from pharmaceuticals that improve mental performance. Another potential huge gain! Perhaps the explosion of information is not outpacing our ever increasing mental acuity .

Another thing that makes me question the assertion that we will all end up only having scarce knowledge about things that are unrelated to our main interests, is computers. We each have a volume of information at our fingertips that past generations would be stunned by. Whats more, places like Wikipieda condense and organize it remarkably well.

Anyways, does anyone know of any good papers or articles talking about Average I.Q. as a function of time?

P.S.
I really don't like the one axis measure of intelligence that I.Q tests have, but so far, it our best measure of intelligence. I myself have always envisioned intelligence as a multidimensional (like 1000) space. Where the aptitude of an individual for some arbitrary action is determined by the distance from the closest point of that persons boundary from the boundary of that arbitrary action (Each action would have a determined subset of points in the IQ space that would result in high performance if the persons own personal IQ space overlaid it) .

JonIrenicus
04-26-2009, 03:00 AM
While I was watching the Science Saturday about The Two Cultures I started thinking about how people are becoming more and more specialized. Fewer and fewer of us can consider ourselves a Renaissance Man, some would say this is an inescapable externality of society's scientific advancement. They would say it is inevitable because the amount of information someone needs to master to become a forerunner in some arbitrary field is exploding.

But I wonder if that is really the case. For one, look at the huge I.Q. gap (30 points I think) between the average African and Average American. Most attribute this to Africa's overall lower level of prenatel care and poor food supplies. Now, if one assumes that Americans of the past did not have access to proper prenatel care (By todays standards) and had a more unstable food supply, both reasonable assumptions, it would not be strange to think that perhaps the average American I.Q. could have raised by as much as 10 or 20 points in the last few centuries. Thats Huge! It is also conceivable that we could perhaps garner another 10 or 15 points in the future from pharmaceuticals that improve mental performance. Another potential huge gain! Perhaps the explosion of information is not outpacing our ever increasing mental acuity .

Another thing that makes me question the assertion that we will all end up only having scarce knowledge about things that are unrelated to our main interests, is computers. We each have a volume of information at our fingertips that past generations would be stunned by. Whats more, places like Wikipieda condense and organize it remarkably well.

Anyways, does anyone know of any good papers or articles talking about Average I.Q. as a function of time?

P.S.
I really don't like the one axis measure of intelligence that I.Q tests have, but so far, it our best measure of intelligence. I myself have always envisioned intelligence as a multidimensional (like 1000) space. Where the aptitude of an individual for some arbitrary action is determined by the distance from the closest point of that persons boundary from the boundary of that arbitrary action (Each action would have a determined subset of points in the IQ space that would result in high performance if the persons own personal IQ space overlaid it) .


I do not think we are smarter at all. If anything it may be going in the other direction.

Exhibit A

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2682654/idiocracy_opening_sequence/


it may seem like comic nonsense, but it has a point. Where are the nagative selection pressures on the less intelligent? Where is the greater fertility for smarter people? Seems to be the opposite. Of course we will always have a large number of smart people just because the sample size is so large, but the general yield? Not so sure it has some magically ordained upward pressure.


That said, we may well learn to squeeze more out of what we have with nutrition (mostly done in the west), sanitation and disease mitigation and the like, or proper education, but all this has limits.

No, the only longterm and truly workable way to ensure upward pressure on intelligence in the general population is to do something most on this earth are loathe to do or even talk about. Select for it.

AemJeff
04-26-2009, 03:06 PM
...Now, if one assumes that Americans of the past did not have access to proper prenatel care (By todays standards) and had a more unstable food supply, both reasonable assumptions, it would not be strange to think that perhaps the average American I.Q. could have raised by as much as 10 or 20 points in the last few centuries. Thats Huge! It is also conceivable that we could perhaps garner another 10 or 15 points in the future from pharmaceuticals that improve mental performance. Another potential huge gain! Perhaps the explosion of information is not outpacing our ever increasing mental acuity .
...


I think you're comparing an exponential rate of change (related to the "information explosion") with a much less steep curve (IQ increase projected from the last couple of centuries through the near future). Maybe after we get fitted with with gigabit ethernet sockets attached to our cortex. ;)

Starwatcher162536
04-26-2009, 05:09 PM
I think you're comparing an exponential rate of change (related to the "information explosion") with a much less steep curve (IQ increase projected from the last couple of centuries through the near future). Maybe after we get fitted with with gigabit ethernet sockets attached to our cortex. ;)

Its true that one rate of change dwarfs the other rate of change. However, all is not lost, I am more interested in the rate that information is increasing compared to how our ability to absorb and process information is increasing.

I can only suport this with anectodal evidence, but I suspect there is a nonlinear relationship between IQ and our ability to absorb knowledge.

popcorn_karate
04-27-2009, 03:27 PM
the IQ score of 100 is "average".

they have consistently had to reset IQ testing/scoring because of the increase in average IQ scores.

I believe that someone scoring 100 in 1960 would now score 80 (this is a rough estimate based on what i've read, but its been a couple years... but the direction of change and the order of magnitude is correct i believe)

sorry i don't have a link for you.

AemJeff
04-27-2009, 03:55 PM
the IQ score of 100 is "average".

they have consistently had to reset IQ testing/scoring because of the increase in average IQ scores.

I believe that someone scoring 100 in 1960 would now score 80 (this is a rough estimate based on what i've read, but its been a couple years... but the direction of change and the order of magnitude is correct i believe)

sorry i don't have a link for you.

One tiny quibble - it's not the average, it's the mean.

I'm a bit skeptical of that ratio. Twenty points from the mean is more than a standard deviation, which would be a pretty incredible result over a couple of generations. Also, since the methodology has changed significantly during that interval, I'd be pretty slow to make direct comparisons between contemporary scores and those from fifty years ago.
From the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I.Q.):

The average IQ scores for many populations have been rising at an average rate of three points per decade since the early 20th century with most of the increase in the lower half of the IQ range: a phenomenon called the Flynn effect. It is disputed whether these changes in scores reflect real changes in intellectual abilities, or merely methodological problems with past or present testing.

Starwatcher162536
04-27-2009, 11:10 PM
One tiny quibble - it's not the average, it's the mean.

I'm a bit skeptical of that ratio. Twenty points from the mean is more than a standard deviation, which would be a pretty incredible result over a couple of generations. Also, since the methodology has changed significantly during that interval, I'd be pretty slow to make direct comparisons between contemporary scores and those from fifty years ago.
From the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I.Q.):

Why would the changing methodology make a difference? One of the reasons we have to measure IQ relative to others instead of on some absolute scale is that the only way to determine how hard one IQ test is to another is to have a large sample of people take both tests and compare the scores.

Hence, as we cannot have people of the past take today's IQ tests, the only way to compare inter-generational changes in IQ is to ignore todays tests and compare past scores on some arbitrary test with current scores on the same test.

Having today's scores be on average 20 points higher then it was in the past does not prove that people of the past would score 20 points lower on today's tests, but it is a reasonable assumption.

The flynn effect is interesting. I wonder how strongly it suggests that we have become more economically homogeneous. (I wonder if anyone has ever tried to describe the distribution of wealth by the standard deviation on IQ tests in a rigorous way. The time lag involved would make that difficult though.)

bjkeefe
04-27-2009, 11:58 PM
One tiny quibble - it's not the average, it's the mean.

Aren't those two terms synonymous? Did you mean median?

AemJeff
04-28-2009, 09:20 AM
Aren't those two terms synonymous? Did you mean median?

You're right, I misremembered the definitions. "Average" can mean various things, but in this case "numerical mean" is exactly the sense intended.

AemJeff
04-28-2009, 09:28 AM
Why would the changing methodology make a difference? One of the reasons we have to measure IQ relative to others instead of on some absolute scale is that the only way to determine how hard one IQ test is to another is to have a large sample of people take both tests and compare the scores.

Hence, as we cannot have people of the past take today's IQ tests, the only way to compare inter-generational changes in IQ is to ignore todays tests and compare past scores on some arbitrary test with current scores on the same test.

Having today's scores be on average 20 points higher then it was in the past does not prove that people of the past would score 20 points lower on today's tests, but it is a reasonable assumption.

The flynn effect is interesting. I wonder how strongly it suggests that we have become more economically homogeneous. (I wonder if anyone has ever tried to describe the distribution of wealth by the standard deviation on IQ tests in a rigorous way. The time lag involved would make that difficult though.)

If the methodologies yield different results, then directly comparing the results means... what? The descriptions I've read are somewhat confusing regarding the relationship between the results of older and newer methods. But as far as I can tell, the consensus is that there has been some gain in I.Q. over the period we're talking about, but most it at the lower margin. And that's also apparently where the two methods produce the most divergent results. What does that add up to in terms of a generalized picture of intelligence? I'm not confident that this provides a good standard to judge.

Starwatcher162536
04-28-2009, 02:31 PM
Perhaps you could give an example?

I still do not see how the changing methodology of how we deal with IQ tests today matters, considering we should be ignoring current IQ tests when trying to find out how scores are changing over time.

One of the reasons we have to measure IQ relative to others instead of on some absolute scale is that the only way to determine how hard one IQ test is to another is to have a large sample of people take both tests and compare the scores.

Hence, as we cannot have people of the past take today's IQ tests, the only way to compare inter-generational changes in IQ is to ignore todays tests and compare past scores on some arbitrary test with current scores on the same test.

AemJeff
04-28-2009, 02:52 PM
Perhaps you could give an example?

I still do not see how the changing methodology of how we deal with IQ tests today matters, considering we should be ignoring current IQ tests when trying to find out how scores are changing over time.

I really don't understand what you're asking. If you redefine the numerical method used to generate scores, such that inputs don't map to the same outputs, it's pretty hard to support the claim that scores generated by one method can be directly compared to scores generated by the other. I don't know if it "matters" at all - except in the sense that conclusions drawn from mixed comparisons seem suspect to me.

Starwatcher162536
04-28-2009, 04:53 PM
I really don't understand what you're asking. If you redefine the numerical method used to generate scores, such that inputs don't map to the same outputs, it's pretty hard to support the claim that scores generated by one method can be directly compared to scores generated by the other. I don't know if it "matters" at all - except in the sense that conclusions drawn from mixed comparisons seem suspect to me.

Okay, I didn't know they ever reformulated whatever method they use to determine the relationship between how far someone is from the average number of questions answered correctly and what someones IQ would be stated as. When you were talking about methodology, I though you meant how they determined what kind of questions should be present on current tests.

I can't verify it myself, but I have a hard time believing the above was not accounted for in whatever studies there are that tried to make a comparison between generations about IQ scores, it seems like a fairly elementary problem.

popcorn_karate
04-29-2009, 12:30 PM
****
In his study of IQ tests scores for different populations over the past sixty years, James R. Flynn discovered that IQ scores increased from one generation to the next for all of the countries for which data existed (Flynn, 1994). This interesting phenomenon has been called "the Flynn Effect". Flynn believes that the increase is actually an increase in abstract problem solving rather than intelligence. Otherwise, someone who scored among the best 10% a hundred years ago, would today be among the 5% weakest. In short, someone (maybe our great grandfathers!) who would be considered very bright a century ago, should now be considered a moron!

As Flynn and other researchers found, this is probably due to environmental factors when taking a test such as: Education, Societal changes, Better health and nutrition, Parenting, and Complexity of life
****

interesting stuff with a lot of possible interpretations.